The Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now
[Last Updated: Julyth]
Here’s the thing about the Golden Age of television. How do you have time to do anything else? There are so many downright excellent series out there, and even more that are just great, you could stream, stream, stream all day long and still have more good television to burn through. With that in mind, I hope you weren’t planning on doing anything productive with the rest of your day, because we’ve put together a list of the best TV on Amazon prime, and it’s a doozy. Amazon has a fantastic television line-up including all, yes all, of HBO’s back catalogue. Get ready for some serious binge-watching.
For more streaming recommendations, check out the Best TV Shows on Netflix Right Now and Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now and Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now and Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now.
RELATED: The Best Movies on Netflix Right Now
Created by: Brian Fuller
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson
Even in the oeuvre of a visionary like Bryan Fuller, there has never been anything remotely like Hannibal. To call the show, which fleshes out the skeletal structure of Thomas Harris’ series of novels about Hannibal the Cannibal, cinematic would be borderline diminutive. Fuller takes the relationship between the titular psychiatrist-serial killer, played with grand theatrical oomph by Mads Mikkelsen, and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the FBI profiler who is unknowingly tracking him, as the central heart of the series, and their clashes evoke astonishing ideas about masculinity, bestiality, sexuality, and the act of killing. The writing is uniformly fantastic, strewn with succulent allusions to art, cooking, literature, and music, but the pull of this short-lived, unparalleled series is its use of imagery, editing, and music. The series is sensory overload, with the primitive yet sophisticated score echoing the scraping of flesh and drops of blood expanding in and reverberating off a pool of liquid, and the imagery fading and cutting into a glorious barrage of horror and heat. And this is not even getting into the exceptional supporting cast, led by career-best work from the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson, Caroline Dhavernas, and Scott Thompson.
Hannibal is ten times more rebellious, more genuinely insightful than any show that HBO, FX, or AMC has put out, and yet NBC let it go due to low viewership, having no concept of its growing cult status and its sterling online reputation. The axing of Hannibal will go down as NBC’s Freaks & Geeks and Firefly all rolled into one, a lasting, shaming indictment of NBC’s programming department and the way success is measured by the numbers in primetime television. — Chris Cabin
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Created by: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Cast: Zach Tyler, Dee Bradley Baker, Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, Dante Basco, Jessie Flower, Mako
You know how every generation likes to look back on their childhood and claim that their cartoons were the best and everything else on television today is subpar? While this may be true for children of the 80s and 90s (okay, so I’m biased), Avatar: The Last Airbender transcends all decades of the past and future as one of the best animated series of all time. (Do not, I repeat, do not make any assumptions on this series based on the pitiful movie adaptation.)
Centering on the title character Aang, a young boy and last remaining member of a tribe of Air Nomads, Avatar tracks his journey to restore elemental and social balance to the world. He’s aided in this quest by Southern Water Tribe siblings Katara and Sokka (and a sentient flying sky bison named Appa), who bring heart, humor, and their own brand of fighting skills to the partnership. Aang is particularly suited to the task of negating the rising power of the Fire Nation because he’s the latest reincarnation of the Avatar, a master of all elements. Though Aang may have been born the Avatar, he’ll still have to earn that title through training and a final crucible match against the Fire Lord.
The dialogue and storytelling elements of Avatar are top-notch, making every episode a delight to watch and emotionally investing. The world of Avatar is huge, with new characters and settings on display throughout the show’s three seasons as the Avatar and his pals come ever closer to the final battle. The bittersweet reality of Avatar: The Last Airbender is that its story came to a satisfactory conclusion after three seasons, but along with that fact is the realization that there are no more episodes to watch. (Good thing for the sequel series, The Legend of Korra!) – Dave Trumbore
Created by: Graham Yost, based on characters by Elmore Leonard
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter
One of the best series ever on television, Justified is a kind of modern-day Western set in the foothills of Kentucky, where U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Olyphant) struggles to keep in line with the law while exacting real justice to the crime families and lowlifes of his hometown. At its core, Justified is an extended duel between Raylan and his nemesis Boyd Crowder (Goggins), two men who grew up in similar circumstances and even dug coal together, but took very different paths. The series perfectly captures Southern speech and cadence, and peppers its seasons with a host of unforgettable characters (played by exceptional actors like Margo Martindale, Jere Burns, Jeremy Davies, and more). Though it’s the story of a lawman, it’s not without a hefty dose of quirky humor. Ultimately, it’s a deeply satisfying series that’s also a fantastic balance of choice and destiny. Most importantly, it never forgets its coal mining roots. — Allison Keene
Created by: Sydney Newman
Cast: Davide Tennant, Matt Smith, Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Arthur Darville, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Michelle Gomez
There have been plenty of arcs in the decades that Doctor Who has been on TV, but the show remains crucially episodic. Where so many great science fiction shows have become bogged down in story – Fringe and The X-Files being the most prominent – Doctor Who has never allowed backstory and expository nonsense to drown out the in-the-moment thrill of each inventive episode. It’s the kind of show you can turn on at literally any point and get the gist of what’s going on and enjoy it, even if you don’t quite get who the Doctor or his companion are at that moment. The general cheapness of the effects and make-up, the overall wit of the writing, and the pulpy yet wildly bookish plots certainly bolster the show’s charm, but it’s ultimately all about the men and women who play the Doctors and companions. David Tennant, Chris Eccleston, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi have all proved to be intensely endearing and funny as the Doctor, and Jenna Coleman, Karen Gillan, Billie Piper, and Freema Agyeman have all proved to be equally compelling and distinctly effective as their respective companions. Beyond these switches in
There have been plenty of arcs in the decades that Doctor Who has been on TV, but the show remains crucially episodic. Where so many great science fiction shows have become bogged down in story – Fringe and The X-Files being the most prominent – Doctor Who has never allowed backstory and expository nonsense to drown out the in-the-moment thrill of each inventive episode. It’s the kind of show you can turn on at literally any point and get the gist of what’s going on and enjoy it, even if you don’t quite get who the Doctor or his companion are at that moment. The general cheapness of the effects and make-up, the overall wit of the writing, and the pulpy yet wildly bookish plots certainly bolster the show’s charm, but it’s ultimately all about the men and women who play the Doctors and companions. David Tenant, Chris Eccleston, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi have all proved to be intensely endearing and funny as the Doctor, and Jenna Coleman, Karen Gillan, Billie Piper, and Freema Agyeman have all proved to be equally compelling and distinctly affective as their respective companions. Beyond these switches in cast, the series has remained largely the same over the years, and it has continued to work on almost every level imaginable. Like the discography of The Ramones, Doctor Who is a classic example of sticking to a formula while finding small, meaningful ways to bring nuance to each episode and season. — Chris Cabin
Created by: Alan Ball
Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Deborah Ann Woll, Joe Manganiello, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Chris Bauer, Carrie Preston, Kristin Bauer van Straten
Alan Ball‘s blood-soaked, deep South soap is the television equivalent of a B-movie. Set in the fictional small town of Ben Temps, Louisiana, True Blood picks up in a world where vampires have “come out of the coffin” thanks to the advent of a synthetic human blood — the titular True Blood — there’s some queer allegory laced in there, but mostly it’s a series about blood, boobs and good old-fashioned violence. As Anna Paquin‘s Sookie Stackhouse is courted by the mysterious (and undead) Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) — and eventually like, every single smokin’ hot supernatural dude in town –she loses herself in a heightened love affair that’s lust and blood-lust all combined into one salacious melodrama. And it’s all just as sinfully delightful as an after-church gossip of a slice of homemade pie. The show goes off the rails at point, especially when it starts introducing its weirder monsters, but it never lost the seamy histrionics and buckets of blood that made it such a thrilling watch. — Haleigh Foutch
Six Feet Under
Created by: Alan Ball
Cast: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths
One of TV’s greatest dramas, Six Feet Under explores the process of grief and how death affects our lives through five incredible seasons full of gallows humor, surrealism, and complicated family drama. The series explores life with the Fisher family, who own a funeral home in Los Angeles. Each episode also begins with a death, which sets its tone. The show picks up immediately after the death of patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins), which causes his prodigal son Nate (Krause) to return home and face the family he was trying to get away from: adrift mother Ruth (Conroy), perfectionist brother David (Hall), and the artsy younger sister, Claire (Ambrose), that he barely knows.
It’s a dark comedy that deals with death frankly, in a practical sense (the daily life of running a funeral home) as well as the emotional repercussions that last long after the person is gone (Nathaniel and others often appear in memories and mental confrontations with the living). The overarching story of Six Feet Under, though, is Nate not only returning home and coming to terms with his family and his place with them, but also in overriding his fear and cynicism to accept the very concept of death. Though not always perfect, the series explores the many ways we all deal with loss, and the truths of how it defines our lives in 63 episodes of emotional, often very funny moments, and extraordinary visuals that are linked together with a killer soundtrack. Also, its series finale is perfect. — Allison Keene
Created by: Sam Esmail
Cast: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Double Day, Carly Chaikin
If you’ve heard nothing but ecstatic praise for Mr. Robot, let me be the 22nd to tell you: it’s true, it’s all true. Few single seasons of television distinguish themselves so quickly from the glut of familiar, visually dull dramas that networks churn out with the efficiency of a cat-food-canning operation as Mr. Robot, which follows the doings of a deeply unstable hacker named Elliot living in a small Manhattan apartment. Creator Sam Esmail, who took on the series after his fascinating yet facile romantic drama Comet, cleverly creates a distinct fictional world where the world is all-but-owned by Evil Corp, or E Corp, which has a logo that suggests a riff off of several bank logos, most noticeably Bank of America, and its potency is bolstered by nuanced characters and alluring, clever visuals. The shots throughout the season are pointedly off-kilter, placing characters in corners or to the side often, bringing out the displacement and alienation that our hero (the intensely engaging Rami Malek) is increasingly overwhelmed by. The exquisite editing stirs these images up into a bewitching spell of aesthetics and ruminative, rigorous performances from Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Martin Wallstrom as Elliot’s friendly nemesis at Evil Corp. Even as the show’s second season has hit some dull moments, the spell Mr. Robot casts remains intoxicating.
Created by: Armando Iannuci
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, Sufe Bradshaw, Kevin Dunn, Gary Cole, and Sam Richardson
For my money Veep is the funniest show on television at the moment. Belly laughs are aplenty throughout the show’s five seasons and counting, as Julia Louis-Drefyus turns in a spectacularly profane performance as a far-too-maligned Vice President who’s forced to confront the banality of the day-to-day job as the second in command. Showrunner Armando Iannuci’s (In the Loop) political satire is wonderfully incisive and the show’s cast is a murderer’s row of comedic talent, nailing profanity-laden one-liners and tirades with ease and precision. Minute for minute, Veep provides the most laughs of any show on television right now, so do yourself a favor and catch up on this gem. – Adam Chitwood
The Night Manager
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debicki
The Night Manager was a John le Carré novel turned into a miniseries by way of a Vogue spread, or so it seemed thanks to Susanne Bier’s direction. A dashingly handsome cast, obscenely beautiful locations, and one blazingly unforgettable demonstration of sound and fury in the desert that reminded us — in case we forgot — that Richard Ropert (Laurie) is the most dangerous arms dealer in the world. But it was easy to forget at times, after experiencing the seduction of wealth and power through the experience of spy Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston), whose motivations were a little thin, but who never lost sight of his mission. The Night Manager was a tightly crafted and breathtakingly produced miniseries with a well-earned and triumphant finale that made ultimately for a very satisfying adventure. And did I mention how gorgeous it was? — Allison Keene
Created By: Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Straight, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper
Despite its name, Syfy might not be the first place you turn to for hard science-fiction stories, thanks in part to the channel’s infatuation with creature feature mash-ups. But The Expanse is a different beast entirely. Adapted from James S.A. Corey’s award-winning series of sci-fi novels (that are currently ongoing), The Expanse is set 200 years in the future during which humanity has colonized our solar system. An uneasy peace is maintained among the societies and governments of Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt, but a far-reaching conspiracy puts all of humanity—Earthers, Martians, and Belters alike—in danger of extinction.
The best sci-fi exists in a believable world with consideration for practical technology, realistic limitations for that technology, and the complicated relationships that arise when it comes to people and politics. The Expanse does this exceptionally well on a personal level and just as well on an interplanetary scale. It’s easily the best space-based series since Battlestar Galactica left the air and has become a worthy recipient of that award-winning show’s sci-fi baton. Seek out The Expanse now before someone spoils its world-shattering plot twists for you. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Michael Patrick King, Lisa Kudrow
Starring: Lisa Kudrow, Lance Barber, Robert Michael Morris, Laura Silverman, Damien Young
Long considered one of the best “cancelled-too-early” shows of all time, the satirical comedy The Comeback is as hilarious as it is scathing, and it’s pretty damn scathing. Lisa Kudrow stars as a one-time sitcom superstar who’s attempting to make a comeback on the small screen with a new series, only to find she’s been aged out and is now playing the “kooky aunt” type. The entire show is shot mockumentary style under the guise that Kudrow’s “comeback” is being chronicled for a reality series, and while the show was sadly cancelled after only one season, it returned even stronger than before with a one-season revival in 2014 that tackled issues like misogyny and sexism with tremendous tact and wit and a surprising dose of emotion. Smart, fun, and incredibly funny, The Comeback is a must-watch. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Warren Frost, Peggy Lipton, and Ray Wise.
What a strange, wonderful thing Twin Peaks is. Technically, this two-season drama is the story of an investigation into the murder of a young girl named Laura Palmer in the sleepy mountain town of Twin Peaks. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to investigate, but as he looks further into the girl’s death by poking around the town, twists and turns arise with increasing frequency. And while the investigation into Palmer’s death provides the storytelling backbone for Twin Peaks, it’s really more of a wholly unique character drama as David Lynch and Mark Frost delve into the dichotomy between the self we present to the world, and our true nature. As with most works of Lynch’s, things get really weird, but always in a delightful manner that keeps the audience engaged with the characters. And with the show’s revival just around the corner, you really have no excuse not to check out this stone-cold classic. – Adam Chitwood
Batman: The Animated Series
Created by: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill,Arleen Sorkin
Widely considered one of the best animated series in history, Batman: The Animated Series helped to pave the way for the current iteration of DC Comics and Warner Bros. superhero universe. Previous to this show’s debut in the early 1990s, other versions of Batman, animated and otherwise, took on more of a cartoonish, campy quality that had come to be regarded as something meant for children. While Tim Burton’s Batman movies went a long way toward portraying the title character in all his dark, brooding, mysteriousness that fans of the Batman comics had long been enamored with, Batman: The Animated Series proved that the character could be marketed to children and adults alike, successfully kicking off a new, shared DC animated universe.
The four-time Emmy Award-winning series made Kevin Conroy, the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman, a household name and showed a whole new side of Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker. Though it featured all of Batman’s classic villains, including lesser-known characters in his Rogues Gallery, it also introduced the new villains: Red Claw, Mary Louise Dahl (a.k.a. Baby-Doll), Kyodai Ken, Tygrus, the Sewer King, and, most renowned of them all, Harley Quinn. I can’t say enough good things about this show, so luckily you can find out how great it is for yourself since every episode is available to stream right now on Amazon Prime. – Dave Trumbore.
Created by: Lena Dunham
Cast: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, and Andrew Rannells
While Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy series Girls has gained more notoriety for its use of nudity and “controversial” creator/writer/star, the show itself is actually a very grounded, human comedy-drama about growing up. Sure, it’s taken more time for the titular characters of Girls to mature than many, but the roller coaster ride that is Hannah Horvath’s road to adulthood is part of what makes it so compelling. And oftentimes, it’s the boys—namely the endlessly watchable Adam Driver and the hilariously frustrated Alex Karpovsky—that end up stealing the show. But the series just wrapped up its best season yet with the penultimate Season 5, featuring some of the most satisfying storytelling on television at the moment, which makes now the perfect time to finally catch up. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: David Chase
Starring: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Impiroli, Drea De Mateo, Jamie-Lynn Sigler
The Sopranos is the best TV series of all time. While shows like The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, etc. are all phenomenal, HBO’s brilliant mob drama still holds the title as the greatest show to ever grace the small screen. Creator/showrunner David Chase ushered in the era of approaching television like a novel, with the ambition to tackle self-contained episodes like “College” or “Pine Barrens” or to go all-in with a multi-episode dream arc like the beginning of Season 6, which is a deep dive into Tony’s psyche. The show is at once a chronicle of a despicable human being, a family drama, and a dark comedy. Above all, it’s unendingly compelling, with complex characters, great emotion, and a phenomenal series finale to boot. It is your duty, as a fan of the visual storytelling medium, to watch The Sopranos. – Adam Chitwood
Created By: Joseph Weisberg
Cast: Kerri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Noah Emmerich, Richard Thomas, Alison Wright, Lev Gorn, Annet Mahendru
Now in its magnificent fourth season, this groundbreaking spy series more pointedly invokes the sacrifice, torment, and severe violence that go into a life devoted to your country’s safety. As played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, both of whom should have endless opportunities following these sensational performances, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are at once perfectly poised as American suburbanites but also efficient, passionate covert agents who intermittently carry out missions and report back to Mother Russia. Set during the frostiest days of the Cold War, the years that brought Reagan’s trickle-down nonsense and The Day After, the series primarily considers identity, and how exactly nationalism inflects (and inflicts itself) onto people. Through flash backs, we see how the Russian espionage machine scathed these two brilliant agents in their formative years, and the rotten fruits of those painful occurrences are bore throughout the narrative.
As the series goes on, one begins to see how they similarly psychologically lacerate their own children, Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati, both excellent), and how they both investigate and parody American behavior and culture through the various characters they create for their work. That the series still is able to deliver the same bracing thrills one would expect from any decent spy drama is frankly astounding, but the societal, historical, and personal implications of this narrative, and these characters, reaches far beyond the apocalyptic tete-a-tete between two world powers. — Chris Cabin
Created By: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Bill Patterson, Brett Gelman
Playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s exceptional half-hour series Fleabag is a raw, honest, and often uproarious portrait of a young single woman’s life in London that somehow manages to avoid all of the genre’s tropes and pitfalls. Waller-Bridge stars at the title character, narrating her life and giving knowing glances to the camera, using it to make us confidants and partners in crime, as well as to admonish our assumptions, or to confirm how absurd a situation is. And while the likable and relatable Fleabag likes pointing out other’s faults, she’s not always easy on herself, either. Struggling through modern dating (where there’s plenty of humor to be found), she’s also haunted, increasingly over the first season’s 6 episodes, by the recent and unexpected death of her best friend. It’s a dark river coursing through the season that, as in real life, floods over in unexpected moments.
Fleabag is charming and openly confessional about sex, grief, loneliness, and financial frustrations, and Waller-Bridge does an exceptional job of making viewers feel like we’re right there with her through each humiliation and dark realization, even though it’s masked with an extremely clever, dry-witted humor. Fleabag is never too dark, though (its finale almost disrupts that notion), even when it’s disarmingly honest. A particularly aching moment happens in the fourth episode, when Fleabag and her perfectionist sister Claire (the excellent Clifford) go to a silent retreat, and she sees a loan officer she had a heated exchange with in the premiere. She sits in silence while he details what he really wants in the wake of his personal transgressions—to just go home and unload the dishwasher and watch his wife drink a cup of coffee—to which Fleabag answers, finally, breaking her silence, “I just want to cry all the time.”
She resists, but the acknowledgement of the impulse is as emotionally raw as it comes. Marrying an exceptional comedic sensibility while allowing its characters to have real feelings, doubts, and fears is what elevates the series past its more shallow or scattered dating-centric counterparts. Fleabag unpacks the life of a complicated young woman—with all of its pain, insecurity, anger, humor, friendship, impulses, and more—with a unique sensibility that makes it essential viewing. — Allison Keene
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Created by: Larry David
Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, and J.B. Smoove
Let’s face it: Larry David didn’t have to do much of anything at all after Seinfeld. He was pretty much set for life, so when Curb Your Enthusiasm debuted in 2000, we knew it was out of a genuine desire to tell new stories rather than simply “on to the next one.” And what a delightful collaboration the David/HBO pairing has been. Given the freedom to create what’s mostly an improvised comedy series, David put together some of the most hilarious comedy on television across the show’s eight seasons. It’s delightfully off-color and oftentimes cringeworthy, but always funny. And the show’s seventh season was the absolute perfect way to address the prospect of a Seinfeld finale, providing Curb with some of its best comedy ever. Here’s hoping Larry David’s not done with this series just yet. – Adam Chitwood
Created by: Daniel Knauf
Starring: Tim DeKay, Clea DuVall, Toby Huss, Nick Stahl, Clancy Brown, Michael J. Anderson
HBO’s gorgeous, twisted, oft-forgotten Dust Bowl-era series Carnivàle is still one of the most narratively and visually distinct TV shows to ever air. Nick Stahl stars as a young man named Ben, gifted with a supernatural healing ability, who ends up joining a traveling carnival. From there, Ben’s journey becomes part of an epic battle of good versus evil, of free will and destiny, and of the role of magic in history and our lives, all wrapped up Masonic lore with a fair amount of gothic horror.
And yet, that’s only a small part of a story that spends a great deal of time with the carnival’s unique and unforgettable members, as well as their relationships and run-ins with the supernatural, which gives the series its heart. Ben’s ultimately epic battle with a demonic preacher, Brother Justin (Brown) unfolds slowly, and instead the show primarily focuses on Ben trying to find a mysterious man who has been appearing in his dreams and visions.
Carnivàle’s mythology is exceptionally well considered and engrossing, building up not just an entire world but the magical mechanics behind it. And yet, it’s grounded in the realities of the 1930s, the Depression, and the lives of the characters we come to know and love. Though the series was prematurely cancelled after two seasons, Knauf’s plans for what was meant to come next and his full explanation of the show’s mythology is mercifully all available in detail online. — Allison Keene
Created by: Jill Soloway
Cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Kathryn Hahn, Gaby Hoffman, Carrie Brownstein, Judith Light, Alexandra Billings
Transparent is not a particularly remarkable work in terms of form – it’s filmed with immediacy and sensitivity via a handheld aesthetic but doesn’t come off as particularly thoughtful in its form. On the other hand, the writing and performances in this comedic drama are revolutionary, marked by a kind of strikingly progressive conception of where romance and sexuality come from, and lead you. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the alluring, sensitive work that Jeffrey Tambor does in the role of Maura, the transgender matriarch of the family Pfefferma. Tambor’s character spends much of the show’s first two seasons finding herself in a world that isn’t known for its acceptance in terms of sexualities outside of simple heterosexuality, but also exploring the people and communities that do support what she wants to get out of life.
This storyline alone would make Transparent one of the bravest and most audacious works in the TV landscape, but the series truly blossoms in its simultaneous detailing of the lives of Maura’s children, which she had with her wife (a fantastic Judith Light) before realizing that she is, and always was, a woman. Her eldest, Sarah (Amy Landecker), is a bisexual housewife who begins to carry on with her former female lover as the series begins, while middle-child music manager Josh (Jay Duplass) begins straying from his role as a Casanova to become something like a family man with Kathryn Hahn’s Raquel, a rabbi. And then there’s Ali, played by Gaby Hoffman, the youngest and most philosophically hungry of the crew, who begins wondering if she wants something serious with her best friend, Syd (Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein). Each character, and each performer, could carry their own series, but combined in this uniquely important, sexually adventurous series, their thoughts, decisions, and happenings summon a beautiful, defiantly open expression of familial love and societal abutment that sees the world soberly while also preaching a world of universal acceptance without ignoring the toll of personal missteps and deep-seeded issues that take time to settle, if they ever do. — Chris Cabin
American Horror Story
Created by: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Jessica Lange, Connie Britton, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Dylan McDermott, Denis O’Hare, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Kathy Bates, Taissa Farmiga, Finn Wittrock, Chloe Sevigny
American Horror Story is classic soapy melodrama with a twisted horror infusion that I just adore. As a narrative, American Horror Story tends to falter, focusing on the “horror” over the “story”, but as a spectacle it always delivers. Inevitably, each season concocts a mad pastiche of horror traditions, turning familiar tropes into debauched, and sometimes downright kinky, tales of terror. Then there’s the genius concept — a rotating troupe of actors reinvented each season as they inhabit new time periods and subgenres. Genuinely amazing actors like Sarah Paulson, Angela Basset and Kathy Bates return to Murphy’s crazy worlds time and time again because they get to perform such unusual out-of-the-box roles, and it’s obvious how much fun they’re having doing it. But perhaps the greatest of all American Horror Story‘s achievements — it gifted us with the resurgence of Jessica Lange. All hail The Supreme. — Haleigh Foutch
The Man in the High Castle
Created by: Frank Spotnitz
Cast: Arnold Chun, Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Lee Shorten, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Rufus Sewell
Based on Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel written in 1963, The Man in the High Castle explores a world in which the Axis powers of World War II were victorious. Set 15 years after the close of the great war, the former United States is now divided into three parts: the Pacific States of America, a Japanese-controlled region that runs west of the Rocky Mountains; the Greater Nazi Reich, the Nazi-occupied eastern half of the continent; and a neutral buffer zone between those regions called the Rocky Mountain States. Using this background, The Man in the High Castle follows a disparate group of individuals as they attempt to aid or defeat the resistance movement, depending on their alliances.
It’s not that often that alternate histories make their way into the zeitgeist, and it’s rarer still that they’re as well done as The Man in the High Castle. The production quality is off the charts in this series and the casting is fit to match. It’s a slow burn to be sure, but it’s a tense one that has you falling in love with a character one second, only to have them revealed as a double-agent, traitor, or well-meaning neutral party who inadvertently screws up everyone’s plan the next. This is a taut thriller that will have you dreading the next turn but anticipating the next episode. Get caught up now! – Dave Trumbore
Created by: David Simon
Cast: Dominic West, Idris Elba, Lance Roddick, Wood Harris, Wendell Pierce, Andre Royo, Sonja Sohn
It may not get your blood pumping to hear that David Simon’s masterpiece of urban Baltimore life is the most important social document of our time, but it should. The Wire’s exploration of government institutions — the police, City Hall, the school system — is emotionally and cleverly juxtaposed with street dealers and drug cartels. And yet, “follow the money,” the show tells us, and you’ll see that it’s all connected.
Populated with an exceptional roster of actors and unforgettable characters, each of The Wire’s seasons are distinct while also connecting in wonderfully unexpected ways. Though its second season is typically lamented, give it a chance — though it drifts away from the streets, it’s one of the most powerful capsule stories about the plight of the American working class ever set to screen. Simon’s vision of broken institutions as explored through The Wire can be bleak in a Dickensian way, but it ultimately champions individual triumphs, and the resilience of the people who create the rich tapestry of American urban centers. (Tip: if you aren’t well versed in the nuances of the show’s many different Balmer accents, you may want to flip on the closed captioning. It also helps to keep all of the many characters straight). — Allison Keene
Created by: Harry Williams, Jack Williams
Starring: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo
The Missing is an emotional gut-punch of a miniseries, centered on the mystery surrounding the abduction (and presumed murder) of a young English child in France. It’s emotionally devastating, and yet, has elements of hope throughout the story of Tony and Emily Hughes (played by James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor), whose son is taken on what seemed like an average summer night during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The series goes back and forth in time, from the days leading up to and following the abduction, as well as the case in the present day, which Tony is still doggedly pursuing long after official channels have called it quits. It’s a case that also still haunts a now-retired French detective, Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), who honestly deserves his own spinoff.
The truth about what happened that fateful night and in the weeks that followed is eventually revealed in full throughout the 8 episodes, though not without a staggering number of twists and turns before it. Yes it’s a whodunit, but the series also takes its time in exploring emotional consequences at every turn. Gorgeously directed by Tom Shankland, The Missing will be getting a second season, though one that will follow a different story. But viewers of its first run of episodes should feel content with the outcome, even if it does present a divisive final question. — Allison Keene
Created by: Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer
Cast: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Chloe Sevigny
One of HBO’s most underrated dramas, Big Love focuses on a Fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah, the Henricksons, who quietly — and illegally — practice polygamy. Though their suburban life (of three houses with connected back yards) is a carefully crafted facade to distance them from the fundamentalist Juniper Creek compound led by a corrupt self-proclaimed Prophet (Harry Dean Stanton), the Henricksons are still tied to Juniper Creek through family and, eventually, duty.
The show’s power lies in its raw exploration of the relationships between patriarch Bill (Paxton) and his three wives, as well as the relationships among the women, their children, and the families they left behind to live this uncommon life. The show’s first three seasons are excellent, and though it tends to hinge more on plot points after that, as a whole Big Love is a rich and beautiful ensemble family drama about the complicated emotions of faith, trust, and love. Of note, Mark Mothersbaugh composed the music for the first season, while David Byrne stepped in for Season 2, the two help create the show’s urgent, immersive atmosphere. — Allison Keene
Producers: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks
Cast: James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek, Ashton Holmes, Jon Seda, Martin McCann, Tom Hanks
A companion series to Band of Brothers, The Pacific looks at the Pacific campaign of the war (Easy Company fought in the European campaign). Also, while Band of Brothers is more of an ensemble piece, The Pacificfocuses on three individual stories: PFC Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), Cpl. Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), and Gy. Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda). This approach, along with the environment, gives The Pacific a different tenor and feel than Band of Brothers, but it’s no less affecting, once again giving way to top-notch performances, not only from the leads, but also from the supporting cast, which includes a breakthrough turn from Rami Malek, who plays the disturbed Cpl. Merriell “Snafu” Shelton. — Matt Goldberg
Created by: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant,
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant
Extras is responsible for the best celebrity cameos and guest stars of all time. No contest. The series follows Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman, a wannabe actor working as an extra who uses his constant run-ins with celebrities as opportunities for a bit of shameless self-promotion and script pandering. Co-created with his The Office and Life Is Short collaborator Stephen Merchant (who plays his total goober of an agent), Extras falls right in their sweet spot of excruciatingly awkward and deeply hilarious.
The series takes regular swings at the bombast of actors and the self-importance of the industry, but some of the biggest and best laughs come from the guest stars who are unafraid to target themselves, with highlights including Daniel Radcliffe as a showboating prepubescent pervert, Kate Winslet as a benefactor of dirty talk advice, and Ian McKellen as the world’s best worst acting coach. –Haleigh Foutch
Mozart in the Jungle
Created by: Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Alex Timbers
Cast: Lola Kirke, Saffron Burrows, Bernadette Peters, Gael Garcia Bernal, Malcolm McDowell
At first, Mozart in the Jungle’s focus on the jockeying and machinations within the New York Symphony might seem a little like musician insider baseball, but the smart, charming comedy makes itself accessible without sacrificing specificity. From Lola Kirke’s young, ambitious oboist to Gael Garcia Bernal’s eccentric conductor, the series is a wealth of acting talent, humor, and beautiful music. It’s also immersive and visually sumptuous, with many episodes (in its second season in particular) playing out like a meditative vignettes about art, love, and exploring one’s talents and passions. But Mozart in the Jungle never feels slow, and its connects viewers to its vast but distinct cast with humor, humility, and true humanity. An underrated gem. — Allison Keene
The Legend of Korra
The Legend of Korra
Created by: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Cast: Janet Varney, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, P.J. Byrne, David Faustino, J.K. Simmons, Seychelle Gabriel, Mindy Sterling, Logan Wells, Kiernan Shipka, John Michael Higgins
Sometimes lightning strikes twice, as is the case for Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Dante DiMartino and Konietzko, who surprised and delighted fans of the original series with this descendant sequel show. This show skews toward a somewhat older audience, as is evident by its protagonist—the 17-year-old Avatar, Korra—the anime-inspired animation style, and its thematic material that goes above and beyond the vast majority of youth-oriented animated entertainment.
This series takes place 70 years after the events of the first and finds Korra learning to hone her powers, maintaining peace in the unified world, and discovering what truly makes her happy while performing her duties as the Avatar. Along the way, she too has a few steadfast allies that help her to fight back against anti-benders, vengeful spirits, secret societies, and open rebellion over its four seasons. While the animation and action is superior, the real heart of this series’ story is in Korra’s relationships, not only with her mentors and friends, but her romantic entanglements. Without giving anything away, The Legend of Korra made strides to portray its protagonist as a strong female hero with very human vulnerabilities who also wasn’t defined by traditional gender roles or sexuality. In short, it’s a mature series that’s a rewarding watch for kids and adults alike. So what are you waiting for? – Dave Trumbore
Flight of the Conchords
Created by: Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, James Bobin
Cast: Bret McKenzie, Jamaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal, Arj Barker
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement already had a strange and wonderful standup comedy/music act before HBO gave them the opportunity to translate it into an even stranger, slightly less wonderful television series. The New Zealand duo of singers/songwriters/actors/screenwriters/producers brought to life their preexisting cache of comedy songs (and a few new jams) through the story of their semi-faithful counterparts Jamaine and Bret, two struggling musicians trying to find stardom in New York City.
Their live show always worked a little better, perhaps because Mckenzie and Clement are such tremendously stage performers and their humor is best served as dry as possible with no embellishment. However, the series is still a delightful watch and, as ever, the biggest enjoyment comes from watching the soft-spoken pair bounce off each other in the most inoffensive way possible. It’s also an interesting examination of craftsmanship in the way they pair their songs with visuals and incorporate them into a serialized narrative. . –Haleigh Foutch
Created by: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett
Cast: Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Kristian Bruun, Kevin Hanchard, Skylar Wexler, Josh Vokey, Ari Millen, Dylan Bruce
If you don’t know why everyone’s rooting for Tatiana Maslany to win an Emmy, you better start watching BBC America’s Orphan Black – immediately. Maslany leads the show as Sarah Manning, a young woman who witnesses someone committing suicide. Even worse? That someone looks exactly like her. It turns out, Sarah is one of many clones and that right there is why Maslany deserves some major credit for her work on the show. Having one actress portray multiple characters here is most certainly not a gimmick. Maslany completely loses herself in each and every clone, single handedly creating an ensemble of unique characters that are all fascinating to track as a group and as individuals.
The writers have also done a remarkable job keeping the material fresh and interesting from season to season without ever spinning out of control. Clearly there’s a science fiction-like component to the show and while Orphan Black does challenge viewers to assess extreme scenarios and keep track of a lot of moving parts, almost everything enhances the mystery and experience overall. – Perri Nemiroff
Created By and Starring: Louis C.K.
Louie is a perfect example of half-hour TV series straddling the line between comedy and drama. Is Louie fantastically funny? It is. Is it also one of the most cinematic and thought-provoking series on TV? It is. Louie is, ultimately, entirely it’s own genre. Creator Louis C.K. takes real-life moments and augments them into a surreal world that is often dreamy and occasionally nightmarish. The series doesn’t have a typical trajectory, and is instead more of a series of vignettes.
Louie also boasts an incredible supporting cast, including Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker as Louie’s two daughters, and Pamela Adlon as Louie’s complicated friend and sometimes love interest. Many other comedians make appearances in the series, including Nick DiPaolo, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, and others, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, and the list of guest actors is both infinite and outstanding.
The series grows a little more melancholic (and even more outrageous in some of its humor) as it continues, but almost nothing is as incredible as a series of episodes as the ambition Elevator series of Season 4, as well as the two-parter “Daddy’s Girlfriend.” Louie is truly unique television, and an emotionally honest look at sex, divorce, career pressures, being a parent, love, and more. — Allison Keene
Good Girls Revolt
Created By: Dana Calvo
Cast: Genevieve Angelson, Anna Camp, Erin Darke, Chris Diamantopoulos, Hunter Parrish, Jim Belushi
Picking up more or less where Mad Men left off for characters like Joan and Peggy, Good Girls Revolt takes place at a time where women are accepted into the newsroom, but only as researchers. Heaven forbid a woman write! That is what led to the first class action lawsuit by female journalists against an employer, a real-life event that took place among Newsweek employees in the late 60s and early 70s.Good Girls Revolt fictionalizes a lot of the details (here it’s called “News of the Week” and the leads are all new characters, save for Mamie Gummer as Nora Ephron and Joy Bryant’s ACLU lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton), but the themes remain intact, and sometimes uncomfortably relevant.
Though the 60s have become a wearily overused setting for movies and TV series (you can guess the soundtrack before it even begins), Good Girls Revolt is bolstered by a strong cast and a unique take on newsroom culture, one which includes some of the vile “locker room talk” that’s been in heavy media rotation lately, but also in more nuanced ways as well. At News of the Week, women are often paired with men and given a facade of power and influence, but they must ultimately be deferential to those male counterparts. The culture is sexist and patronizing, but the strong women at the center of the series — Angelson is a pushy, counterculture broad, Camp is sly with a bouffant style, and Darke is a repressed wife who longs for options — have very different responses to it.
Good Girls Revolt is careful to not demonize anybody; both the men and women have copious flaws. And though the cultural touchstones may feel a little tired at this point given its setting, what the show does do well is create a workplace atmosphere that feels both contemporary and retro, a sometimes startling commentary on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still have to go. As Mad Men’s Joan said, “no dull times or dull men tolerated.” — Allison Keene
Lark Rise to Candleford
Created by: Bill Gallagher
Cast: Julia Sawalha, Olivia Hallinan, Claudie Blakey, Brendan Coole
Blessed be PBS’s comfort series, for they bring us joy and satisfaction. Lark Rise to Candleford is just such a one, taking place in the bucolic English countryside of the early 20th century, and chronicling the daily lives of the hamlet’s inhabitants. The series focuses on two strong women, young Laura Timmins (Hallinan), who becomes a kind of disciple to her mother’s cousin, Dorcas Lane (Sawalha), who is herself an independent Post Mistress. There are many memorable, quirky, and lovable (or lovably irritating) characters who populate the series, from irascible old farm workers to gossipy milliners in town, as well as a number of swoon-worthy romantic subplots to keep things simmering along.
Filmed in the idyllic Cotswold area of England and based on the semi-autobiographical novels of Flora Thompson, Lark Rise boasts a fantastic cast (of familiar faces to regular viewers of British series), and it’s very easy to get wrapped up in its portrayal of rural small-town life. Though occasionally its sweetness can get a little too saccharine, it’s ultimately a lovely respite from an often boisterous and violent TV landscape. — Allison Keene
Created by: David Simon, Ed Burns, Evan Wright (book)
Cast: Stark Sands, Alexander Skarsgard, James Ransom, Lee Tergesen
David Simon’s (and HBO’s) most underrated and under appreciated program, Generation Kill is a 7-part miniseries that puts a fictional spin on the United States Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 surge into Iraq. As part of Simon and Burns’ dedication to chronicling real American stories, however, the affecting series is based on a book written by a journalist embedded within the division, with the characters all based on real members of the unit’s second platoon.
The sprawling cast’s stories highlight the many things right — and very wrong — with the military’s invasion plan, and offer up a complex and extremely engaging portrait of a unit united in purpose but divided in spirit. Simon and Burns bring the same sharp writing, humor, and wonderfully crafted storytelling to this as they did with The Wire, and even though the scope is much narrower, its implications are just as important. Bottom line: an excellent miniseries that has never gotten its proper due. — Allison Keene
Deep Space Nine
Created By: Rick Berman, Michael Piller
Starring: Avery Brooks, Alexander Siddig, Rene Auberjonois, Colm Meany, Cirroc Lofton
You have to give Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a little time to find its footing. For its first couple of seasons, it looks like it’s working from leftover Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts, and it hasn’t really figured out a way to tell a space story from the perspective of people who work on a stationary space station. But once season three begins and they introduce the Dominion, all bets are off. Over the course of the next four seasons, DS9 becomes not just great Star Trek, but great television period. It’s also the first Trek show to deal with long story arcs. While The Original Series and The Next Generation would have recurring characters and obstacles, DS9 goes full bore into a war, and it’s fascinating to see how these characters cope in the face of battle. It’s absolutely riveting drama, and it builds to a highly satisfying conclusion. Deep Space Nine is a must-see show whether you’re a Star Trek fan or not. — Matt Goldberg
Created by: Robert Rodat
Cast: Noah Wyle, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Will Patton, Moon Bloodgood, Sarah Carter, Connor Jessup, Colin Cunningham, Mpho Koaho, Seychelle Gabriel, Doug Jones
If you’re looking for a fun new sci-fi mythology to dip your toes into, you could do a lot worse than Falling Skies. Over the course of this show’s five seasons (it concluded in the summer of 2015), audiences follow Tom Mason (Wyle), a former Boston University history professor who is tasked with leading a rebellion against an alien invasion and occupation. The series kicks off six months after the extraterrestrial assault has nearly destroyed the planet and has forced civilians, and government and military personnel alike onto the defensive. Thanks to the tenacious attitude of the members of the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment, along with co-opted alien technology and unexpected alliances, things on the occupied Earth may not be as dire as they first seem.
Falling Skies was a good, old-fashioned, fun sci-fi show for its run, and it boasted some truly fantastic special effects sequences in the early going. The cast is charming and relatable, and you can find yourself rooting for romances to bloom between a number of lead characters. It’s not short on action however, since conflict is inherent between the human and alien species, further complicated by differences of opinion that arise within the 2nd Mass. During its time on air, it was a summer show, and the summer season is a perfect time to catch up with this underappreciated sci-fi series. Just watch out for Skitters. – Dave Trumbore
Created by and Starring: Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan
Wickedly smart and bitterly funny, Catastrophe’s two short seasons reveal uncomfortable but honest truths about marriage and children, especially in the case of its two leads who were never looking for either (at least, not with each other). An unexpected pregnancy after a one-night stand turns into a patchwork relationship that is more realistic than anything else on television, one where its protagonists struggle, mess up, make terrible decisions, yet ultimately choose to be together through all of it while being genuinely warm and funny. Delaney and Horgan are fantastic, as are Ashley Jensen and particularly Mark Bonnar and Jonathan Forbes in supporting roles. Catastrophe is a show to binge quickly, and then go back and watch again immediately. It’s cringe-comedy at its finest and most revealing, whose only sin is brevity. — Allison Keene
Created by: Tobin “Ted” Wolf
Cast: Bob McFadden, Larry Kenney, Earl Hammond, Lynne Lipton, Earle Hyman, Peter Newman, Gerrianne Raphael, Doug Preis
A solid contender for “Best Cartoon of the 80s,” ThunderCats is one of those formative animated series that is still remembered fondly today. (There was even a reboot of the series in 2011, but despite that show’s sleek animation and layered story, a second season was never ordered.) Cast in the mold of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe but with anthropomorphic cat people, ThunderCats centered on Lion-O, the young Lord of the ThunderCats, as he leads his fellow cat-warriors in their fight against evil. Like He-Man, Lion-O is assisted by a magical sword, and his pals each have their own individual choice of weaponry and particular set of skills. The ThunderCats use everything at their disposal to defeat the villainous Mutants of Plun-Darr and the ancient evil of Mumm-Ra. It’s 80s cartoon craziness at its best and I love every minute of it.
As of this writing, only the first season of the 1985 original series is available to stream on Amazon Prime, but that should give you a nice dose of nostalgia or at least get you hooked to watch some more ThunderCats elsewhere. Especially if you want to meet Lynx-O, Bengali, or Pumyra. – Dave Trumbore
Created By: Colette Burson, Dmitry Lipkin
Starring: Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, Anne Heche, Lennie James
The premise of HBO’s oddly moving, very funny Hung is a cheap joke: a gym teacher named Raymond Drecker with a very nice, very big penis takes up the gigolo racket to make some extra money. That the show, led by a uniquely acute Thomas Jane as Raymond, turns out to be such an inventive and intimate melodrama speaks to the level of attention to everyday life that Alexander Payne and his creative team bring to the three-season series, both in imagery and writing. For Payne, who has made some of the best comedic melodramas of the last three decades, starting with 1994’s Citizen Ruth, the story of an everyday fellow who starts an independent business that is eventually forced into a more corporate type model is reflective of his own experiences in entertainment. He peppers Jane’s character’s relationships – with his children, his ex-wife, and his pimp, played by the reliably evocative Jane Adams – with details of social and romantic experience unlike any other show on television.
The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Anne Heche, Lennie James, Charlie Sexton, and Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Kodi’s sister), brings Ray’s community of friends, enemies, colleagues, and family to vibrant life, but this is not a show that leans exclusively on its writing and performers. Throughout the series, the directors and DPs give a quietly extraordinary view of Michigan, from the concert venues and restaurants to the suburban neighborhoods and hotel rooms. Indeed, like most Payne films, Hung is attached at the hip to its setting, and the fullness of the world that the director and his creative team create here is far more resonant than the cheap quickies that Ray indulges in to keep a roof over his head. — Chris Cabin
Created by: Peter Straughan, Peter Kosminsky
Starring: Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire Foy
Based on Hilary Mantel’s books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the exceptional 6-episode miniseries Wolf Hall chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell (Rylance) in the court of Henry VIII (Lewis), culminating in Cromwell’s machinations to free Henry from his marriage to the incredibly sharp Anne Boleyn (Foy). It’s a sweeping tale that is gorgeously crafted, with great attention to detail given to the costuming and mies-en-scene. Scenes are often constructed like living paintings, and yet, there is always an undercurrent of urgency. Cromwell’s personal rise also ties into an important moment for the first seeds of the Protestant Reformation, filling the story with political and religious considerations, with Cromwell’s intelligence and wit as its driving force. But who this upstart Cromwell really is is its own puzzle, as are his true allegiances, if he has any. The minimalist score coupled with the extraordinary acting and writing makes this taught, emotional, fascinating miniseries a must-see. — Allison Keene
The L Word
Created By: Ilene Chaiken, Michele Abbot, Kathy Greenberg
Starring: Jennifer Beals, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Laurel Holloman, Katherine Moennig, Pam Grier, Mia Kirshner
Ah, The L Word. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A fraught icon of queer culture, and often a mess of melodrama and absurdities (corrupt lesbian poker ring, Tonya the cat killer, etc). And yet, there was plenty to love in Ilene Chaiken’s unprecedented Showtime series about the lives and loves of lesbian women. Sure, most of those women were white, femme, and model hot, and yeah, straight men were all but reduced to mustache-twirling villains, but that’s part of the reality disconnect that made The L Word such an indulgent dramatic treat.
Since the show marked such a major step forward in representation, it bore heavy criticism for homogenizing and Hollywoodizing that representation — perhaps a bit harsh for a show that was essentially Sex in the City, but gayer. (“Same Sex, Different City,” read the tagline.) In that regard — as a soapy, sexy, glitzy girl power anthem for the wealthy and beautiful — The L Word is a delight. Salty, sultry entertainment about designer-bedecked Hollywood women who are too cool to handle (hairstylists, journalists, curators, DJs, pro athletes, retired music legends, it goes on); locked in a never ending series of wandering eyes and infidelity — every bathroom trip an opportunity for a life-altering affair. And they’re unbearably gorgeous, charming, and witty through all the scheming and screwing. In the midst there are some genuine relationships and an often fearless, if misguided, exploration of fluid gender and sexuality. Sometimes great, often silly, usually sexy — The L Word is an iconic series well worth a binge watch. — Haleigh Foutch
Aaron Sorkin’s return to television with The Newsroom was much heralded. After all, this was the guy behind The West Wing coming back to the longform medium with an Oscar in tow, on HBO no less. And while the finished product never fully realized the potential of its premise, The Newsroom remains a worthwhile watch. Jeff Daniels is terrific as a cable news anchor going through a Don Quixote-like revitalization under new producer/old flame Emily Mortimer. The supporting cast is swell, Sorkin’s dialogue is spot-on, and while the actual news aspect of the show is hit or miss, there are some really great topical episodes scattered throughout. It’s no West Wing, but by and large it’s better than Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. For the Sorkin completionist, The Newsroom is a must. – Adam Chitwood
Band of Brothers
Producers: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman
Cast: Damian Lewis, Scott Grimes, Ron Livingston, Shane Taylor, Matthew Leitch, Donnie Wahlberg
HBO’s first World War II miniseries is absolutely devastating and incredibly cinematic. A friend once posed a question about whether or not the series could have been released in theaters as 5 two-hour films, and I think it maybe could have been. It just looks that good and it’s easily on par with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg co-executive produced the series with Ryan star Tom Hanks).
The 10-episode miniseries follows the true story of the men of Easy Company from their days at basic training all the way to the end of the war and beyond. Every episode begins with interviews with the real soldiers who fought in Easy Company, and it lends extra gravity to a series that’s already rich with excellent performances, stunning visuals, and the full weight of paying tribute to the American soldiers who fought in World War II. — Matt Goldberg