Rev/Views: Top Shows: Drama

Category: , By Rev/Views

I feel it's appropriate to put out my favourite drama shows on the 9th of September 2009, as that's 9/9/9 - the number you dial when calling for the police (and other emergency services) in the UK.

And let's face it, this is a genre which is going to be dominated by police shows as anyone who's spent any time reading here should be able to realise immediately.

10. Dexter

Dexter is in a precarious position in my top shows because he's in serious danger of dropping out of the list after the third season's decidedly average and hum drum run.

But looking beyond that the first two seasons still hold up as exceptional pieces of work, they're both gripping thrill rides that nearly reach the heights of emotion and excitement. Michael C. Hall is nothing short of fantastic as Dexter Morgan, he's a good enough reason to watch the show all by himself. But Eric King is also fantastic as Doakes, and his departure was one thing which weakened the third season severely.

The fourth season is going to be make or break time for myself. It's looking very promising, but Dexter is in danger of falling into a rut. Mostly caused by the weak supporting cast (the writers have NO idea what to do with them) and the show's tendency to rehash the first season plotline over and over with only a few variations.

Complaints aside it's a unique show and is worth watching, even if only for Michael C. Hall and the lovely Julie Benz's performances alone.

9. Burn Notice

Probably the lightest member of this lot, Burn Notice doesn't make it onto the list due to an exceptionally deep and clever storyline or Shakespearean level acting, it makes it on here by consistently improving on itself from season to season and providing just buckets of fun and spy hi jinks.

Jeffery Donavan is great as Michael Western, the spy stuck in Miami with a burn notice preventing him from working. But for myself it's Bruce Campbell's performance as Sam Axe which keeps me coming back. Well that and the fact that the show keeps getting better and better.

It's light, fun, clever and fast paced. Perfect summer viewing.

8. Boston Legal

Part Drama, part Comedy, wholly irrelevant and fun - Boston Legal was one of the most enjoyable legal shows I've ever had the pleasure of watching. If you can call it a legal show, it could also be accurately described as a 'bromance' story between Denny Crane and Alan Shore.

The show is a little uneven, unfortunately cast members tended to get switched about, brought in and dropped for no reason other than the writers were having trouble thinking of things to do with them. So the show suffers a little here, but when it's good - it's very good. Even if sometimes it can get a little soap-box preachy.

I'm of the opinion that the best seasons are the earlier two and then the final one; but it's very dependant on the actors. William Shatner and James Spader are constantly great, but it's Christian Clemenson, Tara Summers and Mark Valley's characters who remain my favourites.

The show is energetic, fun and witty. Plus how can I not love a show which so brazenly flirts with the fourth wall, and gets away with it?

7. Deadwood

Watching Deadwood can, at first, feel like you're watching a show written in a foreign language, but one which uses English words as it's base. The dialog is thick and feels very authentic, as do the sets, the costumes and the acting.

Once you get past the initial 'what the hell are they saying?' there's a marvelous show beating underneath. One which is filled with corruption, unpleasantness, ruthless action and swearing. So much swearing you wouldn't believe it. It's almost impossible to watch this show and not get infected by the dialog yourself, it just happens and all of a sudden you're in trouble for calling a co-workers a bunch f***ing c***suckers.

Unfortunately for Deadwood it suffered cancellation-itis and hasn't had that final bit to finish it off. It's also rather inaccessible for many viewers - the dialog and brutal nature of the show mean it isn't for everyone. So it doesn't break into the top five, but it's definitely top ten material.

6. Six Feet Under

Constructed of equal parts of wit, soapy moments and drama with a huge slice of death, Six Feet Under is one of drama's landmark shows. It's frank and open approach to the subject of death, cast in contrast by the focus on the lives of people who live and work around it. Featuring a staggeringly high (and often amusing) body count, the show took huge strides towards legitimising the occurrence of death in TV drama.

Here's one of my favourite openings from the show:

This is without even mentioning that this is Michael C. Hall's second appearance on the list. He's absolutely fantastic and completely different to Dexter in Six Feet Under. The man is awesome acting talent.

Oh and this show also gave us the quintessential Narm trope. (Warning MAJOR Spoilers for this show lurk beyond that link).

5. The West Wing

For an individual with absolutely no interest in politics at all I was genuinely surprised just how much I did engage with, and enjoy The West Wing. But I surely did, mostly thanks to Aaron Sorkin's superb scripting which brought the characters to life and gave them dialog which really just sizzles and shines like diamond sausages in a pan.

While the cast is studded with superb actors and actresses there are a few in particular who stand out for myself. Martin Sheen is of course brilliant as 'Jed' Bartlet and throwing praise out for the lovely Allison Janney is practically a cliche (but a deserved one). Likewise Bradley Whitford, Dulé Hill, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff are all superb.

And it would be completely amiss if I didn't acknowledge that the episode "Two Cathedrals" is one of the best episodes in any show, all time.

But it's more than the sum of it's parts, it's just a fantastic show which is filled with quality and while I personally prefer the first four seasons, it's still something everyone who enjoys good drama should watch in it's entirety at least once.

4. Band of Brothers

Part dramatisation, part historical retelling, all action. Band of Brothers works both as a companion piece for Saving Private Ryan and as a stand alone piece of television. The show follows the members of Easy company during the second world war. It's a powerful piece of storytelling that highlights the brutality of war while also showing the fundamental humanity of the men who were involved in it.

The stand out performance is of course from the awesomely talented Damien Lewis as Richard Winters. But there are so many others who also give great perfomances as well. Some of them are so great you end up forgetting what else they're famous in and just get sucked into believing that they are there.

It's nothing short of quality television and one of my favourite war stories, the unbelievable events that occur in it are living proof that no matter how outlandish television can be - there's nothing stranger than real life.

3. Homicide: Life on the Street

The father and spiritual predecessor to another show on this list; Homicide (for me) remains the quintessential police procedural show. I can't exactly place what it is which makes it far more enjoyable for me than any other investigative style show, but if I was to guess it would come down to the low key nature of the setting combined with an unrelenting dirty, grimy feel to the show which just made it feel so real. You add into this a fantastic bunch of characters; especially Munch, Bayliss, Pembleton and Lewis; and you've got something which has had a profound affect on me despite it's relatively new status (I only watched it last year).

It's dark, it's witty, it's clever and it doesn't always wrap everything up in a neat little bow at the end of an episode (or season). There's just so much to admire about it and it's a show I relish returning to in a future year.

2. The Wire

Considering that I've written forty posts about this show (so far) I should imagine it's no surprise that The Wire ranks highly amongst my favourite drama shows (and my favourite shows all round). It's the most complete vision in the world of television, providing stories which are meaningful and poignant while also filled with intense characters who feel alive.

No other show manages to depict both sides of the story as well as The Wire. A show which lets it's viewers identify with not only police detectives but also with the criminals they're chasing after. From low level drug dealers to dock workers and all the way beyond The Wire tells a story of Baltimore City via it's characters and institutions.

It's almost certainly the most culturally significant show of this decade and one of the greatest televisions shows of all time. Intelligent, thought provoking, moving and subtle, this is one for the thinker in you.

1. The Shield

This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who's read my posts over the past year or so. The Shield remains firmly as an example of the perfect show for myself. From the very first episode, which all those years back just blew me away (much like the ending to The Usual Suspects it completely turned around my perception of the show and expectations from television drama). Then for seven seasons it ran off at break neck speed with each season being better than the last. Which is pretty much unheard of elsewhere, I can't name another show where I can honestly say each season improved on the previous one.

But The Shield had it all for me; tension, action, excitement, sorrow and so much more. No show has ever engaged me as much emotionally as The Shield has. While The Wire is intellectually my favourite show, it's the guts and instincts of The Shield which put it ahead of the rest, and those final two episodes which ended it all. I'm still speechless about them and it's been about three quarters of a year since they aired.

It really is perfection wrapped up in a brutal package of justice and corruption.

Finally I'd like to give Chuck an honorable mention here, it nearly made it onto the list. But I still haven't seen the second season. Carnivale likewise gets one, failing to make the top ten because of it's cancellation - which makes it feel unfinished and frustrating to watch.


3 comments so far.

  1. Matt 9 September 2009 at 10:40
    I'm ashamed to say that I've seen very few of these shows and as you know I didn't get on with The Shield.
  2. Rev/Views 9 September 2009 at 19:47
    Oops, I forgot to add Mad Men to this list. It should be in there for these reasons.
  3. MysterLynch 12 September 2009 at 22:14
    Depending on how the next season goes, I might include SAVING GRACE.

    DAMAGES needs another couple of good seasons. First season was amazing but second was so-so.

    Mad Men is a show I have to watch someday.

    Good list. I might have THE WIRE above THE SHIELD but I think it is more a matter of personal taste than anything else.

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