Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule: An Introduction


Faced with the task of memorializing 2008 as a year in television, there have been two major trends: either accepting the challenges facing the industry in 2008 and focusing on the positives which emerged, or eviscerating the industry for falling out of its golden age and squandering its potential.

I don’t envy people who truly have to do this job for a living: in a year of failed pilots and declining ratings, it must be tough to sum it all up from a critical perspective without the same kind of freedom that this blog affords me. The Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule is an attempt to elide the year as a whole altogether: yes, it is tied together by some vague idea of recognizing that which was memorable in television, but I have no obligation to step outside my own station in doing so.

But I can’t pretend that writing this feature didn’t make me think about the broader implications of the industry, or that I didn’t read numerous other year-end features that influenced me to some degree in the process. This has been, even if we ignore the qualifications of good and bad, an interesting year for the medium of television, and I can totally see how some would begin to view the year as somewhat of a disappointment.

What I discovered in putting together this piece is that I may be very critical of the shows I watch, but for the most part this year of television felt like it weathered the storm surrounding it better than I might have expected…for me. Reading Heather Havrilesky’s year end review over at Salon was like seeing into an alternate universe: it isn’t that her entire world is different, that she was watching different TV than I was, but our lenses were so fundamentally different that I can completely see where she’s coming from even while disagreeing with a majority of her contentions.

Where I think Havrilesky loses me, though, is when she begins to fall into a dangerous trap: in heralding the death of television’s golden age, she says that Lost’s fourth season was nothing compared to its first, that Privileged is not half the show Easy Money was, and that Sons of Anarchy can’t fill the void of the Sopranos. It feels like she’s reacting less to the show’s themselves and more to their broader place within the world of television. And while I think that this has to be part of the analysis, I think that within the context of their own genres and their own executions all three shows were certainly not a sign of the death of television as we know it.

It’s why I tend to shy away from such grand statements: this blog has for the past 15 months been focused on episode reviews, placing that episode into the context of a season, a series, and (inevitably) an industry. But to take the latter while ignoring the former, or allowing it to colour your opinion of it too heavily, feels like a dangerous proposition. Yes, the Writer’s strike resulted in series being rushed to order without being ready, or shows struggling upon their returns in the fall, but all of that felt like an unfortunate circumstance rather than a symbol of decay.

So for Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule, my goal is to capture 2008 beyond the broad strokes: yes, the writers went on strike, and as the year ends we’re saying goodbye to shows we love while Knight Rider lives to fight another day, but what episodes stood out in this past year in a way that either embodies or transcends those facts? I won’t be as discerning as many have been, nor will I be as prone to sensationalist statements, but I believe that this best reflects my emotional response to television in the past year.

For those of you who have shared the journey with me, you probably know what to find here: for those who haven’t, it might give you a sense of what to expect in the year to come. I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and I can only hope that we can emerge from the shadow of the Writer’s strike and find ourselves in, if not a golden age, another compelling year of television.

The Schedule

There are 23 entries to the time capsule (plus some quick reasons for some exclusions at the end), with four individual posts per day, categorized and scheduled to go up as follows:

January 1st: The Best of 2008 Drama (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men)
January 2nd: The 2008 Freshman Class (The Middleman, Fringe, The Mentalist, Sons of Anarchy)
January 3rd: The 2008 Sophomore Class and Lessons for HBO (Pushing Daisies, Chuck, Dexter, Entourage)
January 4th: The Best of 2008 Comedy (The Office, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog)
January 5th: The Best in Event Television (Recount, Generation Kill, The Wire, The Election)
January 6th: The Best of the Rest of 2008 (House, Project Runway, Terminator: SCC)
January 7th: The Ones That Didn’t Make the Cut.

I’ll be back with episodic reviews as usual on Tuesday, when Scrubs returns from its long hiatus on a new network, and then things get busy on Wednesday with the return of Damages and the penultimate episode of Friday Night Lights’ third season on DirecTV 101.

Until then, enjoy the feature, and while I might be offline more than usual in the days ahead reentering into the world of academia my addiction to Twitter is unlikely to fade, so feel free to visit me at!

One more thing…

Sorry to steal Steve Jobs’ bit, but I figure I’m stealing the Apple Time Capsule as my banner image for the feature and might as well steal something else while I’m at it. As mentioned in the initial announcement of this project, I’ve decided that there should be some kind of prize for those who comment on the various parts of this project. And, well, there will be…just not immediately.

There’s another special event coming up for this blog that I want to commemorate with something special, and since this is going to run pretty close to it anyways I think that I’m going to combine the two. So, for now, I’ll just say that commenting on these posts with a legitimate email address is helping your chances at winning some yet to be determined prizes that will be part of later festivities.

I promise.


Filed under 2008 Television Time Capsule

14 responses to “Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule: An Introduction

  1. Hurrah for TV-related optimism! This project of yours is very exciting and I will be following along closely.

  2. I love your optimism. I hope you’re right and this fall has just been a post-strike aberration. I don’t *like* to be negative.

  3. Glad to have you along for the ride, Ashley!

    And yes, Mr. Porter, I know that you don’t enjoy being negative, it’s just that this year certainly had enough points of contention that they were hard to ignore. I think you’ll find as the project goes along that my own optimism wavers in certain selections, wherein my frustrations at the very least bleed through to the surface.

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