Paddy Cullivan: Golden age of television? Pity I’ve not enough time on my hands to watch it
WE are, supposedly, living through the Golden Age of Television.
You will hear it everywhere. First The Sopranos was the greatest TV show ever made – then The Wire and Breaking Bad and so on.
To watch these shows in their entirety requires nearly 100 hours of your life – something people do over long marathons bingeing on boxed sets.
And now we also have Netflix where you can go square-eyed watching all 13 episodes of House of Cards in one sitting.
We are drowning in a sea of long, involved television shows that require a time investment that seems crazy when you think of where we were years ago.
Back in the 70s, I distinctly remember watching very little TV, especially if the set offered only RTE One and Two.
Sure, we all watched Glenroe, and my father would often make sure we saw Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, but bar that and the news there was more fun to be had playing outside or with my Star Wars toys (Stars Wars and the cinema was the big event).
I do remember my parents being obsessed with I, Claudius, which had millions of viewers on a Monday Night on BBC – much like Game of Thrones does now – proof that excellent storytelling always works.
In the 80s, I enjoyed The A-Team, Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica, even I noticed when they were using the same shots and storylines week after week, and I got bored.
I can honestly say I watched no TV in the 1990s – I was having too much fun in college, and music was still good. From what I’m told, it was an equally barren time for television, bar for procedural police dramas.
But they were different times. Now we live in a world of constant encouragement – from friends on social media to TV networks – to get heavily into the latest ‘greatest TV show ever made’.
It’s an unfortunate by-product of the ‘100 things to see before you die’ and ‘100 greatest movies ever’ lists we get browbeaten with every few minutes.
We’re being pressurised into watching things we have no time for.
Viewing Episode of 1 of Mad Men Season 7 the other night, I was struck that, though I’ve always enjoyed it, I might as well be watching these people’s lives in real time.
Don Draper is still a swine, the Advertising Agency is still growing, and clothes are still getting different. Then I realised – I have no time for this!
A lot changes in a year – including my tastes – and a sense of mortality crept over me, like I was simply wasting my time waiting for Don to jump off a skyscraper (I assume that’s what he’ll do, according to the opening credits).
I also had the same feeling trying to re-watch The West Wing. Having watched all eight seasons during the Bush era I thought I’d go back and see what had made me love it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bear it – the clever-clever writing of Aaron Sorkin that impressed me in my thirties now appalled me – as it does in The Newsroom.
And even repeats of The Sopranos, though brilliant, are slow and ponderous. As for Breaking Bad, the snail-like pace almost killed me. Sure, it had amazing moments, but a sense of my own mortality forbids me from going back into them here.
Still, if such dramas make people happy, who cares? I might prefer movies like Gravity or The Wolf of Wall St (which tells an epic story in three hours) but, yes these TV shows have helped make movies better.
For all my criticism, True Detective is the best thing I’ve seen in years.
I didn’t want it to end, and I’ll be buying the boxed set to watch it again.
But only when I’ve time.