Ahead of the release of “Widows” in cinemas, the film’s director Steve McQueen (“Shame,” “Hunger”) has said that the age of ‘Peak TV’ is now over.
In this context ‘Peak TV’, or the ‘Golden Age of Television’ as it’s more accurately called, refers to the shift of TV away from lower budget procedurals and toward often serialised and acclaimed television programs with cinema quality production values.
Genre TV first dabbled with heavily serialised arcs in primetime shows in the 1990s with series like “Murder One,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “The X-Files,” “Babylon 5,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Buffy” and “Angel”. The official ‘age’ really began with “The Sopranos” in 1999 and several other HBO series like “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under” and “Deadwood” and by the mid-late 2000s was in full swing on premium cable, basic cable, occasionally free-to-air networks and the then-nascent streaming services.
These days viewers are spoiled for TV series content with up to three times as many shows being produced now as there were less than ten years ago, including many more one-off event series and limited series runs with major movie stars and filmmakers all making the jump.
That said, with the sheer amount of content out there the legitimate argument can be made that even with more high-quality content being produced than ever before, the ratio of good-to-bad is worse than it was a few years ago. The term ‘Peak TV’ more accurately referring to the point at which good shows get lost amidst the glut of simply ‘too much’ TV. McQueen’s comments to IndieWire this week reflect that when he was asked about potentially making the jump to TV himself, he says:
“TV had its moment. It’s fodder now, isn’t it? It’s fodder. […] There was a moment in the ’90s or early 2000s when it was amazing. And now it’s just ‘Get stuff done. We need stuff’. I don’t know what’s happening now, but obviously the quality has gone down a little bit. There’s more of it, but less quality. I don’t like TV. […] There was some great stuff, [but] it’s just bad [now]. I would never do it now. There’s too much! You can’t see the books from the trees. You need a situation where there’s a little bit of curating going on.
Writing is one thing, [but] I don’t think TV does what cinema can do. I just don’t think that that’s possible. This is not to sort of say one is better than the other, but I know what I prefer. I prefer cinema. Silence is a very, very big factor. Scope is another factor, which is more familiar to me, as far as being a human being is concerned. We don’t talk all the time. We think a lot as well.”
He then goes on to cite Netflix’s “Ozark” as an example of the end of Peak TV, calling it little more than a rip-off of the admittedly superior “Breaking Bad”. McQueen previously signed on with HBO to create a series, but the network didn’t pick it up and it was thought the expensive failure of Scorsese’s “Vinyl” series was partly responsible.
All this comes as “Widows,” itself a film remake of an iconic 1990s UK TV mini-series, hits cinemas next month.