In the midst of the NBA discussions and arguments with my close buddies sometimes we stray into other fun areas like our favorite TV shows (most of us are TV junkies). It’s been a while since I’ve done this so I really hunkered down and ranked my favorite TV dramas as of February 15th, 2013. Yes, there are some scifi shows in there, but they are heavily dramatic. With enough of an intro, here’s my list:
1. Breaking Bad – The only show that has gotten better each season consecutively. No one thought the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle would start out such a whimp and turn into the devil incarnate. Impressive feats all around and a seemingly endless stream of social references, conflicts, morality questioning, etc. etc.
2. The Wire – Near perfection, just the 2nd season was a B+ compared to the As and A+s of the other 4 seasons. I’d even be okay with Breaking Bad and The Wire tying for 1st. Not much to say other than Bahador’s ‘The Wire is the Truth.’ SHEEEEEEEEIIIIIIITTTT damn straight.
3. Game Of Thrones – An overly complex and geektastic fantasy war show captured the love of the masses, WOW. Seriously, the amount of geekery and complexity that has BOTH geeks and normal TV watchers alike immersed in the depth of names, backstories, conflicts, etc. etc. is just astounding.
4. Rome (HBO) – Critically underrated for its complex ancient dealings, political strategy, etc. A sequel to Spartacus historically, but came out years before the Starz series. Just 2 seasons long it blends drama, violence, sex, and politics perfectly (while little brother Spartacus leans more on the sex and violence). Even with just 2 seasons it had a pretty damn perfect ending… though a 3rd season wouldn’t have hurt anyone.
5. Firefly – Epic Joss Whedon goodness, still can’t believe Fox was retarded enough to cancel after just 1 season. The ‘closure’ movie Serenity left fans wanting more. This show basically secured the leading man-ness of Nathan Fillion and made any other choice to direct The Avengers other than Joss Whedon simply unacceptable.
6. The Walking Dead – Came out of nowhere to grab the world by the balls like Game of Thrones, some characters really suck, some cool ones died too early, and there’s always the question of ‘what’s coming up next?’ which draws interest, but sometimes leaves fans wondering if its starting to wander.
7. Doctor Who (Matt Smith years, 2011-current) – The long running BBC show switched its lead actor to an unknown and only got better in some ways. Matt Smith seemed more manic and bipolar at first, and quickly turned out to mask an ominous dark side. Companion Amy Pond has been witty and able to hold her own, and the new one taking her place is both gorgeous and sharp as a blade. FANTASTIC.
8. The Sopranos – Love it like you do that Uncle that gets too drunk at family events a few times a year; he’s great most of the time and always there to give you some insanely violent love, but for weeks or months at a time he’ll get drunk on his own ego and barf out a bunch of WTF moments. Seasons 1 and 2 were perfect, it started to tumble about in seasons 3, 4, and 5, and finished up the last few mostly on high notes.
9. The Americans – It has just 3 episodes under its FX belt but so far the 80s Cold War era spy thriller has a cool premise coupled with stellar acting by its co-leads. You find yourself sort of rooting FOR the Russian spys, while unsure of just who you really SHOULD be rooting for. Though its way to early to fix the show in the 9th spot, if it maintains this kind of quality for a full season it’ll get some much needed stability in its praise.
10. House of Cards (Netflix) – Another newbie, though released in full by Netflix for its whole 1st season. Kevin Spacey nails it as a quadruple faced politician in Washington, and there’s so much epic awesomeness abound with insider politics, career screwing, and competitive double crossing. Two words: WATCH IT.
11. Sherlock (BBC) – If you don’t know who Benedict Cumberbatch is then WATCH THIS SHOW. He is an amazing actor, in the vein of Michael Fassbender but more of a social chameleon. He basically got the role of the lead villain in the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness and the voicing of villainous dragon Smaug in The Hobbit Trilogy from his turn as a modern, texting and functioning sociopathic Sherlock Holmes here. Even his sidekick Dr. Watson became Bilbo Baggins from this badassery. Sherlock Holmes has been done to death, but Sherlock really revamped it in a totally relevant and believable way.
12. Mad Men – Oh how the mighty have fallen. Mad Men started out a show frequently counted in most people’s top 5 lists, but it’s continuing puffery and arrogance is starting to cost it. The most recent season was pretty damn good, and it’s getting more interesting seeing the characters’ lives shift from the white-picked-fence late 50s/early 60s to the more tumultuous mid to late 60s, but sometimes it feels like you’re just following people around instead of experiencing real drama develop. The quality of the show is still high, but certain background characters need to get developed and brought into the forefront (Sally, her little brother, and even Don’s new wife) while other long time regulars should start moving on in some believable ways (the old guy that walks around in his socks, Don’s first wife Betty, Betty’s new husband).
13. Spartacus (Starz series) – Entertaining is the name of the game first and foremost, solid drama is the follow up that’s sometimes cast aside too quickly. The show was pretty surprisingly stellar in its first season with lead Andy Whitfield (pictured) as the leader of the slave rebellion. He brought grace and strength to the role, and the show almost perfectly balanced the sex & violence against the political maneuvering & personal dramas in the background. Whitfield’s unexpected onset of lymphoma forced a hiatus that led to a prequel mini-season without him, but it turned out to be pretty great, introduced characters (Gannicus especially) that would have more meaning later, and provided more insight to the mysterious pasts of many season 1 people. However, Whitfield eventually died and they recast the lead role for season 2 with an unknown who looked the part, but didn’t act it nearly as well. Season 2 mostly wandered about and leaned VERY heavily on the sex & violence to keep interest up, but sacrificed the more interesting dramatic elements. The current and final Season 3 is slowly balancing them all back out, and has regained much of its composure, but Andy Whitfield is still sorely missed, despite the new guy maturing a bit in his replacement status.
14. Boardwalk Empire – The early days of the mob, bootlegging in the 1920s, a few high quality name actors, and connections to major historical crime figures– what could miss? Well what started out as an intriguing historical drama has gotten ‘high on its own supply’, namely the lavishness of the budget at the cost of the story. Seasons 1 and 2 were solid enough, but now things are wandering around for Nucky Thompson and the various threatening factions. The loss of Jimmy was a MAJOR one characterwise, given he was really the most interesting person on the show from a flawed character point of view. Most other characters are either pushed too far into the foreground (Margaret, Nucky’s brother, random politicians we never get to know enough about) or pulled back into the background when we want more of them (Richard Harrow, Chalky White). It needs a tough showrunner to clear the crap and set up real stakes, as last season was just chaotic at best.
15. Doctor Who (David Tennant years 2006-2010) – David Tennant was really the first Doctor I was introduced to with this show, and for some time I was resistant to the more recent Matt Smith because Tennant’s hipster quicky oddball was so just out there awesome. But where Tennant’s tenure fell short was in its consistency with his companions. While Smith held onto Amy Pond and her husband Rory for 3 seasons, fleshing out relationships and backgrounds over time and making you really REALLY care, the showrunners of Tennant’s seasons had a new companion every season he was on board. His 1st season it was the wonderful Rose, with who he had real borderline sexual chemistry… but then the two girls in his 2nd and 3rd seasons were so random and out of nowhere it was tough to give a damn. David Tennant kept the Doctor witty, smart, and threatening, but you never felt he had a ‘dark side’, nor a companion that really didn’t want to leave.
16. Lost – What is there to really say about the show started around the crash of Oceanic flight 815? It started off amazingly as a mysteriously, remotely religious, darkly scientific, strangely wtf show in its 1st and 2nd seasons, but then it started wobbling and tumbling into the abyss of just WTF. Seasons 3, 4, and 5 were really tough to get back into when most viewers started watching other stuff, but eventually the time travelling lunacy of season 6 helped lure some people back. Too many questions being asked and no real answers led to coining the term ‘the Damon Lindeloff curse’ where future shows/movies would have questions set up with little or no resolutions. In cases where buddy JJ Abrams helped reign in Damon’s inability to commit things would balance out well (Star Trek , Mission Impossible III) but in others it would just piss people off (Super 8, Prometheus). Let’s hope Lindeloff is banned from the Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Wars: Episode VII sets so JJ Abrams can succeed in peace– for the good of both Trek and Wars scifi geek camps.
17. The West Wing – The political drama that created a real market for political dramas. After Sports Night’s early termination it was good to see former Washington insider and well known coke addict Aaron Sorkin get back to work with this show about a democratic White House. The first few seasons were knock out great, but the preachy idealism that was fun in spouts early on just kept getting more and more pervasive. Whether you lean liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican (or Independent) what started out as a show that had most people finding things to love in a few years transformed into a bloated, wandering show most people just wanted to put out of its own misery. Martin Sheen was kick ass as the President and Robe Lowe as Communications Officer for most of the show, as long as there was something worth fighting over… But by the time they each left, and for some reason former NYPD Blue co-lead Jimmy Smits became the next President, the magic was gone.
18. Sports Night – Aaron Sorkin’s pre-West Wing (and pre-The Social Network for that matter) behind the scenes drama at a SportsCenter copycat was pretty damn awesome, though it was ended after just 2 seasons. The first stellar season was only hampered but a godawful laugh track the execs thought would be a good idea (is it a comedy? a drama? a dramedy???), and the second season did away with the track, but all seemed to almost ‘know’ they were in the cancellation crosshairs. There was a solid blend of drama, humor, insight, and political maneuvering for ‘just a show about sports’, but alas it all ended too quickly. It’s ranked so low because the network didn’t know what to do with it, and didn’t at least give it one more season to really grab its footing. Had the show come out now in 2013 it would have surely captured the attention of more sharp writing thirsty audiences, rather than the moron sitcommy TV viewers of the 90s and early 2000s (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
19. 24 – Post 9/11 this was the go to show to satisfy the American hunger to hunting down terrorists. Liberal or conservative we could all get behind the sort of-Die Hard like Jack Bauer who was having a really REALLY bad day taking out terrorist threats in just a 24 hour period. Sure there was never any traffic anywhere and no one ever ate or slept, but it was kick ass seeing Kiefer Sutherland growl threats and bark demands like ‘WHERE ARE THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS?!? TELL ME NOW!!!’… But the show ran just too damn long, people got tired of the Iraq was and hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and Jack just kept having bad day after bad day after bad day. The last 2 seasons were have decent ‘apologies’ for the aimless chaos of the middle ones, but eventually it just had to end for goodness sake.
20. House M.D. – Another Sherlock Holmes take, though in the medical world of sickness and disease! It was pretty damn fun watching Dr. House figure out what was killing people each week, and even better that in some weeks patients died– by House’s error, the disease beating him out, or both. There was a great balance of relationship handling, interesting cases, and even crazy outlandish patients keeping it all pretty interesting… But as some people left and were replaced by newbies, the quality really suffered. At some point there was only so many times you could hear about House’s drug addictions, and patients in threatening situations, or friends/allies forgiving House for being an ass over and Over and OVER again… This is a great lesson for showmakers like that of Breaking Bad and The Wire: Plan your show out for 3-5 years… NOT 6 or 7 or more because it gets stale and starts to reek of a desperate need to push ads and DVD/digital sales.
21. Band of Brothers – An HBO (long) mini series about allied forces in WWII was extremely gritty and heartfelt, especially as the ‘TV show version of Saving Private Ryan’. Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced a great show that was only really set up for one long season. While it was enjoyable and emotional throughout, there would be many long periods (echoing real life for soldiers in WWII, no doubt) of boredom and wandering about until the next mission, or a surprise Axis attack. Some characters were strong and interesting, but none made a memorable impression once the show ended. Oh and the fact David Schwimmer was in it for a few episodes automatically kicked it down a few notches too.
22. Dexter – Holy cow, a show that had some real fun and darkness to it because really bipolar and WTF very VERY quickly. Dexter had a great first season, despite the fun hiding a lot of plot holes and strange coincidences, but the 2nd season was so terrible that almost every subsequent season has been like an apology for it. The main character played by Michael C. Hall walks between being a threatening menace and almost laughably boring monotone loon, always just barely keeping viewers caring about him. His sister Deb has been just terrible through the whole show, dating turns-out-to-be killers, a guy older than her dad (CREEP FACTOR!), a co-worker, a police informant, and falling even MORE creepily for her brother… No wonder everyone hates her and doesn’t take her at ALL seriously. While a few middle seasons (3 and 5 come to mind) haven’t been all that bad, after Dexter’s love Rita died (the actress quit/got fired, depending on who you believe) it really took a tumble into writers hell. It’s gone on way too long and it’s good to know next season is the killer show’s last.
23. Luther (BBC) – This is a show that is really hard to write about. In many ways, the 4 episode ‘1st series’ (as the Brits call it) was amazingless layered, dark, and immersive as it followed the seriously damaged but do-whatever-it-takes Detective John Luther and his developing cautious alliance with psychotic killer Alice. ‘Series 2’, however started off terrible and turned into a clusterfuck of shit. Most of the cast was revamped with new characters & actors (for various, lame reasons), Luther became more of a bore and pretty loathsome, and the new terror was so offensive and awful that I couldn’t even get past episode 2 of 4… Seriously, I didn’t even want to revisit the series because it just turned from wonderful to horrendous after ONE season. No word on if there’s going to be a 3rd season… or if anyone will want to watch it.
24. Heroes – Another drama (a scifi, sort of comic book one at that) that’s really hard to explore. Heroes was a out of nowhere hit when its first season aired. It launched the careers of some then unknowns like Hayden Panettiere (all around hottie, stars in Nashville now), Zachary Quinto (Spock in the new Star Trek movies), and Jack Coleman (he’s ‘The Senator’ on The Office, has been a character actor for years). Also it truly amazingly blended fantasy, mystery, comics, legends, drama, national security threats, etc, etc. While the first season ended a bit quickly and without much interesting closure, people were still so excited for season 2… Then season 2 came, and it was just crap… The writing fell apart, characters became silly or stale, the epicness and looming threats formed in the first season never became realized, allies became enemies, enemies became allies, then both switched back, and all in all the show limped on for 3 more seasons after the 1st, never regaining the high praise or glory of the entrancing 1st season. It was brutally painful to watch something you love fall into dementia, and attempt to regain some sanity but constantly falling victim to its own expectations. Eventually it ended and no one cared, or really remembered just how great the premiere season was.
Critically acclaimed dramas not (yet) watched: Oz, The Shield, Fringe, Homeland, Battlestar Galactica, Treme, Sons of Anarchy, Weeds