While going through the list of my favorite Cable Dramas I noticed something.
Cable TV Dramas are polluting our society by putting supposedly good characters in extraordinary situations, where they are forced to do bad things (for the record, no one can be forced to do bad but according to these eleven shows it’s a requirement), Where surrendering themselves to their darker nature makes them stronger and helps them survive. They are the hero. But they learn time and time again that being the good guy not only goes unrewarded but is often punished. Cable dramas, well the good ones anyway, are helping to mold this new storytelling morality where the good guy, the hero, the savior, the leader, the main character… is kind of a dick.
We’re coming down the home stretch of my Top Ten TV Mega Post in Ten Parts for 2014 with Cable Dramas. There are a bunch of well-written dramas on cable these days. So many that it was hard to narrow down my list to just ten. (I ended up with eleven)
Cable TV Dramas, for the most part, are a spectacular hit or a tremendous miss. They are either very good or very bad. AMC and FX know how to make a good cable drama it seems, because nearly all of these shows are from those two networks. Most of the other channels are trying to make broadcast quality dramas without broadcast quality money.
As always, it starts with writing. Good writers are a must. A good writer can turn a show with three sets, two props and one location into an epic. And again, a lot of American cable channels try to make dramas that are broadcast quality camp but without broadcast TV budgets. So the wardrobes aren’t as good and the actors aren’t as pretty. The sets, the effects, pale in comparison. So there is very little of substance without good writing.
Good writing needs no sets and no props and no effects. And what AMC is doing right, and what FX is doing right, is to start with great stories and talented writers. These are the best shows on TV …for which you don’t have to pay a premium.
Bring on the bad guys.
To the list…
American Horror Story (FX)
Created by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
Starring Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock & Angela Bassett
American Horror Story is fantastic every year. And except for the core cast of wonderful character actors, that includes Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson and Frances Conroy bringing their best to some of the weirdest characters on TV, it is completely different every year. There’s a different setting, a different theme and different genres of American Horror used to creep and scare the shit out of its audience.
I’ve heard it said that this season of Horror Story (called Freak Show) has been the weakest. I admit, the freak show thing is sort of lame and it also makes me uncomfortable. But the Killer Clown is one of the scariest things ever on the show. And anyway, clowns are fucking scary in general.
But the scariest thing this season is when the characters start to sing. Ryan Murphy created the musical show Glee and he has brought the horror of this pop music, musical theater monstrosity to American Horror Story.
That’s some scary shit, Ryan. Truly frightening.
Bates Motel (A&E)
Based on Characters from Psycho by Robert Bloch
Developed by Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano
Starring Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz & Nestor Carbonell
Vera Farmiga. Vera Farmiga. Vera Farmiga.
Norma Bates is the scariest and sweetest character on TV. Heart-breaking-ly insane. Vera Farmiga’s portrayal is amazing. Where is her Emmy? She is incredibly good.
I love this show because it holds true to the feel of the film. And it offers other characters and other situations and other things going on besides the adventures of Norman and his crazy, smothering, over-protective, pathological, borderline psychotic mother.
But mostly I love this show because Vera Farmiga is scary good.
Created by Noah Hawley
Based on Fargo by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks & Martin Freeman
The first season of this FX crime – comedy – drama – thingy was sensational. With a wonderful cast of characters and writing and situations and Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman. I loved this show.
The Fargo TV series takes place in the same general area as the Coen Brother’s film and in the same world. That same, ultra dark but still comedic and absurd, world. And I loved it.
Rumors about a second season sound extremely promising (even though it doesn’t bring back the great cast from the first season because it’s a prequel set in 1979). I’m looking forward to see what they do next (even though I’ll miss Allison Tolman. She was perfect)
And it’s the one show on this list where the good guy is a good guy. (well girl in this case but you know what I mean).
However, even though I absolutely loved Fargo, it was just my second favorite new show from this year. Taking a close second place, right after the spectacular…
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Created by Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers
Starring Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé & Toby Huss
Halt and Catch Fire is my pick for the best new show of 2014.
An incredible cast. Great stories. Great writing. And also another sexy bisexual character to add to my list (played by the beautiful Lee Pace). One of the sexiest bisexual characters on TV. I love Halt and Catch Fire so much.
Halt and Catch Fire is the story of the early days of the personal computer. I love the subject. It’s the story of a small company trying to compete with the big boys. I love an underdog story. Lee Pace plays this marketing whiz. This amazing salesman who knows very little about computers but has a passion that makes him not accept failure. And a management style that takes no prisoners and leaves no survivors. Throw in this brilliant software designer and a troubled hardware guy on the verge of losing his mind and you have hands-down the best new show of 2014.
Halt and Catch Fire is a fine replacement for the departing Mad Men. If you haven’t yet, give it a chance. And if you bailed on it give it another chance. It’s quality television.
Next up… a couple of westerns still going strong.
Hell on Wheels (AMC)
Created by Joe Gayton & Tony Gayton
Starring Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy, Kasha Kropinski, Dohn Norwood, Jennifer Ferrin, Chelah Horsdal, MacKenzie Porter, Tayden Marks & Jake Weber
Hell on Wheels is so weird. And so dark. But so good.
Anson Mount is wonderful as the anti-hero, gunslinger. The southern, slave-owning, mass murdering, racist with a code of honor. And his evolution is a joy to watch, as he struggles to be the first to build a railroad to the west and justify all the friends and lives lost along the way. A railroad that leaves piles of bodies in its wake.
This past season was one of the darkest on the show. They take the HELL in their title very seriously. Life is cheap in the untamed west.
Hell on Wheels is fucked-up sometimes because no one is safe and people are dropping like flies. But it is so good. It’s really good.
Based on “Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard
Developed by Graham Yost
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins & Jere Burns
With this upcoming season being the last for this modern western, I will miss this show greatly. The sheer badassness of Justified is its beauty. And also its main selling point. It is a study in badassitude. I love this show.
Timothy Olyphant is Olyphant-tastic. I love the way his superiors try to get him, as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, to stop killing so many people, and he tries. But he comes from a criminal family. His friends. His neighbors. All criminals. They keep pulling him back in.
I love these characters. Boyd, Ava, Raylan, the other Marshals. I’m going to miss them.
But not half as much as I’m going to miss these next guys…
Mad Men (AMC)
Created by Matthew Weiner
Starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Jared Harris, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Kevin Rahm, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Robert Morse & John Slattery
Another show on its last season, Mad Men is one of the best scripted shows in TV history. And this last season has been just as good as the first.
It hasn’t lost a step. The show about the Advertising business, and the con man who lied his way into a partnership in one of Madison Avenue’s top agencies, has an amazing and beautiful cast, incredible writing. And every episode is exceptionally well-directed. And don’t get me started on the wardrobes. Their costume designers are the best!!!
Mad Men is leaving on top as one of the best shows of all-time.
Peggy. Peggy. Peggy. I don’t know why but I just want to lick her.
The Americans (FX)
Created by Joe Weisberg
Starring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Maximiliano Hernández, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Noah Emmerich, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner & Alison Wright
Only on its third season, The Americans is an insanely good look at undercover Russian operatives living as American citizens. Again, from our point of view, they’re the bad guys.
But the show makes you root for them and then sneakily reminds you that they are in fact the bad guys by having them do… you know what, you have to watch it.
If you’re not watching this show I question your choices. Because this show is outstanding. The Americans is a sexy, espionage, family, spy, thriller that gets better every season. The cast is sensational.
Keri Russell is at the top of her game. Watch this show.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
Based on The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Developed by Frank Darabont
Starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, David Morrissey, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Michael Cudlitz, Emily Kinney & Chad L. Coleman
While The Walking Dead has decreased in quality, the premise of the show is still gripping and suspenseful and good for a fright or two a week. And as it turns out, going through these frightening situations with these characters makes you really care for them. So when they kill one of my friends off, it is devastating.
But after all this time, I still can’t stay quiet while watching. The suspense level is off the chain and I’m always like, “What are you doing?” “Run you stupid fuck.”
This half season has frustrated me. There were a few amazing episodes. The first at Terminus, the third with the Hunters, Daryl and Carol’s episode and the mid-season finale were four of the best episodes the show has ever aired. But the way everyone is losing their humanity just doesn’t sit right with me. A couple of really annoying new villains and allies are ruining the show for me as well. Because the good guys have gotten less good, so the bad guys have to be cartoonishly evil. And it feels like the zombies are no longer the main focus of the show. The show has become this idiot’s guide to surviving the apocalypse and its main advice is to be an asshole.
However, it is still a fun show. And I still watch The Walking Dead in the dark because it’s even more fun that way. It’s just they need to bring back a moral center to the show.
Hershel was right. Surviving but losing your humanity is not surviving at all.
TURN: Washington’s Spies (AMC)
Created by Craig Silverstein
Based on Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring (2007) by Alexander Rose
Starring Jamie Bell, Seth Numrich, Daniel Henshall, Heather Lind, Meegan Warner, Kevin R. McNally, Burn Gorman, Angus Macfadyen, Samuel Roukin, JJ Feild, Ian Kahn, Owain Yeoman & Ksenia Solo
I enjoyed this show about the first American spy ring during the revolutionary war.
I like the period. I like the characters. I like the story.
I want more of this. I’m glad they’re bringing it back for a second season.
I like the show. I like the history. One of our better wars. I expect great things.
Speaking of history…
Created by Michael Hirst
Starring Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gustaf Skarsgård, George Blagden, Alexander Ludwig, Alyssa Sutherland, Donal Logue, Linus Roache & Gabriel Byrne
Vikings gets better with every season. Vikings is awesome. I love Vikings… just in general. And Viking women are very hot. I love me some warrior women. This show is very cool. Except that Vikings is the only show on this list with absolutely no people of color. Zero. But they get a pass
Maybe we’ll see some Native Americans this seasons. Or some Mongols. Or a North African. Still a great show, however.
And I can’t help but watch it even though The History Channel is the most overtly racist television channels OF ALL TIME. And I’m including FoxNews. (Nazi aficionados and Civil War re-enactors were their entire audience for the longest time. Take a look at that Venn diagram for a moment)
But Vikings is really good even if it does have a built-in excuse to not have any other races in it. The show is cool. And Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha is hot as all hell.
And that’s all. That’s eleven.
There was a lot of evil in this post.
From the viking raiders to the conquering ad execs. From the spies for our side to the spies for their side to the industrial spies just out for themselves. From the gunfighters with the quick triggers to the good people forced to do bad things to survive… with the quick triggers. From the horrors at the Freak Show to the murders at the Bates Hotel. Remember, no matter what the folks at Jaguar tell you, it isn’t good to be bad.
It’s just bad.
Next up Premium Dramas (Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Showtime etc.)
See you on the couch.