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.
2010: The Rise of Genre Television
In 2010 America was in the midst of an economic recession that was only expected to get worse, naturally, in times of unease and uncertainty, Americans do what they have always done, and turn to television to escape their troubles, and television was there to meet them. 2010 saw the beginning of genre television’s rise from being a niche for enthusiasts to becoming truly mainstream. The breakout show to do this from 2010 was The Walking Dead, which has become a true phenomenon, but 2010 also saw other genre shows attempt to breakthrough, such as Justified, Spartacus and Caprica. Though none managed to achieve the same success of The Walking Dead, they proved that television producers were now willing to take more chances on genre television than ever before. Television was no longer being dominated by the, so called, “reality” programming that plagued it before.
2010 also brought us The Winter Olympics, held in Vancouver Canada, which was one of the most widely viewed sporting events of the year. It was also where Canada, for the first time, won a Gold medal in an official sport during an Olympics they hosted. In fact, they ended up breaking the record for the most gold medals won in a single winter Olympics with 14, the previous record was 13. The United States won the most total medals in the 2010 Winter Olympics, breaking the record for the most medals won at a Winter Olympics with 37 medals, marking a very good year for the United States at the games.
Caprica: A Different Kind of Galactica
Caprica was a spinoff prequel to the SyFy channel’s successful re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, although it did not enjoy the same level of success as it’s predecessor, and was canceled after only one season. Being set 58 years before Battlestar Galactica, Caprica focused on the creation of the Cylons, the primary antagonists in Battlestar Galactica. This change of focus was meant to attract a broader audience, as Syfy felt that Battlestar Galactica, with it’s space battles, appealed primarily to a limited male demographic. The hope was that the more grounded terrestrial focus of Caprica would attract more females to the genre and expand the series reach. Though it was a ratings failure, Caprica was a noble attempt at trying to bring genre programming to the mainstream.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Edgy and Satisfying
Spartacus premiered on Starz in January of 2010 as a re imagining of the true story of Spartacus, the legendary slave who led a rebellion against the Roman Empire. The first season focused on Spartacus’ early life as a Gladiator, training and fighting for Lentulus Batiatus. The series was notable for being especially raw and edgy, not holding back on anything, whether it be violence or sexual content, but it was well written and entertaining in it’s own right. The series was one of Starz most successful, having lasted 4 seasons before it ended. Notably the show’s production ran into trouble when series star Andy Whitfield became ill with cancer and could no longer perform. This delayed the production of the second season as producers had to re-cast the lead, and thus the idea of a prequel miniseries emerged that would tide viewers over until the second season could air. That series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena was just as successful as the first season and made viewers even more anxious to see the official second season. Sadly former star Andy Whitfield died before production on Spartacus ended.
Justified: A New Twist on a Well Worn Genre
In 2010 FX boldly revived the Western, With Justified. Based on characters from a short story by novelist Elmore Leonard, Justified focuses on Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens a wildcard of a lawman who usually plays by his own rules as he goes up against Kentucky’s most ruthless criminals, most notably Boyd Crowder, a charismatic criminal who shares a history with Raylan. This modern day spin on the Western proved successful for FX as Justified is, as of this writing, about to enter it’s 6th and final season, ending on it’s own terms.
The Walking Dead: Genre TV Finally Goes Mainstream
AMC’s third, and possibly biggest, home run is also genre television’s biggest success story to date. The Walking Dead centers on former Sheriff Rick Grimes and a group of survivors as they try to stay alive in the zombie apocalypse. What sets The Walking Dead apart from most typical zombie fare is it’s strong focus on the human characters and their struggles, in favor of just showcasing the zombies and endless blood and gore for the sake of it. The result is a powerful drama of survival, and what it takes to live in such a harsh setting.
Many times in the series the characters face moral dilemmas where they are forced to sacrifice their personal moral codes in order to survive. The series isn’t perfect though, the writing can be sloppy, the situations are often contrived, and things can get cheesy as the characters behave with unrealistic folly. Many critics have called out the program for these flaws, but when the show is at it’s best it’s great television, and as a whole I, personally, find it to be a compelling drama. America seems to agree, as The Walking Dead has become the highest rated cable drama in history, breaking it’s own records year after year.
It’s tough to explain the appeal this show has, though perhaps the financial downturn affecting Americans allows us to empathize with the survivors of The Walking Dead, as they deal with the more extreme downturn of society and humanity as a whole. One thing is clear though, because of The Walking Dead, genre TV has now truly become mainstream.
2010 was the year in which genre television rose to great prominence as audiences began to seek out more satisfying forms of escapism. This rise would continue through subsequent years as we enter a new golden age for genre TV. 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 TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.