If we’re just about at the beginning of a new TV season, why does it feel so much like things are ending?
Maybe because they are. True, the broadcast networks will begin unveiling their new shows for the fall season over the next few weeks. And some of those shows — not many, but some — will stick around for a few years.
But their impact will likely pale compared to the quality shows that will be leaving TV over the next year. The exodus has already begun — “True Blood” has seen its last vampire coupling on HBO, and a final six-episode season of “The Killing” surfaced on Netflix this month — and by the time it’s over, the television landscape will be mightily changed.
And that change won’t be for the good. Yes, there will still be solid-to-awesome television shows available (plenty of awful ones as well; some things never change). And yes, the engrossing nature of long-term narratives will continue pulling both audiences and talent to TV’s ongoing modern golden age.
Still, FX will be losing its two best dramas, each among the best in the medium; AMC will give up the show that put it on the map; HBO loses two acclaimed series; and NBC will lose two of broadcast television’s most critically beloved shows.
We’re not saying it isn’t time for some of these series to go, we’re just saying the medium will miss them and a lot seem to be heading for the door at the same time. Among the series about to wave goodbye:
“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO) This classy-if-violent period piece begins its last season Sept. 7. The saga of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), the gangster who ruled over Atlantic City during Prohibition, managed to be both a primer in American crime history and find occasional heart in heartless times. The astounding cast includes Michael Shannon, Kelly Macdonald, Michael K. Williams, Shea Wigham, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston and Michael Stuhlbarg, among many others.
“The Newsroom” (HBO) Chances are just as “Boardwalk” concludes, “The Newsroom” will take its spot for a third and final season. The fast-paced talkathon from creator Aaron Sorkin was always going to be divisive, offering a behind-the-scenes look at a cable TV news network, and it took real risks by breaking down news events and the way the media both panders to and betrays its audience. Led by Emmy-winner (and local hero) Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer — who were perfect for Sorkin’s rat-a-tat dialogue — the show also has lots of fine young talent, including Allison Pill, John Gallagher Jr., Dev Patel, Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski.
“Sons of Anarchy” (FX) Essentially television’s brilliant black sheep, this Shakespearean saga of an outlaw motorcycle gang became one of the top shows on cable television, as well as one of the biggest critical hits of the past decade. It rolls out for a final seventh season — the decision came from creator Kurt Sutter — starting Sept. 9. How gutsy is this show? It started out with four main characters and killed two of them in the final episodes of last season. A wonderful ensemble led by Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman and Maggie Siff, but the true shining star throughout has been Katey Sagal as Lady Macbeth in leather.
“Justified” (FX) No film has ever caught the spirit of the late Detroit author Elmore Leonard as well as this TV show based on one of his short stories. With Timothy Olyphant starring as rebellious and casually violent U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins playing his longtime frenemy Boyd Crowder, the series has been an exploration of the shades of good and evil. There’s a reason Raylan wears a white cowboy hat. Olyphant so eternally cool, Goggins so sublimely crazy.
“Mad Men” (AMC) The late, great “Breaking Bad” brought more noise, but “Mad Men” put AMC on the map first (“The Walking Dead” has let them own that map). This stylish examination of life in the facade-driven ’60s has been a combination of the cooly observed and the wholly unexpected (the lawnmower!). It’s also made familiar faces of previous comparative unknowns Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser, while transforming Elisabeth Moss into a burgeoning star. Look for it in the spring.
“Parenthood” (NBC) Sure, it’s been corny at times. OK, lots of times. And yes, it seems unlikely that an extended family this perfect and balanced and supportive actually exists. But that’s what made the Braverman clan so comforting. The ratings have always been a bit shaky, but NBC is bringing the show back for a 13-episode final sixth season starting Sept. 25. It’s sort of amazing how many of this show’s stars have appeared on other classic shows — Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”), Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under,” “Sports Night”), Mae Whitman (“Arrested Development”) ... quality begets quality.
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC) The network’s longest running comedy will come back for a final seventh season in 2015, and even though it’s time to go, it will be sorely missed. Starting with star Amy Poehler, the players on this show about small-town government, blind idealism and small horses (Li’l Sebastian!) have mostly become big names — Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones and now action star Chris Pratt. That it bounced back from being a shaky mid-season replacement to becoming a talent farm says a lot. Thanks for the memories, Pawnee — Mouse Rat lives!