The other day I was re-watching the first season of Game of Thrones, and a friend of mine who had never seen the show before came over to hang out for a while. As we watched one of the early episodes, he asked me what was going on. So I had to explain that the the character on the screen had caught the queen nailing her brother, who had then thrown the kid out a window but while he survived the fall, he couldn’t remember what had happened. To which my cynical asshole friend replied, “I think my Grandma watched that episode on General Hospital.”
I was preparing a witty retort that would scathe him to his evil televised sports loving soul, when I realized he was kind of right. He was not in fact smoking too much of an illegal substance, or at least had made a valid point in spite of it. People cheating on each other, jilted lovers, amnesia, surprise plots twists that probably don’t make sense but it sounds good anyway: it had all the key story elements of a soap opera. It even tells a continuing story rather than having stand alone episodes. Just like a soap opera.
This isn’t a new trend either. As much as I take every opportunity to praise Game of Thrones (WATCH IT!), this isn’t the first popular prime time soap opera. ABC gave it a kick in the pants with Desperate Housewives, for which I was probably the only straight, single, male fan. And for those first couple of seasons the show was awesome, I would tell my other single, straight, male friends that the reason I watched Desperate Housewives was because it was like The Sopranos with hot soccer moms. And it totally was.
Which brings me to the show that I personally feel made prime time serials awesome. The Sopranos. This weekly dose of the trials and travails of the Jersey mob (which in real life wouldn’t fill a dinner table), was one of the most entertaining pieces of fiction I had ever seen. Until they got too damn popular and started to suck. But before that, it was an awesome show. I had a poster of Tony hanging from my wall, and when season 4 premiered, I hosted a seven course Italian dinner for my friends. I loved The Sopranos. I loved a soap opera.
And it’s pretty clear we don’t mind. While we always will have room in our hearts for the witty sitcom, like Seinfeld or 30 Rock, the shows people seem to talk about and follow the most are the serials. Why?
Because they explore themes and characters that a sitcom never will. Sitcom characters never change or develop, whereas serial characters can and often do. It’s a more involving show, which leads to a higher narrative quality. So maybe my Grandma was on to something.