February 27th, 2014
During a heated bit of trolling at Mindless HQ, Brother Bobsy expressed his incredulity that “anyone watches US TV drama expecting it to be somehow better than TJ Hooker (which at least had Shatner and Locklear in it).”
Curious little Mindless that I am, I decided to expose his statements on the overwhelming silliness of American TV drama to the True Facts contained within my might brane…
Properly Good American TV Dramas:
- The Wire - Or ‘How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us’ part 2. Like David Peace’s best work – his GB84 tells part 1 of this story, of course – The Wire ends up feeling even more mythological for its reliance on things ripped from the real. If season five presses its argument home too hard then it’s a testament to the strength of the show that it’s details remain as crooked and cryptic and free even at the point where the system is finally completed.
- The Sopranos - Embodies everything that’s annoying about so much popular serious drama, with its faux cinematic stories about serious men hurting each other (some of them are quite ugly, THEY DO CRIME!) but nevertheless stays far ahead of its peers by allowing visuals, plot lines, and actors as much focus as they demand.
- Mad Men - All the strengths of the Sopranos divorced from the macho genre weaknesses, plus this show deals with the protagonist problem that is inherent to this type of TV show more confidently than some of the reactions might have you believe.
- Twin Peaks - Half of this is admittedly not so good, but the best stuff is still excellent at a lot of things that the rest of the shows on this list have approached only tentatively.
- The first three episodes of the third season of Battlestar Galactica - Watch the first two series so you get the full impact of this story, which represents the point where the American military imagination somehow manages to conceive of itself in the Al Qaeda position. Watch the rest of it if you want: it’s neither as good as it threatens to be nor as bad as its worst episodes might suggest. The board game is still totally amazing though!
- Gilmore Girls - One of the few successful uses of the chatty American dialogue style, probably because it aspires to pseudo-Shakespearean fencing instead of pseudo-Shakespearean posturing. Horrific warning signs such as “quirky,” “offbeat,” and “irreverent” somehow manage to stick without turning everything they touch to shite for a change. Also one of the few American TV shows to display and awareness of and willingness to investigate ideas of class, how money effects relationships, etc. You will all disagree with me about this one but I am not wrong.
- Girls - Generation Vice on autocritique, manages to be both massively cringey and genuinely empathetic at the same time; an exceptionally strong show, if narrow.
- Generation Kill - Girls for boys.
- Breaking Bad - Starts slow but builds to a sustained tension high before tipping all the way over into wonky Batman logic. Limited re-watch potential, but fuck me was it good, awful fun for a while there! (Richard Cooper makes a case for the first four seasons being Properly Good here.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Yeah yeah yeah, but fuck it, I don’t even give a toss about Joss Whedon anymore but this is the best adaptation of that Stan Lee/Chris Claremont style of self-aware soap opera to the screen, screw yer Marvel movies and yer Agents of S.H.I.T.E.. Shame the last couple of seasons are a bit duff though, eh?
- The Corner - Somehow manages to be both more didactic and more anecdotal than The Wire, but it’s good even if it does feel like the materials for a modern myth than the real thing.
- Dollhouse - see Plok for the why of this.
- Dexter and True Blood - these shows are both full of high nonsense from the word go, but I’ve actually got more time for the increasingly absurd and unstable True Blood these days. I couldn’t pretend that it was good but it’s a fun train wreck that I can watch without worrying about my girlfriend’s enjoyment levels so we fuck with it every now and then just to make sure everyone’s entertained (basically, she just wants to bone Alcide).
- Treme, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, True Detective, The Shield - actually I’ve seen a bit of SFU but I’d need to watch it again to get a sense for how good it is. Never watched more than a minute of the rest but they have their enthusiasts, so.