5b Science in TV Series: Media-Specific Forms and Functions of Representing Science in the “(New) Golden Age of Television”

Research team: Martin Butler

In this project, we analyze representations of science in a selection of contemporary US-American TV series that focus on science and how they contribute to the narrative-based discourse on science we find in contemporary literary fiction. We will examine the specific aesthetics of representation and narration, as well as transmedial marketing and distribution strategies, of science-focused TV series from different subgenres (comedy, drama, crime, mystery, superhero). This will allow us to determine if and how these shows may be both characterized by and promote a specific form of scientific literacy.

We work from the assumption that the serial nature of TV series allows for “narrative complexity” (Mittell 2006), for complex character development and “character showcasing” (Örnebring 2007:25) of highly elaborate characters. Moreover, the ongoing nature of the series should allow them to be in constant dialogue with contemporary societal discourses on science. Therefore, TV series would seem to be particularly suited to the representation of multi-faceted scientist characters, as well as to popularizing and critically reflecting on scientific knowledge and its production and usages in different contexts (e.g., as a means to discuss the social responsibility of scientists and the ambivalent functions and effects of science). We hypothesize that we will discover media-specific aspects to the ways that TV series represent and involve audiences in the dilemmas of scientific endeavor and knowledge production.

TV series such as The Big Bang Theory (2007-), Breaking Bad, (2008-13), CSI (2000-15), Fringe (2008-13), (Luke Cage (2016-, and Sherlock (2010-) will be analyzed through contextualizing close readings, which also take into account the series’ transmedia environment and marketing and distribution channels. This approach is combined with a comparative perspective that will allow us to pinpoint in which specific ways the series differ from science novels in their methods of representing and involving audiences with their scientific content. The analyses aim at exploring the media-specific forms and functions of representing science and the scientist with particular attention to both their “catalytic” potential for enabling audiences to engage with science both on the intellectual and the emotional levels, and their “seismographic” potential as a site for tracking and critically reflecting on contemporary discourses on science.