The era of trashy sitcoms and cliche dramas is finally starting to die off, and television now has the freedom it needs to reinvent itself. Television has become a big part of the American household ever since the 60s when it became integral to everyone’s daily lives. Since then, the television landscape has spread wider than it was ever thought possible.
Every year new technological achievements would push the limits of what a show can do, and the number of networks now available to the public gave us more content to fall in love with.
Yet, even as TV entertainment got bigger and bigger every year, popular TV genres by the early 2000s were still falling into the same plot clichés that had been going on for ages, and people were beginning to notice.
Around 2009-2012 is where we began seeing contemporary television series take a risk with their storytelling. The age of rehashed ideas was finally being replaced with more innovative, smart, and meaningful pieces of work that redefined their respected genres and brought in a new golden age of storytelling.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s will remember the classic sitcoms of the era like Seinfeld or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with fond memories, and while these shows are considered classics today, they both fell victim to the ‘hangout comedy’ structure of the era. This meant that these shows were always tied down to a specific setting where the usual cast of characters congregated and played out the story of the week. Despite how funny a show was, there’s no denying that this restricted a lot of comedies of the time by limiting the directions a writer can take in each episode.
Another detail that plagued comedies for a long time was the laugh tracks. To some people, this might not be a big deal, but in some ways, it severely weakens the overall dialogue. If you have ever watched The Big Bang Theory with the laugh tracks removed you will notice that conversations between characters don’t flow naturally and most of the time are filled with pauses that feel awkward without people laughing in the background.
This comedic dark age ended around 2009 when shows like Modern Family and Veep began to break away from these trends holding comedy down and gained notoriety because it gave audiences something new for a change.
Veep did the impossible by turning typically mundane political situations that most people don’t understand into a hilarious show that still manages to be very intellectual.
We also see a departure from the usual “hangout” narrative as in Veep we see actual character development through incredible storytelling arcs that put viewers on a journey, and one that’s not laid out just for cheap laughs.
With Modern Family, we started seeing an inverted version of the classic “perfect” family sitcom be portrayed on television. This show set out to portray a more realistic version of the American family, one that parodies complex relationships and covers many relatable family issues.
The cast of Modern Family also is diverse with their characters, including multi-racial and homosexual relationships that make the family dynamic more relatable and closer to the diversity we see in real families. Instead of focusing specifically on a small section of the family, audiences experience the different lives of all family members.
This is uniquely special for sitcoms because people usually turn to these shows for the comedic situations. For Modern Family, audiences are thrown into these complex relationships that evolve as the show goes on. This makes the characters and their connections to each other feel real and relatable, which was the change comedy needed to finally become a more meaningful form of content for storytelling rather than a platform to tell jokes for the viewers.
There aren’t better examples of how a drama series should work than the critically acclaimed shows Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. These shows have become the modern face of popular television, becoming modern classics that have pushed the limits of what can be done with the genre and television as a whole.
Breaking Bad came onto the scene by mixing action with incredible amounts of suspense involving characters that were grounded in reality. Throughout the show we see the protagonist Walter White evolve from a normal man working as a chemistry teacher into a notorious drug lord after falling into hard times and is diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the show.
Despite Walter White becoming more aggressive and ruthless as the show progresses, audiences still feel a connection to the character because of his character arch. Going from protagonist to antagonist, Walters actions become harder and harder to accept even though you still wish the best for him. However, this character progression isn’t unique to just Walter White. Almost every character is written with likable traits and major flaws that make each of them feel real, allowing you to easily put yourself into their shoes and understand their actions despite disagreeing with them.
The Game of Thrones series was another game changer that transported the audience into an immersive world that feels alive, shaped by the characters that live in it and the events that surround them. Despite the central plot of the show, the world itself is so vast it has its own story to tell. Unlike most dramas, the setting of Game of Thrones has a complex history behind it and lore that builds upon its vibrant land, making it feel real and give reason to the mystical elements surrounds the story.
Like Breaking Bad, many of Game of Thrones wide cast of characters are deeply layered and complex, each displaying human flaws that help fans feel invested in their stories. Instead of focusing in just a set of main characters, we get to see many of them diverging into their own separate story arcs that manage to connect back into the main plot of the show without making them feel like filler.
These interconnected stories help strengthen the already immersive world building of Game of Thrones, giving the audience an immersive experience that makes this show stand out when compared to other drama series. If you need any more proof as to why this show has become the massive franchise we see today, I recommend checking out this article by Alice G. Walton
Television has always been reinventing itself since it first reached worldwide popularity, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. The examples mentioned here are those that decided to take a risk by changing the rules of traditional storytelling for their respected genres, that was for a long time dependent on following trends and rehashing ideas. It’s important we take these shows as an example of what can be achieved through creative storytelling, so we don’t find ourselves in another dark age of unimaginative entertainment.