Friday, September 26, 2014

The "Next Best" and new(ish) TV dramas you need to watch

As promised, below is a list of shows that I really, really like, but that couldn’t crack the top 10.  The “Next Best” list, if you will.  The same caveats apply here – these are mostly shows from the 21st century, I’m only briefly commenting on why I liked the show or didn’t quite like it enough to make the top 10 and I’ll, of course, avoid spoilers.  In no particular order….

Six Feet Under:

Another HBO show (this makes 6 including the top 10), Six Feet Under, while awesome, is just a notch below the others.  This might be the darkest of the HBO stalwarts, and rightfully so considering the show is based on a family that owns, operates and lives on the property of a funeral home.  Two great performances by Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause, actors who also star/starred in other shows on this list.


Perhaps there is a theme here, seeing as though Justified is the story of Raylan Givens, a throwback wild west US Marshall, played by actor Timothy Olyphant who also starred in Deadwood.  Or maybe great actors just tend to make the shows they star in great.  Either way, Justified is a very cool show, with a crazy good supporting performance by Walton Goggins, who, surprise surprise, starred in The Shield. 


Lost is an example of the network model really hurting a quality show.  By being a network show (and for those of you who don’t know what that means, it just means a show that airs on one of the big 4 networks – CBS, NBC, FOX and ABC), Lost typically aired 20-24 episodes per season.  As a result, a lot of Lost episodes were lacking, as the show used the larger episode order to focus on specific characters and their backgrounds; often a weak point for the show.  Nevertheless, it makes this list, which means I really liked it.  I had no problem whatsoever with the fact that Lost introduced many, many mysteries that ultimately went unsolved; probably the biggest complaint you’ll hear about the show.

The West Wing:

This is certainly the oldest show on the list, having aired from 1999 to 2006.  But it still holds up fairly well, and is the staple show that all future shows about politics and the White House would try to live up to.  Great dialogue and performances all around, with creator Aaron Sorkin at the top of his game.  It’s another network show, so you won’t get the sex/language/violence that you’ll see on a newer politically charged show like House of Cards (Netflix), but ultimately I don’t think that hurt The West Wing. 

The Good Wife:

Here is another show that I had virtually no interest in watching, kept hearing it was good and then finally gave in and played catch up.  A quality legal drama that mixes in enough other stuff to stay interesting, and has ongoing storylines that keep it from being your typical CBS “procedural” where each episode has its own story that concludes at episode’s end.  Once again, great performances, this time by Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Chris Noth and others, and probably the show that utilizes the best guest performances/actors (especially great guest actors as recurring judges).  This is another network show, so there are A LOT of episodes to catch up on, but they are a “quick watch.”


Homeland, of all the shows on this “Next Best” list probably had the best shot to crack the top 10.  Season 1 was amazing and most of season 2 was just as good.  But the show dipped a bit towards the end of season 2, and then struggled in season 3 when it couldn’t decide what to do with one of its main characters.  Homeland has just the right combination of terrorism and CIA spy stuff that if Season 4 regains the show’s early momentum, I may have to revisit my top 10 at some point down the road. 

Sons of Anarchy:

If you liked The Shield, then you are likely to enjoy SOA.  It was created by Kurt Sutter, who was a staff writer for The Shield, and wrote most of the crazy, effed up scenes/episodes from that show’s run, which is very evident here. I never thought I’d enjoy a show about biker gangs, but again, that’s judging a book by its cover.  The show mixes the violence surrounding biker gangs with some good family drama, and has arguably the worst mother character of all time in Gemma Teller (Katey Segal).  And by worst, I mean she’s a horrible and nasty person (it’s a great performance). 


Parenthood is basically Friday Night Lights, but instead of high school football, you have a big nuclear family and all of its drama.  It’s created by Jason Katims, the same guy who created FNL, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.  I’m not sure this is a show for everyone – if you love Breaking Bad, Sopranos, 24, etc., then you likely will find Parenthood lacking.  There’s no violence or suspense.  Instead, it’s just a great family drama with interesting performances.  Rumor has it the show is also a major tear jerker. But of course I wouldn’t know that because I’m a manly man who doesn’t cry….


Likely the least popular show on this list by far, Treme is a barely watched show set in a post-Katrina New Orleans.  If you asked me to describe the plot, this is pretty much all I could come up with: the show follows multiple characters around in their life after Hurricane Katrina.  Clearly, not much happens plot wise, but Treme is still a super fun show to watch.  The performances are great – it was created by David Simon, the same guy who created The Wire – so there are a lot of the same actors from that show, including Clarke Peters (Lester from The Wire) and Wendell Pierce (The Bunk).  They are both awesome.  And the music is great.   


Dexter seems to be the show that most people were surprised didn’t make my Top 10, or at least commented about how it was one of their favorite TV dramas.  Season 1 was fantastic, as was season 4.  2 and 3 were good.  But the rest?  Meh.  By the 2nd or 3rd season, all you really cared about was Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and whether he would continue to get away with being a Miami Metro PD blood splatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer who only kills bad guys.  8 seasons of that was a little tiring.  So were the supporting characters.


Shameless is clearly a drama, despite the fact that it was placed in the comedy category for the Emmy awards this past season.  And since I really like the show, I’m putting it on this list.  I would probably classify it as a dark dramedy, as the show is based on the Gallagher family; a bunch of misfits whose dad Frank (William H. Macy) is a disgusting drunk who rarely makes it home at night.  One of the few shows where the kid actors carry the load successfully (though Macy is, predictably, great).

Finally, below are some new (ish) shows that have shown promise, but will have to sustain that promise for a few more seasons before they are candidates for the Top 10 or Next Best.

The Americans:  Great premise: two Russian KGB spies pose as a regular married American couple during the Cold War era.  Season 1 was good.  Season 2 was great.  Could see this one rising quickly.

True Detective:  Only one season and it was a doozy (do people still say that?).  Knock out performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and an interesting, dark premise made this show a true breakout hit for HBO this year.  However, it’s an “anthology series”, which means season 2 will have an entirely new cast of characters and premise.  Just yesterday, HBO confirmed that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn are signed on for season 2.  Sign me up as well.

Fargo:  Another anthology series, Fargo successfully adapted the Coen Brothers’ most iconic movie into a TV show that was spectacular in its first season.  If it never aired again, Fargo would make the “Next Best” list – it was that good.  No clue what Season 2 has in store, but I’ll be watching.

The Leftovers:  The first season of The Leftovers just concluded, and frankly, I loved it.  I don’t think it’s for everyone though, as it was very dark and depressing (Premise: 2% of the World’s population randomly disappears one day without explanation).  Co-created by Damon Lindelof (Lost), it introduced a lot of mysteries without answers, something Lost fans HATED.  I clearly didn’t mind.

The Bridge:  Another cool premise and setting – the “bridge” being the one that connects Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.  The first season was good, but had its weaknesses.  Season 2 has been really good so far, though no one is watching and FX hasn’t ordered a 3rd season yet. 

Hannibal:  An interesting “new” look at an old story – that of Hannibal Lecter.  The first 2 seasons cover Hannibal’s early years, before he was discovered to be a cannibalistic serial killer.  And season 3 will apparently cover the “Red Dragon” period.  It’s a little weird, but in my opinion that’s what makes it good – it’s not just an attempt to copycat the tired Hannibal Lecter story.

Rectify:  Tough to explain this one.  The premise: due to new DNA evidence, Daniel Holden is released from prison after spending 15 years on death row.  Not much action.  Just a slow, interesting look at Daniel’s reintegration process and the toll it takes on those around him.

Orange is the New Black:  Another show where I am sort of “cheating”, in that, like Shameless, it was classified as a comedy for the Emmy’s.  It’s certainly a funny show, but anyone who has seen it knows it is more drama than comedy.  Everything about the premise would ordinarily keep me away – a suburban 30 year old white girl ends up in a women’s federal prison for a crime she committed years ago with her drug dealer girlfriend – but I loved the first 2 seasons.  Yes, I like this show better than House of Cards, Netflix’s other big hit, which frankly, isn’t even making this list. 

So, what do you think?  Other than House of Cards, did I miss any shows that you think are great?  Hopefully you can use these lists as a place to go to when you are looking for a new show to watch and don’t want to waste your time on a new network show that will likely be cancelled in a month.

Thanks for reading!

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