Ranking the Best Television Dramas of All Time
There”™s little doubt that we are in the golden age of television dramas. Here at DAPS we conducted a
very scientific survey and analysis to determine the shows that are generally accepted as the best Dramas of all time. Once we knew the contenders somebody had to sort through them and determine why they don”™t stack up to our #1. Luckily DAPS employees one of the foremost television experts on the eastern seaboard, somebody who spends as much time discussing TV as watching it.
The last 10-15 years is considered the golden age of American television. It started with Sopranos and has led to a change in how TV shows are created, green lit, viewed and discussed. America”™s premier pop culture expert Chuck Klosterman once said that intelligent young people discuss certain TV shows the way people used to discuss literature. The expectations are high, these shows have to entertain and enthrall us, while being original, really they have to live up to the incredibly lofty standards of this TV era. They all have similar flaws and I”™m going to outline those for you.
On Network Television: Only once in the last 8 years has a non cable show won the best Drama series Emmy. This isn”™t a coincidence, cable has built in advantages when it comes to pushing boundaries, artistic control, lack of commercials in some cases, and less episodes.
Frustration Factor: This is hard to quantify but just imagine that feeling where you yell at the TV because you are so utterly angry at a show.
Ridiculousness: We can all accept certain unreal premises for the sake of a show. I can believe in Dragons, and magic time travel islands with polar bears, and that every HS football game ends on a last second play, but a show is in trouble the minute it”™s viewers yell “that”™d never happen” at the TV.
Lack of Character Likability: People need to like the characters on your show. Even if they just like to hate them. This happens through a combination of quality acting and attention to character development.
Incomplete Story Telling: This one is a flaw most shows just don”™t have control over. At the time of writing a lot of the shows on our list have not aired their final episode. A lot of shows have great first seasons but truly great shows build up and tell a great story that unfolds over time. Each season should fit together like chapters of a great book.
Too Slow: Some shows are just too slow and include too much heavy subject matter. It”™s still a television show and people are still watching to be entertained and shows can take themselves too seriously sometimes.
Throwaway Episodes: if somebody is going to devote 45+ minutes of their life to watch an episode they shouldn”™t feel like it was a waste.
Nobody I Know Watches it: This matters, if I couldn”™t find any one to discuss your show with, it loses points.
First let me apologize to everyone who suggested Desperate Housewives, True Blood, Greys Aanatomy, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, 6 Feet Under, Fifefly (wtf is that?) and any other show that didn”™t make our list. I”™m sorry your favorite show wasn”™t very good. Secondly, try to remember that the this list isn’t strictly my opinion but a composite of how society views these shows as a whole. If it was only up to me, Veronica Mars would have made the list.
This show is a prime example of how common it is to make one great season of a show and how hard it is to build on that. Season one of Dexter is worth the time investment. After that it is guilty of not only throwaway episodes but entire seasons. Even die-hard fans will admit seasons 3 and 5 were painful to sit through. At some point the show has to establish a story arc other than “somebody knows Dexter”™s secret” and “OMG how is he going to balance family life and being a serial killer”.
Justified is a perfectly good show that doesn’t attempt any of the nuance or detail that the rest of the list does. With a few exceptions, most of the episodes are enjoyable, Justified is the scrambled eggs of TV dramas; a simple concept that is well executed but will never be confused for fine dining/high level television.
12. Sons of Anarchy:
This is a terrific show that wasted too much of season 3 with boring story lines. Now kudos for building up to a great season 3 ending but too many hours were spent to get to that point, the payoff was ultimately not worth it. The show also relies too much on lazy story telling techniques, putting characters in ridiculous situations just so they could get out of them. They kill off too many characters and resort to the shock factor in place of actual story telling. We also don”™t know where this is all headed as the show is still airing with no end date in sight.
11. The Shield:
I only know one person who watched this show so I will let my friend Quinn handle this one. He is qualified because he is the only person I know who spends more time watching and discussing TV than I do. “The Shield is a terrific show that takes on these really serious issues, but sometimes they do it in a really campy and over the top way. It”™s worth watching but I wouldn’t re-watch it from the beginning”.
Oz was a great show. Its biggest flaw was that it was just so”¦HEAVY. It struggled to appeal to a larger audience because the subject matter was difficult for many people to deal with. Oz is like those bands with fervent fan bases that adore it but will never be considered among the all time greats. Basically what I am trying to say is that Oz is the Dave Matthews Band or The Smiths of TV shows.
9. Friday Night Lights:
This speaks to how truly terrific this show was written and acted at times that It could be so well done even with all its tremendous flaws. Mr. and Mrs. Coach acted the shit out of every episode and the team included some really well developed, likable characters. Riggns and Sarazan and Tyra were all great secondary characters. The show suffered from airing on network TV and at times an absolutely awful combination of being too serious, incredibly frustrating and absolutely ridiculous since every game ended with a last second touchdown. It seemed that the Matt Sarazan character was created for the writers to torture in the most masochistic way possible.
8. Boardwalk Empire:
Boardwalk Empire took a while to develop. I for one quit watching after 4 episodes because I was frustrated nothing had happened yet. The plot lines move after that and it finds its place with great actors telling a really terrific story. It loses points for airing less than 20 episodes so far and because in a season in a half it hasn’t developed any truly memorable characters yet.
7. The Walking Dead:
The Walking Dead is possibly the most popular show on this list. It also has possibly the highest ceiling of any show on this list. What makes the Walking Dead so disappointing is that it has the potential to be the best show on television. The Walking Dead is the Vince Carter of TV dramas, so many people wish that they cared as much about being great as its fans do. Where does the show fall short? Where do I begin? The characters are terribly unlikable, my girlfriend and I have been openly rooting for Lori to die for 2 seasons now. Shane the psychopath caused me to groan every time he came on screen.
Don”™t get me started on their son, Carl. Carl, stay in the fucken house already. The zombies are more well developed than 75% of the living characters on the show. The characters often find themselves in situation that can only be explained as “the writers didn”™t know what else to do”. For a show that only has about 20 episodes they have wasted an inordinate number of them on throwaway episodes. They wasted almost an entire season on the farm, which became a running joke among fans of the show. The fact that it is still on the air is actually an advantage. The story isn”™t complete and those in charge have time to right a ship that is headed for a zombie filled iceberg.
Homeland“™s place on this list is really no fault of it”™s own. The show”™s first season was one of the most well received and critically acclaimed shows of all time. But it was just one season. We don”™t know where this is headed, Homeland can go flying off the rails in future seasons. Dexter, Friday Night Lights, Heroes and numerous other shows looked great for one season but were unable to build on what they established and tell a complete story using multiple seasons. Let”™s hope that in 5 years we look back at Homeland the same way we look at the number 1 show on our list.
Quite possibly the best Network Drama of all time but still a network TV show which loses it points. Lost also gets hurt by having possibly the highest frustration factor of any show ever. I don”™t think I”™ve ever seen so many people get angry after watching a TV show. I know more people who quit watching Lost than any other show. I think it”™s own creators will admit that they didn”™t have a clear cut plan in the beginning. The show created all these mysteries and intricate details that it”™s fan base obsessed over, then never really connected or explained them. Lost is the perfect example of a show that would have been better off if its creators had a defined plan all along and stuck to it.
4. The Sopranos:
The godfather of modern TV dramas, the Sopranos was a game changer. It combined violence, nudity and detailed and nuanced story lines that built on themselves. It was the first main stream show that forced viewers to watch from the very first episode to truly be able to keep up with everything that was going on. That”™s not to say it didn”™t have its flaws, the biggest probably being that it had wayyyy too many episodes.
If the Sopranos started in 2012, its creators would probably have set a plan of a 5 or 6 season max. Instead it went on for 8 seasons and a lot of fans tuned out around season 6 and then returned for the last season. They also had a unique character likability issue. A lot of characters were extremely likable, too many to even name. The Sopranos included so many characters that fans just loathed. Every scene featuring A.J was excruciating. I can tell you from personal experience that my dad”™s blood pressure rose to unhealthy levels with every scene that involved Dr. Melfi. I think he would pay $400 for a special box set that cut all Loraine Bracco out of all 8 seasons.
3. Mad Men:
My personal second favorite show on the list, Mad Men is an example of one man”™s supreme vision having time to play out in front of our eyes. The biggest complaint about Mad Men is that they spent the entire first season setting up the future seasons. They developed characters and plot lines that would unfold further down the line but it means an investment of double digit hours that don”™t have an immediate payoff. If a viewer is willing to invest the time, Mad Men is a nuanced and interesting show with great characters involved in interesting and relate-able story lines. You can”™t ask for much more.
2. Breaking Bad:
I am going to be honest, I don”™t get the hype surrounding Breaking Bad. I tried, I watched about 15 episodes. After 15 episodes I couldn”™t take it anymore. When I throw myself in a show I want to be able to root for something. I want to like characters and see them get a win every once in a while. Nothing good ever happens on Breaking Bad ever. Each episode is just dilemma after dilemma piled on top of one another. It just strikes me as lazy writing, as if the writers don”™t know what to do next so they build the drama just so something happens. To top it off the characters just aren”™t likable.
I thought I would gravitate towards Walter White in the same way I had gravitated towards other morally ambiguous characters. He is just so awful, I found myself wishing he would get caught and go to jail so he would stop killing people and raping his wife. I know all the Breaking Bad fan boys are going to freak out and write scathing blog posts about this paragraph but I don”™t care. I have never met anybody that watched Breaking Bad and our number one show and liked Breaking Bad better, It”™s like how as a kid you think Outback is the greatest restaurant because you just don”™t know any better. Breaking Bad is the Outback Steakhouse of television Dramas,
1. The Wire:
The most well constructed show in television history misses none of the marks the other shows on this list miss. From episode one on there isn’t a wasted moment, every scene matters and everything Is called back later. The characters are given time to develop and are just plain likable. Even the unlikable characters are likable. Ask 5 Wire fans for their 5 favorite characters and you will get 20 different responses. Nothing that happens seems ridiculous, no moment forced, writers never seemed to have written themselves into a corner. If you spent the 2000+ words reading this post and you have never invested the time to watch the 60+ hours of The Wire, I implore you to do so. Just know that I am jealous that you get watch it for the first time and I will never get to do that again.