It seems like without fail, every annum that year’s television is described by some critics, somewhere, anywhere, as “gold” or “heralding a new era for television”.
Sure, to some extent that’s true. You’d be hard pressed to think of another decade which has seen such radical change in not only how television is made, but how we, as viewers (indeed, consumers) process and interact with the small screen. The rise of pay-on-demand, internet streaming channels like Netflix and Amazon Prime means that we demand more from an hour of television than ever before. Standards set by shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent and House of Cards offer diverse, entertaining, different and, above all, fast-paced programming that has left the terrestrial channels struggling to keep up. The golden age has risen for streaming-based television but is it just setting for its British counterparts across the pond?
Now, British television lacks dynamism. When once a Broadchurch-esque crime drama on a Sunday night would satisfy, more is needed. It’s ironic that, in a country which prides itself on being a multi-cultural, tolerant nation, our programming is so lacking. But, ‘the BBC!’, I hear you cry! The politically correct BBC, where all genders, races and general space aliens are featured!
You see, that’s part of the problem. In constantly trying to abide by a set of politically correct guidelines, the dynamic energy and creativity that lies behind some of the best television programmes currently hitting our screens is lost. In the BBC’s programming, diversity and ethnicity are featured as what looks like, even if with the best will in the world, it isn’t intended to be, a box ticking exercise perpetuating stereotypes. Take, for example, sitcom Citizen Khan. Set in Birmingham and following the life of a Pakistani family, the series reinforces clichés about the Pakistani community, through jokes about hijabs and curry. Series such as these only service to encourage diversity on our screens – the best television doesn’t feature a TV show devoted only to one section of society, or a gang drama where the urban ‘yoof’ hang with their ‘bruvvas’ in an inner London park.
By playing it safe, television in Britain is missing out on reaching its full potential. You know there’s a problem when Downton Abbey, a show whose structure can be described as haphazard at best, characters one-dimensional and an almost exclusively white cast, is our representative at the Emmy’s and Golden Globes.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. Boys Meets Girl on BBC1 is a ground-breaking piece of television with the first transgender actress playing the titular role. Yet this is just one programme out of so many and it simply isn’t enough.
To truly enter the golden age, television in Britain needs to loosen the fuck up and take some bloody risks. With the axe of the license fee looming over the BBC, something’s got to give – and fast.