Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Golden Age of Television lasted from 2003-2006

I know every age is a golden age and every golden age is also a time of terrible, debased junk, but I have been watching The Killing and Game of Thrones and Mad Men, and I can tell you that they are fine/good but they're just not exciting the way premium TV used to be. Sorry to Justified and Dexter and Modern Family, but they simply aren't as good as the best shows on TV used to be.

So when was the Golden Age of Television? Let's take a look***:
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
  • Futurama (original run) (1999-2003)
  • Angel (1999-2004)
  • The West Wing (1999-2006)
  • The Sopranos (1999-2007)
  • The Wire (2002-2008)
  • Arrested Development (2003-2006)
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
  • Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
  • Deadwood (2004-2006)
  • Lost (2004-2010)
  • The Office (2005-present)
  • Heroes (2006-2010)
  • Mad Men (2007-present)
What this data doesn't capture, of course, is that not every one of these shows was amazing for the entire length of its run. It's not really clear, for example, how many seasons of The Office really count as classic, for example. Obviously only the first season of Heroes was any good. Others like The West Wing and The Sopranos started to get a little questionable in their late seasons. Even The Wire, painful as it is to admit, had a weak final season.

So I would offer that the sweet spot here is from about 2003 until about 2006, maybe 2007. After that these shows were either no longer on the air or else noticeably grasping at straws.

Why am I wrong?

*** Not on this list: The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien, all of which were making terrific television at the same time period. For that matter, there were also a number of great reality shows on at the same time. It's just easier for our purposes if we stick with scripted shows.


KT said...

Are you only talking about US TV? Because you're notably missing new Doctor Who, which was one of the best things on TV in the time period specified (although I would argue it peaked in 2008 with the fourth season, so) (I loved that season).
It didn't have a real season in 2009, instead doing these weird miniseries things, which worked though and the end of those was as compelling of television as I've ever seen. The latest season... I don't know, and the new season starts tonight so I guess we'll see.

I've heard good things about a few other British series' that are on now and recently, but haven't had time to check them out and don't remember which right now. I can say that if the BBC makes their Sherlock Holmes into an ongoing series and it's as good as the first three, it will probably be the best thing out there, period. It was pitch-perfect. Did you watch those?

House would probably back you up too, although I don't have the dates. It has had good episodes here and there lately but not as consistently.

I think Bones has actually gotten better though, or at least remained consistently awesome. Excellent characters who, with a few flaws here and there, act within their characterizations even while experiencing growth? Yes please.

I feel like you're skewing the data by including Futurama but leaving out The Simpsons, given that seasons 6 - 8, let's say, were so amazing. Or are you only talking about the 2000s? Perhaps I'm unclear on the scope of your discussion.

Oh and Leverage is relatively new and truly good TV.

But I never watched The Sopranos or The Wire or Mad Men or Veronica Mars and I'm slowly watching Buffy and Battlestar and Arrested Development now (I know, I know, you should really see my Netflix queue), so what do I know?

Rob said...

Hmmm, let's see. I guess what I mean is that the '00s gave rise to that certain type of premium, long-story-arc TV that really had never existed before, or not to the anything like the level of sophistication that these shows did.

Definitely it is can be arbitrary and pretentious to consider that sort of show automatically better or more important than more episodic shows. I love Leverage! Bones too! But the long-story-arc shows are kind of doing a different thing, and I think it makes sense to judge them against each other.

So anyway, The Sopranos was essentially the first of these, and perhaps because it was a huge hit there was a period of years when all sorts of fascinating stuff was happening. Today that type of TV has become an established niche and most of the new shows are starting to feel like in some sense retreads.

But! Strong agreement with you that the BBC "Sherlock" series is the greatest thing ever! If new ones keep it up, it will totally be in league with the greatest of the golden-age shows!

Rob said...

P.S. I never answered your question about whether British TV is included. I guess no? But mostly because I don't have enough knowledge to include it?

P.P.S. I think if you count longevity, which you should, then The Simpsons is the greatest television show ever, period. But the point is that in the '90s there was The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and then basically nothing else that you'd ever even think about watching today.

KT said...

Ah, that definition makes more sense to me - a golden age *for this type of TV*. It makes sense to compare them against one another, but I also think it's funny (although probably it is telling about what I enjoy in a TV show) that what I singled out about Bones is specifically the long-form story telling - the character growth - instead of the mystery-of-the-week. But yes, it is not the same thing.

So Firefly would fit more under the Leverage/Bones category I take it? Although I would probably place Futurama there as well, honestly.

You really should watch the new Who - you don't need to watch the old series, just start with Christopher Eccleston and go from there. You would really like it.

I feel like there is a whole world of awesome British TV I don't have time for right now, given I don't even have time for awesome American TV. But I will make time for the new Sherlock WHENEVER THEY MAKE MORE HINT HINT BBC.

PS I hated Seinfeld.

PPS Do not forget that the 90s produced My So-Called Life, which I will match up with pretty much anything on your list any day of the week.