Like any other narrative form, TV has long embraced the supernatural. But its presence has largely been limited to what we might call “genre” TV: horror-based shows such as The Walking Dead, fantasy worlds like Game of Thrones, and all sorts of other unrealites. Now, the supernatural and surreal are seeping into the world of “normal” TV, wherein the lead characters and their backstories are as seemingly average as you or I. As with the literary genre, magic realist TV isn’t fantasy as such—instead, it presents a naturalistic world where fantastical things happen, often for allegorical or narrative purposes.

There are many more examples of this in current popular TV. The Leftovers presents a post-apocalyptic narrative, but with a twist. Instead of a large amount of the world’s population having disappeared in a nuclear holocaust, they’ve just vanished for no reason at all. The new HBO series Westworld features robots, but the result—an amusement park populated by lifelike androids that allows visitors to live out any and every fantasy—is a world that seems to be entirely magical. Then you have Cleverman, a cult Australian TV series that fuses the traditional “dreamtime” stories of Australia’s indigenous peoples with an ostracized community of hyper-strong, hyper-hairy humans.

All these examples of televisual magic carry sinister undertones. The trend uniting these series are that the magic aspects of their universes exist to allegorically illustrate the less savory aspects of the reality outside of our lounge rooms. The Leftovers looks at how humans deal with events that appear inexplicable and senseless. Westworld interrogates our desire for pleasure and the way that desire tends to obfuscate its own consequences. Cleverman confronts how we view and treat minorities as unwholesomely “other.” And so on.

By taking a world that’s familiar to viewers and then twisting a part of that world into a new shape, scriptwriters are able to emphasize an aspect of society that would be impossible when bound by the restrictions of an entirely “realistic” world. After all, when you look into a funhouse mirror, it’s the distorted aspects of the reflection that grab your attention—and it’s those that stick in your memory long after you look away.

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