Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video have long since been considered the saviors of procrastinating college students and people a few seasons behind some of the current crop of network television, but for the past few years, both Netflix and Amazon have been gaining importance with nominations and awards for original programing. Netflix has received recognition at the Golden Globes for Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, and this year, Amazon received recognition for Transparent. They both deserve praise for their shows, because these two pseudo-networks test the boundaries of television, and because they are not bound to traditional network politics, they have much more freedom in the shows they can produce.
Transparent, a comedy drama series about a transgender father, won the Golden Globe award for Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical, and its star, Jeffrey Tambor, won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Comedy Series. I don’t think that a show with such a controversial topic would have been broadcast on any of the more traditional networks, because they’d be far too worried about alienating its audience. I think Amazon understands that the newer generation demands to see that which is controversial and interesting, and won’t shy away from topics such as the LGBTQ community and the struggles it faces.
Kevin Spacey, star of House of Cards, also won the award for Best Actor Performance in a Television Drama this year, in addition to being nominated last year. The show, which focuses on the manipulation and politics within the US government is dark, edgy, and exposes issues in politics, journalism, and organizations all over the country. The sheer number of risks that this program takes is almost unheard of in television, and the only recent comparison to it is HBO’s The Newsroom, but even that failed to deliver on its initial promise. In fact, producing a show that takes this many risks is, in itself, a risk for Netflix. With no history and established fan base to fall back on, a controversial and unpopular show could have spelled doom for the burgeoning provider. However, House of Cards is a phenomenon. The show will enter its third season in the coming month, and its new episodes are highly anticipated.
Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s other flagship program, did not win any Golden Globes this year, despite being nominated for three. However, the show has continuously received critical acclaim, and it has been nominated for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes in its first two seasons. Its depiction of the American judicial system, and of issues within the LGBTQ system, as well as its portrayal of the sexism and racism that occur even in those who are incarcerated makes it a groundbreaking series, and one that Netflix should be proud to air. It doesn’t shy away from any of the issues it tackles, as it’s based on the true story of Piper Kerman, who published the book that the show is based on.
Overall, the stranglehold that networks have on television is being weakened. Due to not having to conform to the restrictions (both ideological and commercial) of network television, Netflix and Amazon have the extraordinary opportunity to make shows that actually matter and can change people’s ideas and perspectives. No one needs another season of Grey’s Anatomy or Mike & Molly, and nothing is going to be learned from the countless singing competition shows. It’s time for TV to become impactful again, and if cable and network television can’t provide what non-mainstream television and providers are, it’s going to become as irrelevant and dull as the shows they are producing.