Within all the plays on time lately in sitcoms and upcoming “Better Call Saul”, we’re also seeing a lot of new shows zipping back to ancient times. And within those shows, we’re seeing some interesting insights into history that are probably egregiously false, yet could have more truth than we’ll ever know. In most cases, they’re exploring rogues, as in “Vikings” on History Channel, or “Black Sails” on Starz. The latter explores pirates from the 1700s, something that NBC’s “Crossbones” is also exploring with John Malkovich’s accent somehow colliding with a British dialect.
After at least 25 years of shows exploring other eras (most notably, the 1960s), it was about time we started looking back even further in time. AMC finally brought a Revolutionary War era TV show for the first time this year with “Turn.” And it takes on the new approach to exploring history by finding an interesting dark twist to explore. In the case of “Turn”, it’s spies during the war and the inside machinations therein on the cusp of the American Revolution.
When it comes to ancient times, studio executives probably get a little shakier when it comes to sustaining interest in an era that’s completely foreign to us. With shows like “Turn”, the pirate shows, and “Mad Men”, parallels are instantly made about things that happened later or happening right now. You can’t ask for a better history lesson than that where we find out how much history has repeated numerous times before getting to where we are now.
Perhaps this was the intention on Fox with the series “Hieroglyph” that attempted to bring the first TV series set during the time of Ancient Egypt. Based on the plot of deceit and the usual sexual scandals from within an Egyptian court (all while searching for an ancient scroll), you could obviously see the parallels to modern-day power and scandal. It also might have been too obvious in those parallels when something more unexpected would have been better from the era.
This may explain why it became a rare show canceled before it even aired based on the overly familiar aspects to power and greed within powerful dynasties. It’s not hard to picture “what-if” headlines blasting the show as the revival of “Dynasty” in ancient Egyptian clothing.
We’ll never know for sure, even though the show could have had some action in the “Game of Thrones” mold. The latter show may be the new preferred series set in an unknown ancient time based on how open it is to anything being possible rather than conforming to history. Then again, it shouldn’t stop the networks from looking back to ancient times for series ideas. So much has yet to be tapped if they hire historians to find angles that don’t seem obvious.
How Far Back Will TV Go on the Timescale?
Cable has already covered the Middle Ages considerably through shows like “The Tudors” and other British monarchs of the times. The 20th century has also been mined considerably, even if there’s still more to explore from the first half of the century. WGN’s “Manhattan” will soon bring a show that takes place during World War II and when the Manhattan Project was underway. The fresh angle there is in the trouble of keeping secrets when no one but the hired scientists was to know the details.
“Boardwalk Empire” has shown us the early 1930s during Prohibition, even if that era and the swinging 1920s would still be a fun time to explore in a series through other settings. But how would it work if someone decides to go literally to the very beginning, or before modern humans?
Even a show about Adam and Eve would be interesting, though such a thing should be saved for the movies since a series for TV would probably be laughed off the screen. A possible more creative challenge would be setting a show during the Stone Age. It would have to be serious if everyone can manage to get “The Flintstones” out of their heads, plus the early 1980s comedy “Caveman.”
Will we see such a new wave of TV eventually that takes us back to the very beginnings of human existence? Any unique angle there would probably show some surprising things about our own evolution if they base it on recent discoveries a lot of people don’t know. Of course, part of it would have to include violence if it’s on cable. In the age of gun violence now, seeing a mysterious brutal primal battle between our ancient ancients would give us a direct line reaching clear across history.