In a must-read article for Grantland, critic Andy Greenwald makes the claim that the Golden Age of Television is no more. The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, shows that belong on TV’s Mount Rushmore, have been replaced by the Mount Rushmore paintings of Boardwalk Empire and eventually Better Call Saul. In his own words:
Time-killing dramas like Homeland and Boardwalk Empire are all well and good, but they feel like tentative steps sideways. TV has been stuck in a strange, extended moment in which everything new is compared, often unfavorably, to the recent past. And thanks to a sudden obsession with spin-offs — the Friday-night spark of How I Met Your Mother begetting the Sunday-morning sameness of How I Met Your Father; the purity of Breaking Bad cut and diluted with Better Call Saul — what’s next has begun to feel awfully familiar.
Rather than innovating or acknowledging risk, ratings-obsessed programmers at even the most respected channels have fallen back into a disheartening pattern of pandering, copying, and outright cannibalism. Lasting artistic eras are formed either by building intelligently on what has come before or by explicitly rejecting it. They don’t happen when people are content to hunker down and gnaw on the dusty bones of the past. Nothing gold can stay, but it’s time we acknowledge just what has taken its place.
Welcome to television’s Zombie Age. (Via)
A claim like this deserves a “yes, but,” so: Yes, Greenwald makes some good arguments, including the point about how so many of our favorite shows, such as Game of Thrones, Justified, and Boardwalk, have either been adapted from existing texts or feature characters that are based on real people. It’s a common criticism you hear so often about movies today — “There are no original ideas left” — but at least TV takes those unoriginal concepts and so often makes them better. BUT my big pet peeve with all “Golden Age” discussions is often how comedies are left out. Why don’t sitcoms ever “matter” as much as dramas? Can the “Zombie Age” claim be made when the likes of Louie, It’s Always Sunny, Bob’s Burgers, Parks and Recreation, (hopefully) Community, Veep, Archer, and, yes, even Girls are on TV? To say nothing of the brilliantly inventive animated shows ostensibly for kids like The Legends of Korra and Adventure Time, one of the most colorfully creative series in TV’s often-muddled history. (And if you want to go back a year, add 30 Rock, Happy Endings, and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 into the comedy mix.)
Just because the pantheon of The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad are gone doesn’t mean an era has ended, that it’s all one big pile of corpses from now on; it means those shows have made it possible for an unprecedented number of very good-to-great shows to thrive, and not JUST dramas, either. Maybe it’s not AS golden, but even up close, fool’s gold looks damn pretty convincing.