25 years of TV. Totally doable. I will just start with the early eighties and work my way up, right? Imagine my tangible surprise when I was informed that the last 25 years do not, actually, include the eighties. I think I am getting old. Or maybe I am just really terrible at maths (stick to the language-ing Hattie). From 1992, TV has pretty much undergone a complete metamorphosis, touching and expanding on every possible genre, from supernatural family thrillers to unscripted buddy comedies.
For me, possibly because this was around the time I was a kid growing up, the beginning of the new millennium was the dawn of child-centric programming. CBBC shows were something playing in the background during breakfast, and would be the first thing on after school. Sure I played outside and had friends, but Tracy Beaker’s mum could come and pick her up from the Dumping Ground at any time, and I needed to be there watching in case it happened. Where would Auntie Mabel take Pippin in her polka dot plane next? Was Mona the Vampire really on to something when she battled literal monsters, or did she just have a vivid imagination? Ah, the noughties were a golden age for children’s television.
The nineties truly saw the rise of the American sitcom; Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, Boy Meets World and Wings dominated ratings, influencing a huge spawning of shows starring quirky twenty-somethings carving their own peculiar paths through modern life. As meaningless as these shows seemed on the surface, their message was nevertheless clear – individuality is the new fitting-in, and there is no such thing as a screw-up. Being able to afford a gigantic trendy apartment on a chef’s salary is also, apparently, really easy.
As well as this influx of situational comedies, TV also took on a more self-deprecating theme. Perhaps influenced by the tongue-in-cheek Brady Bunch film released in 1995, cartoons and shows depicting the not-so-perfect American nuclear family happened, with comedies like Family Guy and That 70’s Show. The messages of these? Do not believe what you see on TV. Or maybe, inside our private home spaces, families are all as dysfunctional as each other.
Where will TV take us next? Praise be to the invention of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon – entire TV seasons spanning decades are a click away. The benefits of this are numerous, but the one that struck me first is this. You may have noticed that the shows I have talked about are all Anglo-American focussed. Aside from a few exceptions, this is what I, and probably most of you, all grew up with. The expansion of online streaming now enables us to watch more shows that we probably would not have been able to get hold of otherwise. Absolutely first class foreign language shows like The Returned, Skam and The Bridge have encountered much deserved mainstream success.
Perhaps what is so relevant about the last 25 years of television is its timeless quality. I would not bat an eyelid watching an entire season of Seinfeld like it had just been released last week. The comedy, the references, the toe-curling romantic scenes are all still so relevant and fresh that watching 20 years in the future does not seem outdated in the slightest, although it may be a different story for a nineties kid watching a programme from the 1970s. It is funny how entertainment seems to work that way.