The Small Screen's Big Moment: 2016’s Transformative Television

From by Todd Jatras
The Small Screen's Big Moment: 2016’s Transformative Television

Towards the end of a recent marathon viewing session Breaking Bad, I began to seriously worry for my life after Walter White (the character that earned Bryan Cranston four Emmys). My panic was brief, as a cursory search revealed that a second Golden Age of Television is in full swing and the pipeline is brimming with compelling new programs full of talent.

Like many who are eschewing the movie theater in favor of the small screen, I began to wonder when TV became the go-to medium for sophisticated storytelling. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the “idiot box” was shunned as shallow and inferior. Nearly everyone is in on the act today, including filmmakers like Woody Allen, who has an Amazon series scheduled for later this year. Stories previously thought of as too complex for the small screen are being brought to life, with the constraints of a two-hour film giving way to a standard season clocking in at 22 hours. The longer format allows writers and directors to delve much deeper into character development and storyline. 

We can expect this trend to continue as streaming giants like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu continue to flex their muscles, throwing billions into original content. Last week’s Sundance Film Festival further reinforced the idea that television continues to ascend, with several shows debuting their pilot episodes at the event. Chief among them this year was 11.23.63, a J.J. Abrams-produced, eight-part adaptation of a Stephen King novel that premiers on Hulu on February 15. In it, James Franco plays a teacher who travels back in time to try and stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

The first four episodes of Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience also debuted last week in Park City and is based on the 2009 Soderbergh film of the same name. Riley Keough plays a law student who dabbles in “transactional relations” to pay her bills. The Soderbergh-produced, 13-episode anthology series premiers on April 10 and if renewed, its second season will feature a new cast and plot. 

Also debuting episodes was Amazon’s The New Yorker Presents, which premieres February 16. The weekly, 30-minute series brings the magazine to life on the small screen with documentaries, poetry, comedy pieces, comics and behind-the-scenes segments shot at their editorial offices. 

billions, Damien Lewis, Paul Giamatti Photo Credit: Showtime

Showtime’s Billions stars Paul Giamatti as a U.S. Attorney hell-bent on bringing down Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damien Lewis), one of New York’s most nefarious billionaire hedge-fund managers. Judging from its first three episodes, this piercing portrayal of the power machinations in the worlds of journalism, finance and politics is bound for a long run.

Baskets debuted last week on FX and is a bizarre little comedy that has Zach Galifianakis playing a French clown-school dropout. Then there’s BBC’s four-part adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which stars Lily James from Downton Abbey, Gillian Anderson and Paul Dano. 

love, judd apatow, netflixPhoto Credit: Netflix

Judd Apatow’s Love is a 10-episode Netflix program offering a “down-to-earth look at dating” in Los Angeles. Set to drop on February 19, the show has already been given a two-season run. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul is returning to the small screen on March 30 in Hulu’s The Path, playing a conflicted husband who joins a cult and later has to escape from its leader (Hugh Dancy). 

the x-filesPhoto Credit: Fox

Finally, amid all of these great new shows, let us not forget The X-Files, which just started its 10th season with six new episodes. It picks up 15 years after we last saw Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), as they jump back onto the paranormal trail. 

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