A New Golden Age of TV

by Michael Potemra

The idea of having a Thanksgiving Day turns out to be especially inspired when the nation is going through dark times: The attempt to search out things we’re thankful for reminds us of a lot of great stuff we take for granted. Peggy Noonan’s column is an excellent example of this. When most people talk about American culture these days, they’re grousing — liberals about birthers and talk radio, conservatives about sex and anti-Americanism in the entertainment industry. But Peggy makes a point that hadn’t occurred to me, yet one which on reflection appears absolutely right:

I love TV, and the other day it occurred to me again that we are in the middle of a second golden age of television. I feel gratitude to the largely unheralded network executives and producers who gave it to us. The first golden age can be summed up with one name: “Playhouse 90.” It was the 1950s and ’60, when TV was busy being born. The second can be summed up with the words “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “The Wire,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “ER,” “24,” “The West Wing,” “Law and Order,” “30 Rock.” These are classics. Some nonstars at a network made them possible. Good for them.

Some of these shows I’ve never seen. But the ones I have are generally terrific, and do our era great credit. Sopranos: I have close to zero interest in Mafia stories, but I gave this one a try on the advice of the late WFB, and was thrilled by its depiction of the banality – the suburbanity – of evil. West Wing: An addictive political soap opera with, at its heart, a genuinely patriotic love of our country and its institutions. 24: Contrary to an opinion held mostly by people who don’t watch it, it’s not a thuggish celebration of torture and jingoism but a state-of-the-art cliffhanger with a heart. Curb Your Enthusiasm: I have seen a total of about 45 minutes of Seinfeld, and don’t remember laughing once; this show about Seinfeld’s creator has me not just laughing, but enjoying — regularly — “the shock of recognition.”

It’s easy to get downhearted about our culture, and there’s plenty of garbage out there to get downhearted about. But it was ever thus; and it’s great to be reminded that there’s still a lot of life in our republic of the arts.

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