Top 5 Amazing Palettes of The Peak TV Era
As a kid I spent a lot of time watching television and movies. I analyzed scripts, framing and acting. When I got a little older, I began to really appreciate how the use of color theory in movies, TV, and advertising can be used to heighten the work. Color palettes can skyrocket a scene from interesting to stunning.
Here are some of my favorite color palettes from modern TV that I think deserve a second look:
- LUKE CAGE
Marvel’s Luke Cage has been one of the most streamed shows of the last 12 months. So many people were watching that it broke Netflix’s servers. Luke Cage is probably my favorite Marvel series thus far and this scene is why:
© Marvel, Netflix
The notorious kingpin of Harlem, Cottonmouth, (played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali) stands before a framed painting of Biggie Smalls and lays it down. As he walks forward, intimidating not only folks in the scene, but the viewer, the crown hovers over him. The lighting is dark red and the only other color, yellow, is sparse, with exception of the crowned halo over him. He smirks. The atmosphere is dope. Everything about the scene screams “Cottonmouth is the King, and you best not forget.”
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it: I loved Archie Comics as kid. Loved them. I also love dramas with crazy-weird stuff going on. So when I found out they were doing a Twin Peaks-style Archie adaptation, I did everything short of literally jumping for joy. And my enthusiasm was not in vain.
© Archie Comics, The CW
In the Riverdale pilot, we are treated to three great overhead shots of twins and partners-in-crime, Cheryl and Jason Blossom. This one was my favorite for a myriad of reasons, the primary one being the contrast between their white ensembles and that pop of red and copper in their shoes and hair. Associating the color red with the Blossoms has become a running trend throughout the first season that will hopefully never die (unlike Jason).
- HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
How to Get Away With Murder is another strong example of a drama using color and lighting to its full advantage. There were literally so many really great options, I didn’t know where to start. So let’s begin at the beginning...
During the first act of the pilot, we see the Keating Five (Wes, Laurel, Michaela, Connor, and Asher) standing above a dead body, arguing about what to do with it. Crowds are screaming in the background. The lighting is dark and only shades of blue layer the characters. It’s evoking the sense of being underwater. They’re in too deep. The audience is in too deep. Our main character Wes (Alfie Enoch) is conflicted and finally comes up with a solution: they flip a coin to make a decision. Then we flashback to three months earlier...
It’s bright! Really bright! The colors are more saturated! It’s a happy spring day! Instead of screaming crowds in the background, now the birds are singing. I love the dichotomy. How does Wes go from this bright-eyed law student, to the guy standing in the dark and arguing about disposing of a body? We’re interested, and luckily for everyone, the payoff is really, really good.
- STRANGER THINGS
Stranger Things was a breakout show last year. It was 1980s, Spielberg-esque nostalgia with nods to Stephen King (the king of horror), and all of our favorite sci-fi and horror movie tropes weaved seamlessly to a multilayered story.
Stranger Things used its palette wisely, with yellow as a dominating color.
There are three strong yellow points in this frame alone, and the yellow promotes the nostalgic elements of the series. The fade on your old 80s polaroids? Yellow, right? To make the yellow stand out, the rest of the tones are completely neutral. Browns, beiges, light blues.
Stranger Things uses colors sparingly. The dull colors are like an old memory. There’s a bit of blue and red here and there, but even the grass is muted. It suits the mood and tone of the series perfectly.
- AMERICAN GODS
Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods is a fascinating mash-up of old and the new. It’s all about changing, adapting, and the dichotomy of old and new, and light and dark.
In the television series, when main character Shadow (Ricky Whittle) first meets an older man who only goes by the name “Mr. Wednesday,” the frame is filled with shades of blue and grey. Mr. Wednesday (Ian MacShane) is a mystery. Despite the tiny pop of red, the tone is still mostly grey and reticent.
When Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday again at the bar, the shades of grey have been replaced with neutral shades of brown and tan. Before Shadow was suspicious and now he is on the fence. He doesn’t trust Mr. Wednesday, but he needs a job.
Looking at this scene, the colors are lighter but the lighting itself is a statement on its own. They are backlit, leaving their profiles in shadow. The snap of red, green and yellow compliment Shadow’s interest, and the darkness is his distrust.
American Gods has gone on to use colors beautifully so far throughout this season, and I’m looking forward to it continuing to present wonderfully composed shots during its run.
Those are my favorite uses of color theory in TV right now. What are your favorite uses of color in television? Let us know in the comments below!