Are We Living in the Golden Age of Television?

Are we in the midst of an era when television is in its prime? Can it soar higher than it is now, or is it as good as it’s ever going to be? These are two questions that circulated through my mind after finishing the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s Westworld (2016), a television show based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Westworld is about a fictional, western-themed amusement park where attendees (or “guests”) pay large sums of money to fulfill their darkest desires. In essence, the guests are permitted to murder or have sexual intercourse with the park’s “hosts,” human-like androids that occupy the park, while the “programmers” write the scripts for the hosts and control all of their behaviors.

Westworld is renowned for its thought-provoking examination of the relationship that mankind has with its own technology, and of key themes that include fate, free will, life, death, God, reincarnation, and the nature of human consciousness. I could spend hours—literally days—talking about these things, but keeping within the scope of this article, I will save that for another time.

I didn’t think Westworld could live up to the standards I’ve set for other shows that I hold such a high opinion of, but Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) proved me wrong. In this 95 minute finale, the writers managed to deliver an unbelievably satisfying payoff to the preceding 9 hours I spent with the show, addressing almost every single inquiry into the world, characters, and narrative direction. Even better, almost every scene had its own “Shyamalanism,” a term I coined that describes how the revelation of a plot twist incentivizes an audience to re-watch a television show or movie to spot out the Easter eggs they didn’t notice the first time around. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that much like M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, there are certain story bits in Westworld that you would easily overlook upon first watch, but would blow your mind upon a second or third watch. That is the mark of brilliant storytelling, because to truly deliver a satisfying payoff to any great piece of media, you have to display things in plain sight and subvert attention from them until they become relevant to the twists that you want to reveal.

I bring up Westworld because it’s one television show out of the dozens of high-grade shows that have come out in the past two decades. Between 1999 and today, we’ve gotten amazing shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Prison Break, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Sherlock, Stranger Things, and my personal all-time favorite, Breaking Bad, which I consider to be the Mona Lisa of Television for its complex layered writing and exemplary character development. Let’s not forget the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, another show commonly considered to be golden entertainment.

So are we living in a golden age of television? As a matter of fact, we are. Don’t believe me? There is already a Wikipedia article aptly titled “Golden Age of Television (2000s–present).” Apparently, there was a golden age of T.V. in the 1950s as well, but the 2000s golden age is being dubbed the “New,” “Second,” or “Third Golden Age of Television” because of transformations in the way that we consume media. In addition, the critically acclaimed aforementioned shows have (each in their own right) changed the language of episodic filmography, effectively revolutionizing how stories are told on the small screen. After all, television is a language, and every good show has helped us see it as one.

But if film is a language and every language evolves with time, then what has modern television done to evolve the way in which it is being communicated? There is a long list of examples, but here is a condensed version: Breaking Bad was the first show to take a seemingly innocent and virtuous character, and transform him into a cold, calculating, and ruthless one. Dexter was the first show to make its audience root for, and empathize with, a serial killer. The Walking Dead was the first show to combine realistic human dramas with a zombie apocalypse. Game of Thrones was the first show to depict adult themes in a fantasy setting and regularly kill its lead characters. Stranger Things was the first show to successfully emulate ‘80s media. And finally, Orange is the New Black was the first show to make its side characters more interesting than the main character.

It might seem overly reductive to say that these shows were the “first of their kind,” and while that is true to a certain extent, they were unarguably the first of their kind in the modern era of television. That’s why we’re living in the New Golden Age of Television.

However, golden ages by definition don’t last forever, so when will we see television start to drop in overall quality? It’s hard to say, as it could be in another 10, 20, 40, or even 100 years. Nobody knows for certain, but what is certain is that if our beloved T.V. shows can continue raising the bar, they’ll never get boring.

Why a Halo 3: Anniversary Just Couldn’t Happen

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone and, with it, a slew of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. One of these disappointments (besides Bethesda’s press conference) is the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary. But hey, at least the Flood are canonical again.

What strikes me as perplexing is that Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and Halo 2 (2004) both received the anniversary treatment after 10 years, but that Halo 3 (2007), the hottest selling and generally most beloved game in the entire series, is left untouched for its 10th anniversary. It’s awkward to say the least—the first two Halo games received graphical upgrades on the 10 year mark, but Halo 3 conspicuously discontinues this trend.

Pushing aside my frustration with Halo Wars 2, a game that I believe alienates more than half of the Halo community, I’m going to view the lack of a Halo 3: Anniversary in 2017 as a plus and not a minus. We know that Halo games are released every 3 years. However, because 343 Industries did not showcase a teaser trailer for Halo 6 at E3 this year, we can surmise that the next major Halo title will be delayed until 2019. That, combined with 343 Industries investing most of its manpower into Halo 6 because they do not have to worry about developing a Halo 3: Anniversary, and there is an increased chance that the follow-up to Halo 5 will be the game that we all want and need it to be. A longer, more coherent campaign. A streamlined multiplayer. A state-of-the-art Forge mode. Split-screen. And dare I say… a veto system? These are features that we can expect in Halo 6 by virtue that 343 Industries does not, for instance, have to deal with another Master Chief Collection debacle.

I understand 343i’s decision to not remaster Halo 3 this year because from a logistical and technical standpoint, it’s just not feasible. Halo 2: Anniversary’s graphics look like what vanilla Halo 3 looks like currently. I’d rather wait until the 20 or 25 year anniversary for a remastered Halo 3 to match the more high-powered tech. Also, playing through Halo 3’s campaign again to celebrate its 10 year anniversary anyway (because I know my life will be consumed by Destiny 2 in September), the game still plays so smoothly. It’s not a clunky mess like Halo 5.

And so, if I have to delay gratification and wait a few extra years for Halo 3: Anniversary because 343 Industries wants to invest its resources into Halo 6 to make it the best Halo game that it can possibly be, then I am totally fine with that. On the other hand, if 343 Industries never gives Halo 3 some type of special treatment, then I will be thoroughly disappointed. They really need to win back some of the fans that they already lost.

Are Read Receipts Complicating Relationships?

“I love you.”

*seen 7:47 P.M.*

Communication has always been a tricky puzzle, and the read receipt hasn’t made it any easier to solve.

A read receipt is a special indicator in IM conversations of both the time and date that the receiver opened the sender’s message, such as “seen 7:47 P.M.” or “read at 5:45 P.M.” Now, people can tell exactly when they’re being acknowledged or ignored. To my understanding, you can find read receipts in Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and iMessage, although these and other applications may give you the option to disable them.

Read receipts almost always inconvenience at least one participating party because if you open the message, then you’re forced to respond to it immediately, and you become locked into a conversation that has no end in sight. Alternatively, if you wait to open the message, then the other person will think that you’re just ignoring them. And while you can opt to use the infamous, “Sorry, I didn’t have my phone on me” excuse, chances are it’s not going to work because honestly, who isn’t carrying their phone 24/7?

Call me “behind the times,” a bitter old man, or whatever, but I’m not a strong believer in text messaging being the primary conversational medium. If anything, it intrudes on the fluid and sloppy yet imperfectly beautiful nature of authentic human communication, and fosters an unhealthy dependence on our comfort zones. Its primary purpose should be to convey vital information, not spend hours exchanging meaningless, lazy, 3 word sentences that do little to progress relationships in the real world and ultimately reduce social competence.

I also don’t have the stamina or retention span (not ATTENTION span) to be effective at text messaging. Read receipts only expose just how ineffective that I can be at it. While texting, I might run into what are perceived breaks in the conversation with you, and thus I might forget to respond, fall asleep, or stop responding altogether. Yet how am I supposed to know what constitutes a break in the conversation when I am unable to evaluate your body language or tone of voice? If the read receipt shows that I’ve opened your latest message at “6:50 P.M.” and I haven’t responded to it ever since, then it might appear as though I’ve lost interest in talking to you, when in actuality I thought we both had nothing more to say. But it doesn’t always come across that way. For that reason, I’m starting to worry that the mere knowledge our most recent messages were opened is enough to further complicate our relationships by creating the false impression that, by virtue of one or two unacknowledged texts, we do not care about our friends and companions anymore.

Texting sure is nice and convenient, but it often creates stress when there should be none. Think, how many times have you agonized over that one unacknowledged message that was opened over three hours ago? How many times have you convinced yourself that your boyfriend or girlfriend has lost interest simply because they haven’t responded to you since last night?

It used to be that the best way to tell you were being ignored was when you called and left a voicemail for a friend, companion, or potential employer, and they never called you back. However, you had no way of knowing that the other person ever received your voicemail—you just had to take it at face value and assume they weren’t interested. Today, it’s more so that you know the other person isn’t interested (because the read receipt tells you exactly when your last message was opened), they just couldn’t make it any less painfully obvious.

The read receipt is another classic example of how technology, when abused, doesn’t enhance communication, but rather obscures it. I hope that someday, we can get into the habit of turning the phones off and opening up to each other the old fashion way.