Top Ten TV Mega Post Part Nine: Premium Cable Dramas (The first and the last)
For this, the penultimate installment of my Top Ten TV Mega Post in Ten Parts, I am finally covering the Premium Dramas (because I finally watched them all). The shows that you have to pay a monthly service charge to have access to (Or wait for the DVD).
But this is a subject I’ve covered a lot on this blog. If you didn’t know already I love Homeland, House of Cards, Masters of Sex, Ray Donovan, and I have no interest in running over the same old ground.
So instead, I will talk about the shows in 2014 that were in their first season or in their last season. New comers and departing faves from some of the American premium services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax…
Here are ten shows; Three of my favorites that said goodbye last year and seven that will replace them… if not succeed them.
To the list…
The Affair (Showtime)
The Affair frightens me. It made me very anxious. It is the story of an extramarital affair (obviously). But the hook is that you see their story from both sides. Both genders. Complete with gender biases, blind spots and egos. They don’t know each other. So, their image of the other is completely skewed by their own preconceptions.
The first episode is incredible. Once I realized they were showing the same story from two different vantage points I was in. But I kept getting anxious about the differences in the two characters’ views of the same events. And yes there were drastic differences but it’s the subtle differences that make this show so good and also makes me cringe so much.
It is a very good show with an amazing cast. (I have loved Ruth Wilson since Luther on the BBC). But I was trying to binge watch the whole thing and had to stop. I only watched three episodes and had to stop. This show just made me so uncomfortable. That’s a good thing in my book but I didn’t expect to not be able to take it. The difference in the way he sees her and the way she sees herself, and the way she sees him and the way he sees himself, tied my stomach into knots. Aaaargh.
I feel like such a pussy. It could have been a horror film the way it made me so tense. So, I still don’t know who gets it more right or if they are both completely freaking delusional. I still have seven episodes to watch and I’ll probably get to it this weekend but at this point, the point when I bailed on it, the point when I chickened-out and turned it off, it is one of the best and most stressful things I’ve seen in a long while.
Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Created by Jill Soloway
Transparent was the best show of 2014 with the best performance from this year by Jeffrey Tambor. The trans story is just the hook. A very well-played hook but just a hook. This is actually a dysfunctional family drama that is superb in every way.
Transparent is billed as a trans positive story. And it is… somewhat. But it doesn’t preach or propagandize. Because it is so much more than that. It is the story of a family; a collection of characters that are dynamic and creative and sexy and funny and so messed up. At one point I realized that the father, who is coming out as trans, late in life, is perhaps the only even slightly self-aware character on the show. It’s amazing.
This is quality TV of the highest order. Great writing. Great performances. Great directing. Phenomenal in every way. And while at the core there is the transition, the transformation… the trans-parent. It is so much more than that. It is a beautifully well-made family drama that I hope doesn’t scare anyone away with its trans hook.
So to recap… The cast is phenomenal and sexy. The writing and directing are top-notch. This is a huge win for Amazon. And I hope they can keep up this level for a few more seasons. Best TV show I saw all of last year. I kid you not.
Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime)
This Amazon series about a new conductor at the New York Philharmonic is delightful. With funny situations and a sexy cast, this show is refreshingly original. I loved the music themes and the inside look at the labor, financing and management problems of running the orchestra. Mozart in the Jungle is extremely enjoyable.
However, there are times in the series where the quality drops substantially. Where it seems stiff, where it seems the acting and writing are not quite right, but if you hold on, wait a couple of minutes it returns to being brilliant. It is hard to explain these lapses.
I think the best way I can describe them is to compare the show to its executive producer; Jason Schwartzman. Jason is brilliant for small stretches, just like Mozart in the Jungle. But as the audience, we have to muddle past the parts, where he’s just a little off and not at all funny, to get to another incredibly brilliant thing he says or does.
Mozart in the Jungle is not Wes Anderson good but it is TV good. It is at times zany. Always funny. Very sexy and creative. I really enjoyed the first season of Mozart in the Jungle and hope to see more. Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Jason Schwartzman himself and John Hodgman all give great performances. By the end of the first season I did not want it to end. I want more of this.
Black Sails (Starz)
Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine
Black Sails, described as a prequel to Treasure Island, was a slow burn in its first season but it was well worth the ride. It has the proper mix of violence, political intrigue, romance, piracy and sex. I also think the costumes are cool.
This show makes a fine replacement for the amazing Spartacus. With that combination of graphic violence and graphic sex and a good-looking cast but it doesn’t get mired in that. Its stories and characters and politics and situations are deeper and more complicated than just sexy eye candy and well-dressed violence.
But don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of cool characters. A lot of cool costumes. Sword fighting. Gun play. Cannons to the left of me. Real life pirates from history. Cannons to the right of me. And bad-ass, kick-ass, fine ass ladies.
Black Sails takes a while to set up all the characters. All of the rogues and rapscallions living together in this pirates cove on New Providence Island. But I eventually fell in love with this show. And I can’t wait for it to come back and hope it comes back strong.
The Knick (Cinemax)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel, Michael Begler and Steven Katz
Starring Clive Owen, Andre Holland, Jeremy Bobb, Juliet Rylance, Eve Hewson, Michael Angarano, Chris Sullivan, Cara Seymour, Eric Johnson, David Fierro, Maya Kazan, Leon Addison Brown, Grainger Hines & Matt Frewer
Steven Soderbergh directs ten mini-movies about a failing New York hospital at the turn of the 20th century. The Knick shows the inner workings of the healthcare system, the underground abortion providers, the segregationist hospital system, the experimentation with drugs and surgery and, way too often, the inner workings of the human body.
Clive Owen is good, if not great. The writing is good but not great. The themes and subject are uneven. Sometimes interesting and sometimes boring and/or cringe inducing. But the directing on this show is sensational. Each episode is like a mini-movie. A mini-well-made movie. Steven Soderbergh is what makes this show great.
My favorite parts of the series are the glimpses of New York during that time period. And the barbarism of what they were calling modern medicine at the time. I had to laugh every time these butchers cut someone open or prescribe dangerous drugs to their patients and themselves. There is so much to cringe at in The Knick. Almost too much.
Then the show sort of gets bogged down in the racism of the time. On how even a black person in dire need of medical attention would be turned away at so-called white hospitals. Or how they thought blood was different between the races and how some white patients would rather die than have a black doctor save their life. More cringing.
The show is very good because Soderbergh takes all of this. All of the cringe worthy things. All of the well-trodden territory. All of the madness and completely unlikable characters. And he makes it real. It feels so real. Soderbergh is a freaking genius.
Developed by Ronald D. Moore
I have to admit to being confused at first when I started watching the show Outlander. For some reason, I thought it was going to be more like the movie Highlander. I heard Scotland and Time-Travel and I expected ritual beheading and shouts of “There can be only one.” Anyway, it is not… that.
But I stayed anyway and I liked this show about a married woman from the 1940’s travelling back in time to the 1700’s. I liked it a lot. Outlander has just the right amount of suspense, romance, politics, drama, and the supernatural.
I don’t know the books but I liked the story. A clever mix of history and romance and magic. I appreciated that it wasn’t someone from the present day going back to Scotland in the 1700’s (because frankly she would have been burned as a witch immediately). And because of this we notice our difference to her society and can more understand her differences to their society. It’s good writing. (better than the previous sentence)
Outlander is a really good story. Not a lot of action. It’s mostly drama and romance and political intrigue but the situation is an interesting one and by the time we meet the major baddie (no spoilers), it gets really really good.
Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Created & Written by John Logan
Penny Dreadful is a fascinating and fantastically well-produced monster mash series with an incredible cast of famous characters and monsters from literature and fabulous character actors lead by the amazing Eva Green and Timothy Dalton.
Like the underrated Netflix show Hemlock Grove, (I just started watching that but they’re on their second season, so it didn’t make this list) it throws together classic monsters and pits them one against the other. But this one takes itself a lot more seriously than the younger and hipper Hemlock Grove and Penny Dreadful’s 19th century time period paves the way for gorgeous sets and even more gorgeous costumes.
However it’s the great performances and the great stories that make this one of my favorite new shows from last year. Eva Green. Eva Green. Eva Green is amazing and scary and gorgeous. Also the Frankenstein story line is heartbreaking and painful. There is action and horror and the supernatural. Penny Dreadful is a good show.
There are vampires and werewolves and animated corpses and all manner of spirits. And usually when you throw so many cool things into one show, it gets muddy and unfocused. But each classic character has its own agenda and its own story. And they overlap in the prettiest ways. So that it doesn’t feel like a stew but like a ten course meal.
If you take away one thing from reading this list, take away the fact that Penny Dreadful is a great show that you should really be watching. I kid you not.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Created by Terence Winter
Based on Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City
by Nelson Johnson
Starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza, Paz de la Huerta, Michael Kenneth Williams, Anthony Laciura, Paul Sparks, Dabney Coleman, Jack Huston, Gretchen Mol, Charlie Cox, Bobby Cannavale, Ron Livingston, Jeffrey Wright & Ben Rosenfield
Boardwalk Empire was one of my favorite shows for its five season run. Another Premium Drama that felt like a mini movie every episode. With famous and not-so famous gangsters fighting it out for control of the illegal alcohol trade during the 1920’s and 30’s from New York to Cuba to Chicago to the Boardwalk of Atlantic City New Jersey.
I even loved the ending. And because it surprised me and because it was perfect, I’m not going to talk about it. And accidentally spoil it. It was cool though and wrapped up the show nicely. Everybody got what they deserved.
I especially loved the episode that wrapped up the stories of two of my favorite characters on the show; Chalky White, played by the amazing Michael Kenneth Williams, and Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon, it is one of the best episodes of the series.
But what I loved most about this season was finally finding out why Nucky and Gillian had such a screwed up relationship. I always wondered why she was there. For five seasons it was like Nucky couldn’t look her in the eyes. And when we finally find out why, it made me want to watch the whole series again from episode one.
Boardwalk Empire is most definitely on my top 100 television shows of all time.
The Newsroom (HBO)
Created by Aaron Sorkin
I wanted a lot more from the last season of this great Aaron Sorkin show about the inner workings of a prime-time cable news program. During its first two seasons, I sometimes felt The Newsroom was trying too hard to impart lessons in responsible journalism but that was never to the detriment of its impossibly witty characters and their insanely fun and fast dialogue. But in this last season, I felt like the show was talking down to me.
I didn’t like the ending. Well, I didn’t like that the show was ending first of all. But I also felt like it was rushed. Love this cast. Love this writer. Love the theme and the premise. I just felt the show never found a way to truly hook (there’s that word again) a large premium cable audience… I’m talking about sex, alright. There was not enough sex.
Sorry Mr. Sorkin. We just weren’t ready for a cerebral, political dramedy without at least one gratuitous sex scene per episode (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down). But for the first two seasons and on occasion in this last season, the show made me happy. It was smart and it was funny. It was timely but not preachy. It was pretty but it was never sexy and because of that last fact, it was never popular.
Goodbye Newsroom (News Night). You go on to join Sports Night in the pantheon of short-lived, extremely well-written shows about the media. I will miss you.
But speaking of at least one gratuitous sex scene per episode…
True Blood (HBO)
Created by Alan Ball
Starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Alexander Skarsgård, Nelsan Ellis, Carrie Preston, Chris Bauer, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Joe Manganiello & Deborah Ann Woll
I’ve made no secret of my love (lust) for True Blood. So sexy and scary and gory and just all sorts of awesome. But the show did not end well. One or two seasons too many I think. But for a while there it was one of my favorite shows. The perfect combination of scary and very very sexy.
In honor of the end of True Blood, I present my Top Ten Hottest True Blood hook-ups (fantasy or dream) sex scenes of the series. Because True Blood was very sexy.
To the list… (in no particular order)
Sookie and Eric in the woods
Jessica and Jason in the back of the pick-up truck
Ginger and Eric on the Throne
Alcide and the wolf girl three-way
Sookie and Eric and Bill
Jason and Eric
Tara and Eggs at the witches orgy
Jason and Sarah Newlin
Jessica and Jason on the bed
Arlene and Keith (the vampire) on the pool table
Goodbye HBO’s True Blood. You hung around two seasons too long but when you were good, you were really really really good. And now… cold shower.
So to recap… we said goodbye to Boardwalk Empire, The Newsroom and True Blood in 2014 but said hello to many great shows (Penny Dreadful) to take their place.
And thus concludes My Top Ten TV Mega Post in Ten Parts.
“But wait, Mel… there were only NINE parts. What gives?”
That’s correct, Dear Reader. I still owe you my updated top ten TV shows of all-time list. But I’ve decided, since I enjoyed doing this series so much, to split the tenth installment into ten installments of its own. Thus I am announcing my new series:
My Top Ten Television Shows of All-Time (in ten parts)
This way I can break each show down into seasons and talk about what I thought worked well and what I thought worked REALLY well on each show.
So I haven’t discarded the “Mega Post” format all together. I just think that each of the ten shows on my list deserves its very own, personal, in-depth mega post.
First up… Number Ten (hint… it’s The IT Crowd)
But until then
I’ll see you on the couch,