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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

6 Great Shows That Had The Revolution Pass Them By

Television right now is in a vastly different space than it was when the 1990’s ended. Thanks to shows like Oz and The Sopranos on HBO to House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, T.V. has gone through a drastic revolution. The Golden Age of Television and the spark and cause of this revolution is detailed in the incredible book The Revolution Was Televised by’s TV critic Alan Sepinwall. I recently wrote about the shows responsible for television’s second revolution in this current Silver Age of Television. However, during the past 16-20 years or so, television has given us some incredible shows that haven’t risen to the level of transcendent. Mr. Sepinwall discusses shows like Lost, The Shield, and Deadwood and I discussed shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective. Shows that are both incredible on their own and helped define a generation of programs. But in a tier underneath those programs are a handful of shows that are excellent in their own right, but didn’t quite rise to the level of revolutionary. These are the shows that we would be speaking more about if it weren’t for the Golden and Silver Age shows. These shows deserve a lot more respect than they’ve gotten so far, and I’m going to give them their just due.

1) House, M.D. (2004 – 2012) FOX
Created By: David Shore

While House was at its core a procedural, case-of-the-week show, it was one of the first shows that pushed the boundaries of both what it could air and the structure of the procedural. At its best, House was one of the most complexly written shows across the entire medium. One of its greats, “Three Stories”, is so good that it’s really difficult to argue that its win over one of The Wire’s few Emmy nominations isn’t actually deserved.

But what really made the show as great as it was were the characters. Not only was Hugh Laurie freaking incredible as the show’s titular curmudgeon (I mean, the dude did earn 6 Emmy nominations and 2 Golden Globe wins for his performance), but it’s how the show had Dr. House interact with the rest of the cast. The show wasn’t solely about a group of doctors that could solve a case, it’s what they had to do and how they butted head with Dr. House that made the show great. You were able to see how relationships were formed and were destroyed in the process of trying to solve The Case Of The Week. By making the show about the characters first without the melodrama and the cases second, House ended up becoming one of network television’s greatest dramas.

It should be no surprise why House was a success. By basing a medical drama off of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, David Shore and company were able to create 22 shows a year to keep the networks happy and developed compelling characters with interesting storylines to keep the audiences happy. In its wake, we’ve seen a BBC version of Sherlock Holmes, a movie franchise about Sherlock Holmes, as well as a crappy CBS actual case-of-the-week version of Sherlock Holmes.

Ultimately, House aired during the same span as The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad so it never seemed to have been able to reach the pinnacle of the creative TV mountain top, but it sure got damn close.

2) Dexter (2006 – 2013) Showtime
Created By: James Manos, Jr.

I have no idea why Dexter did not make Mr. Sepinwall’s book, I think its omission was an emotional decision and not an objective one, but to me Dexter is one of those shows that absolutely helped with the revolution. It was a show that captured the American zeitgeist, it starred a captivating white male anti-hero, and it helped the television’s network proliferation. Dexter became Showtime’s signature show and helped establish the network and HBO wannabe that so many other networks dream of.

Dexter starred Michael Hall as the titular serial killer with a code. Dexter Morgan was a blood analyst for the Miami Police Department who killed bad guys in his spare time. Each season, Dexter would be up against a different serial killer or Heavy which allowed the show to both be a procedural and help it become serialized. While many would argue the show peaked creatively in Season 4 with Dexter went up against The Trinity Killer, played by the great John Lithgow, I would argue it’s creative best was Season 2 where the MPD ended up hunting Dexter, and the show’s serial killer became both the good guy and the Big Bad.

Nominated for 4 Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nominations, Dexter was a show that people could rally around. It played off of our love of gore and violence while still being able to root for our hero. Dexter Morgan was not a good person, I mean- he’s a serial killer you guys- but he was also less evil than the people he was murdering. His father knew early on that Dexter would become a serial killer, so he instilled a code in Dexter so that at least when he killed, he made the world a better place.

Dexter was a show that people loved and that people could get behind. However, the show left an extremely sour taste in people’s mouths towards the end, and I think that’s a large reason it hasn’t gotten its just due in the year’s since its series finale.

3) The Good Wife (2009 – 2016) CBS
Created By: Michelle and Robert King

Like House before it, The Good Wife was a procedural for a network show, but was able to make it better. At its core, The Good Wife was a legal drama where Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) would deal with a different case every week. However, like House, it was elevated by the characters and their interactions with each other. The Case Of The Week was just a pretext to get to know these characters.

As The Ringer put it, The Good Wife was an adult show dealing with adult problems in an adult way. This basic premise seemed simple, but is surprisingly revolutionary considering the vast majority of the dribble the networks spew out year after year. Set in Chicago where corruption runs rampant and based upon the Elliot Spitzer scandal, the show starts off with Cook County State’s Attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) and his wife Alicia by his side as he gives a press conference apologizing for the sex scandal he’s gotten himself and his family into. The Kings saw all of these press conferences going on at the time and wondered why these wives would subject themselves to standing by their husband’s side. They took that situation and ran with it letting the audience in on Alicia’s life as she deals with the fall out. Marguiles does a fantastic job of having Alicia put up a cold veneer to protect herself from the world and from the new law firm she joins to set up the show’s procedural format.

Despite the procedural format and that it was a network show, The Good Wife at its best was able to compete with the Big Boys. The number of episodes the show had to produce ultimately hurt the show compared to things like a 7-episode season of Mad Men or a 10-episode season of Game of Thrones, but its quality was so good that it had to be in the conversation. Ultimately, the number of episodes the show had to produce in a season was the main reason the revolution passed the show by as well, but at its peak, The Good Wife was one of the greats.

4) Boardwalk Empire (2010 – 2014) HBO
Created By: Terrence Winter

Boardwalk Empire was never my favorite show on television, but it was always a really good show getting better and better within its first three seasons. Set at the very beginning of Prohibition in America, Boardwalk Empire showed the rise and fall of some of our country’s most famous gangsters. Centered around New Jersey politician Enoch Thompson (played by the great Steve Buscemi), former writer of The Sopranos Terrence Winter created a vast world of crime and corruption.

The show had a very good rookie year introducing us into this world and pitting the crime bosses such as Thompson, Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) against the U.S. Government, in particular agent Nelson Van Alden (played by the great and always creepy Michael Shannon). The show took a step forward in its second season pitting Thompson against his mentee Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and elevating Pitt to co-lead status in which elevated the entire series. The show tended to get bogged down when it had to incorporate real life events (it also ruined the drama and tension in situations where real life gangsters like Luciano, Rothstein, and Al Capone (Stephen Graham) were put in peril), but succeeded when it created natural stress between its fictional playthings. This couldn’t be more true when Thompson was pitted against the volatile, fictional gangster Gyp Rosetti played by Vinyl’s Bobby Cannavale- a role in which would earn Cannavale an Emmy win- in the show’s third and best season.

However, as good as Boardwalk Empire was in its heyday, it was never great. It would always make my year end Top Ten lists, but would rarely crack my Top Five. The season’s also always tended to start off slow (on purpose, which would culminate into excellence by the season’s end) which was off-putting to many viewers and critics. The show also had loftier expectations considering the channel it was airing on. The show was airing in the wake of Game of Thrones and in the aftermath of The Sopranos. Maybe there was nothing the show could have done to meet those expectations, but I certainly don’t think it ever came close either. I debated putting Boardwalk Empire as one of my signature shows as a part of my Silver Age of Television essay¸ but ultimately left it off because it was more of a personal guilty pleasure than one of the era’s signature shows.

5) Justified (2010 – 2015) FX
Created By: Graham Yost

Unlike Boardwalk Empire, at times Justified was the best show on television. Its second season is easily on my personal Mount Rushmore of All-Time Great Seasons of Television (link to March 2012 post and edit out Entourage for s2), and at times I would put it #1, ahead of Breaking Bad, as my favorite show of the year (link to best television shows of 2013 I did).

Based upon a short story by Elmore Leonard,  Justified followed U.S. Marshall Raylan Given (Timothy Olyphant) as he tracked down a different Big Bad every year, while always on the hunt to lock up his arch frenemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Originally set up as a procedural where Raylan would be on the hunt for a new criminal every week and where Boyd died in the first episode, Justified  transformed itself into a serialized show (and kept Boyd alive for the entirety of the series) while it took the leap into greatness.

Raylan Givens was a stereotypical Western law man that seemed to be a carbon copy of Clint Eastwood from his spaghetti westerns. He wore a huge Stenson ten gallon hat and wasn’t afraid to shoot first and ask questions later. Leonard’s stories and the show itself played upon this trope by setting Raylan in modern day society where the shit he likes to pull doesn’t fly so well. That gives us a great dichotomy of a lawless law man having the follow the laws.

Yet for as great as Justified was, for some reason few people seemed to notice. Neither Olyphant nor Goggins ever received major award love along with the show itself. Margo Martindale won an Emmy for her work as Mags Bennett in the shows incredible second season, but that’s about as far as the award love ever went. The show never caught on from a cultural hype standpoint either. Eventually superb, but low rated shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men caught on in some way, but a superb, yet low rated show like Justified never did.

6) Grey’s Anatomy (2005 – current) (ABC)
Created By: Shonda Rhimes

I put Grey’s Anatomy on this list without ever seeing an episode, but I have to be objective here. Even I am fully aware of both the impact of the show itself had on America as well as the impact that Rhimes had on television as a result of this show. The Washington medical drama was a massive hit causing people like my then-girlfriend, now-wife to have Girl’s Night centered around the show. It made instant starts out of the cast and was able to propel a has-been like Patrick Dempsey back into the limelight.

Further, I don’t know what television would look like a nowadays without Rhimes. Despite not having Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder, there’d be no Empire as well. Not only would television be less fun, but it would be more monochromatic and male. Shonda Rhimes has not only managed to make television to feed the masses, but she also manages to make critical and cultural hits. Shonda Rhimes may not make prestige television, but she sure make OMG television fun.


Entourage: While the show has aged like milk, Entourage was a legit thing back in the mid-2000’s. It also had 3 Outstanding Television Show (Comedy), 6 Outstanding Directing (Comedy), and 1 Outstanding Screenplay (Comedy) Emmy nominations. 

Homeland: They key point in this article is that the show has to be great. Outside of its excellent, excellent first season, can the show even claim that it’s good?

 Nip/Tuck: My love for this show is probably personal, more than objective.