07th Aug2017

The Golden Age of Television

by admin

The early 2000s are touted to have ushered in a Golden Age of television. This is proven by how we’re fortunate enough to live in an era where series such as Game of Thrones (GOT) and How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM) are two of many pop culture products we’ve looked forward to at some point in each of the past few years.

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One of the above series boasts impressive, and possibly first-of-its-kind production values, as well as career defining roles for many of its actors who emerged largely as unknowns. The other, follows an increasing trend of having powerful women of colour in the starring role, as well as an exploration of queer relationships and identity. The latter is by no means new, as we’ve witnessed with programmes such as Will & Grace, but HTGAWM provides a poignant view into queer issues, and issues faced by powerful women through the lens of a highly diverse cast. Naturally, a series may be subject to cancellation regardless of the diversity of its cast and nuanced storytelling, but on the basis of its ratings HTGAWM seems to be safe for a few more seasons.

Alongside the evolution of the types of television shows we’ve been viewing over the years, has come an evolution in the way we view those very programmes. Netflix has become an increasingly popular way for people to watch their favourite shows, providing streaming media and video-on-demand services. In 2013, Netflix expanded into film and television production, as well as online distribution. A series that boasts Game of Thrones’ exceptional production values and high budget, its own soundtrack, a young and predominantly black cast, as well as an exploration of how New York City at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco, queer issues and LGBT+ Ball Culture, is Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down. The Get Down is also a Netflix production, distributed by the streaming network.

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Moreover, The Get Down is quite unique in that it encompasses all the above, including its cancellation. The series was released in two parts, resulting in 11 episodes, and officially stopped airing on the 7th of April 2017. This has been seen as forming a troubling trend of the cancellation of shows with diverse casts. Another such programme, is Doubt, produced by Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland production company. Aside from decent ratings and a well thought out storyline, the series featured the character of Cameron Wirth, a transgender attorney played by transgender actress Laverne Cox. The series was also ground-breaking in that it showed what was possibly the most nuanced and informed portrayal of a romantic relationship between a transgender and a cisgender person. In addition, Cameron Wirth was shown to interact with friends who also happened to be transgender, and who have also had similar lived experiences.

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This article does not seek to prove that shows such as these have been cancelled because they have diverse casts doing the absolute most in stellar roles. It merely seeks to express concern; with all of these cancelations, who is going to tell our stories? This is particularly alarming when we consider that Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal (starring Kerry Washington) is nearing is final season and How to Get Away with Murder was only meant to last about 6 seasons, nearing its fourth. The fandoms notice and aren’t reluctant to express their derision. The Wachowski’s Sense8 was also recently cancelled, prompting numerous campaigns to bring it back. The show will now return as a two-hour special to give fans closure and allow them to grieve.

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It is most disappointing to witness the death of shows such as American Crime, The Real O’Neals and even Devious Maids – with a talented leading cast of indomitable Latina women. But we can thank the heavens for Black-ish, its spinoff Grown-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and Issa Rae’s Insecure. These shows carry the torch by representing people of colour, complex women and, in some capacity, the queer community as well. We can also be thankful for how amazing South African television is right now. Harvest on etv, starring Vatiswa Ndara and Masasa Mbangeni is a personal favourite right now, displaying impeccable writing, acting and cinematography. There is hope yet. If there was ever any evidence that this is indeed the Golden Age of television, this would be it. As South Africans, we’ve also begun telling our own stories, and we’re doing it impressively.

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