The Rant: Why TV's Golden Age Must End

There's a major problem with television today - it's too damn good

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Not so long ago, when TV was just a thing you had on so families didn’t have to talk to each other, we were happy enough with weekly helpings of Ross Kemp’s Ultimate Force and the occasional repeat of LA Law.

Today of course, we’ve never had it so good. We’re riding the wave of a much-trumpeted golden age, the 21st century equivalent of the great Venetian painters, where boxsets seem to go on forever, famous film directors ditch Hollywood for TV pilots, and streaming services bulge with shows you haven’t quite got round to watching.

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While human progress hasn’t yet ticked off the problems of world hunger, traffic congestion or affordable cinema popcorn, we can at least pat ourselves on the back for our new-found ability to knock out a really rather watchable and credible 13 part drama series.

And as with any time of plenty, it feels good to live through it. Watching TV for any significant length of time used to have the vague association of undiagnosed clinical depression, a non-existent social life and generally ticking off the hours before you went to bed.

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Now it’s almost badge of honour to tell friends and colleagues you’ve spent the entire weekend in your pants watching 8 straight episodes of Game of Thrones.

And if you do manage to actually make it out of the house in an effort to be sociable, all that people are going to be talking about is TV anyway, so you may as well just spend the time catching up.

Such are TV’s newly dizzying effects, there’s barely any time to do anything else.

There's the time spent listening to friends pitch me their latest favourite show and why I should choose it next. The time spent reading the endless episode recaps from here and the US. And of course, the time spent managing countless recordings and series links that seem to have my Hard Drive limit at a constant state of critical capacity. 

For every episode I actually watch, coldly ticking off episodes like a shopping list, nine more seem to spring up in my recording programmes.

Right now, I have 14 episodes of the latest series of The Walking Dead staring guiltily at me in HD. That’s a good 8% of my drive space. I kind of like it and kind of want to watch it but realise that soon I’ll have to make a tough decision.

I’ve already had to say goodbye to Hannibal. And Boardwalk Empire. And some French show about a crack police unit. All of them fine in their own way. It’s just that the new age of TV requires tough, hard-headed decisions.

I’m two seasons behind on Mad Men, haven’t started True Detective, and there’s a batch of worthy-looking documentaries from BBC4’s Storyville series that friends have told me I’d be crazy to miss. What’s more – don’t judge me – I haven’t even started The Bridge.

As with any booming industry, from pasta sauce to well-scripted TV shows, consumer choice can become so overwhelming that the benefits of having all these options begins to have a negative impact.

“At this point”, says Barry Schwartz in his book “The Paradox of Choice”, “choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannise.”

Are we witnessing the first cracks in the heady days of 21st century television?

All I know is that in the time it’s taken to write this I could have watched at least three episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’m currently 87 episodes behind. 

The good thing about golden ages is that they never go on forever. Thank God for that. At least it’ll give us a chance to catch up.

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MORE FROM THE RANT:
Why hybrid clothing has to stop 
Enough with the babies 
An open letter to trolls 
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