Accepting his award at this year’s Emmys on Sunday night, Homeland star Damian Lewis aptly deemed the current state of television as a “golden age.” Alas, the Jimmy Kimmel-led awards ceremony did not do full justice to this thriving creative spirit (Modern Family again?). However, the major highlight – other than the fight between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, that is – was the bestowing of four Emmys to Lewis’ show Homeland, a surprise win for a show that pushes the boundaries of viewer empathy.
Homeland challenges, but it is not alone. In an age in which individual television series are defining visual and narrative language instead of being defined by television, the reasons why many cinephiles remain loyal to film are fast disappearing. When a story is told well, like so many TV shows do currently, what could be better than prolonging it over multiple seasons? I wanted to devote this post to the series that push visual and narrative barriers in the medium, rendering television more exciting than ever. They change the way we see stories, one week at a time.
1) Homeland (Showtime): As our society continues to grapple with the ripples of 9/11, Homeland is pushing the way we view the “bad guys” in the Gulf better than any other story. Without giving anything away, it elicits sympathy and depth from characters that would be reviled in a lesser series or film.
2) Mad Men (AMC): Mad Men gets a lot of (well-deserved) credit for its meticulous period set design and costume. However, the sets pale in comparison to the way the story is written. Look at how they use fabulous writing to emotional effect in Season 1’s final episode “The Wheel” (spoiler: this scene has been known to reduce viewers to tearful incoherency).
3) Breaking Bad (AMC): Breaking Bad revels in the visual glory of middle-class America like no other show before it. Fast food joints, endless highways, remote New Mexico deserts, a bureaucratic high school… they all get their due in this extraordinary series. The Press Play blog has provided a video essay of such moments, linked below.
4) Sherlock (BBC): Though already a critical darling due to sharp writing and fabulous chemistry between leads Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Sherlock really upped the ante with its Season 2 opener, “A Scandal in Belgravia.” All of a sudden, we got a daring and utterly unique perspective into Sherlock’s mind that was so much more than an ordinary caper. Indeed, all the disorienting transitions and camera movements represented Sherlock’s confusion with falling in love. Keep paying attention to this one.
5) Friday Night Lights: I’ll admit, the show had some cliché issues. But the way it made football games so visceral and pulse-pounding in every episode and fearlessly portrayed the idolization of young athletes in America was exceptional. The handheld, intimate cinematography added to the all-too familiar nature of its topics.
Also: The Wire, The Sopranos, Big Love.
Tags: breaking bad, cinephile, friday night ligts, homeland, Katie Kilkenny, mad men, sherlock