The Golden Age, Part IVFeatured, Television, The Idiot Box — By Jordan Green on June 15, 2010 at 8:00 am
But many of us were saying so even before shows like Mad Men, Treme, Community and Parks and Recreation. Even as The Sopranos, The Wire and Deadwood have faded away, television is getting even better (and worse…I’m aware of the low road, too).
Right up there, maybe even on top, is Breaking Bad, which concluded its third season on AMC Sunday. And the third season was something to behold. I would compare put it up with the very best seasons of The Wire. Vince Gilligan’s tale of a man driven down the path of methamphetamine production is not as important as David Simon’s death-of-a-city epic, but in the way that it crafts a story, and the way it builds tension, and the way it is almost flawless, it is nearly as good.
I follow frequently the AV Club’s recaps of shows I love, and the insight they offer is one reason I don’t write this column as often as I’d like…I’d feel guilty retreading what I’ve read elsewhere. That said, I’m going to completely retread the first few paragraphs of Donna Bowman’s recap of “Full Measures”, Breaking Bad‘s season finale. If you have finished season three, feel free to read the entire piece. If you haven’t watched the show, rent it as soon as you can. If these paragraphs don’t sell you, I’m not sure what will.
People living through a golden age often don’t know it. Extraordinary flowerings of art, technology, culture, or knowledge are obscured by intractable problems, crises, declines in other parts of the society. I try to remind my students frequently that they find themselves providentially at the very best time in all of history to be a student — the exact moment when knowledge is most plentiful and accessible, and when the wisdom it can engender is most urgently needed. But I don’t know if they understand or believe me.
It’s easy to look at television, with its 500 channels worth of endless crappy versions of the same empty ideas, and conclude that everything’s gone to shit. I have plenty of friends who are proud to proclaim the dreary, inevitable decline of entertainment, and answer my protests to the contrary with assertions that searching for the few worthwhile nuggets in that morass is a pointless waste of their time. Ironically, this pronouncement coincides with the greatest flowering of televised drama and comedy in the medium’s history. Freed by the proliferation of basic cable channels with a yen for signature programming, emboldened by the example of HBO, bolstered by fanatic followings and critical praise, the best television ever is on the air right now, in this decade. Throw in the DVR, the essential cure for the channel-surfing that hollows out the soul with its endless evidence of the wasteland, and suddenly your eyes are refocused above muck-level, where a profusion of flowers blooms.
Tonight’s finale should cement this season of Breaking Bad as one of television’s finest dramatic accomplishments. And what makes it so exciting — what makes the recognition of the current golden age so pressing — is that the season has not been, as Noel [Murray] put it in another context, “television good.” The heart-in-the-throat quality of this season comes as much from the writers’ exhilarating disregard for television conventions as from the events portrayed. Every cliffhanger produced anticipation that often as not was subverted by having what came after timed at a jagged off-angle from the shape we’ve internalized as expectation.