25th October 2018
Fred’s top TV dramas – part two
In the second instalment of my favourite picks from the small screen, I’m continuing to round up the finest ‘Peak TV’ from television’s Third Golden Age
They used to call TV ‘the idiot box’; now, they call it culture – pop-culture, admittedly, but culture nonetheless. And nowhere has this evolution been more prominent than in the drama category, as the past two decades have seen the genre produce some of the most popular and acclaimed series in television history.
As with many things, what started as a single visionary force – in this case, HBO – soon multiplied exponentially. Not long after the cable network juggernaut's Oz and The Sopranos hit living rooms all around the world, the competition intensified fiercely, as FX, Showtime and AMC all jumped on the bandwagon, cashing in on the potential of what original scripted programming could offer.
What followed was one of the biggest creative booms ever enjoyed by the medium in the US, as hit after hit came to dominate our evening leisure time, and in turn, the very heights of mainstream viewing success. Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story – there was seemingly no end to the quantity or quality of unmissable drama that we could consume.
And there still isn’t. With on-demand and streaming services changing the game once again, there’s now more to keep up with than ever. But the greats remain the greats, leaving behind legacies that continue to endure and evolve, and forever cementing their places in the watershed hall of fame. Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration…
Creator: Shawn Ryan
It may not have garnered the same praise as The Wire, but Shawn Ryan’s not-a-cop-show cop show rightly deserves a place alongside it. The Shield’s gritty, grimy look put viewers in the middle of the documentary-style action, as Vic Mackey’s corrupt LAPD taskforce brought new meaning to TV’s increasingly popular antihero sentiments – six years before that other bald, white bad guy took the crown.
Six Feet Under
Creator: Alan Ball
American Beauty scribe Alan Ball took his satirical critique of US suburbia one step further with Six Feet Under. From Thomas Newman’s haunting score to Michael C. Hall’s breakout performance, the show left no stone unturned, forcing audiences to confront and question their preconceptions of life, death, family, guilt and sexuality. Plus, its unparalleled crescendo of a finale is yet to be matched.
Creator: David Milch
Deadwood is one of those shows whose adoration has grown perhaps even more so due its premature cancellation. Impeccably written, acted and produced, this bloody, violent, luscious western led the genre in an entirely different direction, boasting a cast of actors who elevated what a great ensemble could be. And if writing is king on TV, then David Milch’s expletive-laden dialogue undoubtedly holds the throne.
Sons of Anarchy
Creator: Kurt Sutter
Originally hailed as ‘Shakespeare on motorbikes’, Shield veteran Kurt Sutter’s outlaw biker drama was equal parts tragic family saga and air-punching thrill ride. It certainly wasn’t without its flaws (Charlie Hunnam’s questionable American accent, anyone?), but the eponymous SAMCRO clan’s morality tale packed a pathos-fuelled punch to the gut almost every episode, while never letting up in its adrenaline, testosterone and overall badassery.
Creator: Terence Winter
With Scorsese at the helm, Buscemi in the lead and 1920s Prohibition at its core, Boardwalk Empire was heir apparent to The Sopranos. Showrunner Terence Winter cut his teeth on the latter HBO giant, delivering a successor that more than lived up to the hype. Gangsters, bootlegging, Tommy guns, speakeasys, flapper girls and a dazzling Atlantic City Jazz Age backdrop – what’s not to love?
To be concluded…