Photo By: Jonas Leupe from Unsplash
The Golden Age of Television is a term that media scholars and critics use to describe the current era of high-quality, internationally acclaimed, prestige TV. Any and all TV shows with complicated plots, overarching storylines, and multimillion dollar budgets generally fall into this category. While there’s disagreement about when exactly this era started, but there is consensus that it stretches from at least the early 2000s to the present day.
Increased production values combined with the Netflix release method of dropping an entire season of certain shows on one day rather than one episode at a time over a span of weeks has meant that TV shows have started to feel more like extended, drawn out films than what I traditionally think of as television.
That’s not an inherently bad thing, there are some great shows that have come from this method of producing television, but not every show should have to feel like an eight-hour Oscar-nominated movie to be worth watching.
There’s something to be said for the half-hour sitcoms of years past, when streaming services weren’t as ubiquitous. These shows were intentionally written so that if viewers missed an episode, they wouldn’t be entirely lost and confused with regards to the plot.
Prestige television shows have also seemed to abandon “filler episodes.” These are episodes in a series that don’t necessarily have a lot of bearing when it comes to the overall plot and have a “wacky side-quest” kind of quality to them. TV lets audiences stay with characters longer than movies do, so the appeal of filler episodes has always been in getting to see the characters in strange or different circumstances. They also provided a break from what might have been a high-stakes plot; a moment of comedic relief in an otherwise serious story arc.
Both the quality and quantity of television shows being produced in the last decade have been steadily increasing. A lot of these shows are the kind that get dropped onto streaming services in their entirety for audiences to binge to their heart’s content.
Despite an increase in content, this has not been all good. Binge-watching fatigue is a documented phenomenon; the sheer amount of content, combined with the perceived societal pressure to watch it all as fast as possible to keep up with the conversation can be daunting and even exhausting.
I know for a fact that I’ve found myself unable to fully digest TV shows when episodes play one after the other. Instead of watching one episode every week, having time to process it and then start to anticipate what’s going to happen next, binge-watching encourages viewers to steamroll through entire seasons at a time, leaving little time to process.
It’s definitely a small problem in the grand scheme of things, but I kind of miss only getting an hour’s worth of content from my favourite shows every week.
Studios and streaming services have been working to combat binge-watching fatigue by returning to a once per week episode schedule. While I definitely enjoyed watching “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” every week as it came out this past summer, and then talking about theories and plot twists with my roommate in anticipation of the next episode, it was still apparent that the show was written to be streamable and binge-watch friendly.
TV nowadays seems to be deliberately written to be watched in one go, and even though it might make me sound like a traditionalist grump, I liked it better the way it used to be. I just don’t think that TV has to feel like a movie or have the same budget as one to be worth watching. There’s just as much entertainment in cable-TV sitcoms and procedural dramas with relatively simple plots and low production values.
While there are definite pros to this era of binge-worthy, streamable TV, I hope other structures of television make a comeback.