The notion that television is currently in a Second Golden Age—one that began around the turn of the millennium when The Sopranos premiered, and that will wrap up when Mad Men ends its run in a few years—is the stuff of overwhelming consensus. And the messages detailing just how good audiences have had it have been constant, thanks to an unending hum of blog posts, fan forums, recaps, tweets, broadsheets, and books. Alan Sepinwall, whose recently published The Revolution Was Televised is one of the best books pushing that idea forward, was a foot soldier in this informational war; he earned his national reputation as a Sopranos recapper, a beat that didn’t exist at newspapers like Sepinwall’s former employer, the Newark Star-Ledger, until the middle of the 2000s. Then again, absolutely nothing about this Second Golden Age was established back when the millennial renaissance began. The first season-long DVD box set (commemorating the inaugural 24 episodes of The X-Files) wasn’t released until September 2000; instant episode reviews were the stuff of boutique sites like Television Without Pity, and not surefire ways to goose web traffic; the showrunner, the now-canonized creative type tasked with running a set on a weekly basis, still lurked behind the scenes.
In 2013, the landscape is different. Sunday night viewing is followed by Monday morning analysis, delivered across major cultural websites and social-networking platforms instead of around the proverbial water cooler. Any long-running series has probably had more words written about it than any major piece of music or film; albums and movies are often summarized only once, but television steadily marches forward, churning out episodes, sometimes with no end in sight. This is a herculean task of criticism: It is simultaneously a gigantic consumption of one’s time and, as David Simon (creator of The Wire and Treme) never fails to point out, tricky to criticize a work in pieces, particularly as it moves toward conclusions and resolutions.
Simon has a point. [...]