Is Thegolden age of telly about to end?
America has been producing great tv in the past few years, but Pat Stacey thinks it's time to call 'cut!'
It's been evident to anyone with eyes that American television drama has been knocking spots off everything else in sight for the past decade. Series such as The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, The Shield and Deadwood left the output of the BBC, once the finest purveyor of quality television in the world, looking stale.
They also proved that supposedly attention span-challenged American viewers were prepared to invest time in complex characters and lengthy, nuanced story arcs. But is the shine beginning to wear off this new Golden Age of American TV drama?
Sure, HBO's Homeland, which finished its run on RTE2 last night, has been the most riveting drama of the year, and there's a second series in the works for September.
The cultural phenomenon that is Mad Men returns on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, while a third series of the brilliant, awards-gobbling Boardwalk Empire is currently in production. Yet, despite having these to look forward to, there are signs that American television's brightest talents have run out of ideas.
Hopes were high for horse-racing drama Luck, which looked like a thoroughbred. It was created by David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood) and boasted an A-list cast headed by Dustin Hoffman, in his first TV series role, and Nick Nolte. Yet even before the news that the series has been abruptly cancelled following the unfortunate deaths of three horses, many viewers (me included) had gone a little cold on Luck.
The racetrack jargon-heavy dialogue, murky storytelling and mumbled performances seemed wilfully self-indulgent. I love challenging television that makes me think, but I love it even more when I can make out what's being said.
Treme, the post-Katrina New Orleans drama from David Simon (The Wire, The Corner), similarly reeks of quality, but the glacial pace and meandering plots have tested some viewers' patience.
Pan Am, meanwhile, which attempted to feed off the nostalgia craze engendered by Mad Men, is drivel and currently hovering mid-air over Cancellation Airport, Nowheresville.
Despite its slow-moving zombies, The Walking Dead got off to a galloping start but the second series, which largely featured the living standing around talking endlessly, nearly killed it off. But there are two series in particular, which began within a week of one another, which strongly suggest the party could soon be over.
Touch (Sky 1) stars 24's Kiefer Sutherland as a widower who must decipher his mute son's numerical scribblings, which apparently hold the key to the nature of the universe. Or something. The brainchild of Tim Kring, the man behind Heroes -- which had disappeared up its own mythological fundament long before it was axed, it is silly, glutinously sentimental and requires you to suspend your disbelief from a skyscraper.
Alcatraz, the latest high-concept saga from Lost creator JJ Abrams, initially looks more hopeful: dangerous prisoners mysteriously vanish from the notorious island prison in 1963 and then turn up in the present, not a day older. But how much mileage can be squeezed out of a premise like that before the series starts a Lost-like spiral into parallel universes?
Fine for the fanboys, maybe, but some of us believe life's too short for another series where you need a wall chart the size of the Bayeux tapestry to keep track.
>sonic screwdrivers Doctor Who is getting a new companion and, guess what? She's young, pretty and perky. Jenna-Louise Coleman (Emmerdale) will be replacing Karen Gillen next Christmas.
What is it with the Doctor? He's a 900-year-old alien and keeps picking up nubile Earth chicks, yet he never gets any love-action. We know he has two hearts; could it be that one is to compensate for the lack of a different organ?
>warble war In the war between the BBC's version of The Voice and ITV's Britain's Got Talent, the Beeb has unveiled its secret weapon ... er, Cheryl Cole.
With all the timing of an ex-girlfriend turning up at your wedding clutching a child with one hand and a sample of your DNA with the other, it was revealed this week that Cole will be unveiling her new single on The Voice. Is this the way for The Voice to stake its claim as the most credible talent show on TV?
>low down Here's a cheery selection from this week's TV3 schedule: Caution Learner Drivers; The Autopsy; Tenants from Hell; Children: Are They Worth It?; Ireland's Crime Capitals and, Collision: Post Mortem of a Car Crash, presented by Gay Byrne. Personally, I think it's all a plan to get us to watch Titanic tomorrow night. Be honest, which is worse: seeing 1,517 people drown or having Gaybo lecture you for an hour? Where's me lifejacket?