TV blog: What do our new small screen heroes tell us about who we are

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By Giles Broadbent

Deep breath. Morning after time. Sherlock wakes up a stone-cold killer but without the fiddly legal consequences. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) clutches a Golden Globe for his (considerable) pains.

For breakfast, alongside the flat champagne, a talking point. What does it all mean?

For the sake of the argument, let's suggest the golden age of American TV comes in the form of two "difficult" men - Tony Soprano and Walter White.

This is the case put forward by Brett Martin in his book covering the supremacy of long-arc box set series, although he draws on others in the same mould (from The Wire, NYPD Blue etc).

Over here, event TV drama, driven by Twitter frenzy and cultish obsession has been revived and finds its form in Doctor Who and Sherlock.

What does this means for the cultural health of the nations that provided and adopted the characters?

Tony Soprano and Walter White have much in common with each other but how much in common with their country?
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They are the wrong side of middle-aged, furrow-browed, unhealthy, villainous, weighed down with family woes and lured to darker practices not only as a career but also as a catharsis, as if their masculinity has been stifled by suburbia.

Here, the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes are heroic, eccentric, a bit clever-clever, at odds with the society about them but puckish and energetic.

They hunger for challenge, have platonic flirtations rather than relationships and they deal with any crisis of masculinity (although it barely ripples the surface) by living at arm's length (or Tardis ride) from a smothering society.

Is America the jaded, frazzled grump and Britain the plucky left field oddball?

Follow Giles Broadbent on Twitter: @MediaGulch


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