The Bulging Netflix Queue

About 20 years ago Bruce Springsteen released a song called “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” It was a rare flop for the Jersey rocker, perhaps because it was a little too obvious. He wasn’t telling us anything we didn’t know.

Television at that time seemed like nothing more than a wasteland of poor writing and even worse acting, a sludge pot of desperation, trying every trick and gimmick to lure a potential audience of millions, an audience made up mostly of adults exhausted after another dreary day at work, along with millions of teenagers open to almost anything that moved and spoke.

With a few exceptions, TV generally sucked.

So it’s interesting - and ironic, now that people have so many other choices and distractions to steer them away from the boob tube - that television has become . . . well, good. Instead of 57 channels, today it’s more like 557 channels - many of which are still horrendous collections of inane crap, sure.

But something happened. A few well-written, compelling shows got a foothold with a small-but-enthusiastic audience, and social media helped spread the word. Those programs spawned a few more, until suddenly it could almost be called a broadcast renaissance.

I used to watch practically NO television, other than newscasts and sporting events; I cancelled my satellite service because the screen sat dark most of the time. Now my Netflix queue is full of choices that I’ll never have enough time to watch. Someone will suggest another cool show that sounds terrific . . . but I still have to finish Broadchurch, or Deadwood, or Mad Men.

And I find myself torn over this: Is it a good thing that television finally has found itself with a glut of quality choices? Or is it a bad thing, offering me too many excuses to plop into the big chair? I can only watch so many episodes of Boardwalk Empire on the treadmill, you know.

Deep down I feel like it’s a victory of sorts. It means that there are more savvy writers and producers than ever before, more interesting ideas that spawn fascinating character sketches. (I mean, really: A high school teacher cooking meth? You think that would’ve found it’s way onto the airwaves twenty years ago?)

It means that the art of storytelling is alive and well. It means that (hopefully) the days of Two and a Half Men are on the way out, and we’ll get more House of Cards. Lots more.

And, most importantly, it means that appealing to the lowest common denominator is no longer the only way to find success, which, in turn, will encourage other bright young writers to raise the bar even higher and challenge the intelligence of viewers, rather than insult it.

So in the long run it’s a good thing. Note to Bruce: There’s finally somethin’ on.