We are in a golden age of television right now. TVEnthusiast will be celebrating this golden age through the holiday season with 10 feature articles, each focusing on 1 year of television in the golden age.
2013 – TV Reaches New Heights
2013 was a tumultuous year for the small screen both in terms of content and for the manner in which said content was viewed. There were several high profile shows that ended, such as Breaking Bad and Futurama. Others continued to maintain a high quality of content, growing their viewership (Game of Thrones, for example). But 2013’s defining moments came in the form of new beginnings such as The Blacklist, Orphan Black, The Americans, Hannibal, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Netflix.
In a social context, 2013 was a year of great scientific advancement. The development of Rewalk, a bionic suit for paraplegics, relies on sensors to predict shifts in the user’s balance and transmitting them to movements. In other words, paraplegics can walk again. The Argus II was a huge advancement in assisting functionally blind patients by restoring low vision. The Atlas Robot, a fully functional robot, could mimic human rescuers in emergency situations. The Lazarus Project in Australia used DNA from frozen tissue samples to recreate the embryos of an extinct frog that gives birth through its mouth. Combined with other impressive innovations like Anki Drive (toy cars that drive themselves), the Plus Pool (an Olympic size pool that filters river water into a place to swim), an Invisible Skyscraper, and the Cronut, 2013 was certainly a year of discovery for problems we didn’t think could be solved.
While 2013 was a win for science, the rest of the world experienced devastation, tragedy, government cover-ups, and an uncertainty for the future. A ten-tonne meteor exploded in Chelyabinsk, completely undetected by satellites or telescopes. Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to resign his position. There were two major terror attacks in Africa, the Boston Marathon bombing, the death of Hugo Chavez, a rebellion in Egypt, a devastating typhoon in the Phillippines, two disputes over British territory, the collapse of a Dhaka garment factory, and in the first week of December, the world said goodbye to one of the world’s greatest champions of human rights, Nelson Mandela. It was a tumultuous year that raised questions about the future in terms of our safety, our governments, and our economic stability.
Audiences have become much more astute to the progress of current events, and as a result, the shows that became hits embraced the context of our times in the way that we could relate them to one or multiple events and advancements of our current times. Some like House of Cards and The Americans chose to depict political corruption with a straight forward approach. Other shows, such as the positioning of allegiances to destroy a once powerful family in Game of Thrones, or the inability to co-exist resulting in a total collapse of orderly society in The Walking Dead, created metaphors in their respective storylines for the anxieties many of us have towards the way we are being governed. Network programs like The Blacklist, Orphan Black, and Hannibal quickly achieved popularity through their refusal to shy away from depicting graphic and disturbing content, in addition to revealing the grey areas that certain law enforcement agencies might resort in order to achieve their desired ambitions.
The Rise of Netflix
The concept of Netflix is now one that is publicly known: subscribe to the service by paying a small monthly fee and you have access to an entire library of content. When it was first founded in 1997, it was a video delivery service, meaning its subscribers would pay a flat fee each month and could rent as much and as often as they wanted to as long as they stayed subscribed. As the years moved on, the company moved from delivering videos to providing online HD streaming of its content. By September of 2013, Netflix reported to have over 40 million subscribers. Not only did this deliver a heavy blow to internet piracy, as it proved that people are willing to pay for films and TV if there is enough value in it, the service allowed its subscribers to catch up on both old and/or currently running TV shows.
In 2013, Netflix managed to accomplish three things: 1. It helped existing shows find a larger audience. Breaking Bad for example increased its viewership immensely once all seasons became available on the streaming service. Even Vince Gilligan admitted this at the 2013 Emmy Awards by saying Netflix “kept us on the air.” 2. It provided a new home for cancelled TV shows. AMC cancelled The Killing after its second season, but Netflix picked up and revived the show for two more seasons. Arrested Development also made a much anticipated return with a fourth season produced exclusively on Netflix, years after Fox had cancelled the beloved series. 3. Finding original content to release exclusively through its service allowed Netflix to become a major competitor for HBO and Showtime.
Breaking Bad – The Highest Rated Show of All Time
2013 was the year we said goodbye to one of the most widely acclaimed and publicly embraced shows in the history of television, Breaking Bad. A thematically dense and morally ambiguous saga about a scientific genius dying of cancer who turns to producing crystal meth to leave behind money for his family, Breaking Bad catapulted its main stars, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, to multiple awards and top billing fame. As the show progressed season to season, it slowly turned its protagonist into the show’s central villain, and this change seemed to fascinate a general public who had grown tired of the traditional crime drama formula. It featured the strongest writing and most dynamic set of characters of any film or TV series thus far, so much to the point that one particular favourite – sleezy lawyer Saul Goodman – will be the central protagonist of a spin off show. Breaking Bad also helped solidify AMC as one of the top channels for quality programming, which was only emphasized in the over 100 awards Breaking Bad garnered during its six year run.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Marvel Expands Its Cinematic Universe to TV With Mixed Results
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. marked the first time a series of Hollywood blockbusters made the leap to the small screen with a TV show that would take place in the same cinematic universe. This move demonstrated Disney’s confidence in the power of TV to ignite new energy into a franchise, since events from the films would have effects on the show and vice versa. While the show held generally positive reviews by critics, audiences were divided as viewership dropped drastically and steadily week to week. There were many reasons for this decline of interest. While Agent Phil Coulson made a triumphant return, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s technology was as mind boggling as the real life advancements made throughout the year, the majority of episodes during the first season were plagued with weak characters, formulaic and predictable storylines. Not to mention its focus on normal people gave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a much less “superhero” feel. It didn’t help that Marvel and Disney partially marketed the series as the return of Joss Whedon to TV, despite that Joss was not its showrunner. Audiences expecting the witty dialogue and intricate narrative arcs characteristic of Whedon’s previous shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly were underwhelmed with dialogue that felt like writers trying to write like Joss Whedon more than anything else. After Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed Hydra agents operating all throughout S.H.I.E.L.D. the show became a lot more interesting.
Orange is the New Black – A Netflix Original Series
2013 was the year that Netflix introduced a plethora of original series. Unlike premium channels like HBO and Showtime, Netflix made the revolutionary decision to make every episode of their series available immediately, thereby catering almost completely to those audiences who love to binge watch their TV. Orange is the New Black gained instant must-see TV status as it became Netflix’s most popular show within its first week of release. A darkly comic yet unflinchingly graphic depiction of women’s prison, Orange is the New Black is not just the female version of HBO’s Oz. It is a cinematically epic story, filled with incredibly engrossing stories, characters that cover full range of human emotions, and a realistic depiction of life in prison where the most mundane of actions could have the most severe of consequences. Since the show is based off a real life memoir, it is unclear how long the series will run or how faithful it will remain to its source material. The show follows Piper Chapman, who has been sentenced to 15 months for transporting money to her drug mule girlfriend, and how she examines her relationships while trying to survive with her fellow prisoners. It is nothing short of an extraordinary story that is enhanced by Schilling’s brilliant and multi-layered performance.
2013 was not just a year of socially relevant programming, but it ushered in a new era of cinematically rich TV that ranks among the best entertainment of our times. Stay with us throughout the holidays as we explore more years of our current golden age. Participate in the discussion in our comments, and stay tuned to TV Enthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.