Beginning with The Sopranos (1999- 2007) and The Wire (2002-2008) and running through Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, there has been an undeniable trend toward more serious subject matter. During the same period, Canadian TV saw the arrival of smart comedies Slings and Arrows, Being Erica and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
“Today there’s a notable rise in programs of quality, often with adult content, sophisticated themes, complex characterization and sustained, accomplished storytelling,” says Haidee Wasson, associate professor of film studies in Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and former associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts. “They often use cinematic aesthetics and borrow from film genres. They’re very sophisticated stories, and often very dark.”
Charles Acland, professor in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies, co-edited the 2011 book Useful Cinema with Wasson. He adds that the shows lumped together under the heading of “the new golden age” have an advantage over those from the past. They tend to have larger production budgets that can support more varied visual styles, more elaborate special effects and more expensive writers and stars. Also, since these shows mostly are not on broadcast TV, they can get around the constraints of broadcasting standards. “That means they can take advantage of certain degrees of explicitness, whether in terms of language, violence or sexuality, that the broadcast shows can’t,” he says.