It’s been a(nother) banner year for TV. For proof, look no further than Huffington Post critic Maureen Ryan’s list, or rather lists, since 2014 was good enough to merit three of them. There’s a standard Top 10, a list of nine returning shows, and a list of best new shows that stretches to 26 entries, including one for “Too Many Cooks.”
Ryan’s Top 10 proper has quiet a few shows we haven’t seen much of thus far: Netflix’s “Happy Valley,” the cancelled “Enlisted,” FX’s “You’re the Worst” and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” which is only eight episodes into its first season. Before you ask “Where’s ‘True Detective’?”, know that a) this is a dumb question, and b) Ryan was among not a few critics who found Nic Pizzolatto’s show started strong and dropped off fast, and were generally troubled by its gender politics. (Also, it made her “Best New Shows” list, so really, hush.)
Even more than her list of sometimes eccentric, always well-argued choices, Ryan’s thoughts on the year in TV are worth reading, especially her concern for the “blockbusterization” of TV.
Even in this day and age of fractured audiences and nonlinear viewing, everyone realized it was quite possible to have monstrously large ratings, even on cable. Hence the desire to reboot old properties, adapt successful books and option comic-book properties, and then cast those projects not with name actors but with competent but inexpensive journeyman actors and newbies. That strategy also worked out for HBO and “Game of Thrones.” (And yes, I realize “GoT” was in development before “The Walking Dead” hit the screen, but the fact is, both those shows helped change ideas about what was possible, success-wise, in certain precincts of the TV industry.)
Obviously, all the changes the industry’s gone through in the last few years are not attributable solely to the proliferation of zombies and direwolves, and many other factors influenced the industry’s recent evolutionary stages. But to me, the premiere of “The Walking Dead” is a significant milestone on the path toward the blockbuster-ization of television. That show’s success energized and sped up a process that was likely to happen anyway, especially as TV cast about for ways to keep audiences from fleeing measurable and profitable viewing patterns. If AMC got to have that kind of huge franchise, networks seemed to be saying, where’s ours?
At the moment, the TV industry is in a sweet spot where there’s enough money being poured into shows like “Game of Thrones” to allow them to emulate the visual flair of big-budget moviemaking, but not so much that they’re hamstrung by the conservatism that goes hand-in-hand with blockbuster budgets. That balance could tip at any moment — you could convincingly argue that it’s already begun — and it’s worth remembering that even if you believe we live in a Golden Age of Television, golden ages have a tendency to end.
Maureen Ryan’s Top 10 TV shows of 2014 (alphabetical)
“Jane the Virgin”
“Orange Is the New Black”
“You’re the Worst”