Like “Weeds” before it, albeit in a drama, the third season of “Breaking Bad” highlighted Walt’s change from a man selling drugs for his family to a man that’s a drug dealer. Along the way, Cranston and Aaron Paul, along with the show’s ensemble cast, delivered some of the finest performances on television. An unrelentingly dark and depressing show, the continued evolution of the characters and this show further pushes “Breaking Bad” into a realm with “Mad Men:” one of the best shows of all time.
The final season of “Lost” is just another add on to a show that will be endlessly debated and analyzed. But regardless of the multitudes of fan reactions to the show’s polarizing sixth season, the show delivered an emotionally charged finale that resonates still months after it aired. Toward the end of the season, it began to dawn on me that we wouldn’t be getting the answers many so desperately deserved. But as I re-watched episodes leading up to the show’s final bow, I began to understand, or at least interpret for myself what I believe the writers were attempting to push. We don’t get all the answers in life, and not everything is wrapped in a neat bow at the finish. Instead it’s about the journey, and the changes in ourselves. After six years with some of the most dynamic characters on television and one of the most consistently well-written shows, I’m thankful to have been part of the journey.
After three years as the best show on television (sorry “Breaking Bad”), “Mad Men” finally started to show some wear. Just as Don Draper’s life fell into one of despair and uncertainty, mirrored by the unrest of the mid-60’s, the show echoed. But an uneven season still delivered some of the highlights of the show. Just as America began to recognize in the time period featured in the show, these characters began realizing the consequences of their actions, the comeuppance for their decadence and depravity. As America searched for its soul and identity, so did Don. And in the meantime, it delivered one of its finest hours to date: “The Suitcase.” Despite its unevenness, and a somewhat lacking finale, it remains one of the top shows on television. And with “Breaking Bad’s” ineligibility next year (it won’t return in time for the Emmy awards), it will likely collect its fourth consecutive best Emmy, tying it with “The West Wing” and “L.A. Law” for the most ever for a drama series. But even if it doesn’t accomplish that, Hamm’s performance in the aforementioned episode all but guarantees he finally takes home the Emmy that his network coworker Bryan Cranston has (rightfully) won for three years.
I struggle with how to categorize this guilty-pleasure show. It doesn’t have the writing, production values or acting caliber as some of the other shows on this list, notably the list’s leaders. But that’s not to say that any of those traits are lacking in this show. It remains one of the most engrossing and tightly plotted shows on television, a horror thrill-ride and teen drama rolled into a strangely complex and remarkably addictive show. Two seasons in, the show has yet to waiver or let up. It’s hard to imagine it can maintain it’s ridiculous pace, but already, “Vampire Diaries” is starting to stack up to some of the all-time great Sci-Fi/fantasy shows: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “X-Files,” and more. What’s more–it’s consistently just one of the best shows on TV.
5. Sons of Anarchy
In a nutshell, “The Sopranos” on motorcycles. But “Sons” is oh so much more than that, as it mixes a blend of familial loyalty with ruthlessness and insatiable violence. As the M.C. grows it’s kingdom and Jax continues in his rise to power, the third season of this show did little to expand it’s scope like it’s stellar second season, but “Sons” still remains one of the highest quality dramas on television.
After experiencing moderate success during its first season, this sci-fi show from the mind of J.J Abrams (the creator of another show on this list), poor scheduling has led this show to fly under the radar for the past two seasons. That’s unfortunate, because a show that once started out hoping for comparisons to the “X-Files” has far exceeded all expectations. It’s well written, and its overarching mythology is treading new ground in terms of television science fiction. With strong leads that often go unnoticed by the awards shows and a concisely plotted story, all those BSG fans without a home should look no further than “Fringe.”
7. The Good Wife
Julianna Marguilles delivers the best performance of her career with her subtle and nuanced turn as Alicia Florick in this legal procedural. A show that could have treaded familiar territory and overplayed conventions consistently delivers strong, accessible stories filled with intrigue and first class drama. But more than just a case of the week, the show touches on redemption, faith and forgiveness, with a drawn out story arc as addictive as anything on television.
Dexter changed head writers between its stellar fourth season and the last year’s fifth, creating even more drama—how could they move on from that finale??? (No spoilers). But the transition was mostly seamless; save some early missteps, the fifth season wove together in a very “Dexterous” fashion, continuing the dive into Dexter’s humanity and psyche, along the way delivering some excellent twists and taut drama.
9. Walking Dead
Look, we knew what we were getting into with this one right? It’s the zombie apocalypse. But unlike a fast-paced movie, the emotional resonance with these characters goes so much deeper in this six-hour first season, making it all the more gut wrenching as they started to die off before their eyes. From acclaimed director Frank Darabont, this show rolls great zombie violence into a fight for survival, tinged with insecurity, uncertainty, and the growing realization that no one is going to make it out alive.
10. Boardwalk Empire
It started off slow, and some of the characters and themes were a little flat. But just before we wrote it off as a 1920’s “Sopranos” wannabe, “Empire” developed a heart and soul. The characters came to life, and a highly compelling drama emerged from the most unlikely of stars, Steve Buscemi that is.
As television drama continues to innovate and change for the sake of upping shock value, this one stays relatively the same. And that’s not a bad thing—FNL remains the best character driven drama on television.
Despite an uneven first season, this BBC import, led by a brilliant Idris Elba, was one of the better new dramas this year.