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Fred’s top TV dramas – part one

26th September 2018

Fred’s top TV dramas – part one

You can probably already guess what’s on here, but it’s still fun to obsessively list – in three parts and no particular order – my favourite shows from the small screen*

As a self-confessed viewing junkie, I can happily wax lyrical about the so-called ‘Peak TV’ era for hours on end. My first foray into America’s third Golden Age of Television came in my mid-teens, when my eldest brother introduced me to The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s seminal political drama. The likes of Deadwood, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos followed, and pretty soon, I was hooked.

What started with a creative boom in the late ‘90s has given way to a seemingly endless string of small-screen hits, from juggernauts like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, to critically-acclaimed award winners such as Fargo and The Crown. In their wake, these series’ creators/‘showrunners’ have become the new auteurs, attracting big-screen talent both in front of and behind the camera.

But more than that, they’ve collectively transformed the potential of what great television can be; a landscape where writing is king, long-form storytelling has become the norm, streaming services hog our airtime, and the ‘binge-watching’ boxset phenomenon continues to captivate us all in a global cultural shift of ‘Netflix and chill’.

The ‘Is TV the new film?’ debate is, by now, well-documented – and, let’s face it, all but won – as Emmys replace Oscars, antiheroes reign supreme, a new generation of actors deliver career-defining performances, and viewers get their cinematic fixes from the comfort of their own homes, leaving overpriced multiplexes in the dust.

Now, I love comedy as much as the next guy, but drama is where my heart truly lies. So, without further ado, I present just a few favourites from the last 20 years, adding my two cents to the internet’s already overinflated infatuation with television-themed polls, lists and top 10s…

The Sopranos
Run: 1999-2007
Network: HBO
Seasons: 6
Creator: David Chase

The one that started it all. Over the course of six seasons, David Chase and HBO changed the face of television forever with the story of James Gandolfini’s Prozac-popping mob boss. A Godfather standard of mafia chronicle unfolded; dark, funny, harrowing and hugely entertaining, this was a masterful drama that set the tone for all that followed it. Essential viewing from start to finish.

Breaking Bad
Run: 2008-2013
Network: AMC
Seasons: 5
Creator: Vince Gilligan

An Emmy darling and watercooler heavyweight both, Vince Gilligan’s resoundingly original idea of an Albuquerque high school chemistry teacher’s descent into criminal and moral depravity came to rival even Game of Thrones in its zeitgeist influence. Walter White’s brutal, unflinching and ultimately terrifying transformation into crystal meth kingpin Heisenberg was a devastating tour de force, the likes of which will rarely be seen again.

The West Wing
Run: 1999-2006
Network: NBC
Seasons: 7
Creator: Aaron Sorkin

Before Netflix exposed us to the double-crossing cynicism of House of Cards, Aaron Sorkin brought his liberal wet dream of American politics to the small screen. The White House drama lost much of its whip-smart appeal following its creator’s departure at the end of season four, but nonetheless remains one of the greats – a masterclass in ensemble acting, unforgettable dialogue and game-changing storytelling.

Mad Men
Run: 2007-2015
Network: AMC
Seasons: 7
Creator: Matthew Weiner

When the pop-culture phenomenon that was The Sopranos wrapped, screenwriter Matthew Weiner had big shoes to fill. He took ‘Peak TV’ to another level with Mad Men, proving once and for all that television was indeed the definitive platform for visual narrative. Smooth, sexy and effortlessly stylish, Don Draper’s journey through the American dream of 1960s Madison Avenue well and truly raised the bar.

The Wire
Run: 2002-2008
Network: HBO
Seasons: 5
Creator: David Simon

Yep, you guessed it – I’m white and I love TV; ergo, I’m crazy about The Wire. David Simon’s sprawling, panoramic take on Baltimore’s ‘war on drugs’ explored the city’s dealers, cops, politicians, media and education system. The result: An immersive, slow-burning urban epic that rewarded the patience of its viewers in spades, and is still adored by fans and critics alike to this day.

To be continued...

*and before you ask why Peaky Blinders, House of Cards, Mr Robot et al haven’t made the cut, it’s because I had to draw the line somewhere. So, I’ve opted for shows that have already been and gone – ongoing series are another blog for another day. Oh, and Band of Brothers is a miniseries, so doesn’t count!

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