Look. That’s all TV asks of its audience: just look. Watch. Turn it on and let the light and shadows pour over your eyes and sound fall upon your ears. There’s never been anything easier than to sit still and let the jumping box work its hypnotic unblinking gaze on your readily open psyche. It’s the most marvelous, magnetic, and potentially destructive invention of the 20th century and its power hasn’t lessened in the decades since it first flickered on.
How many hundreds of millions of hours of television have been broadcast since the 1950’s in America alone? Considering that there were only 3 channels up until the late 70s, when cable television began in earnest, and then grew exponentially in the late 80s when FOX began broadcasting over open airwaves, and cable TV really began to find its way into homes across the country, a rough estimate can be placed up to around a few billion hours aired at this point–maybe, and most likely much more.
But how could this staggering onslaught of aired content be quantified at this point? Hundreds of thousands of cumulative hours are now broadcast every week. There’s now more TV extent than could be ever watched in anyone’s lifetime, commercials included, and the programming continues to pour forth unabated from its seemingly faceless, nameless source ad infinitum.
How much empty dancing foolishness, toothpaste commercials, callous ringing laugh tracks, chicks with tits and dudes with buff pecs scoping the beach, and all other manner of fluff bullshit has filled the heads of generations of TV viewers lo these long decades, disregarding all sense of sanity or dignity so long as the channel could sell the next deodorant ad at top dollar?
In other words, most television in history has been complete and utter bunk–garbage noise and shiny sights to distract and entrance our floating brains and stimulate the abstract, complex, and ultimately unfathomable combination of audio-visual stimulation that massages its viewers to keep their eyeballs hooked on the screen until the next break, and maybe forever because what the hell, why not?.
May God help us all for being suckered by this monstrous behemoth that has sucked away so many of our few precious moments of life that we’ve all been gifted.
That being said, television is also a wonderous delight: sure, its bounty has sown some horrifying garbage into our collective psyche and culture, but it has also served as the blind educator to generations of people, informing them of social, political, and cultural opinions and attitudes that have shaped everyone’s perceptions–for good or ill. But I guarantee you everyone that has lived with television in their life has had a much more interesting and larger experience than literally everyone in history that existed before TV. After one glimpse, someone from the 16th century would dedicate a religion around one viewing of a Crest commercial. We literally eat our commercials for breakfast.
Besides, life is here to be enjoyed and wasted. What are you, better than TV? Of course not. Think of the many delightfully stupid hours you have whiled away in front of television’s gracious presence, wherein it helped stave off loneliness, helped you participate in shared moments of human history, and in general provides entertainment of many delights and stripes that covers the spectrum of human experience and diverse tastes.
Never before has such a continuous stream that carries such complex bundles of information in an easily, immediately relatable and understandable format to the masses instantaneously as television existed until less than a century ago.
Of course, much of television’s content is absolute garbage. While dickish to say, it’s true. But this endeavor aims to clarify and distill that–while most TV is terrible horseshit that insults its audience’s intelligence and our collective dignity–there is also Great TV.
This series of articles will celebrate what awesome series the medium has produced up to this point: long-form, complex storytelling that often surpasses anything film is able to replicate.
And some incredible works of art have occurred on television amidst banal garbage, and these are the diamonds in the rough.
Each of these series is a masterpiece and have accomplished something mere film cannot: break through the restrictions of time limits to create something that’s more than its parts would initially suggest. These series are too large and complex for a simple film to elucidate, and that’s what makes it Great TV.
Although not any of my selections found a popular audience upon their premiere, they have gone on to being well-loved and repeatedly watched by future demographics they never sought to appeal to–or even conceive of–in the first place. There’s just one big hit on this list (Frasier) but outside of that there isn’t a big name in the bunch. But this only leads to the rarity of finding a perfect TV series, or at the least the great ones.
Some of these are underseen masterpieces while others have since become cult classics. Either way, there is greatness in each of these TV shows. Most of them are incredible examples of storytelling while others are deceptively brilliant comedies. Either way, Great TV is a series that will detail exactly why these series are brilliant displays of long-form storytelling that is now chic and widely discussed. Simply put, these series are examples of what Great TV can be and the heights of artistic expression that television can attain.