For years, the novelist resisted the lure of TV. And then he watched all 86 episodes of The Sopranos, followed by Gomorrah and Mad Men. He salutes the most vital writers of our culture
If you really want to know about it, I will own up. I’ve barely left the house in the last 18 months because I’ve been watching what for me seems like a lot of TV, around five hours a night. And I can’t say that a moment of it – apart from, say, the second season of Mr Robot – feels like wasted time. There are scenes in Mad Men and Transparent that are as accomplished and lovely, as profound and truthful, as anything I’ve seen in the cinema. And the episode in Breaking Bad where the former chemistry teacher Walter White buries the money he has accumulated by selling crystal meth – transforming the spoils into waste or shit – is one of the most illuminating in all art.
Apart from the news, sport and documentaries about the Beatles, I hadn’t watched much television since the 1980s. Nor, as a young man, did I consider writing for TV. It was too compromised; and, with a few exceptions, the overall standard was low. As for the movies, many of the film directors wanted to be artists rather than storytellers, a vanity that ruined many directors and displaced writers. The screenwriter’s best hope was to resemble a back seat driver, yelling mostly unheard ideas from behind. It looked as if the truest test of the good dramatist was his or her ability to script plays.