To Hell and Back: TV’s Best Depictions of Hell

Shows like '30 Coins,' 'Good Omens' capture the afterlife in all its wickedness

I have several New Age friends, and while they’re well-meaning they often lack a concept of “Hell” in their spirituality.

What we imagine regarding Hell, like demons and devils, is absent from their worldview. That’s true of Western Buddhism but not Eastern Buddhism where Hell realms and Hungry Ghosts haunt the human race.

Having an understanding of Hell is important, not so much as a fear of eternal damnation to keep one in line but as a source of compassion, that people can and do live in Hell right here and now. That there are “ugly” deaths of souls that have lost their way. So for me having a vivid and powerful vision of Hell is critical to a deeper kind of morality.

With that in mind, here are the five shows that depict Hell the best:

  1. ’30 Coins’ (HBO) — The first episode of the second season of this Spanish production dropped before Halloween and boy, does it deliver. Hell here is envisioned very similarly to Dante’s Inferno but with an updated “Hellraiser” feel. Lucifer’s Mansion has a “Masque of the Red Death” from Poe’s story vibe featuring different scenes of torture in every room as the “dignitaries” or emissaries enjoy the forever party. It’s genuinely spooky.
  2. ‘The Sandman’ (Netflix) — Season 1, Episode 4 “A Hope In Hell” takes place almost exclusively in Hell as Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) confronts Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) in an intriguing battle of wits which Morpheus barely wins. Hell is seen as a harrowing kind of “Tower of Babel” in which there are jail cells on a winding path upward, but it is the very Gates of Hell at the episode’s start that is truly fascinating. Crossing into Hell is never a good thing.
  3. ‘Good Omens’ (Prime) — I don’t know why, but the show’s depiction of Hell deeply disturbs me. Mostly because it feels corporate, like cubical Hell mixed with the bureaucracy of the DMV. In both “30 Coins” and “The Sandman” there is at least a horizon, architecture, buildings and decor of some kind. In “Good Omens,” there isn’t an outside of any kind, only an inside. It’s cramped and horrible.
  4. ‘Disenchantment’ (Netflix) — The show offers the most gentle depiction of Hell of the five shows here. It is, after all, an animated comedy. Nevertheless, Hell comes through as a place you don’t want to be in. The most fascinating aspect of Hell here is the stairway leading down into an abyss which is an arduous journey in itself.
  5. ‘The Good Place’ (NBC) — I really don’t want to spoil this show on the off chance you haven’t watched it — you really should. The sitcom’s Hell is… well both horrible and funny. When you take the comedy gold of Ted Danson’s performance out of it, it’s horrific to think about.

Are there any shows I’ve missed? What do you think?

Is it important to have some sense of Hell active in your imagination, something that helps understand Hell when you see it on earth?

A sign of the times? You don’t have to watch the news long to find real an all-too-real version of Hell and can only feel compassion for any soul trapped there.

One Comment

  1. I watched Hellraiser 1 & 2 recently. Hellraiser 2 shows hell has an endless series of corridors that all converge on a huge, rotating puzzle box. I quite liked the concept. We briefly saw an amusement park area. And one of the matte paintings implied an area of huge cranes in the distance. My main complaint with the movie is they spend a lot of time running down the same hallway set when there’s all these tantalizing ideas that they skip (probably for budget reasons.)

    The TV series based on the Preacher comic book showed a very corporate, run-down hell. Punishments were just rooms running holograms of your most hated life experience. It was weird, to be sure. I never understood how death worked in that series. Dead people could die, but dead people could move to and from hell too. What happened to their original bodies? Did they get new hell-bodies? What happens when they got killed again? So many questions.

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