A rather silly piece about the state of "prestige TV"—whatever that term even means—made the rounds yesterday on the twitters. It's one of these odd bits of criticism that poses as bold iconoclasm but actually restates a lot of what has already been said elsewhere. Just as a for-instance, this paragraph made me scratch my head:
While there are many kinds of television shows being made at the moment, it’s worth pointing out that a significant majority of critically-acclaimed, so-called "prestige television" shows are about angsty white criminals (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad), angsty white cops (The Wire), and angsty white ad execs (Mad Men).
If there are many kinds of television shows being made at the moment, why highlight four shows that have been off the air for between two and ten years?
Also, saying that "it's worth pointing out" these shows are about white, male, anti-heroes suggests that not very many people have pointed this out. But this has been the single dominant strain of TV criticism for years and years and years. Here's a 2012 piece briefly noting the same. Here are two pieces from 2013 joking about the fact that prestige TV shows are generally about angsty dudes. Here's a 2014 piece arguing prestige TV shows should be about fewer "straight, white, rich men." Here's another 2014 piece about how prestige TV is "really white and really male." By 2015, critics were noting "we’ve reached a critical mass of great shows that aren’t mostly populated by white men." Here's a 2016 piece noting that Vinyl fails because "it’s ultimately a middle-aged white man’s idea of the glory days." Here's a 2017 piece lamenting the fact that "All the Buzzy, Prestige Dramas Guys Won't Shut Up About Are Just Manifestations of the Male Id."
Or, as Matt Zoller Seitz (who knows a wee bit about not only the state of TV but also the state of the conversation surrounding TV) rather more succinctly put it:
@noahgittell I think it's a brilliant diagnosis of problems affecting TV drama in 2010.
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) May 9, 2017
But I did learn something new! Let's take a look at one more part of the aforementioned sentence. Specifically, this bit:
so-called "prestige television" shows are about … angsty white cops (The Wire)
This reading of The Wire is … unique! They say you learn something new every day, and I have to say that I was not expecting to learn that The Wire is "about … angsty white cops." The nominal lead of the show was white, and, I guess, sometimes had some angst. That being said, I thought it was about power structures and the crudity of the drug war and the ways our schools are failing inner city children and the ways that the media is failing the people they're supposed to inform and the way our politicians rig the game for their own benefit. But no, it's definitely "about … angsty white cops."
When I think "the pale, desolate landscape of prestige TV," I definitely think to myself "yes, The Wire, that show was white af."
This is definitely not a show that embraced diversity in any significant way.
Considering that Baltimore is an extremely black city, the paucity of African-American faces was pretty striking.
Just white cops, white cops, white cops, everywhere!
Pretty shameful, tbh.
A truly perfect example of the glaring whiteness of prestige TV.
A show that was only concerned with the lives of the wealthy.
And the "problems" of the privileged.
With its preoccupation on white folks and their issues, it's no wonder that The Wire didn't create a single iconic African-American character.
So, in the end, I'm glad I read that dumb essay about how Actually, TV Is Bad Still. I'm always happy to learn new things.