I didn’t take the news of Community‘s cancellation well. A year from now, Parks and Recreation, Mad Men, and Justified will all have finished their final seasons. Four of my favorite shows are either done or heading into their last stretch. It’s no fun to lose a beloved series under any circumstances, but I write about TV just about every day. I need to be geeked about TV or else spunkybean is suddenly going to be running a bunch of articles where I just reminisce about Deadwood. However, my sadness at the imminent loss of Ron Swanson, Don Draper, Boyd Crowder, and Annie Edison aside, the fact remains that we are living in a Golden Age of Stuff.
Think back ten years, before LOST or The Office premiered. You could watch maybe six TV shows in any given week and you’d see everything good. Watch Alias, Arrested Development, The Shield, and a few others and you were covered. In 2014, you get more than that on an average Tuesday. It’s possible to be behind on you TV viewing! It’s a glorious time to be alive, frankly.
At the end of every year, I do a Top Twenty list of the best in TV. When spunkybean started, it was a Top Ten, then a Top Fifteen. Last year, when I put together my preliminary list, I had thirty-two entries. Even with my commitment to keep it to a Top Twenty, I snuck twenty-two shows on there and still felt guilty about what I left off. There’s a ridiculous amount of TV to watch right now.
Justified is so good that people should be freaking out over it, like, all the time. For thirteen weeks every year, we should all get to start work late on Wednesday just so there’s enough time for us to talk about the new episode. And yet, Justified isn’t sweeping the Emmys and maybe picking up a stray Tony or two because it exists alongside Mad Men and Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and True Detective. Justified is excellent, but in any given year it’s been maybe TV’s third- or fourth-best drama. That’s just crazy.
Look at Comedy Central. If you check out a list of their original programs, you’ll see a few short-lived gems (Dog Bites Man, Jon Benjamin Has a Van), but it’s mostly a lineup of genuinely terrible shows… up until a couple of years ago. Sure, you had Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and arguably South Park (which I enjoyed up until a few years ago, but the things that went wrong made me go back and reassess the early seasons and now I can’t get any real enjoyment out of it), but that was it in terms of quality. But here, in 2014, they’ve got Review, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Nathan For You, Drunk History, @midnight, Broad City… those shows are all great! In fact, some of them achieve brilliance (particularly Review and Nathan For You). There’s never been a time when Comedy Central has so many shows that I’m genuinely excited to watch.
The days when you had to rely on networks and premium channels for quality programming are long gone. FX has the most consistent track record of anybody in the business, but right now AMC, BBC America, USA, Adult Swim, and IFC all boast great original programming. Even in the summer months, when programming is usually sparse, there are things like Fargo, Playing House, Orphan Black, Louie, and Comedy Bang! Bang! airing every week. It’s an embarrassment of riches!
I don’t mean to leave the networks out. A couple of years ago, I would have said that network drama was dead – still stuck in the mode where every hour-long show had to be about doctors, cops, or lawyers. And there’s still a lot of that right now, but there’s an audience for that. There’s also Parenthood and Hannibal. Or Scandal, which I haven’t had time to watch but sounds just ridiculously fun. On the comedy front, even though 30 Rock and Community are over and Parks and Recreation has one season left, we still have Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Bob’s Burgers. The Mindy Project went and got really good this year. And, of course, there’s always the chance of a new favorite coming along at any time. I mean, this fall there’s going to be a weekly drama about Commissioner Gordon. How do we even deserve this?
In fact, there might be more good TV than it’s really possible to watch. If I had time, I’d watch all of the late night shows because they’re all pretty good. And then there are all the webseries and streaming services. Yes, Burning Love and Suit Up! are fantastic, but there are a bunch of other shows that I really like but there’s not enough time to watch them all. I really like Yahoo’s Ghost Ghirls, Hulu’s Moone Boy and The Wrong Mans, Amazon’s Betas (and a whole bunch of their pilots from the last round were excellent), and I haven’t even been able to crack the Netflix originals yet (beyond Arrested Development, of course). Heck, it took me until this year to get into Game of Thrones and Walking Dead.
So, yeah. I’m still going to miss Community and I’ll be sad when Mad Men ends its run. But it’s not like I’m going to find myself with all this extra time when I used to be watching TV. Unless something goes seriously wrong in the next year, I’m still going to be excited to write about television every day.
And frankly, it’s not even just TV. The Golden Age of Stuff affects all forms of entertainment. Now that there are avenues to create and distribute things without being beholden to a big studio or a major publisher, we have access to movies that would have made the festival circuit and then disappeared. We can get books that would have been crowded off the shelf in favor of airport potboilers, video games made by tiny studios that can’t afford to make and ship physical copies, you can read comic books with tiny print runs or download the new hot title that sold out immediately. It’s great!
I’m a nerd. More importantly, I’m a nerd who came of age before the Internet was widespread and practical. We had to take what we could get. I read terrible Star Wars Expanded Universe novels because I had access to them. I drove for two hours to see a showing of Lensman even though I don’t like anime. There used to be a time when we felt obligated to see Daredevil or Batman and Robin because it might be years before another superhero movie came along. Now? It’s a world where I can skip a Spider-Man movie. There are a million other things to watch, so I don’t need to bother with a sequel to a movie I hated, even if it’s about a character I like.
Yeah, I still reserve the right to complain about NBC canceling Community and cite that as evidence that talking monkeys run the network. (And also to watch the news obsessively to see if another channel or streaming service picks it up.) But there’s no danger of suddenly running out of shows. We have access to more quality programming than at any other time, ever. I know the version of me from ten years ago would absolutely lose his mind if he knew how good things were going to get.