Throughout the holiday season, TVEnthusiast presented a series of articled titled The Golden Age of Television. Every weekday of the last 2 weeks saw the release of a single article that told the story of 1 year within the current golden age of television that the series represented. With all 10 articles complete, we thought it would be useful to rank and organize all of the articles into a single story. So for this week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesday, we explore the years of the current golden age of television.
1999 will forever be known as the year HBO demanded our full attention. With The Sopranos, HBO changed the way we looked at television forever, and was, perhaps, the first true sign of what we had to come in the decade to follow. Also on HBO was the debut of Larry David’s improvised sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. The former Seinfeld Showrunner, displayed much of the humor we expected from him, though through the lens of his own life. In the UK, a little series called Spaced kicked off the careers of director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The 3 would later be known for their work together on films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but it was Spaced that gave us our first glimpse of their brand of comedy. 1999 also saw the debut of Futurama, from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Futurama showed us that science could be funny, and its quality went unchallenged as The Simpsons collapsed into mediocrity.
Though not as brimming with content as more recent years of television, 2007 saw some important shifts in the way TV is made. Throughout the year, the word Showrunner, went from being an insider term in the industry to a commonly understood job title. 2007 saw the build up to what would become the 2008 WGA writers strike. Content wise, AMC joined the scripted TV business with Mad Men, NBC and their sister network USA brought us Chuck and Burn Notice, which presented 2 different takes on espionage storytelling on TV, and Bryan Fuller’s gorgeously original series Pushing Daisies expanded what we could expect from television production values.
2010 will forever be known as the year that brought us The Walking Dead. Since its 2010 debut, The Walking Dead has made short work of its television competition. In 2014, the zombie apocalypse smash hit even managed to soundly and consistently beat Sunday Night Football in the Nielsen ratings. Aside from The Walking Dead, 2010 also saw the introduction of the sly modern western series Justified, and the better-than-it-had-any-right-being swords and sandals epic Spartacus. Though not especially successful, 2010 also introduced Caprica, which many see as the last attempt at hard science fiction that Syfy made until the recent moves back in that direction in 2014 and 2015. Caprica was a prequel/spin-off of SyFy’s highest regarded program, Ron D. Moore’s 2003 remake of Battlestar Galactica.
2013 was all about Netflix, and their expansion of what we define as TV. While web series have been around for a while now, and original series had been present on Hulu and Netflix before, it was the debut of House of Cards on Netflix that ushered in Netflix’s stated goal of becoming HBO before HBO can become them. In addition to House of Cards, Netflix also brought us surprise hit Orange is the New Black and the long awaited (Netflix original) 4th season of Arrested Development. Outside of Netflix, 2013 also brought us BBC America’s first original hit Orphan Black, NBC’s tragically under watched Hannibal, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Agents of SHIELD is notable in the year due to its connection to the Marvel cinematic universe that binds such massive film properties as Captain America, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers.
2003 saw a shift in television that embraced genre TV as serious and respectable content. Leading the way was Ron D. Moore’s remake of Battlestar Galactica, which treated space born science fiction with the severity of Das Boot, while raising questions both spiritual and existential. Moore also spent much of 2003 deeply involved in HBO’s dustbowl fantasy series Carnivàle, which was HBOs first real step into more fantastical storytelling, leaving a crack in the door for Game of Thrones to eventually obliterate. Bryan Fuller kicked off his first original series as a Showrunner at Showtime with Dead Like Me. Though Fuller would later look at Dead Like Me’s development as being amongst the worst moments of his life, fans look back on the series as the start of an absolutely brilliant career. Meanwhile Fox debuted the instant cult classic comedy series Arrested Development.
1997 was the first year we included in our Golden Age of Television. Much of the reason behind its use to kick off our series of articles is due to the debut of a single series. Buffy The Vampire Slayer debuted in 1997, introducing geeks around the world to their future god, Joss Whedon. Buffy effortlessly combined comedy with drama, often using comedy to set up the drama by emotionally disarming audiences. Television writers often consider Buffy to be the most important work of modern television. Some might consider that concept silly, a show about a blonde cheerleader killing vampires the most important show on TV? What makes Buffy so important is the storytelling structure and wit that it brought to television. Aside from Buffy, 1997 also saw the debut of comedic milestone cartoon South Park. South Park recently concluded its 18th season of continued relevance and social commentary. Oh, and fart jokes too.
2008 was a strike season, and as such, was home to abbreviated, but exceptional television seasons. True Blood debuted, as an antithesis of the puritanical vampire craze of Twilight, and Fringe came to us from JJ Abrams who hoped to capitalize (and succeeded) on the good will of the loyal TV fandom he built with 2004’s LOST. Fox debuted the brilliant but short lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and FX debuted their biggest hit series of all time, the biker drama Sons of Anarchy. In the UK, Charlie Brooker made a splash with his high concept zombie series Dead Set, and a new generation of comedy mainstays came into the picture with the quick witted hilarity of The Inbetweeners. The biggest contribution to TV in 2008, however, came in the form of the abbreviated first season of AMC’s absurdly wonderful series Breaking Bad.
When I think of 2004 some other numbers come to mind, mostly a sequence of 6 numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. Yes, 2004, for me, was all about LOST, ABC’s wildly ambitious cryptic mystery from JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof. Regular visitors to this site know that LOST was incredibly important to our writers and editors. In a sense, this site might have never existed if not for the kind of discussion that LOST brought up between television fans. LOST changed the way TV was made, but perhaps more importantly, it changed the way people talked about TV. Aside from LOST, 2004 also brought us HBO’s brilliant western series Deadwood, the recently-successful-on-Kickstarter Neo Noir series Veronica Mars, and David E. Kelley’s hilarious legal series Boston Legal, which is largely responsible for the career resurgences of both William Shatner and James Spader.
2014 was a huge year for diverse content. Horror, Drama, Comedy, Comic Book, Mystery, Fantasy, Science Fiction, every genre we expected was covered and covered well. While this onslaught of content really began in 2013, it grew exponentially in 2014. Major debuts of the year include The Flash, Silicon Valley, Outlander, True Detective, and Penny Dreadful. While some highly anticipated series fell short of critical expectations, many other series sprang out of nowhere to immediate success and prestige. Major A-list actors began to migrate to TV, including Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo, Eva Green in Penny Dreadful, and both Woody Harrelson and Matthew Mcconaughey in True Detective. Meanwhile, new seasons of previous years great seasons left us in shock and awe, with Hannibal’s second season closer, and Game of Thrones’ 8th episode of its 4th season being standouts not only of their season, but of their entire runs.
2011 explored different methods of television storytelling. The UK’s Black Mirror from Charlie Brooker reminded us of why The Twilight Zone is fondly remembered with its highly episodic, chilling and darkly satirical look at the side effects of technology. FX’s American Horror Story, from Glee and Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy told a complete coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end in 1 season with the promise to start over each year with a fresh story. Showtime explored 2 sides of a story with their Manchurian Candidate-esque series Homeland. JJ Abrams continued his reign as the most powerful producer in scripted genre television by teaming with Jonathan Nolan, brother of film director Chris Nolan, and co-writer of his films, to bring us Person of Interest. Most notable, however, was the debut of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones took fantasy seriously with a giant budget, exceptional production values, and top notch writing.
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