We’re not in a Golden Age of TV – it’s always been glorious!
It’s all very well praising recent performances and shows, but TV has always been joyous, argues Alison Graham
We’re living through a Golden Age of Television! Did you know that? It’s true, because everyone is saying it. Just everyone.
“We’re living in a Golden Age of Television,” everyone said. Everyone can be so annoying, can’t they? It’s not the Golden Age of Television. It’s the Age of Television – the Golden is implied because it’s television, and television is shiny and brilliant and where would we be without it?
People who talk about the Golden Age of Television mean “I’ve just discovered television and it’s rather good, isn’t it?” They are usually theatre snobs who think nothing of watching two men in their pants doing seven hours of Samuel Beckett in a converted dairy.
Or cineaste drears who are happy to bore you to death about the weekend-long Ken Loach retrospective that made them yearn to set up their own food bank, only there’d be no tinned food, just quinoa and sourdough loaves, because why shouldn’t poor people eat well?
These are the people who used to think of television, when they thought of it at all, as being fit only for oiks with dandruff and dirty fingernails, whose lips moved when they read.
But what do you know? They fell over The Handmaid’s Tale on Channel 4 (repeated on More4 this Thursday) and – wow – a superb TV drama based on a literary novel! How great is that? And then they start going on about Netflix, which is when I tend to tune out.
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As far as I’m concerned, these people are simply catching up. What would my childhood, my whole life, have been like without telly? I shudder to think. Maybe I’d have spent all of my formative years whittling toys from driftwood instead of watching Blue Peter and Scooby Doo and The Sweeney. Or my adulthood weaving hemp and crying in the rain instead of watching Antiques Road Trip and State of Play.
Of course a huge part of this new interest in TV is that really big and famous actors have turned to telly – Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies, for instance. (Television has always offered better roles for women.)
And Kidman was brilliant in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, even though watching every episode felt like you were hitting your finger ends with a hammer.
This is flattering and nice, but there are plenty of fabulous “television” actors. Who could be better as Catherine Cawood than Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley? Or Suranne Jones and Bertie Carvel as Doctor Foster’s toxic twosome? Or David Tennant and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch?
Television has always offered so much breadth and range and vision. State of Play, Edge of Darkness, Abigail’s Party, Cathy Come Home, Poldark, Downton Abbey, London Spy, Queer as Folk. And soon, Russell T Davies’s drama of the Jeremy Thorpe trial, A Very English Scandal, with Hugh Grant as Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott.
Such riches! So please, everyone, you can stop talking about a Golden Age. It’s not golden, it’s not silver, it’s not bronze. It just IS.