LIFE, DEATH AND LIFE ON THE SMALL SCREEN

It’s hard to see loved ones die, whether they go in their prime or linger. Two deaths this month will affect me and millions of others. Fortunately they involve not human beings but TV shows.

Dexter and Breaking Bad will arrive at their inevitable ends. I’ll be sad. Well, concerning Dexter, relieved. The show has been a Sunday night habit. But Dexter ran out of steam a few seasons back. Fortunately, the concluding episodes provide renew energy as Dexter seeks a new life and his sister Debra clings to hers.

Breaking Bad will be sorely missed. The incredible tale of a high school teacher turned methamphetamine empire builder ranks among the very best of television productions—which ranks it among the very best of dramatic presentations in any form. The scripts—compelling and quirky—the acting and the cinematography all have been spectacular year after year. I put Breaking Bad on a pedestal alongside The Wire, perhaps the best TV drama ever, and The Sopranos.

Not that I’m touting my personal television hall of fame. We all have our favorites. And yes, I still watch The Simpsons—after 24 seasons, the longest running primetime show ever. It graces its own pedestal—assembled out of donuts.

My point is this: People love stories. We get caught up in them. Good stories stir our imaginations. They also let us live other lives vicariously and get caught up in dramas we would never experience ourselves—or want to. These shows and their characters achieve a reality of their own—one that reality shows can never match.

So when a great show finally leaves the air, it’s like a small death in the family. Something familiar and treasured has gone missing. Yet as with all of humanity, one generation departs only to be replaced by another. Death is inevitable, but we find hope and strength in the continuous creation of new life.

And it’s not all or nothing. Before they expire, outstanding TV shows go on hiatus. Their promise to return leaves us with great anticipation. Ray Donovan is concluding its first season. I’ll miss it, sure. Particularly Avi, Ray’s Israeli “handyman.” Meanwhile I’ll catch up with Luther, the BBC detective show starring Idris Elba, back for its third season. And on September 29, Homeland returns.

I’m not looking forward to another season of Mad Men—I stopped watching because I no longer give a damn about Don Draper (if you do, fine)—but I’m in the middle of Netflix’ Orange is the New Black. Early in 2014 we’ll see the return of Netflix’ House of Cards.

There are lessons in all this. For one thing, while it’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at television, stimulating shows exists. For another—particularly of note as we enter autumn this Sunday—spring always follows winter. In the words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”

And so goodbye Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Welcome back, Nicholas Brody, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson. And you too, John Luther. But wait. Did I forget someone? Oh yes. As always, Homer. D’oh.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

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4 Comments


  1. Carolyn Perlstein
    Sep 20, 2013

    Sad to say all of the shows you mention are either cable or Netflix. Network TV just doesn’t have the balls to go full steam ahead and tackle serious issues with the gravitas they so richly deserve. But then again, it’s subjective; I actually have friends and family who can’t stomach cable TV. So there’s a market for everyone. Even, and especially, Homer. D’oh!


  2. Tracy
    Sep 21, 2013

    Network TV is just awful, made all the more apparent by the Golden Age of TV drama that we are in. I concur that The Wire was the best TV show ever, followed by Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, Roots, Breaking Bad, and Homeland. I literally cried when The Wire ended.

    Not to be overlooked are great shows that simply never found an audience like EZ Streets, John From Cincinnati, and Rubicon. All are missed.

    And, of course, we should NEVER overlook the cultural icon that is The Simpsons. After all Lionel Hutz inspired me to change professions and start my own “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Clinic…And Shoe Repair.”

    May the memory of all our shows be a blessing.


  3. Mickey
    Sep 22, 2013

    I too am sorry to see Dexter end, never got into Breaking Bad but know many who are junkies like you. If I had my programing hat on I would have like to see The Wire and Deadwood continue too. I do however look forward to both Homeland and Nurse Jackie returning.

    As for network TV and cable, it has become a true wasteland with the amount of tabloid reality shows, which we all know are scripted, but then so many do seem to take great care if giving these shows and people the audience they seem to crave.

    Oh well, network and cable do seem to bring something to all of us because I can’t really go to films today due to the current scripts and actors being produced.

    Enjoy the close of Dexter, just hope it not a let down.


  4. Seth
    Sep 23, 2013

    I’m still bitter over the horrendous final season/ ending to Lost. Yeah, I know its been a few years, but it was so bad and I invested so much time in it that its awful ending still resonates with me and makes me think twice about investing similar time/ interest in new TV shows.

    Since I cut the cord a few months ago I find I actually don’t miss cable shows I used to watch regularly like The Universe, Through the Wormhole, Ancient Aliens, Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and a few others.

    For my money, though, Archer is still the best show out there.

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