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.
2014 – The Road Forward
In some ways, 2014 can be the most difficult year to discuss, because we don’t yet know the long-term impact of its successes and failures. Nor do we even know for certainty that many of the shows which survived their opening in the past few months will see success in the long run – or what exactly they may transform into.
All the same, it has been an immensely fascinating year, particularly the further we move into our incredible era of television. And there are a number of key ways in which we’re seeing that transformation into full-blown high brow complexity in television almost piece by piece.
TV Doesn’t Just Belong to the Networks, Cable, and Netflix
For one thing, it’s never been more clear than ever: television narrative is no longer just a venue for the big four networks. Once the harbor in careful control from the likes of Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC, scripted television has now expanded to such a broad variety of venues that there’s a degree to which the definition of scripted television itself comes into question.
Multiple outlets are picking up from the success of Netflix, already riding high from critically-acclaimed shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Amazon has had the greatest success in this arena; while they’ve been trying for some time now on a consistent basis to submit their own original shows into the zeitgeist for discussion, Transparent has already risen to the top just in the last few months. Indeed, more than one critic was seen to list it as a greatest of the year for ending out 2014.
Comic Book Properties are Bigger Than Ever – and Still Growing
Beyond that, as an undeniable part of our comic book renaissance, the presence of comic book television is more pervasive than ever, and this new fall season signaled a very interesting – and potentially exciting – new shift. While Agents of SHIELD and Arrow have spent the past couple of seasons showing where the genre could go (in conjunction with cinematic universes and otherwise) we’re really getting an even greater sense of how things are evolving.
In no better way is this better demonstrated – and contrasted – than in Gotham and The Flash. The latter was a hit right out of the gate, banking both on the quality and success of big sibling Arrow as well as the general popularity of its title character. And it’s been a hit with audiences. While it still has some growing pains to overcome, it also has an admirable confidence in regards to its own tone and desired accomplishments; and coupled with the wildly successful Flash/Arrow crossover we already received (and so early on in the game) it signals that there will be very good things in the future of this growing DC TV universe.
Unfortunately, Gotham has not been so fortunate. Though already optioned for a full first season, overall reactions from fans and critics alike have been decidedly mixed. Some praise its ambitions and desires to take a new look at the world and characters of the Batman universe outside of Bruce Wayne himself. At the same time, the show has struggled immensely to nail down a particular tone and genre it wants to hold at the fore. The Flash benefited from knowing the degree it’s wished to adopt a rather Superman-like aesthetic, with an earnestness in its world and characters, and a general sense of fun that’s very true to the core of comic book storytelling. While Gotham has struggled under the weight of too many characters and deciding if it wants to be more comic book-y, a crime drama, a procedural, or perhaps even something else entirely.
In a somewhat similar vein, Constantine also saw its start out this year, though has struggled in a manner somewhat similar to Gotham: lack of consistency in any fan response, and question about its long-term viability. Though at the same time, all three have demonstrated that Marvel is going to have a lot to live to in competing with the successes already enacted by DC when it comes to genre and superhero storytelling in this arena. No doubt, 2014 will be remembered as a key point in which the genre itself was set forward in broad and exciting new directions.
Satirical News and Commentary is on the Rise
Another arena in which television has evolved in interesting ways in the last year is in the realm of satirical news programming. All of these spawn from the granddaddy itself in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, now approaching an impressive – and staggering – 15-year run on the air. And while Stewart himself remains a stalwart voice in altering the public perception of media, politics, and news, it’s never been more clear how much others can have a similar impact.
On one hand, we saw the ending of The Colbert Report – a show that served itself as something of a spinoff from The Daily Show. Indeed, it proved every bit as successful as its successor, as it increasingly found its own distinct voice and presentation, and oftentimes complemented Stewart’s show by actively demonstrating the very things Stewart would often criticize.
And while Colbert’s loss is sad (even as we all wait with breathless anticipation to see what Colbert himself will be like in taking over for David Letterman on The Late Show) it has opened a new window of opportunity; no doubt, Colbert will continue some kind of political commentary and the like in his new venue, while his absence has allowed for a new comedian – also successful in his time on The Daily Show – to try his hand. It’ll be weeks until we know one way or the other, but fans of Colbert and Stewart can no doubt hope for the best when it comes to Larry Wilmore’s own new program – particularly given that, like The Colbert Report, Stewart will serve as an executive producer.
Meanwhile, over on HBO, Jon Oliver has started up his own show in Last Week Tonight, and has rapidly expanded into one of the most entertaining programs of the year. Taking cues from his time spent as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Oliver clearly used many ideas as a foundation, but has already found new ways in which to utilize them to give the show a very distinct perspective. Rather than targeting punditry, politicians, or the news of the day, Oliver oftentimes gets off his best segments with in-depth discussion of what essentially amounts to investigate journalism; the kind that informs, entertains, and galvanizes audiences into action. Indeed, not only has Oliver helped fill the hole left by Colbert, but similar to Colbert, he’s demonstrated the brilliant way intelligent comedians like himself can both entertain and inspire the masses.
Add all of this on top of the successes of the fall season, and it is a truly impressive year. Perhaps it’s no more telling about the state of this beloved medium of ours that if an average critic were to sit down and list out their favorite programming from the year, it’s unlikely that almost anyone could restrict themselves to just 5 or 10 shows to name. Indeed, the state of quality television has never been better, and it’s getting better all the time. No doubt 2015 will prove even more interesting than all that’s come before. Participate in the discussion in our comments, and stay tuned to TV Enthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.