Television

The TV Club, 2018

Entry 11: The streaming TV boom has made things a lot less interesting than it first promised.

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Amazon Studios.

Someone just sent me SNL’s take on Netflix’s infinite content, featuring Claire Foy going back to high school as Queen Elizabeth in Saved by the Crown. I’m glad that other people seem just as petrified by Netflix as I am.

This year has felt like falling off a cliff, from the somewhat known territory of tentpole shows and predictable buzzy hits to a morass where no one knows what’s good or what’s worth investing their time in. Netflix is by far the worst offender in terms of quantity, but at least it’s a big bucket of content for the money, compared to all of these smaller platforms like CBS All Access and Acorn TV and YouTube Red. Even when shows are free, you have to download a whole special app to find them, and I know I sound like I’m shaking a stick at a kid on my lawn, but there has been so much ease lost in all this searching for the next binge watch, especially because the binge watches are so often built to be only half-attended to. There’s something much less interesting in juggling several online content libraries than the wild west of streaming television first suggested, isn’t there?

I thought about this a bit while watching the final season of House of Cards, which was one of the saddest eight-episode attempts I’ve ever encountered, and the second season of the frothy but distracted The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Both are shows that have accrued quite a few awards in previous seasons; I wouldn’t be surprised if Maisel wins even more. But though they have each had their moments, these are not shows reflective of the best we can do on TV. And yet I feel that both are emblematic of where we are heading—expensive, splashy binge series that seem higher quality or more profound than they actually are, simply because the platforms they’re on doesn’t host anything better. As it turns out, spending $10 a month for all your viewing content means you get mostly bargain-basement programming along with your handful of gems.

Willa, I’ve been wondering what to say about this post-#MeToo era of television. When I first started writing about TV, one of the things that was so interesting to me was that it created all of this programming out of these collective and often highly corporate environments. It’s jarring to look back now and realize that those environments made sexual harassment such a daily reality for the women who worked at these corporations, be it Fox News, the writers’ rooms, morning shows like the Today show, or, apparently, practically every department of CBS. It is impossible not to think of what was lost in that process. And certainly, it explains a lot about how difficult it has been to diversify the industry, especially behind the camera. I didn’t like GLOW quite as much as you did—Alison Brie’s character stopped making sense to me this year—but there’s so much in that series about being a woman in the ’80s that I’ve never seen on TV before, because there obviously was no place for it.

I’m not still watching Grey’s, but I am still watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I nearly put it on my Top 10 list. Watching that show pivot from seemingly simple college frat boy humor to a sitcom that mercilessly tears itself to shreds has been one of the very best developments of our two years of dystopia. The bathroom episode and the sexual harassment seminar were two thorny topics that I thought were handled pretty well. Did anyone else catch those?

—Sonia

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