Television

The TV Club, 2018

Entry 4: Have we hit peak Peak TV?

Still from Brooklyn Nine-Nine with the 2018 TV Club logo
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Fox

Dear TV Club,

Hi! I also watched Jack Ryan and found it extremely frustrating. I get the impulse to a) turn this very valuable piece of IP into a TV show with a likable star but b) try to balance it by depicting the motivations driving a terrorist mastermind, but it turns out making a cop show woke—woke is almost impossible. (I use “cop” in the broadest possible sense of the word; I realize the titular Ryan is not literally a police officer, don’t @ me.) In that cop shows reinforce concepts of societal order, they can only range between conservative and fascist. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is out here trying to turn every headline into content, but if its ultimate purpose is to convince assault survivors that police personnel are noble and upstanding and working on their behalf …you know, I don’t really feel good about consuming that kind of pablum in 2018 anymore, and therefore broke up with it last season.

If you noted that I said it’s “almost impossible” to make a woke cop show, then my top 10 list may be of interest.

1. The Americans
2. Pose
3. Killing Eve
4. Glow
5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
6. The Good Fight
7. One Day at a Time
8. Detroiters
9. Jane the Virgin
10. BoJack Horseman

Hot damn, Nine-Nine! What an evolution this show has had. In recent years, the show has covered systemic racism and sexism in the department as well as the horrors of the carceral state; the premiere of the most recent season included a joke about the challenges trans inmates face that was funny without punching down. And yet its episodes don’t feel didactic, and its sharp insights don’t come at the expense of its humor (something I increasingly find wearying in its generally fine cousin, The Good Place).

Apparently these weren’t qualities that Fox felt it could continue to monetize, because it canceled Brooklyn Nine-Nine at the end of its most recent season. The show wasn’t alone: Fox canceled all its non-animated sitcoms, making room for a revival of ABC’s Last Man Standing, among other things. NBC wisely picked up Nine-Nine for a 2019 debut, but The Mick, Last Man on Earth, and the rapidly improving freshman series L.A. to Vegas are all totally dead.

That brings me to my question for my increasingly exhausted fellow panelists, which is: Are we perhaps on the other side of Peak TV? When FX’s John Landgraf coined the term a few years back, it struck me as apt in its evocation of the theory of peak oil. At a certain point, the market for original scripted TV shows would max out, then start to decline. I don’t want to be an optimist in my pessimism, but I think we might have hit it. Most of the sitcoms Fox killed stayed dead. After trying a couple of scripted series, Lifetime pooped out the two final seasons of UnReal this year, kicking the final one to Hulu; we’ve just learned that while You will be back after airing its first season on the network this fall, Season 2 will be on Netflix, just like the former Fox drama Lucifer. Maybe the reason Netflix had room for those is that it’s cut bait on Marvel series—Marvel series!!—Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil, probably dooming Jessica Jones and The Defenders.

Netflix also gave up on topical comedy shows hosted by Joel McHale and Michelle Wolf. TV Land moved Younger to its sister network Paramount (which, in turn, decided to eat whatever it spent on its misbegotten series adaptation of Heathers rather than air it weekly) and killed Teachers, thus getting out of the scripted originals business. Ten or even five years ago, Here and Now—Willa, I also forgot that aired in 2018!— would have made it to a second season on the basis of its two Oscar-winning headliners and its berth on HBO. (There’s honestly no other reason I tried to watch more than one season of Boardwalk Empire when no one was paying me to.) But even HBO is being cautious about giving too much runway to a show with such an award-laden creative team, which also includes Alan “Six Feet Under and American Beauty” Ball? This might be a meaningful trend!

I might have to forfeit my critical bona fides because—to your question, Sonia—HBO’s marquee shows didn’t really do it for me this year. Barry, Sharp Objects, High Maintenance, and The Tale were spectacular, but Westworld—on which I bailed after its pilot in 2016 (before the last presidential election, so roughly 15 lifetimes ago)—got me back with a Season 2 premiere that made me think it was going to explore the idea of disposable labor under contemporary capitalism. Then it didn’t and I quit again. Succession turned me off with its premiere, though since everyone went so wild for it as the season wore on, I probably will give it another shot). Since Willa’s up next and it was her No. 1 this year, I will let her convince me to schedule that second attempt.

—Tara

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