It's time to change the channel and watch the golden age of the small screen
Published 24/04/2014 | 02:30
Telly addicts have never had it so good. Ghoulishly addictive crime drama True Detective has just finished on Sky Atlantic, Game of Thrones is back – and now Mad Men returns for one last scotch on the rocks. Truly we are living in the Golden Age of television, and have been for a while.
The rebirth of telly as a grown-up medium can be traced to the debut in January 1999 of The Sopranos, a crime drama that dared you to empathise with the baddie.
Since then, the output in quality has been astonishing.
We've had The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dexter, Six Feet Under, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost (if you can forgive the non-ending).
How long ago it seems since it was fashionable for intellectuals to declare they lived without a TV.
The rarefied position of television as a story-telling medium is underscored by the deluge of a-listers scrambling to work on the small screen. For instance, it is believed Matthew McConnaughey's recent Best Actor win at the Oscars, nominally for The Dallas Buyers' Club, owed a great deal to his turn as Rust Cohle in True Detective.
Other actors whose star has risen after smash TV roles include Kevin Spacey after playing dastardly Frank Underwood in House of Cards, B-list actress Zooey Deschanel, thanks to the Fox sitcom New Girl, and Claire Danes, whose career was completely rebooted after playing a frazzled CIA operative in Homeland .
Above all, TV's supremacy is grounded in its willingness to take risks – an inclination practically non-existent in Hollywood nowadays. What movie executive would have green-lit Breaking Bad, about a New Mexico school teacher turned meth 'cooker'?
Double Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, star of Netflix smash House of Cards, believes the best roles are on television.
He said: "The people who want to make character-driven dramas are all working in television now."
The allure of broken, flawed TV protagonists is undeniable, adds writer Brett Martin in his book Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution.
He writes of morally compromised characters: "They played a seductive game with the viewer, daring them to emotionally invest in, even root for, even love, a gamut of criminals."
The point was reinforced by actress Kate Mara, from House of Cards. She said: "The success of House of Cards shows people don't like one type of character. They are okay watching people who aren't perfect."