What’s your favorite TV show?
This used to be a simple question. “The Twilight Zone,” I’d answer, nervously feigning some sort of classical intellectualism. My family didn’t have cable, and I felt obliged to answer with a series that was representative of what’s traditionally deemed the “Golden Age of Television” (1950-1960).
I thought television was trash. And — to be perfectly honest — it was.
My mother, a successful writer and editor, was a tough critic when it came to TV. She briefly wrote for television in the 1980’s, and from her experience discovered that most television writers predated by the Golden Age were either predictable burnouts who wrote in the most obvious, mundane and traditional manner, or ostentatious Ivy Leaguers who attempted to shatter the minds of viewers with the most complex, confusing and pseudo-intellectually stimulating plot twists. There was no middle ground.
There was boring trash. And there was pretentious garbage.
But in the early 2000s this all changed. My parents started watching “The Sopranos,” an HBO series revolving around the fictional life of Tony Soprano and the problems faced by his family. And, because we didn’t have cable, they would go over to their friends’ house every Sunday evening to watch the next episode.
My parents’ weekly viewing of “The Sopranos” became an almost religious act, and it was a beautiful thing to witness. Every Sunday, they would talk about the previous week’s episode for hours before leaving to watch the next, analyzing each piece of the series — its stellar acting, its impeccable writing, its innovative use of popular music. Most of all, they relished in it’s heartbreakingly realistic portrayal of the problems faced by so many families.
“The Sopranos” became my parents’ teacher, preacher and therapist. It made them think about and understand their own lives in ways that few works of art ever could.
My parents’ love of “The Sopranos” eventually inspired them to get cable — a dangerous choice for a household with three adolescent boys.
I was introduced to an entirely new world.
With the overwhelming success of “The Sopranos,” and the universal influence of the show’s innovative styles and techniques, a plethora of spectacular television came into being. First, “Six Feet Under” and “The Wire.” Then, “Breaking Bad,” “The Office” and “Arrested Development.” Now, “Mad Men, “30 Rock,” “Girls,” “Modern Family,” “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.” The list goes on and on.
And with the introduction of online streaming techniques, we have the capability to binge-watch these stellar shows. We have become the masters of our own entertainment universe, transcending the space and time once dictated by conventional media outlets.
We have entered a new Golden Age of Television.
Television no longer serves as background noise for menial house chores, or the subject matter of meaningless watercooler conversation.
Currently, the intellectual and artistic value of television is increasing exponentially. It has become the new frontier of cinematic innovation. It has become the true artistic means of speaking to our generation.
And Hollywood knows it.
Brilliant actors, writers and directors are migrating to television. David Fincher, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors, produced Netflix’s “House of Cards” and is now set to direct the entire first season of “Utopia,” an HBO series he is producing with “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn.
Now, when I’m asked what my favorite TV show is, I struggle to answer. Unlike with literature and film, I cannot pull an answer from my back pocket. I can’t blindly point to the work of another time and say, “‘The Great Gatsby’ — it’s a classic.” I’m forced to contemplate the fact that the greatest pieces of television are being produced right now.
We can no longer mindlessly watch contemporary television and look to the past for sources of beautiful, artistic entertainment. Watching television is no longer a shameful act. We are living in the Golden Age.
Now, excuse me — I need to go re-watch “House of Cards” before the new season is available to stream.
Contact Jeremy Siegel at [email protected].