Out Now On Australian DVD: AMERICA IN PRIMETIME Is Informative, Not Definitive
America In Primetime is a PBS documentary program that assumes that the new Golden Age of television is now. While it is true that more sophisticated plot-based serials are 'mostly' being created today than yesteryear, this four-parter only half succeeds in conveying the iconic nature of contemporary television today, missing some vital moments and missteps and adding too much grandeur to the leading actors and their roles.
Weaving between past and present effectively, each episode focuses on specific shows with the cast and crew providing talking heads about the vital importance and ground-breaking relevance each element of their program has brought to the nature of televised serials as a whole. The documentary makes each element generic and each episode is given an archetype as such; the Independent Woman, the Man of the House, the Misfit, and the Crusader - capturing both the continuity of the character, and the evolution linking it back to related TV of the past.
The problem with America In Primetime is that is breaks its scope often and tries to be a retelling of the history of television, but given the pigeonholed topics and four-part format there is simply not enough time and thus there is many gaps and assumptions that are left open-ended.
The major players of modern television rant in front of a blank background about how important they and their characters are, and unfortunately this becomes quite grating and ineffective. Talking heads include Bryan Cranston, Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Ball, Matthew Weiner, Edie Falco, Larry David and so many, many more. Some conversations are engaging and certain figures provide much more entertainment and insightful comments than others, but the series tunes out of these to quickly focus on something else and the interest wanes as a result.
The series tries hard to link each television show from today to something iconic from the past, but this does not always work, the last episode in particular beggars belief as it compares Dr. House from House to Omar Little. The confusion stems from the generic title of the episode archetype 'crusader'; it is simply hypocritical to state television is ground-breaking now more than ever yet attempt to fit each program into four neat categories.
The documentary is also extremely biased towards cable channels and favors exclusivity on their programs; Showtime and HBO receive most of the brunt. It neglects the proliferation of other channels and popular shows that are quite simply not sophisticated or ground-breaking, it just ignores them despite their immense popularity. Another critical issue is the turning point of such television that actually began with dramas of the 80's and 90's from Dallas (one of the first multi-plot serials) to The Wire and The Sopranos (which does not even get a proper mention!).
If you are a fan of good TV it is nice to see smart and favored TV shows honored with in-depth analysis of their characters, however for a critical analysis, America In Primetime simply fails and does not delve enough into the phenomenon of this foundation of home entertainment enough.