Ever notice your favorite serious dramas are sort of dark, like actually lacking lighting?
Journalist Kathryn VanArendonk recently explored the use of lighting extremes in an essay for Vulture aptly titled “TV Dramas Are (Literally) Too Dark.” In it, she notes a trend of “prestige” dramas utilizing scenes that are so visually dark it’s actually difficult to see what is going on in the picture.
This hasn’t always been the case: Remember all the psychedelic colors of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both critically acclaimed, serious dramas that had their fair share of sunshine and lightbulbs?
“It’s hard to say whether TV drama has always been this way. TVs used to be 20-inch cathode-ray tubes that had all the crystal clarity of a bad glasses prescription, and color was something you could adjust with a knob on the side … And certainly, this concept of ‘prestige’ TV, and its accompany shadowy solemnity, is an invention of the past 20 years. The color possibilities for TV dramas are now endless.”
It’s no secret that color has long played an important part in the composition of a film or TV show’s mise en scène. But the choice to place certain colors into frame is more than just gut instinct and works off very real psychological evidence that humans have a cognitive connection to color.
In fact, mood — more so than emotion — is triggered by colors. For example, the color black triggers moods of hatred, mourning, and sorrow. Comparatively, orange is associated with a jovial or happy mood. Dark blue is associated with tranquility, but as it softens to pastel shades, it becomes linked to superstition, fear, and grief.
The crazy part? We’re incredibly affected by color, but it doesn’t even really exist in the first place. Shadows, though, are another matter, and as we enter a new year of television, expect to squint while showrunners pray for an Emmy nom.