There’s an inverse relationship between the quality of major motion pictures over the last two decades (which is down), and the quality of television programming (which is up). Even though most of the TV shows that debuted in 2015 will be canceled shortly, there is still good quality programming available.
Here then are the top ten TV dramas in alphabetical order (comedy list to follow soon) in our not so humble opinion.
DOWNTON ABBEY: The sixth and final season of this series will run in the U.S. in January. This is a period drama that follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their servants in the early 19th Century. As with many PBS dramas, the attention to detail in writing, casting and art decoration gives the show an authentic feel. The characters are so well drawn that watching the show becomes a warm and comforting experience.
GAME OF THRONES: One of the most expensive shows on television is about to begin it’s sixth season. GOT is a sprawling, multi-character fantasy/drama centered around the gruesome competition for power between various noble families. The show contains dragons, magic, sex, violence and occasional eye-popping battle scenes. The world created by George R. R. Martin–and brought to life on HBO–is so completely engrossing there is no mystery why it draws such large numbers of faithful viewers.
HOMELAND: Showtime’s masterpiece spy/thriller series has already begun it’s fifth season and consistently impresses with an honest portrayal of the trade-offs in our war with radical Islam. After four outstanding seasons, we keep waiting for the writers to soften or lean Left (as 24 eventually did), but this show consistently pulls no punches, offers crisp and intelligent dialogue, and is impossible to predict.
HOUSE OF CARDS: The third season faltered, but this show about a Machiavellian federal politician crackled during its first two seasons. Kevin Spacey has found the role he was born to play and commands the audience’s attention with his deliciously evil performance, episode after episode. At one time, this was hands down the best show on television, but season four will determine if this Netflix drama is in permanent decline.
OUTLANDER: With only one season completed, this STARS romance about an English woman who finds herself transported back in time to 18th Century Scotland started too slow. However, the show (which is clearly aimed at women) found it’s stride halfway through the season and viewers who invest the time will feel well rewarded.
POLDARK ON MASTERPIECE: Another superior period production from PBS that just concluded it’s first season. Set in southern England at the end of the 18th Century, the story follows the declining mining fortunes of the Poldark family as the patriarch desperately tries to turn things around. Here again, superior art direction and writing create nearly perfect authenticity.
RAY DONOVAN: Liev Schreiber carries this violent drama on his shoulders as the slow-burning “cleaner” for the Hollywood jet set who must also save every member of his disfunctional family from themselves. Ray is self destructive, loyal to a fault, and probably the most unapologetically masculine man on television today. Jon Voight gets most of the awards attention for playing the narcissistic grandfather, but it is the enigmatic Schreiber who brings in the viewers for Showtime.
THE WALKING DEAD: Season six begins soon for the highly popular zombie apocalypse drama that focuses on themes of humanity, hope and the nature of evil. After 67 episodes, the producers have allowed key features of the recipe to decline, including character death rate. However, after the plot meandered in rural Georgia for one too many seasons, the action has moved to the D.C. suburbs and looks to be picking up.
VIKINGS: History Channel’s 10th Century series about William the Conquerer’s ancestors rampaging all over southern England and Northern France. The show is violent and intriguing but succeeds more at artistically rendering the period than it does in accurately portraying the Viking mind. Still, the plot is lively and the battle sequences fairly constant, making it fun to watch.
MASTERS OF SEX: Another Showtime drama, this one about the public and private lives of the world’s most famous post-WWII sex researchers. This show is sensual and provocative but ambivalent about the effects the sexual revolution had on families and children. For this reason, Masters of Sex is probably the most unintentionally conservative program on the Showtime network.