THE TOP TEN SERIES ON AMERICAN TELEVISION, PART 2 by David Lavery
This is the second of two Telegenics offering my highly subjective ranking of the top ten dramatic series currently airing on American television.
5. Fringe (FOX, 2008- )—I have written about Fringe, a series I was slow to warm to, before in Telegenic (here and here). Full of “endless impossibilities,” this narratively ingenious story of the cosmos-threatening clash between two alternate universes has improved over its run into the most mind-boggling series on television and the rightful heir to LOST (natural enough in that J. J. Abrams had a hand in the creation of both).
An Observer from Fringe (Image from fringetelevsion.com)
Its first rate cast—Anna Torv (Olivia Dunham), Dawson Creek’s Joshua Jackson (Peter Bishop), The Wire’s Lance Reddick as Philip Broyles, The Lord of the Ring’s John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop—now playing versions of themselves in both ‘verses, is now almost twice as good as they were in the beginning, and at its best its stories are both fantastical and deeply moving. Banished to the American TV wasteland of Friday night, Fringe has done well enough there to earn a third and fourth season and attain genuine cult status.
4. The Good Wife (CBS, 2009- )—Back in the last decade fans of 24 would sometimes delay their Jack Bauer gratification in order to experience in real time (in one sitting) a show that famously took place in real time. Their viewing practice amplified the series’ on-the-clock tension, or so I’ve been told. For its first season, I delayed watching The Good Wife until I had downloaded all episodes on ITunes and then took them all in over a couple of days. Screening this dramatically nuanced legal series in that way proved beneficial. The subtle development of the characters stood out; the performances—by Julianna Marguilles (as good wife Alicia Florrick), Josh Charles (as Will Gardner), Archie Punjabi (as private investigator Kalinda Sharma), “Mr Big” Chris Noth (bad husband Peter Florrick), Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart), and Alan Cumming (Eli Gold)—intensified. So I watched Wife’s second season in the same way and continue the practice with Season Three (though it’s becoming increasingly hard to delay the gratification).
Michelle and Robert King, The Good Wife’s Creators (photo from Emmys.com)
3. Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011- )—The word on the street was that, with The Sopranos coming to an (oh-so-ambiguous) end, HBO might just be in decline, but last year the “not TV” premium channel unveiled an epic series based on George R. R. Martin’s still-in-development fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy. Not having read the novels, I admit to being at first more than a little lost until realizing I had to watch each episode twice (easily done in the age of DVRs and OnDemand). No other television venue could have brought such a massive story to the small screen. My top two series are both offerings from a basic cable channel, but AMC could never have given us Thrones.
Peter Dinklage with His Emmy for Games of Thrones (photo from Emmys.com)
2. Mad Men (AMC, 2007)—The creation of Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner (its pilot had been the spec script that had gained him admission to David Chase’s writers room), Mad Men’s arrival on AMC in 2007 on the basest of basic cable channels came as a revelation. The writing, the acting, the set design, the 1960s period detail were all simply exquisite. A mostly no-name cast—Jon Hamm as the mysterious and charismatic Don Draper, Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson—crewed Weiner’s time machine (see Sean O’Sullivan’s “Space Ships and Time Machines” in Gary Edgerton’s excellent collection on the series) as it took us back into the vivid days of guilt free smoking, in-office drinking, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination, and The Man from Uncle. Now about to begin its fifth season, Mad Men would be number one on any television lovers top ten list if not for . . .
Peggy Olson (Elilzabeth Moss) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in “The Suitcase” (photo from tv.ign.com)
1. Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008-2012)—I have already sung Breaking Bad’s praises in an earlier Telegenic, but as full of praise as that essay was, I could not have anticipated that Bad would become even more amazing in its fourth season. Perhaps the most cinematic television series ever, Bad, shot on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is also brilliantly acted by both its core cast (Emmy winners Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman) and its supporting players (Anna Gunn as Skyler White, Dean Morris as D.E.A. agent Hank Schrader, Bob Odenkirk as über-sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, Giancarolo Esposito as meth kingpin Gus Fring), often hilariously funny, and suspenseful. I cannot recall a television series that has told its multi-season narrative with greater alacrity and sustained tension. With a pre-negotiated final (fifth) season yet to come, Bad’s series finale next season will be, for me as anticipated as that of LOST and The Sopranos.
Breaking Bad Creator Vince Gilligan (Image from Breaking Bad Wiki)
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