Trends — whether in fashion, music or on television — are only slightly noticeable as they emerge, but become abundantly obvious in hindsight. From fleeting fads to more memorable moments, here’s what occupied our TV screens in 2013 (no spoiler-y specifics).
Trend: Off with Your Head!
Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are notorious for killing off major (or majorly loved) characters when viewers least expect it. This makes investing in these series a gamble: Are you prepared to fall in love with a character, only to see them beheaded or ripped apart by zombies a year from now? This year especially, we said goodbye to a number of leading players from several popular shows. As an avid watcher of these shows, I’ve found myself not only growing accustomed to it, but also actually appreciating how a significant death can be beneficial to the greater storyline. More so now than ever, I can understand why a show would kill off one of my favorites, even if I secretly cry when they do. As an audience, it appears we’re ready to sacrifice beloved characters in the name of the story, which (maybe) means we’re evolving as viewers but definitely means no TV actor has job security. Welcome to the working world, Hollywood!
How it played out this year: Final seasons of Breaking Bad and Dexter said farewell to central characters; Game of Thrones crushed fans’ souls with the episode “The Rains of Castamere,” better known as The Red Wedding; Homeland killed off a surprising star; Sons of Anarchy’s penultimate season brought several gruesome casualties; between the end of Season Three and the recent mid-series finale of Season Four, The Walking Dead lost hella characters. Like so many. And then there’s Family Guy. A certain Griffin died in this current 12th season, only to return two episodes later.
Trend: Fanning Out
Some shows are best watched alone — I like to call that my Bravo time. Other series are enhanced by a group of fellow fans. Most TV today doesn’t leave viewers with questions or a conversation that lasts longer than the credits, but for those that do, we want to discuss them. Fans want to hear from the actors, writers and producers who made the show.
We want to hear alternate theories and get hints about upcoming episodes. Basically, we want to fully fan-out over this shit, and this year TV said, “Aight,” in the form of after-shows.
After-shows aren’t entirely new. MTV in particular has been hosting reality series reunions for years, including after-shows for everything from Laguna Beach to Catfish: The TV Show. But some of this year’s after-shows reached beyond a former Olympian asking Snooki who she smushed.
How it played out this year: The Walking Dead’s live follow-up Talking Dead has been kicking since October 2011, but the after-show got an hour-long spot beginning in 2013, giving fans 30 extra minutes of interviews, Q&A and behind-the-scenes looks. Dead host Chris Hardwick took a slightly more somber approach to Talking Bad, a similar recap program to the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad; Sons of Anarchy premiered an online after-show, Anarchy Afterward; and, yes, Bravo has an after-hours web component for its late night talk show, Watch What Happens Live. Even Good Morning America started a live, online behind-the-scenes show following its morning broadcast. Which leads perfectly to this next trend.
Trend: Interactive Media
With social media heavily ingrained in the American way of life, it was only a matter of time before hashtags littered our television screens. Nearly every major network offers a live online component, allowing viewers to “sync” their devices with whatever show they’re watching for an interactive, multi-screen experience. While this may be a natural step in technological communication across media, the result is mostly distracting, like Pop Up Video on crack. That’s not to say social media can’t be incorporated on TV — Facebook comments can be a great source for talk show interview questions. Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night Hashtags,” wherein the Late Night host prompts the audience with a Twitter phrase, is a funny and current way to get viewers at home involved. But do I really want to vote for my favorite Project Runway designer in some arbitrary poll? Do we need #mofy tweets, carefully vetted for any profanity, scrolling across the screen during Modern Family? I think not.
How it played out this year: Goddamn everywhere.
Trend: Fetishizing Subcultures
Last year, I dubbed hillbillies the new guidos after noticing reality shows move from New Jersey to country backwoods. The most obvious example of this change came when MTV swapped out Jersey Shore for shows like the ill-fated Buckwild and Big Tips Texas. Duck Dynasty ruled in ratings, along with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Moonshiners, Swamp People … the list goes on. But this year, the crown goes to the “Amish.”
How it played out this year: Amish: Out of Order, Breaking Amish, Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, Amish Mafia: Whether it’s 100-percent fake or not (it’s pretty fake), people love them some Amish. And gypsies. There are a disturbing amount of gypsy shows. Who knows what 2014 will bring, but one thing’s for sure: Viewers love gawking at misrepresentations of other cultures.
Trend: In with the New
While the country nearly came to a halt mourning the culmination of Breaking Bad (that’s why we had that big government shutdown thing, right?), we can celebrate new on-screen offerings the year brought us. Whether on traditional television networks or online services like Netflix, TV people saw some great new shows kick off in 2013.
How it played out this year: Hannibal, starring an effective Hugh Dancy and the eerily captivating Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Lector himself, brought visual thrills and creepy chills to NBC; Lizzy Caplan shined opposite Michael Sheen in Showtime’s Masters of Sex; a significant number of people used vacation days to binge-watch the addictive new Netflix series Orange Is the New Black; Esquire replaced Style Network, bringing a bunch of great new original series along with syndicated favorites.
CONTACT JAC KERN: firstname.lastname@example.org or @jackern