After reading my column about the origins of my cinephilia, a lingering question may have entered your mind: but what about television? It’s a good question, because despite my love for cinema it took me a while to really start watching television shows, something that eventually made me start this blog. You may recall that my fascination with movies started with animation and, much like it, my love for television shows also started there. Born in 1988, I grew up in the 90’s, and there are two shows that had a definite impact on me. One of those series aged better than the other, but these were the shows that kept me coming back for more: Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series. Sure, I remember Disney Afternoon as fond any ’90s kid (especially Duck Tales and Gargoyles), but it’s these two shows that had me craving every next adventure, every new development, jump up and down after each cliffhanger. I didn’t know it at the time of course, but essentially these two animated series acquainted me with TV’s biggest USP: the development of characters and plot over multiple episodes and seasons. And let’s face it: Batman: TAS is just one of the best animated shows ever created.
Because I’ve always had a fondness for horror and scares, I started checking out two live-action shows when I was a teen: Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel. I think these two shows really educated me as far as season-wide arcs go. Sure, there were always a couple of episodes that had very little to do with overall narrative, one-offs, but essentially each season of Buffy and Angel told its own story, further strengthened by all the build-up in later seasons. These two shows had me hooked and, when these ended, for a long time I didn’t really watch TV, because… I really got into movies. I had this period back then when I thought that TV didn’t push any boundaries, wasn’t all that interesting because the “mature” subject matter and characters I’ve grown to love mostly originated from (arthouse) films and the novels I read. To my knowledge at the time, there really were no shows that came close to achieving what cinema and books could, because most of the shows I’d encounter were police procedurals or bland sitcoms. But then, in 2006, I started hearing about a show that seemed quite dark, satirical and edgy, a series the press was raving about because of twisted and clever it was. That show was Showtime’s Dexter and I can say with certainty that this series has been responsible for my dive into TV and everything it has to offer.
As you can tell I was quite biased because I hadn’t stumbled upon a great show in a long time, but Dexter completely changed my view of what TV could do. Its story about a Miami PD blood splatter analyst who also happened to be a serial killer who killed killers, tackled interesting subject matter, ranging from the construction of our own identity to some difficult moral territory. It was a show (well, during its first 4 seasons at least) that made me think and featured one of the best voice-overs ever put to screen, with which Michael C. Hall’s character looked at everyday life with an otherworldly gaze, which was both incredibly funny and disturbing. Since then the show has completely fallen from grace (and rightly so), but there’s no denying that it made me pay attention to other series. It made me check out Showtime’s other show Californication, read up on what were considered other great shows. Eventually I watched The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Prison Break, The Wire, Twin Peaks and many more shows and, dare I say it, TV became on-par with cinema for me, maybe even surpassed it, mainly because of the time television shows have for the development of their characters and plots. Now, sometimes a show loses its way of course (like Dexter), gets repetitive (Prison Break) or is cancelled prematurely (Deadwood), but many shows get wrapped up in a satisfying fashion. With gems like Hannibal, Mad Men and Fargo airing right now, I’m incredibly happy that, despite my preconceived notions of TV I was converted and, additionally, that nowadays not only cable network shows push the limits of TV, but that even some commercial broadcast series are trying to broaden their horizons. We live in a great age for television, and if you’re not checking it out you’re doing yourself a disservice.