Despite countless think-pieces opining over the end of the so-called “golden age” of television with the conclusion of AMC’s Breaking Bad, the medium is still golden. While the most loved dramas about flawed male anti-heroes may have wound down for the time being, there are still flawed characters aplenty, and the quality and innovation present in other genres merely speaks to the fact that, like any vibrant artform, it’s constantly evolving. Scratch the increasing bleakness of Breaking Bad, add the formal innovation of the novelistic structure of Netflix’s Arrested Development.
That innovation wasn’t limited to scripted series, either. Key & Peele and the latest season of Portlandia reminded us that sketch comedy existed well beyond Saturday Night Live, while John Oliver’s run as the backup quarterback for The Daily Show offered proof that, if the writing is there, there’s life for fake-news beyond Jon Stewart. Semi-scripted series were equally effective: The League continues to deliver, and there’s reason to believe that the future of the sitcom could be going places we never quite imagined.
Of course, when it comes to scripted drama, there’s plenty to appreciate there, too. The series that inspired all of those think-pieces about the end of television’s golden age went out with a bang (possibly one fired from a trunk-mounted, remote-control machine gun), as Breaking Bad launched what will have to go down as one of the most satisfying final seasons of a Big Serious Drama yet. Mad Men, meanwhile, continued Mad Mening, while its unfettered exploration of constrictive gender roles in the ’60s also yielded to a promising development: namely, the rise of the woman-fronted drama.
Some of those dramas resonated more with critics than with audiences (despite creative excellence, HBO pulled the plug on Enlightened back in March) but others–including FX’s absolutely bonkers American Horror Story: Coven, the third season of Showtime’s also-bonkers Homeland, and ABC’s utterly compelling country music soap Nashville–are still going strong.
In the above slide show, we revisit some of the stories we’ve done where the creators of those shows explain how they made it work. John Oliver teaches us how to operate outside of our comfort zones; Fred Armisen shows us what life is like in Portlandia; and Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner gave us the keys to eliminating self-doubt.
See the complete list in the slide show above.