Monday Oct 23

The 15 Greatest Drama Series of the Past Generation

  1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013) AMC   Created by Vince Gilligan. Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, and if that sounds weird just consider that this is also the guy who played the dad in Malcolm in the Middle.  Breaking Bad sets its self apart from any other show in that it introduces a hero and slowly transforms him in a villain, who in the process brings down every person around him.  Whether or not there is anything left in the character of Walter White to root for may be forever up for debate.  The quality of Bryan Cranston's depiction of him is not, as the guy who once asked for a "shtickle of fluoride" is now turning in some of the best acting on television.
  2. The Wire (2002-2008) HBO Created by David Simon. The Wire is television perfection, and if it's not the greatest series of all time it certainly is the most under-appreciated.  How this never was even nominated for an Emmy is beyond all rationale.  The Wire takes a brutal look at various aspects of life in Baltimore, exploring with harsh realism the interweaving worlds of street life, politics, education, poverty, law enforcement, and the media.  What emerges is the sobering realization that from the drug cartels to the fractured bureaucracy tasked with combating them, all are players in the same game, mirrors of one another in a vicious cycle of ambition, dysfunction, and moral compromise.
  3. Mad Men (2007-2015) AMC Created by Matthew Weiner.    Mad Men is like watching literature in hourly installments, replete with incisive symbolism and complex subtleties.  It follows Don Draper, ad man extraordinaire inhabiting the world of 1960's Madison Avenue, a world of rampant smoking, drinking, and philandering.  However, Mad Men is not so much a period piece as it is a series of character studies.  Weiner seems to intimate that we all are searching for something to fill the void, whether it be that new car seen in a magazine, the next promotion, or woman at the end of the bar.  Ultimately, when we run from ourselves we just end up out of breath.
  4. The Sopranos (1999-2007) HBO Created by David Chase.   Long before The Jersey Shore was offending the sensibilities of Italians and Jerseyans everywhere, it was the Soprano family representing the Garden State.  The Sopranos demonstrated what was truly possible for the television medium, raising production up to an almost cinematic level that single-handedly ushered in the era of premium television.   Making that HBO subscription all but mandatory, it stands as the most financially successful program in cable history.  Compiling 21 Emmys over six seasons, the Sopranos finally signed off in 2007 in a finale that can only be described as                                 .
  5. Law and Order (1990-2010) NBC Created by Dick Wolf.   The show that inspired a million law degrees and almost as many spinoffs.  The first half police investigation, second half trial format was originally conceived to increase the show's chances at syndication by giving broadcasters the option of splitting the episodes into half-hour airings.  Fortunately, winning syndication was never a problem for this mega franchise, and it's probably not far off to say that at any one moment, an episode of Law and Order is airing somewhere.
  6. The West Wing  (1999-2006) NBC Created by Aaron Sorkin.   Just where do you think Charlie got that Adonis DNA from anyway?  Papa Sheen is brilliant as Commander-in-Chief Josiah Bartlet, presiding over a series that would collect an astounding four consecutive best drama Emmys in its heyday.  Taking on an array of real world issues, from the Israeli conflict to DOMA to North Korean nuclear ambitions, the West Wing is as relevant today as it was over a decade ago.
  7. Game of Thrones (2011-Present) HBO  Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
  8. Lost (2004-2010) ABC Created by JJ Abrams
  9. NYPD Blue (1993-2005) ABC Created by Steven Bochco and David Milch
  10. 24 (2001-2010) FOX Created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran.    The way 24 plummeted after Season 5, it's hard to remember just how riveting those early seasons really were. There was always a certain degree of suspension of disbelief necessary with 24, but a guy can only go rogue, do the "there's no time to explain" routine, and end up saving the world so many times before things just descend into the ridiculous.  Still, Jack Bauer was a hero for the new millennium, and just think, would we have ever had Barack if not for David Palmer paving the way?
  11. ER (1994-2009) NBC Created by Michael Crichton.    Did for doctors what Law and Order did for lawyers.  Its 124 Emmy nominations are the most in television history and its introduction of George Clooney into the public consciousness (notwithstanding the cinematic masterpiece Return of the Killer Tomatoes) is something we can surely all be thankful for.
  12. Dexter (2006-2013) Showtime Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay and developed by James Manos, Jr.     When Dexter hit TV screens in 2006, all the world needed was another show about a crime scene forensic.  However, when that forensic just happens to moonlight as a sociopathic killer of bad guys, things start to diverge from your average episode of CSI. Think Robin Hood as a hopeless kleptomaniac, channeling his uncontrollable inner demons into a public good.  Fun fact: Michael C. Hall met his now ex-wife Jennifer Carpenter (Deb) on the set of Dexter, effectively marrying his sister.
  13. Six Feet Under (2001-2005) HBO Created by Alan Ball.   Ironic that a show that revolves around death can penetrate with such poignancy what it means to be alive.  This time Michael C. Hall plays a gay funeral director, running the Fisher and Sons funeral home in Los Angeles (what creator Alan Ball calls "the world capital of the denial of death") with brother Nate and partner Rico.  Also in the picture are sister Claire, mother Ruth, and a host of significant others.  All are eccentric, often demented, and always real, sometimes painfully so. Dealing with death on a daily basis is no easy gig.  Dealing with life might very well be harder.
  14. The X-Files (1993-2002) FOX Created by Chris Carter
  15. Oz (1997-2003) HBO Created by Tom Fontana. HBO's first ever one-hour drama illustrated just how "not just TV" HBO truly was, presenting prison life with gritty, often cringe-worthy realism that spoke to themes all-to-relatable to us civilians. Thirteen actors that originally appeared in Oz went on to appear in The Wire, so it goes without saying how I feel about this one.

Best Right Now: Fargo, Mr. Robot, The Leftovers, Better Call Saul, The Knick


+1 # 2011-04-03 12:36
Love to see the wire getting its due
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0 # 2011-04-04 10:33
Boardwalk empire...
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+1 # 2011-04-04 17:00
Love me some Boardwalk. Thinkin its gotta need at least another quality season or two in the bank before it gets generational consideration tho.
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-1 # 2011-04-04 17:10
Dexter HAS to be higher on the list, never a dull moment or a bad episode. I am a diehard Sopranos fanatic, but the show often had bad and slow episodes, just saying.
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+1 # 2011-04-05 17:40
Dexter HAS to be LOWER on this list, or not on it, never a moment at the level of The Wire.

What puzzles me about this list is that the very uneven LOST made it, as did the very uneven Dexter, but The Shield did not even crack the top 15. The Shield > Law and Order in terms of quality, imho.
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-1 # 2011-04-11 18:05
This list is should NOT have Lost on it. That show was shit. Watch every episode, wanted my time and money back after the finale.
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+1 # Hugh Laurie 2012-12-01 11:44
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