Back in olden times before individual transportation pods, retinal apps, and the mind Web, TV was known as the “idiot box.” Not only because it was an actual box and not a screen the width of a paperback, but because it was mostly for idiots. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it. I grew up with my own television in my bedroom and I watched it for hours on end. Barbaric conditions. Most kids have TVs in their pockets now.
Almost as significant as pocket TV is the fact that a lot of the shows on it now are actually…good. Really good. People complain that they can’t keep up with the countless hours of worthy entertainment available to them. Their DVR screens pile up with choices. It’s overwhelming. It’s a burden. (See if anyone still calls it a burden after being forced to watch a Love Boat marathon or wade through a few hundred hours of Jerry Springer.)
Until recently, bad TV was the norm, with a smattering of exceptional exceptions. Over the years, shows like The Twilight Zone, Hill Street Blues, Twin Peaks, ER, the short-lived Profit, and My So-Called Life showed us that TV could be great. It could be dark and surprising. It could reflect life as we knew it and not just as we wanted it to be. But those shows were the exceptions. They were the unicorns. Then came The Sopranos, and now you can’t throw a digital rock without hitting a fricking unicorn.
Over the past year (sometimes with my kids, sometimes not) I have devoured — among others — Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, black-ish, Key & Peele, Fresh Off the Boat, Bob’s Burgers, Silicon Valley, The Family, The Affair, Bloodline, Girls, Making a Murderer, Togetherness, Transparent, Casual, The Great British Bake Off, Luther, Black Mirror, Inside Amy Schumer, and The People v. O.J. Simpson. Add the shows we have on permanent loop, like the dearly departed Parks and Recreation and Fixer Upper, and we’re never at a loss for fine entertainment. And I still have an extensive “to watch” list, including the latest season of Orange Is the New Black, which my sister-in-law, Jenji Kohan, created. That’s right, there’s so much good TV that I’m even behind on shows by people I’m related to.
Much has been made of how and why TV’s having another “golden age.” I think it’s because that Monopoly Guy with the top hat realized that, for the most part, the same 10 white men were making all the shows. And Top Hat Guy was all “That’s not fair!” and spread wealth and opportunity for all. Not really. I think it’s because HBO and Showtime proved that there was money to be made in quality programming. And once Top Hat ran out of pals to make it, he had no choice but to let a few outliers and weirdos have a crack. And if the current TV landscape is any indication, outliers and weirdos can be hard to deal with, but they sure are fun to observe from a distance.