It has been quite some time that I don’t pay any attention to the television set in my house, except when there is a breaking news coverage. The shows produced by most Indonesian local television stations are increasingly lackluster. Infotainments, sinetrons (Indonesian soap operas), mindless discussion shows — watching them will easily make me feel stupid.
Thankfully, one can easily access what seemingly to be limitless amount of entertainment on the Internet, including television series — fictional stories focusing on the lives of an ensemble of characters tied up by a main plot line. And no, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is not in this category.
Series like “Friends” was very popular during the 1990s, and followed by a torrent of sitcoms and dramas in the 2000s, like “Arrested Developments” and “The Sopranos.” But this time around, the television world gains even greater momentum and viewership, especially in the United States. Even GQ magazine dubs today as “the new golden age of television” in its June issue. The big question is: Why are television series getting more exciting to watch, especially compared to the last two decades?
The first and most obvious reason is better production. From the writing to cinematography, each aspect in a television series is given more attention than ever before. A fitting example would be “Mad Men.” Now in its fifth season, this series centers on Don Draper, a Madison Avenue ad executive in the 1960s. The series creator Matthew Weiner makes sure that every single thing being shot represents that era accurately in painstaking details, be it the social and political circumstances or the sharp suits worn by Don. The acting is also top-notch — most notably that of Jon Hamm who dashingly plays the main character.
Second, as previously said, it is getting easier to access and watch television series anywhere and anytime. You can simply download the latest episode of, say, “Game of Thrones” on iTunes, sync it to your iPod, and watch it during your commute to work. You no longer have to remember at what time and on what channel your favorite series is going to be broadcast.
Aside from that, the widespread use of social media has created a new avenue for fans to interact with one another. Some people tweet their reactions or discuss that plot cliffhanger after watching last night’s episode. Even television critics have started embracing these instruments, including the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum). There are also mobile applications like GetGlue, which you can use to “check-in” à la Foursquare to a television show.
It should be noted though that sharing your TV obsession on social networking sites can present a unique Achilles’ heel. Not everyone watches the same episode at the same time, so you must be careful not to spill the beans on significant plot twist. In short, no spoiler. You might be devastated that your favorite character is killed, but it’s better to keep the news hush-hush.
Lastly, a number of television series have launched a barrage of discussions. This can be manifested in the form of lowbrow debate, such as why a prominent character in BBC’s “Sherlock” can resurrect from what seems to be his death, with various scenarios being analyzed by those involved in the series fandom.
Another recent instance is the new HBO series, “Girls,” which chronicles the life’s ups-and-downs of four twenty-something girls in New York. Hundreds of essays have been blooming in the blogosphere, discussing various facets of the show: most notably on why it does not have non-white main characters to the girls’ privileged background. Even Hollywood actor James Franco recently wrote his own take about the show’s lack of diversity for the Huffington Post, “Because TV is such a popular medium, HBO has a responsibility to represent its subjects accurately, especially when the network is selling a show as a representation of young New York.”
Interestingly, television series can also be a vehicle for messages related to bigger social and cultural contexts. There is “Modern Family,” which, through its depiction of a gay couple with a daughter, tries to paint a fresh image onto the traditional notion of family. On the other hand, “Glee” made a sharp commentary on the bullying phenomenon — which once led to a series of gay teen suicides — in the United States. Who knew a one-hour comedy could be as influential as a New York Times op-ed?
Some books have also been written on “Mad Men,” including “Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems,” which takes a look at the philosophical issues and themes of the series, from Ayn Rand’s objectivism to the dawn of feminism.
It’s only natural, in the end, to ask, what about Indonesia? The fate of a series usually lies on viewers rating, and this is probably one of the main reasons why Indonesian television scene has not inculcated the same sense of excitement as what is being produced in other countries — sinetrons still rule supreme among the majority of local audience. There have been several attempts to revitalize our television scene, through dramas, like the Dian Sastrowardoyo-starring “Dunia Tanpa Koma” and more recently “Tim Bui,” but both didn’t manage to win the hearts of many audience.
Not a reason to be pessimistic, though. As the recent cinema renaissance in our country can tell us, I hope Indonesian audience will be more critical and ask for better television quality in the near future.
In the mean time, I happily satisfy my “Girls” cravings on my laptop every Monday night.
Share with us your favorite television series in the comment section.