Photo Credit: Pixabay
My recent post concerning Game of Thrones and other TV shows based on book source material got me thinking about my all-time favorite TV dramas. I should start by admitting, I’m not a big TV guy. I love films. I’ve watched well over 1000 of them. TV shows… I’m way choosier. For me, scripted television generally falls into one of three categories: Formulaic cop or lawyer dramas, dumb comedies, or a very few well-written, interesting series. It’s difficult for a show to catch my attention. Lost, 24, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Dead – Either I watched one episode and wasn’t impressed (The Wire and 24) or I’ve never seen it at all. Those shows have tons of fans and therefore must have some entertainment value, but this is my list and they didn’t even qualify for consideration. Flame on if you must. Here are my Top 10.
Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Oddball characters and dark, disturbing small-town murder mysteries aren’t that uncommon in television these days, but they felt groundbreaking in 1990. I haven’t watched the new episodes on Showtime this year, but the David Lynch/Mark Frost originals are something special.
True Detective (2014-2015)
The second season has no business on this list, but the first is one of the most stunning achievements in television history. Those eight hours of television are so amazing they leapfrog all but eight shows in my book. Nic Pizzolatto created two of the best characters and one of the most riveting storylines ever to hit the small screen. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s performances are masterpieces.
HBO’s first drama remains one of its best. This gritty, violent look inside a fictional prison provided plenty of memorable characters and entertaining friction as inmates forged and broke alliances while struggling to survive.
This series ended at least one season too soon and the second season felt rushed as a result, but it was still a pleasure to watch. Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson showed us the rise and fall of Julius Caesar through the eyes of two relatively minor fictional characters and Ciaran Hinds was excellent as the doomed founder of history’s most famous Empire.
Only one season of this show is under HBO’s belt so far, but what a season it was! With an intriguing premise, a fantastic cast, and really solid plotting, every episode was a blast to watch. Even with the departure of Anthony Hopkins’ character Robert Ford, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Now that Maeve, Dolores, Bernard, and the remainder of the theme-park robot crew are self-aware, just how far will they go to achieve independence?
The X-Files (1993-)
I tuned out after FBI paranormal investigator Fox Mulder departed in the latter seasons, but the first seven seasons produced a ton of great episodes and the new revival episodes that came out last year were fun as well. Leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have great chemistry and the writing was usually top notch.
I’ve written before about my distaste for the final season, but when a show finds you rooting for a serial killer every week, you know it’s doing something right. The first two seasons of this eight-season program were incredible and Season 4 was a standout as well. It’s by far the best thing Showtime has ever produced.
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
For several years, this modern gangster drama held my top spot and it still hasn’t fallen far. For six seasons, lead actor James Gandolfini and cast let us inside the dangerous and strangely often mundane lives of New Jersey’s mafia. Whether Tony Soprano was putting out a hit on a rival or trying to get his son to do his homework, he was always fun to watch.
This show simply featured the finest writing television has ever seen. It’s as if Shakespeare briefly returned in order to do a western. Thanks to an apparently huge budget, it only lasted three seasons, but it left an indelible impression on me and many others. Supposedly there’s a feature film in the works to wrap up all of the storylines that the show left open. You can bet I’ll be in line for a ticket if it ever gets made and released.
Game of Thrones (2011-)
The penultimate season just wrapped up last night and it’s going to be a long winter (and then some) before we get to watch how everything turns out in Season 8’s six big episodes, but GoT has already cemented its place as the best show television has ever seen. Based on an incomplete series of books by author George R.R. Martin, this epic fantasy tale spans multiple generations and hundreds of characters in a world of intricately twisted plots and histories. Many of us are already suffering withdrawals and it’s been less than 24 hours since we got our latest dose of Jon, Dany, Tyrion, Cersei, Sansa, Arya, and the rest of the Westerosi gang. If you’re one of the few people in the world that haven’t gotten addicted to this show yet, catch the reruns ASAP.