This Fall's television season has been aptly described by Heather Havrilesky at Salon Magazine as a mess.
Between conspiracies that never seem to stop — Fringe — to endless rounds of near escape from impossible situations — Prison Break — to death by robots — Terminator — to immature youngsters learning to become heroes to defend a future that seems more retro than the immediate past — Terminator, again — to a show that lost its audience and its plot — Heroes — to a show that lost its locale — Lost — to a medical show that turned into an endless series of love affairs both predictable and boring — Gray's Anatomy — to the bizarre spectacle of a doctor, drugged, insane yet intuitive — House — to the endless murders and deaths and special effects of hypothetical forensics — CSI and NCIS — to the repetitive games and egotistical characters of reality shows — Survivor — the key themes center on loss of control and how to regain some measure of humanity in the face of a dystopic world where people are never what they seem to be and society is in such decay that there are no immediate solutions to any problem.
This sad state of affairs after the conclusion of The Wire and end of the season for Mad Men has left television in a perilous state. The last show of Mad Men was one of the finest in the history of television, comparable to the series ending show of The Wire both in intensity and aesthetic depth. Beyond this, there is nothing much other than, True Blood developed by Alan Ball which survives on the acting of Anna Paquin much more than it does on any originality of plot or depth of thought. True Blood takes place in the south and is full of allusions to the political quagmire we now find ourselves in. But, the analysis and the metaphors of decay and ethical confusion are at best cliched and at worst superficial.
This crisis is in my opinion the result of years of decline. Mainstream television has still not woken up to the influence and effect of the internet and views digital culture as just another means of marketing existing shows. Except for a few rare exceptions, the same thing is happening with the music industry and the boom/bust mentality of the film industry has pretty well eliminated most of Hollywood. Even video games are suffering from the tired repetition of plots and locales that mimic films old and new.
The best thing on television recently was the American election — more excitement and more reality than we have seen in a long time. And, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Office keep going, never that great, never that spectacular but still not bad. Entourage gets it but who cares. 30 Rock like Saturday Night Live is as much about forced humor as it is satirical — there are a few moment here and there, but the skits are stale and Tina Fey sleepwalks through the stories she constructs. SNL was great for a few weeks during the election, but I watch it for its music and when will they get rid of the actors staring stage right or left reading their lines?
I am waiting for Generation Y who helped get Barack Obama elected to take control of television and popular culture in general. We need a whole new host of people producing shows that are a reflection of the many changes and crises we are presently experiencing. And no, I am not looking forward to the new season of 24!!!