Golden age of TV anxiety

It’s often been said of late that we are in a new golden age of TV. According to the good folks at Wikipedia, the first golden age of TV was from the late 1940s to early 1960s when live dramas, many of them garnering both critical acclaim and solid viewer numbers, were in the ascendancy.

Of course, not everyone was in complete agreement with this with the US Federal Communications Commission chairman, Newton N. Minow declaring in 1961 that “what you will observe is a vast wasteland”, but for the most part it was regarded as a time when creative boundaries were pushed in this new and exciting medium, and viewers were spoilt for choice.

And now according to many TV critics and viewers we are in a second golden age of TV when the quality of TV programming is rivalling and often eclipsing that of movies, which have fallen, for the most part (save for many indie, or independent, productions) into a creative abyss, chock full of sequels, remakes, and derivative boom-blast blockbusters.

Many movie actors, such as Zooey Deschanel (New Girl) and James Spader (replacing Steve Carrell in The Office), who once openly disdained TV as a medium to work in, are embracing the opportunities offered by the once derided “idiot box” to play complex characters in layered, well-nuanced shows that tell a convincing and engaging narrative, and that alone is proof that something profound if afoot.

Still all this evidence aside, it is all too easy to declare a current period of time to be superlative when we don’t have the benefit of history to judge it by, it’s true that the quality of TV shows available at the moment is a cut above of what has been available previously. You can thank HBO primarily, and also a slew of smaller US cable channels like the emergent AMC, who broadcast breakout hit, The Walking Dead, for creating this surfeit of high quality shows across a broad range of genres, with even sitcoms, one viewed as an endangered species, benefiting from this new creative upwelling. The cable channels are nowhere near as encumbered as the free-to-air channels in the USA with the need to observe certain social niceties  and so there shows tend to push the envelope so hard they end on the other side of the stationery store.

And that means that creative risks are taken where they may not otherwise have been and that means TV that doesn’t play it safe. To be sure there is still a lot of TV that stays smack bang in the bland uneventful middle but thankfully all these cutting edge shows more than make up for that.

What this all means for ardent consumers of televisual entertainment like me is a serious case of golden age of TV anxiety. I am awash, it often feels in stellar show after stellar show, struggling to keep up with shows so richly written I marvel at their cleverness at every turn.

And yet I often feel that I will be unable to truly appreciate them properly as I race from episode to episode, trying to make up ground when I discover a series two or three seasons in. My partner, may the gods of popular culture bless him, encourages me, whenever I stop moving, to stop and smell the pixalated roses but it is hard to do that when you have seasons of a show to watch and precious little time in which to do it.

Now the obvious solution is to play TV Lifeboat – you can read my earlier post on that here – but I find that so hard when there are so many high quality shows on offer. Before the current spate of great shows, you picked a few shows here and there, left the dross to be consumed by those who enjoy their shows light on anything approaching daring creativity, and sat back and enjoyed them.

Now it’s more a matter of what not to watch, and the job of selecting what stays and what goes is much harder. Now, I am not complaining about this bountiful state of affairs; not at all. It is a gift and I am a blessed man to have, in the words of a Twitter hashtag, such “first world problems”.

No, what you are getting here is my frustration that there is so much goodness and so few hours in the day once I work, eat, try to read a book, read the paper, indulge in some social media time and… in other words, so much to do and see and so little proverbial. You know the drill…

At least I am finally up to date with Eureka – roll on season 5! – and Warehouse 13 – I need ya season 4 now please! – and I am hurtling through the insane comic deliciousness of Community season 3, chortling all the way. Next up I will tackle seasons 3 & 4 of Sanctuary, all 3 seasons of Parks and Recreation, and a few stray Big Bang Theory and Modern Family episodes before diving into more Grimm, Alcatraz, and Once Upon a Time, and maybe just maybe the 2 seasons of In Treatment still gathering dust on my DVD shelves.

That’s not even scratching the surface but I think that by the time I have watched all of those shows, and more besides, the nice lady at the nursing home will be bringing me my sago pudding to eat while I play bingo with my fellow housemates..


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