Despite the recent deluge of reality shows devoted to the obsessive compulsive, the narcissistic and the truly macabre and sinister — I’m looking at you, “American Pickers” — this much is true about the current state of television: It is as good as it’s ever been.
Like believing that all contemporary pop music is garbage because “Whip My Hair” was temporarily ubiquitous, condemning all of modern television based on TLC’s apparent obsession with big families and those with no desire to see their floors, walls or other parts of their home long since obscured by stacks of Mad Magazine and decades-old cartons of Chinese food is shortsighted.
Similarly, the notion that television isn’t as good as it used to be or that the medium’s golden age has passed us by is absurd and revisionist.
Was television in the 1970s teeming with shows as culturally significant as “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H”? Of course not.
Network executives greenlit just as many duds in 1972 as they do today, but because those shows had no lasting impact, they were forgotten, leaving some with the mistaken impression that everything that went on the air 30 years ago was “Sanford and Son.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
Unlike our parents and grandparents whose programming options were few and far between, we live in an age of ever-expanding niche programming in which many obscure interests — yes, even soccer — have their own channels and shows catered almost exclusively to those audiences.
Thankful for us, the law of averages has won out and this fragmentation of the American television-watching public has led to more, and better, programming than ever before.
Shows like “The Wire,” “Lost,” “The Sopranos,” “The Simpsons” and “The West Wing” were not only colossally popular but are some of the most important shows in the history of television, the latter of which inspired an entire generation of young people into politics and public service.
This Sunday, another of these iconic new shows, AMC’s ’60s-period piece “Mad Men,” returns to the air after an 18-month hiatus.
While the fawning over this show often borders on hyperbole, what the enormous — and still growing — popularity of “Mad Men” says about the American television-watching public is encouraging.
Though reality shows are typically low-cost ratings magnets, there remains a place on TV for a well-acted, well-written, character drama that is as subtle and thoughtful in its execution as any television show in recent memory and possibly ever.
In honor of the return of “Mad Men,” this week’s playlist consists of eight songs released in 1965, which is around when the men and women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce find themselves when they return to our lives this weekend.
Long may you smolder, Don Draper.
• The Mamas and the Papas, “California Dreamin’ ” — Whenever Don goes West, it typically gets weird. Just like this deliciously strange song.
• The Vogues, “Five O’Clock World” — What better song for a playlist dedicated to a show about life at a New York advertising agency.
• Johnny Rivers, “Seventh Son” — A song packing some real swagger.
• Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone” — One of the greatest songs ever.
• Martha and The Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run” — Just a classic.
• The Rolling Stones, “Get Off of My Cloud” — The Stones’ released some other great songs in 1965 but none better than this one. One of my favorites.
• The McCoys, “Fever” — Even covers from the 1960s are awesome.
• Solomon Burke, “Got to Get You Off My Mind” — There is only one Solomon Burke. Incredible.
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