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Film noir reflects the fatalistic themes and visual style of hard-boiled novelists and many émigré filmmakers in 1940s and 1950s America, emphasizing crime, alienation, and moral ambiguity. In The Philosophy of TV Noir, Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble argue that the legacy of film noir classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Big Sleep is also found in episodic television from the mid-1950s to the present.

In this first-of-its-kind collection, contributors from philosophy, film studies, and literature raise fundamental questions about the human predicament, giving this unique volume its moral resonance and demonstrating why television noir deserves our attention. The introduction traces the development of TV noir and provides an overview and evaluation of the book’s thirteen essays, each of which discusses an exemplary TV noir series.

Realism, relativism, and integrity are discussed in essays on Dragnet, Naked City, The Fugitive, and Secret Agent. Existentialist themes of authenticity, nihilism, and the search for life’s meaning are addressed in essays on Miami Vice, The Sopranos, Carnivale, and 24. The methods of crime scene investigation in The X-Files and CSI are examined, followed by an exploration of autonomy, selfhood, and interpretation in The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and Millennium.

With this focus on the philosophical dimensions of crime, espionage, and science fiction series, The Philosophy of TV Noir draws out the full implications of film noir and establishes TV noir as an art form in its own right.

"This book features a wide diversity of essays, written from many provocative perspectives on the nature of TV noir as presented in various television series. Viewed through the lenses of philosophy, history, and other disciplines, it will appeal to both scholars and intelligent non-specialists. Given the centrality of television as an organ of popular culture, this book is profoundly important to understanding the legacy of film noir. This anthology is a natural, necessary, and BRILLIANT addition to the series."—Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Total Freedom

"The Philosophy of TV Noir is insightful and accessible, offering an introduction to philosophical wisdom that is fun and weighty through the inherently interesting genre of Noir."—Jacob M. Held, co-editor of James Bond and Philosophy: Questions are Forever

"The contributors’ thoughtful inquiry and analysis of these canonical programs draws on staple philosophical concepts- moral ambiguity, nihilism, existentialism, postmodernism, and so on. The resulting discussions are lucid and informative, and they adroitly balance film theory and philosophy."—Choice

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Film noir, TV history, Television history, TV noir


Film and Media Studies

The Philosophy of TV Noir
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