"The thing I find harder to forgive is the shows' inability to commit to that drama -- to try to actually engage with what was actually dramatic and interesting in those eras. They can't resist moralizing from the point of view of a 21st-century modern -- and so they sap the conflicts they're portraying of their meaning. Every poor person lives in unmitigated squalor; every person who is not poor is grotesquely oblivious or spouts absurd social Darwinist dogma. Race and gender relations are handled with the subtlety and gripping realism of an ABC Afterschool Special, and every likable woman must, of course, at least secretly aspire to work outside the home. In period dramas, the personal is always, always political."This is what I was getting at in my previous look at Mad Men. No one short of Matt Weiner really has a grip on personal drama. To the rest of the world, drama consists conflict between socio-political stereotypes. It's painfully empty, and it's the reason why shows like Masters of Sex and The Knick, despite their promising premises, don't measure up to the great shows of the previous decade. The time of quality TV drama has passed for good.
In a bigger sense this is a by-product of the arrogance of our age. It's a great sneer at the previous generations who lacked wisdom and understanding of the current pack of pop-cultural elites. They portray the past as full of demonic sociological cliches to exalt the myth of their own progress and greatness. Whether it is true or not that this era is better than the preceding ones (for the record, my opinion is that it is but, other than technologically, not by very much) you can't help but gag at the hubris.
Related: This essay in Dissent touches similar themes from a workplace perspective -- how all novels of the workplace are really about workplace politics, not work itself, and they enter into the whole enterprise with the planted assumption that corporate existence is soul-crushing and empty. I don't think it's irrelevant to point out that your basic novelist would have no bloody idea what corporate life is like, and many have little understanding of how anyone can live a fulfilled life who doesn't spend their free time in the bistros of the Upper West Side. Sneer-meisters.
Tangential speculation: Speaking of sneering, I have always sneered at reality TV, and I still do at the sort that aims to manufacture celebrities out of attention whoring dirtbags. But then there is the "real jobs" style of reality TV that at least presumes to dramatize the workaday activities of normal people. (I say "dramatize" because we all know that "reality" TV is pretty thoroughly planned if not outright scripted.) Perhaps these shows are an awkward step at filling the desire for folks to see personal life, instead of editorializing and moral condescension.