The golden age of television

woman watching TV

Watch much TV?

The expected answer to that question of course is no, because as we all know too much TV watching is bad for you.

But have you noticed how much good TV there is lately?  Have you noticed that we’ve entered a sort of golden age of television?  I mean, some recent TV programming is really, really good – and is even making Hollywood look really, really bad.

I’m not talking about sit coms produced by the networks with their canned laughter and predictable plotlines.  And I’m certainly not talking about reality TV shows starring the Kardashians, or the Osbournes, or someone named Bethenny Frankel (who in the world is she and why should I care?).  I’m talking about TV programming that’s ambitious, challenging, and thoughtful.

Has anyone else seen Game of Thrones?  Oh my goodness!  Yes, the first few episodes contained some gratuitous sex and was definitely not suitable for family viewing, but the overall product is stunningly beautiful.  I was never a huge fan of The Sopranos, but it was good, ground-breaking TV.  Big Love, the story of a Mormon family in Utah, has been a personal favorite (I will never think of polygamy in the same way again).  Deadwood, set in the western frontier town, is no longer being made, but it was good while it lasted.  And the new TV series from Netflix, Game of Cards, is can’t-stop-watching good.  Who would have thought that we’d ever see Kevin Spacey in a TV series?

And with this incomplete list, I probably missed one or two of your favorites.  Walking Dead, for example.  (Can someone tell me why zombies are suddenly so popular?).  And maybe Dexter (which I like because it’s shot in Miami, though it’s admittedly gruesome).  And certainly Downton Abbey.  (I admit that I wanted to watch Downton Abbey this year instead of the Super Bowl.)  The son of a church member is involved in the production of Boardwalk Empire (and has an Emmy for his work), so I’d better mention that show too.

Look, this is dangerous territory for a pastor to wander into, and I want to make myself clear.  Very little of this programming is suitable for children or families.  Beyond that, there’s nothing distinctively Christian about any of these programs.  Even Big Love, which is about a Mormon family, mostly doesn’t touch religious themes.

What I like is that a formerly despised medium (television) is now attempting to deal with larger questions and themes – and frequently in such beautiful ways.  Art (and I never thought I’d refer to TV programming as art) exists to provoke and challenge us.  It exists to inspire and renew us.  It exists to ask questions we may never have thought to ask.

Painting, sculpture, opera, film, photography, and – it almost hurts to admit this – television can enrich our lives in many and surprising ways.  Art entertains, yes, but it does so much more.  I suppose it can even be dangerous and subversive.  It can turn our worlds upside down.

If you’re watching – and from all the Downton Abbey talk around me, I’ll assume that you’re watching at least a little – I hope you’ll start asking good questions like “what is this writer/actor/director trying to tell me about life?” and “is that what I believe?”

I never thought I’d live to see the day, but maybe it’s time for a Sunday school class at my church on “How to Watch TV.”

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


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4 Responses to The golden age of television

  1. BOB Sadowski February 5, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    yes a class with episodes to watch and comment on, sign me up.

  2. Clark Ellis February 6, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I see that you watch more tv than I do. I cant be bothered. Maybe there is something wrong with me.

  3. Georgia Hamilton February 6, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Doug, I was smiling as I read your blog. I loved the fact you let us know you, too, get caught up in TV! I’d love a class on TV viewing! My problem is we don’t get many of the programs you spoke of as we chose to havel limited cable;however, we have and do, watch Downton Abbey–we find ourselves totally drawn into their lives!

  4. Doug February 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Okay, I now realize that it looks like I spend HOURS in front of the TV set. Not true. And I have only a limited basic cable package. The secret is a service like iTunes and Netflix which will provide you with any TV series you might want. Hope that helps. As for Downton Abbey, I’m kind of sick of the “Bates in jail” story line, but overall it’s wonderful TV.

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