#6- “It’s Like Frolicking in a Surly, Many-Boobed Field”- We Are in the Television Golden Age and Game of Thrones is Back!
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and TV and a struggling sculpture artist in a time when marble is scarce. There’s probably some spoilers somewhere in here, so don’t blame me because I warned you, sonnyjack.
I am ready to welcome the sins of Westeros back into my life again. The boobs, and the midgets, and the incest… I want all of it. It’s like welcoming a dirty, crusty friend back into your life after his long HBO-fueled absence. Our noble dwarf Tyrion Lannister, the ever-slappable Joffrey Baratheon, and their entire gamut of back-stabbing winter-fearers are going to waltz back into our living rooms (or out of your computer screen if you’re one of those naughty children who pirates things) and we couldn’t be more glad.
The fervor and fan art that Game of Thrones inspires is daunting. It’s also the perfect encapsulation of where television is at right now.
Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the history of television, probably due to the lack of availability of HBO shows outside of seedy pirate dens. Its fans obsess over it, count down the days of its absence, and smatter the Internet with pictures of its eminence. It’s TV the likes of which we’ve never seen.
And, even with that, it still might not even be the best show on TV. Breaking Bad fans would dip you in a jug of hydrofluoric acid just for muttering such a blasphemy. For that transgression, Community fans would take you out behind the space bus and shoot you with paintballs. Homeland diehards would probably just be white and upper-class at you, which is victory enough as it is.
We could fight all day about what is the best show on television and before we were done we could probably have strong cases for at least a dozen different shows. That’s amazing. That’s incredible. Film doesn’t usually reach that goal annually. There’s a few that would be warred over, but only probably five or six that would have any chance at the belt. There is such a smattering of interesting and diverse programming hitting the airwaves right now that you could not even know that half of it exists and still have a more than healthy televised diet.
I could ramble and rave all day about how FX is the best network on television, lauding its comedies like Archer or The League, its innovative programming like Louie or American Horror Story, its stark and interesting dramas like Justified and The Americans. I could write entire articles about any of these. And you as a viewer could totally breeze by the entire FX channel and find ample satisfaction elsewhere.
You don’t have to stop by Archer’s ISIS spy office for fine ensemble laughs because you could find that in the Pawnee Parks Department on Parks and Recreation. You can find great drama all over the place (except on network television, sheesh…), including great work being done over on Showtime’s flagship Homeland, one of the most deserved Best Drama Emmys I’ve seen awarded, and Parenthood: The Last Refuge of Network Drama.
Television is at a place where it’s doing stuff that it’s never done, or at least hasn’t done widely. We’re getting more and more tastes of the “auteur” leaking onto your TV screen, like that time you had to get a new TV because it was leaking auteur all over the carpet. FX’s Louie is so clearly assembled into a Frankenstein Monster from the amputated limbs of Louis C.K.’s mind and we’re finally at a time where someone will strike that malformed creation with a bolt of green light lightning. And we get to witness the tragically beautiful results. HBO’s doing the same thing with projects like Mike White’s Enlightened or Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! over on IFC, which so casually tosses off the “everybody must like me so that I may sell tampons to the masses” mentality much of television is saddled with and goes on to create something interesting and unique in the process. See how I keep using the possessory credit on those shows? You wouldn’t have seen that a few years ago, even with mad banter geniuses like Amy Sherman-Pallidino running around making Gilmore Girls.
We’re also now getting effective weekly installments of horror programming, and so many different types, too. There are hardly any similarities between The Walking Dead and American Horror Story besides “People like them” and “They can be found on Netflix,” and yet they unite so well to show us that television is evolving.
It’s a different kind of horror than you find on Elm Street or actively torture-porning in Jigsaw’s scary basement, but that’s because Freddy and Jason aren’t periodically interrupted from terrorizing coeds to learn of the true terrors brought on by improper debt consolidation. The horror has to be more bawdy when there’s a chance you’re going to be followed up by slow-mo images of macaroni and cheese. But we’ve got zombies on television, everybody, so stop complaining and tolerate it.
It’s this kind of innovative, differentiated landscape of programming that makes me angry when people say that “British television is so much better than American television.” Even typing those words makes me seethe and foam at the mouth like a rabid Vampire Diaries fan at a shipping convention.
I will concede that the Brits do have some legs up on their Yankee counterparts. The remarkably truncated seasons available for each show prevent certain things like the diminishing returns we’ve been seeing from How I Met Your Mother since Stella shipped off to Ted’s Girlfriends Purgatory. But there are also those who have been griping for decades about the lesser adventures of a certain immortal doctor who loves picking up women in his magic telephone booth since the show was rebooted years ago. So I don’t want to hear that argument used again.
I admit the Mustafa-level of unkillability of shows like Scrubs or That 70s Show yield wet fart exits, but I think the British weapon of choice also has its own set of pitfalls.
There’s just not enough of it. There is almost nothing on this Earth or any parallel one I love as much as the original Simon Pegg vehicle Spaced, a 14 episode wonder that precursed everything that I love (namely Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). And there’s just not enough of it. Like any show, it took a little while to take off, about three or four episodes. When you’re Cheers and you last for twelve seasons, that’s a pretty simple matter to shrug off and drink away. When that represents 2/7ths of your entire runtime as a program that poses a bit of an issue. I love the show and rewatch it often and wish almost every time that there was just more of it for me to suck on.
I see its benefits, but I also see its risks. In about equal measure. Someone over at The AV Club once said that the perfect set-up for a show would be about five seasons of thirteen episodes apiece. Can’t say I disagree with the man.
Back in the states, I’m going to make the bold statement and say that Happy Endings is one of the best comedies on television, probably somewhere in the Top Five. In my experience, you’ve probably never heard of it. Also in my experience, you probably watch The Big Bang Theory. When we are awash in so many interesting and diverse comedies, a staggering number of people still choose to have the pop culture center of their brains mashed by mean-spirited comedy and obvious jokes. And that’s a big lesson to take away from this article. Bad stuff gets through. Bad stuff will always get through. There will always be shows about midgets diving. Always. They’ve been with us since our great nation was but thirteen colonies and we first started thinking midgets are funny.
That’s life. There’s bad television and midgets are funny. Bad stuff will seep through, as it does in every industry. Movies may have Alfred Hitchcock, but they also have Uwe Boll and that’s a bad thing. For every The Beatles, there will be Ke$ha. For every Moonrise Kingdom, there will be four Transformers movies. That is life, and that is also television. But bad television doesn’t have to be all bad. The Big Bang Theory helps me sort out who my real friends are. 100 episodes of the Charlie Sheen vehicle Anger Management will fund more episodes of Louie. It’s a necessary evil. ABC needs its midgets diving show so that The Middle might live.
And with the advent of things like Veronica Mars’ incredible Kickstarter, there has never been a better time to truly laud great television and give it an extra boost of cult. We can truly show off that which is splendid. Two and a Half Men isn’t going to get a movie. I haven’t even mentioned all of the great things going on in television outside of the television, like House of Cards or Arrested Development’s second life on Netflix. Arrested Development, you sweet little bastard, go forth and multiply… the number of Andy Richter brothers you depict. Also, please don’t suck.
It is at this point, and at many other points in my life, that I’m going to take the opportunity to pity those who indulge only in film and consider television to be a “low art form,” like being periodically interrupted by the tampon ads somehow demeans something as a storytelling form. I’m sure the earliest Neanderthal storytellers were occasionally interrupted by mammoth attacks, but that doesn’t make their stories any less impressive. I pity those that can’t see the storytelling capabilities provided by television: The world building that can only come from having as much run time as The Simpsons, the character depth you can’t get when you only have two hours, the opportunity to give me the most up-to-date and topical tampon ads in the entire world. I will never care about the death of any film character as much as I cared about the heroic sacrifice of Charlie on Lost or the sudden downfall of Firefly’s Wash (I understand that Wash’s downfall didn’t happen until the movie, but it had fourteen episodes leading up to that moment and also still made me openly weep like a schoolgirl being water boarded).
Movies are at an innovation stand-still. As I’ve mentioned before, there was only one decent straight-up comedy movie in all of 2012, while television strutted proudly carrying 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Community, Happy Endings, Archer, Louie, and more stuff that I don’t wash because I do have to go to class occasionally. Sorry, movies, but right now you’re being outgunned by that which you malign so simply.
There’s almost too much good stuff on TV. We’re jam-paced with so much quality programming that half of it gets cancelled. I had myself a little Viking funeral for the demise of Ben and Kate, but no one was with me because you probably haven’t heard of it, which may be part of the problem. And yet, its passing could mean nothing to you, because Raising Hope and New Girl are both damn fine comedies airing on the same night on the same bloody channel.
Writing this article, I’ve had the terrible feeling that I haven’t talked enough about anything. And that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can pay. There is so much good stuff on the air right now that I can write 2,000 words about all the good stuff and not talk at length about any of it. We are in the television Golden Age. Someone I know called it the “Platinum Age,” and they’re also right. Revel in it. It won’t last forever.
But the best part about all of this? Whose Line is It Anyway? is coming back!
Kevin updates Chekhov’s Gunman regularly, posting these essays every two weeks, weekly reviews of Community, Game of Thrones, and whatever else catches his fancy, and every Wednesday we get a new Mexican Standoff, so find Kevin here. Or you can follow him on the Twitter @KevinWroteThis. Be sure to Follow or Subscribe to this blog and remember to shove this article in the face of that snooty film kid that you know. Take care of yourselves!