Golden ages are supposed to be joyous eras. Jazz, rock and roll, social democracy – we look back at these periods and smile. It’s difficult to see us doing that about television’s current golden age. Will we gather in thirty years and reminisce about watching unhinged Swedish detectives mentally profile a psychopath?
The first wave of television’s golden age was defined by something hideous called character development. This is what television writers call meandering scenes where nothing happens. It is a bad habit they learned from reading literary fiction.
It started with the Sopranos, a show ostensibly about a mafia boss but all too often about his children’s struggles with their homework. The Sopranos was the answer for anyone who enjoyed watching The Godfather but thought it would have been improved by a thirty minute focus on Michael’s children filling out college application forms. Character development reached its peak with Mad Men, a series celebrated for taking 920 hours for absolutely nothing to happen. Don sometimes won a contract. Often he didn’t. Mostly he was drunk and abrasive, which is how I felt after series two.