2013: The Year of Genre TV
By Kyle Anderson on December 28, 2013
I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction, horror, and fantasy because, well, I’m a big nerd, obviously, but it’s also because it tends to allow for more imaginative storytelling that isn’t hampered by any reality beyond that which the series itself creates. Growing up, there were shows like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer which were sort of anomalies. They led to small pockets of hanger-onners and copycats, but generally they would go away not long after they arrived. In the last couple of years, though, this type of television program has become almost as prevalent as police procedurals (ALMOST), and some are even police procedurals themselves. 2013 might finally have been the year that speculative fiction rules the scripted television landscape.
Horror shows have picked up in a big bad way and are now some of the most watched. This came from the runaway success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, but shows like Supernatural and True Blood had been doing just fine. Still, in this year we’ve had more demonic TV shows, such as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, The CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals, Netflix’s Hemlock Grove, more series of American Horror Story, Syfy’s Being Human, and Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming The Strain adaptation. But, it’s not just evil spirits and living dead that populate the landscape; serial killers came back huge with The Following, Hannibal, Bates Motel, and the final season of Dexter. While The Following was ridiculous, and I’m not sure how they’re going to keep it going, Hannibal and Sleepy Hollow are doing really, really interesting stuff, and making things both scary and exciting as we watch our “heroes.”
The Fantasy subgenre is really dominated by a few series, and the “king” of them all, if you’ll forgive the term, is HBO’s Game of Thrones, a series which deftly combines swords, sorcery, realms, and dragons with swearing, nudity, graphic violence, and more of all that, which keeps all sects of fans happy. As far as network shows go, the landscape is limited to Grimm on NBC and Once Upon a Time on ABC, which is steadily dropping in ratings and doesn’t look to be as on-top as it once was. The BBC’s Merlin ended its run after 65 episodes late last year in the UK and this year in the US, which opens the landscape up to more Arthurian programming, perhaps as a way to rival GoT as the armor-wearing powerhouse.
Science fiction, of the three, has always had the most representation on television. Hell, there’s a whole damn channel devoted to it (or at least Syence Fyction). There just seems to be no end to the amount of stories that can be told and the worlds that can be created. Obviously, Doctor Who just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and has been on the air for nearly 9 years since its return, but other series could certainly last for 5+ years if given the proper chance. Of these, the ones I’d like to see continue are Orphan Black, which had just about the best first season of a TV show I’ve seen in who knows how long, Syfy’s Defiance, which mixes the frontier town of a Western with the alien-species-as-different-races politics of something like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the recently-premiered Almost Human, which is the closest anyone’s ever come to making a Blade Runner television series.
It’s a two-horse race for the moment when it comes to comic book TV series. On ABC, there’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., developed by the Whedons and taking place within the same cinematic universe as The Avengers. So far, the series hasn’t been too impressive, growing the characters more than the concept, but the mid-season finale left on a really high note, even if it does reference the movies more than create its own mythology. On the CW, there’s DC’s Arrow, which is in its second season. It may be easy for me to say that a show in its sophomore year is better than one in its freshman year, but Arrow seems to be doing everything right as far as building its own universe. It helps that it wasn’t beholden to anything and could blaze its own trail, of course, but by this time we’ve got Green Arrow, Flash, Black Canary, Deathstroke, Deadshot, R’as al Ghul, and Solomon Grundy all shown or mentioned, so it’s slowly becoming the DC Universe in TV form, not worried too much about stepping on cinema’s toes. I mean, if Superman showed up in Starling City, I’d be pretty surprised anyway.
So, what does this all mean for us, the geek crowd of TV watchers? I don’t see all of this as oversaturating the market so much as playing to the most vocal, supportive crowd. In the same way that the filmic landscape is full of superheroes and CGI-filled blockbusters, most of which make money, the comic book-buyers want their interests represented, and with thousands crowding to panels and things at Comic-Cons everywhere, it seems only logical to want to create more content for those who are willing to shell out some cash. While the impetus for all of these titles might have been financial, to me, it just means that creative people will get the chance to be creative. Good work begets good work, so even if we get a few duds out there, we’ll still get really great stuff as a result. The winners in this race, friends, are us.