I’m back after being away for the summer…just like TV! Or so I thought. Summer used to be a dumping ground for cancellation fodder, but something has changed. Many of the year’s most important programmes now air over the summer and momentous TV events are just as likely to play in the spring and summer as fall and winter. No doubt some of this is down to cable channels disrupting the old network seasonality, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that TV critics can’t take summer off any more if they want to stay current. So what’s been happening?
True Detective Season Two
Another reason why TV critics can’t go away for summer is because they’d all miss doing their favourite thing – bashing the follow-up to a universally praised piece of television with no particular motivation other than convention. Season Two of HBO’s anthological police procedural was torn to pieces by most critics, with so-called fans and lovers of quality television just as vociferously negative. It really has nothing to do with the season itself, just a tired old game that critics like to play, one that immunised us against the self-evident pleasures of Treme simply because it followed The Wire and even made us question the quality of The Wire when it entered its second season. Worryingly, it suggests critics and viewers of the serial age have serious trouble evaluating television when it deviates from formula, and really aren’t ready for the anthology revolution happening in TV.
Jon Stewart leaves The Daily Show
After fifteen years as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart could simply be remembered as the person that brought the art of fake news – cultivated in Britain by Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris – to the US. But he leaves behind him an even greater legacy. When TV news polarised into partisan platforms with MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right, Stewart’s Daily Show was just about the only source of news that had any semblance of objectivity (as rocky a term as that is) left to give. He was trumped by his own protégés. First Stephen Colbert, who transformed himself into a living doll of satire, viscerally exposing the ugliness of the media conservative while manifesting the winning naivety that makes them attractive. Then John Oliver who – with the help of HBO’s unsegmented formats – brought satirically slanted news reporting into the realms of investigative journalism and political activism.
It’s only accident that these deaths occurred in summer, but taken together they are tantamount to transatlantic television tragedy. The British light entertainment host and Canadian WWF star died within a week of each other, which means nothing until you put together that their stretches as reigning TV personalities from the 1980s to the early 2000s is virtually identical and that they generate the same fuzzy nostalgia (in warmth and confusion alike) from the generations that grew up watching them. For me, it was a sharp reminder of how separate American and British cultures can be. Nobody mentioned Cilla – a contemporary of America’s beloved Beatles – stateside. Roddy Piper remains unfamiliar to me…and to all 90s British kids who didn’t have Sky.
The charms of hyper-inflective prison comedy-drama Orange is the New Black continues to elude me, but it’s Netflix’s most valuable commodity and the June release of its third season was not an anomaly. The star-studded prequel series to cult comedy movie Wet Hot American Summer was made available in July as was season two of the critically acclaimed cartoon BoJack Horseman. Orange is the New Black was even streamed a few days early, just to remind Netflix subscribers that they can do shit like that. It’s pretty cocky behaviour, and somewhat backfired when fans who had booked time off work to binge-watch the season found themselves in a socially impossible situation. I don’t think this surge of summer activity at Netflix (nor the summer-theming of its releases) is at all a coincidence, more an attempt to dominate TV distribution in these months of the year. For all their talk of liberating viewers from the tyranny of scheduling, Netflix keeps subscribers under the yoke of its idiosyncratic calendar.
Fear the Walking Dead Series Premiere
The unwanted spin-off of AMC’s The Walking Dead debuted in the last days of summer. As True Detective also switched from a rural southern locale to the L.A. metropolitan sprawl, I wouldn’t expect any glowing reviews forthcoming…