Podcast: The Golden Age of Television


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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16 Responses

  1. Sonny Bunch says:

    We did go a bit long, didn’t we?Report

  2. Freddie says:

    Sorry for my rambling. Still new to the podcasting biz.Report

  3. Lev says:

    Great discussion! Y’all covered a lot of great points. Here are some random observations:

    I think one of the major drivers in our Golden Age of Television–and one that is only glancingly touched on in the podcast–is the rise of the internet. It used to be that if Frasier had an off year, well, maybe their ratings would dip a bit and the showrunners would have to figure out a way to kick things back into gear. Now the feedback is continuous, and it can provide showrunners with a direct line to their most ardent fans’ psyches, and sometimes that can even be helpful (I think it’s fair to say that Lost only had the impetus to start righting itself once the nerds got loud enough), and it can often set the conventional wisdom about shows (like Battlestar Galactica, which I’ll hit in a little bit). It seems to me that the whole online comment idea is itself indebted to shows like Beavis and Butt-head and Mystery Science Theater 3000, as an example of the odd sorts of metafeedback loops developing among different media. But anyway…

    I agree with what was said about 30 Rock–I like the show but I think it’s been rather overblown, and I find that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is more reliably good as well as more sharply satirical of mass media culture in a way that I rarely see, by basically presenting its characters as filtering reality entirely through the lens of pop culture and being completely foiled by it. 30 Rock occasionally lobs a satirical grenade here and there, but Sunny is my choice for the best comedy currently on television, both in terms of its ambition and just how darn funny it is.

    As one of those incessant boosters of The Wire, I definitely think it’s the best show of the decade. I’ll grant that its last season was pretty inconsistent, and that a show like The Shield was more consistent and accomplished its goals pretty well, but I really felt like The Wire was trying to do something much harder than what The Shield was trying to do, and I felt that the times when The Shield tried to spiral out its focus and look more broadly at society were easily its weakest (the part in season seven where the locals took part in the gang contest being a principal case in point). Now, obviously, creating a show like The Shield that is good for seven seasons is pretty amazing in and of itself, but The Wire was much more ambitious than any other show and, as a result, had successes greater than practically any other show ever. I guess it depends on your priorities as a viewer, and there’s no right answer to be had here.

    As someone who really loathed late-period BSG, I tend to agree that the creators didn’t really have a plan (as they insisted), but I just generally think that BSG was actually two shows: one was an action-suspense-mystery space opera which mostly dealt with military and political questions that paralleled real life concerns, and another was a show that was obsessed with its own mythology, religious questions, and identity. Obviously, all of that stuff was present at all stages of the show, but the show shifted its focus from the first group of concerns to the second right after the Pegasus storyline more or less answered all the questions the show initially asked about security/military/political stuff post-9/11, and that was the point where the show’s decline began. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that Ron Moore clearly understood enough about show #1 to make it interesting to people, and clearly didn’t understand enough about show #2 to do the same.

    And, with respect to British television, I’ve always generally felt that our cousins do a better job at comedy mostly because they don’t feel the need to make characters perfect and likable. In fact, many of the funniest Britcoms were based around complete assholes–Blackadder, Alan Partridge, and The Office, to name my favorite three. Ultimately, humor has to come from self-deprecation, but making characters completely likable presents a problem since people generally don’t like to see bad things happen to good people. So in these shows bad things happen to bad people, while there are usually some more likable peripheral characters. On American comedy, the darkest you really see is Michael Scott, who is generally likable anyway (and I’m excluding some shows, like Sunny, from this analysis as they’re admittedly cult phenomena).Report

    • greginak in reply to Lev says:

      basil fawlty was royal jerk also.

      the brits have been great at having time limited series instead of to many American shows that drag on well past their time. Alot of the great shows we have now have benefited from telling their story and then ending.Report

    • Will in reply to Lev says:

      Lev –

      Wish I had time to respond to all of this, but I will say that your diagnosis of what ailed the final seasons of BSG is spot-on.Report

  4. david says:

    Freddie, where are you from? I detect a slight accent but can’t quite place it. Boston?Report

  5. bcg says:

    At the risk of not getting the joke, is this supposed to be a 1-second long file of someone saying “hey” ?Report

  6. Tyler says:

    I have a couple of thoughts about this discussion, which I felt was very rich:

    I’m really glad y’all showed love to OZ, which I would argue is the only show missing from the AV Cllub list (maybe Angel too, but given its treatment of Cordelia Chase I can ignore that). And I personally would put it in the top 5. I think it’s that good. I think it’s is a perfect companion piece to The Wire in the way Emerald City became such a microcosm of American society. You have to sort of accept the conceit of the show and the construct, so given that I can see why it is somewhat underappreciated.

    I think Buffy is far too low on the list = Top 5 baby – but I get that its early seasons precede the decade (however, people’s distaste for the later seasons has more to do with wanting the characters to stay teenagers than any real problems with the show itself). I wonder if the fact that its a genre show prevents you guys from truly appreciating how devastating it was in its emotional depth. I definitely agree with Lev’s point that the later seasons were just ridiculous.

    Veronica Mars Season 2 is better than Season 1. It is just a more richly realized vision than season 1. I wonder if people react negatively to Season 2 because they felt that, in a way, the show was “done” in one season.

    The discussion about The Wire I found fascinating and I found myself wondering how the conversation might have been different with a bit of diversity. I happen to think Season 3 is the most devastating, and I think “baldy manipulative” as a descriptor for Season 4 is laughably inaccurate, so much so that it struck me as a very liberal “my eyes have been opened but i wanna downplay it” response.

    I think The Shield fell apart after Season 5, but I do agree that its better than The Sopranos (which I personally think is the most overrated show. America’s fascination with the mafia is odd to me). But for me, watching Vic and Shane go at each other was boring, even though in terms of story it made a lot of sense.

    This is a very white male list, I noticed. And I say that as an observation, not necessarily as a bad thing. And it directly relates to the point you all were making about whether or not any TV show can be a cultural touchstone. So in that sense, I think you missed two shows that are revelatory in their representations of Black people — Girlfriends and The Boondocks. In the case of Girlfriends, I can imagine that since there was no discussion of Sex and the City that even if y’all watched it you wouldn’t like it. But viewed in the context of the history of how black women have been represented on tv, Girlfriends represents a huge step forward. The four women are without a doubt the most three-dimensional black women ever on a television show. That’s worth nothing, even though it’s still hard to get most white folks to watch shows with black people.

    Which leads me to The Boondocks, which I think is a sharp satire (as sharp if not more so than the best of The Simpsons). But I do wonder how much of the humor is so insular that it doesn’t land if you aren’t black or a negrophile. Would be interesting to see what you thought about this show, particularly in relation to South Park or Family Guy.

    Great conversationReport

    • Tyler in reply to Tyler says:

      oops – typo in graph about Buffy. I accidentally deleted a sentence about Battlestar, which is why I reference Lev’s comment.Report

    • Will in reply to Tyler says:

      Tyler –

      RE: The lack of diversity. I plead guilty as charged – we spent half the podcast talking about how niche-oriented television has become and (surprise!) the conversation turned out to be very white male-centric because, well, that’s our niche. Hopefully we can recruit Jamelle for the next podcast.

      Come to think of it, we also completely forgot about The Chappelle Show, which is a pretty important program but may have gotten overlooked because of its niche demographic appeal.Report

      • Tyler in reply to Will says:

        I forgot The Chappelle Show as well. Silly me.

        I don’t know that it was niche in the way Girlfriends and The Boondocks are, meaning a lot of my white friends love those shows. I could be wrong though, just my observation.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Tyler says:

      The Shield never worked at all for me. They kept trying to outdo themselves, with more outrageous crimes and even closer calls, and while that might work for a more normal show, they set the bar too high in episode 1. Sure, the weaknesses of the show became more obvious by the later seasons, but it had the same flaw throughout its whole run.Report