Peak TV giveth and Peak TV taketh away. This week, we lost a lovely little gem of a show on AMC called Lodge 49. For those who loved it, you’ll know that the Season Two finale acted as a workable series finale, sad though it may be. For those who didn’t watch, well, it’s a show that defies description. And that, really, was both its greatest strength and most major problem.
As we noted in our Best TV Shows of the Decade, the 2010s have been defined by an explosion of original series. The positives are many: more creative outlets means more opportunities for writers to have their stories told, especially stories from women, people of color, and marginalized groups. But for viewers, it means a scattering of content across disparate platforms, many of which are add-ons to existing services and all of which increase one’s monthly bill. As more people decide to cut the cable cord to subscribe to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, a show premiering on cable channel AMC no longer becomes appointment viewing.
It’s worth noting, of course, that AMC itself was at the forefront of the prestige TV movement of the 2010s. It had Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead—three of television’s most heralded shows of the time. But after those first two series wrapped and Walking Dead’s juggernaut status began to wane, AMC entered something of a creative crisis. The serviceable Hell on Wheels and TURN: Washington’s Spies were never huge draws, while Low Winter Sun, Feed the Beast, and Dietland were major miscalculations. Halt and Catch Fire and Humans were two smart, low-key series that deserved more attention than they got, but by the time they premiered (2014 and 2015 respectively), viewers were already being wooed away.
Other than The Walking Dead, AMC has not been known for having massive ratings hits—even Mad Men brought in relatively modest ratings throughout its run. It has, however, crafted a space for itself as the purveyor of thoughtful, interesting television, but one that was in peril after a string of drama flops. In 2018 though, Lodge 49 premiered alongside a string of excellent series, including the first season of The Terror, a new season of the great Better Call Saul, and The Little Drummer Girl miniseries. AMC was still giving us great shows, but brand loyalty had arguably suffered, and general viewership was more scattered than ever.
In the TV landscape of 2010, Lodge 49 might have gotten more attention, because there was more attention to give before 500 scripted series took over the air (then again, Rubicon, which aired that year on AMC, was also an overlooked favorite for many). That’s certainly not the reality of TV in 2018 or 2019 though, which does provide the platforms for these kinds of quirky, clever shows to be made, but lacks the ability for viewers to find them easily—especially for those who are looking for everything on streaming. As has happened to this TV critic far too often, trying to convince someone to watch a cable series that has been on for a few weeks (or maybe just wrapped its first season) but that can’t be streamed anywhere is a hopeless endeavor. You can watch someone’s face fall as you answer “no” to their hopeful question of, “Is it on Netflix?” What chance does a Lodge 49 have?
Lodge 49 was unique in a number of ways. It was about grief but it wasn’t sad, it was about working class woes but remained upbeat (and very funny). It was about finding community across generational lines, and—other than its young adult sibling leads—featured one of the older casts on TV for a show that wasn’t specifically about being middle-aged (and almost never addressed age). There was a mysticism to the lodge itself, but this wasn’t a Puzzle Box show. Lodge 49 was not necessarily built for four quadrant success, but honestly, it could had achieved it if more people had given it the chance. But isn’t that just the sad refrain in a sea of Peak TV? “If only there was time.”
The Lodge 49 finale did leave us with a few lore-related cliffhangers that would have been nice to get some kind of resolution on. But when it came to the show’s characters, there was a satisfying conclusion that the lodge did provide and will continue to do so. Like the lodge itself, the show was a mix of strangeness, serenity, and sincerity that will remain for others to discover, one day, as a diamond in the Peak TV rough. Probably on streaming.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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