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.
2011: TV is Better Than Film
Personally, I see 2011 as the tipping point in which TV has legitimately taken the role of the better storytelling medium from film. With shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and more continuing from previous seasons, the high profile additions to the TV lineup pushed the quality bar beyond objectivity. Prominent debuts included CBS’ serialized procedural Person of Interest, FX’s yearly horror anthology series American Horror Story, and Showtime’s The Manchurian Candidate-esque terrorism espionage drama Homeland. In the United Kingdom, Charlie Brooker brought back the storytelling structure of The Twilight Zone for his Channel 4 dystopian technology anthology Black Mirror. But the biggest debut of the year was HBO’s adaptation of GRR Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire into their smash hit drama Game of Thrones.
2011 continued to keep the eyes of the world firmly locked on the middle east. United States President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11th terrorist attack on America in 2001, had been killed in a raid by Seal Team 6, the elite Navy Seals special forces team. The implications of such a momentous occasion were widespread and varied. In the region of the middle east itself, the Arab Spring was in full effect in 2011. The mass protests, strikes, and even all out revolutions in the region have unseated the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt again.
In Japan, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the country in 2011, but the real damage came from the ensuing Tsunami, which claimed nearly 16,000 lives. Debris from Japan turned up around the world, with wreckage beaching across the west coast of the United States. The Tsunami wasn’t the end of the crisis however. The earthquake itself caused nuclear power plants in Fukushima to shut down, a normal safety procedure. Unfortunately, reactors that are shut down require emergency cooling from diesel powered backup generators. Those generators were destroyed when the tsunami waters breached the sea walls surrounding them. The reactors began to meltdown, causing worldwide nuclear panic. Water running out of the reactors entered the pacific ocean spreading radiation contamination around the world. After the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2, Japan’s radiation panic went on to influence much of their entertainment, including Godzilla, and the other Kaiju films, which presented deep social commentaries about radiation and pollution. Resurgence of nuclear panic happened to coincide with a resurgence of Kaiju based films like Pacific Rim, and the 2014 Godzilla film.
In lighter news, The world turned its eyes to the United Kingdom for the marriage of Prince William, to his bride Kate. William, second in line to the throne after his father Prince Charles, had been dating Kate Middleton off and on since 2003. Around the world people were fascinated with the giant elaborate hats, and royal etiquette of the wedding. The event had an immediate effect on comedies which were quick to parody the elaborate ceremony. Lets just be thankful that Game of Thrones didn’t inspire the wedding’s color scheme.
In science, a 36 year old man in Stockholm was the first human to receive an artificial organ transplant when a synthetic windpipe, made with the use of the patients own stem cells, was implanted. The synthetic organ was grown in a lab in London. The transplant is similar to the events of the Robin William’s film Bicentennial Man, in which a robot transitions into a man by replacing inorganic parts with synthetic organs, which are also used for the betterment of mankind. Once again, science fiction takes another step towards science fact.
In film, the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise was released as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. As a significant series in genre fandom, the absence of Potter left a large hole behind that many Film, TV, Book, and Video Game properties are still competing to fill.
Talking Dead – The Birth of the After Show
Talking Dead was launched by AMC in 2011 alongside The Walking Dead’s second season. Before that, some shows had reached out to audiences through podcasts and on Twitter. LOST Showrunner Damon Lindelof was rather prolific on Twitter, and he and co-Showrunner Carlton Cuse made themselves available to fans and criticism during the run of their series. Battlestar Galactica’s Showrunner, Ronald D. Moore, made himself similarly available to discuss episodes of his series after they aired. AMC’s Talking Dead brought the discussion directly under network control, a trend that has been copied by shows like Sons of Anarchy and MTV’s Teen Wolf.
American Horror Story – The Breakout Success of Seasonal Anthology Television
The anthology series really kicked off in 2011 thanks largely to Glee Creator Ryan Murphy’s hit series American Horror Story. With each season largely comprised of the same cast in different roles, in different settings, and in varied time periods, American Horror Story helped revitalize Horror on TV. Each season works like a large movie, telling a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Murphy himself will be launching another series in this style that follows true crime stories, and HBO has gotten in on the action with 2014’s surprise hit True Detective.
Black Mirror – The Return of Episodic Anthology Television
While American Horror Story was popularizing seasonal anthologies, Black Mirror debuted across the pond as a rebirth of the episodic anthology. When describing Black Mirror I often find myself re-using the same 3 words, The Twilight Zone. In essence, Black Mirror is a modern The Twilight Zone with a focus on technology. Series creator Charlie Brooker put it best when he said, “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects?” Black Mirror finally became widely available in North America this month with its debut on Netflix.
Game of Thrones – Fantasy Gone Mainstream on Television
But shorter more concise stories were not the only attraction on television in 2011. The year also marked the debut of the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. Based on George RR Martin’s bestselling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (whose first book is titled A Game of Thrones), Game of Thrones weaves a ridiculously complex web of intrigue, sex, and murder in a medieval-esque setting. Through the course of the series, the more fantastical elements of the show, dragons for example, begin to seep in to a world already crowded with backstabbing, murder, and complex politics. Game of Thrones basically tricked a mainstream audience into watching a fantasy series, and the massive audience for such a series allowed HBO to expand the budget to near feature film levels. The approach is similar to what JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse accomplished with LOST, a mystery series about a plane crash that soon spirals into supernatural and spiritual territory uncommon for mainstream series.
Game of Thrones continues the tradition, of treating its audience as intelligent, that LOST helped foster in 2004. There are tons of characters, tons of settings, and countless interconnections that leave many viewers perplexed. Thankfully, every mainstream viewer of the series is likely to have a geek in their life to keep everything together, so no need to placate the less involved members of the audience. In addition, Game of Thrones helped to revitalize interest in fantasy television, the full effects of which have yet to come fully to fruition, though a peak at some upcoming series orders is illuminating. Game of Thrones enters its 5th season in 2015, and HBO will be debuting their online only subscription service in time for the season premiere.
2011 was the year in which general consensus seemed to shift towards the superiority of Television, over film, as a storytelling medium. 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.