In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Epix. Starts October 16
‘Peak TV‘ is the name given to the idea of there being too much TV for us to consume. Thanks to the Internet, cable, et al, it’s a lot easier for a company to ‘transmit’ content; also, more and more people want to make content. As a result, that means there’s an awful lot of TV out there being made by an awful lot of people. However, there’s only so much talent in the world and it’s starting to get spread pretty thinly, particularly around the world’s media industry, which means that there’s a lot of bad TV made by people who don’t actually know how to make good TV.
A while ago I came up with the idea of ‘cargo cult TV‘ – TV going through all the motions of a genre but without really understanding the rules of that genre. As a result, it’s missing something essential. I’d like to expand that to encompass the idea of people making TV but not really getting TV.
Take Epix. Until recently, Epix like AMC – aka American Movie Classics – before it, was content to air other people’s content before suddenly deciding to make some TV shows of its own. The first to make it out of the gates is Berlin Station, created by spy novelist Olen Steinhauer and set in… well, you can probably guess.
Now Berlin Station goes through all the motions of being both a proper spy show and a proper TV show. Nevertheless, it’s cargo cult TV. Something intrinsic’s missing from it, preventing it from being either a spy show or a good TV show.
Like other cargo cultists, Steinhauer and Epix have done their best to emulate TV producers. They’ve recruited a great big, top notch cast. The hero of the piece is our very own Dick Head, Richard Armitage, who’s no stranger to spying thanks to Chris Ryan’s Strike Back, Captain America and Spooks. They’ve got Michelle Forbes (Homicide, The Killing (US), In Treatment), Rhys Ifans (Elementary, Twin Town), Tamlyn Tomita (Babylon 5, The Joy Luck Club) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under), too.
They’ve found a German co-production partner, hired some actual German actors and flown all the way to Berlin to film everything. They’ve even done what every other political show has done of late and ‘stolen from the headlines’ – and, of course, since there are very few headlines about spying these days, that means Yet Another Edward Snowden whistleblower plotline. And they’ve hired a proper European film director for the first two episodes – Michaël Roskam (The Drop)
All of which is designed to fool the viewer into somehow thinking they’re watching a top, premium cable TV show.
Except they’re not. They’re watching pure cargo cult TV arse.