“The Lannisters send their regards.“
And that was it the peak moment of the peak episode from the peak show in television’s peak year. Truly, “Peak TV.”
It’s a term we throw around a lot these days, but technically, it should be in past tense. Because there is no doubt that TV peaked on this very day, exactly four years ago, on June 2, 2013, with “The Rains of Castamere,” aka the “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones.
That day was a high water mark not just for the show, but for the medium itself, at a time when everything around it was peaking, too. Never before have we had such a moment.
We may never again.
The week before “Rains of Castamere,” Mad Men had just concluded the first half of its its two-part finale. Less than two months later, Breaking Bad was gearing up for its final run. Though we’ve had a crazy glut of strong shows come along since, nothing has stepped forward to replace AMC’s pillars of prestige television.
Go ahead, take a moment to try and think of something. (I hear you, Leftovers fans, and I’m sorry. You’re just not there in terms of cultural cache.)
Take heart: Yes, we are still standing in the deep end of TV’s “Golden Age.” There are more options than ever before, subgenres and spinoffs, a wider diversity of points of view, truly something for everyone.
But whereas “Peak TV” used to mean an abundance of quality, now it’s more of a lament for an over abundance of quantity. “Peak TV” is what we cry when we feel overwhelmed by buzzing shows we just know we’ll never get around to trying, let alone finishing.
In 2013, it was still manageable, and for whatever reason, the quality far better. Nay it was, without question or equivocation, the best we’ve ever seen.
Why 2013 wins outright
This idea that TV peaked in 2013 came when a different question came to mind one day: “What are the new Mad Men and Breaking Bad?”
As I could not name anything and I’m sorry, but in terms of prestige, buzz and cultural clout, no one could I started poking around at what was going on in TV at the time.
In a moment of inspiration, I went all Beautiful Mind on a whiteboard at the office. Sure enough, 2013 was a dazzling collection of TV highlights. And right there, dead center in the middle of the thing, ran the Red Wedding episode ran like a Valyrian steel blade.
My goodness, it was an embarrassment of riches.
Game of Thrones, TV’s alpha show then as now, gave us its third and finest season, with a penultimate episode that had people staggering from their living rooms. It has yet to return to this form, and likely will not.
House of Cards, the vanguard of Netflix’s original content strategy, launched its first and easily its best season on Feb. 1. TV has never been the same.
Orange is the New Black, speaking of groundbreaking Netflix shows, launched its first (and also best) season on July 11.
Veep and Girls both launched their second, footing-finding second seasons early in the year on HBO.
The Walking Dead was in Season 4 its lowest-rated and least-loved but still relevant.
Homeland would launch its third season in September the last to feature Damian Lewis as Brody, ergo the last season anyone cared about.
The Good Wife gains serious critical traction in its fifth season, widely believed to be the moment it raised the bar to become an awards powerhouse. Juliana Margulies wins her second Emmy.
Scandal, speaking of network dramas, sees its viewership leap from 8 million to more than 12 million in this, its third season, spawning the Thursday night Shonda Rimes bloc known as “TGIT.”
The Newsroom is a show we still sorta take seriously. Jeff Daniels wins Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Season 1, just as the second season is winding down.
Downton Abbey comes to the U.S. for a fourth season. (I’ve heard it’s great?)
The Americans debuts on FX to little fanfare in late January. It would slowly develop into one of the few shows that people might try to argue is as good now as Mad Men and Breaking Bad were in 2013 (it isn’t).
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are both alive and kicking, with Comedy Central’s bread-and-butter bloc rivaling network late-night (which at this point still has David Letterman on the air). At this point, we have the luxury of firmly taking them for granted it wasn’t until Mashable first reported in April 2014 that Colbert was eyeing Letterman’s seat that it began to unravel.
The soft decline
It’s been a gentle roll downhill since those dizzying heights of 2013.
From that list so far we’ve lost Girls, Homeland, The Good Wife, The Newsroom, Downton Abbey and the Comedy Central shows in late-night. Clear endpoints have been defined for Game of Thrones, Scandal and The Americans. The rest can’t be far behind.
Meanwhile, comedy seems to have picked up some of the slack, with Netflix firmly in charge, giving us shows like Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; and HBO’s dazzling Silicon Valley came on strong in 2014.
New dramas like Amazon’s Emmy-winning Transparent, AMC spinoff Better Call Saul and a resurgent Leftovers on HBO have done an adequate job of upholding the “Golden Age,” while Netflix originals Dear White People, The Crown, 13 Reasons Why and its suite of quality Marvel shows might give the impression that “Peak TV” is still here, or maybe just around the corner.
But it’s not.
Nothing has truly emerged to fill the void that 2013 has left. Not Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, not Starz’ American Gods, not even the return of Twin Peaks on Showtime.
All great none Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
Surely there’s no single reason for this, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the exuberance of “Peak TV” got Hollywood into such a bearish mood that the top talent, once coalesced around a handful of top programs, has diffused into a creative pond that’s much larger now.
More shows = a thinner spread of ideas and know-how.
More shows also = well, more shows. A different kind of “Peak TV.”
Just not the kind we enjoyed four years ago today, on June 2, 2013.
Read more: http://mashable.com/