So is there any point to determining a TV canon at all? There certainly are excellent TV shows, especially relative to other TV shows. There are TV shows that are produced with artistic genius and beauty and that shed light on timeless truths about the human condition. But given the nature of the medium, will these achievements last? So many great shows will slip into oblivion unloved and unmourned. For instance, I would love to share my appreciation of The Shield with more people. But I’m a realist. I am fully aware that asking most people to sit down and watch 88 episodes of a cop drama, albeit a very good cop drama with one of the few great endings of this era of narrative television, is pointless. There’s not enough time.
Even if we had a surfeit of seconds—even “if we were literally immortal,” as Bloom wrote—it’s worth considering whether any television from today will be watched for entertainment by future generations. Just because TV is a going concern now doesn’t mean it always will be. Without dipping too far into the realm of science-fiction, one doesn’t have to be too imaginative to conjure up a future in which television, as an artistic medium, withers and fades, replaced by YouTube vloggers and competitive gamers and eventually by increasingly immersive virtual reality. “Most commercial music disappears when the generation that made it dies,” music historian Ted Gioia explains to Chuck Klosterman in his book But What If We’re Wrong? “After each generation dies, only a few songs and artists enjoy a lingering fame.” That low level of recognition is held by only a few folks here and there. One wonders if prestige TV is, like any popular genre, little more than a fad that will fade as its fans die off.
Long but well worth your time to binge-read.