There’s too many damn dramas out there, and the winter season is the best time to binge on all those slow, episodic feelings. Canada’s streaming service Crave already had a lineup of greats in this department thanks to HBO and Showtime, but with the network the addition of The Movie Network (with an additional $10 fee), they’ve made my job a lot easier. But we’re talking TV, and in terms of selection, it’s numerous. From The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, The Wire, 2018’s Barry and to the assassin-on-spy thriller , Killing Eve. If you’re looking to feel something, or improve your TV literacy, there’s a lot of recent-ish and past dramas here that are absolutely worth watching.
The Night Of (2016, HBO)
Creator: Richard Price, Steven Zaillian
Stars: Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Bill Camp, John Turturro
Innocent 22-year-old Pakistani-American Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) steals his father’s cab (dumb) in Queens, New York (dumb) and hits up a party. Along the way, he picks up an unknown white woman (very dumb). They snort some drugs, drink some drinks, have some sex, and to Khan’s surprise, miss unknown is murdered in his sheets (dumb). Other (dumb) stuff happens and we’re left with a whodunit mystery of idiotic proportions. Luckily, we get some satisfaction over eight episodes, but along the way, there’s a conversation around the treatment of POC in criminal justice that’s worth having here.
Billions (2016-Present, Showtime)
Creator: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff
The Ringer really, really likes Billions, so I guess it’s probably good (haven’t seen it all). But don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t (just) about the ultra rich swimming in their richness like Succession. It’s about lawyers who can’t prosecute the evil mega-rich players (Damien Lewis’s Bobby Axelrod) in New York’s world of high finance. So enter our one said lawyer, Charles “Chuck” Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) attempting to make an example of the billionaires that get away with these crimes. When you consider our crooked white men sitting in some powerful seats, we can all see the appeal in that. The show apparently gets more and more over the top the further along it gets, but in a good way. (Editor’s note: It also has a banging punk/metal soundtrack thanks to Axelrod’s love of 80s guitar rock.)
The Sopranos (1999-2007, HBO)
Creator: David Chase
Stars: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico
HBO has a thing for making deplorable sociopaths seem likeable...like Fox News. And by now you know the story; a bunch of Italian mafioso dudes in New Jersey dealing with family, friends, betrayal, and the FBI. It also just went through a 20-year anniversary if you wish to know more about the experience. But one doesn't come to The Sopranos for a single serving of polo wearing happenings involving extortion etc—we’ve had plenty of those. It’s the big personalities in Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), Christopher Moltisanti, Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri and Carmela Soprano that keeps you coming back. This scene still makes me laugh on cue.
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-Present, Bravo)
Creator: Bruce Miller
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel
They call this speculative fiction, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to envision a future where submissive women are regulated to sexual slavery as cis white men serve as their masters—that’s our past right? But make America great again, eh? The TV series is adapted from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel bringing the harsh vision from the pages to the screen. Thanks to Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne who plays one of the many handmaids (slaves) in an oppressive vision of America among other great performances, it’s hard to watch, but it’s oh so necessary.
True Detective - Season 1 (2014, HBO)
Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson
Welcome to the chilly, twisty, turny, philosophically ranty, super-seriously gazey, buddy-buddy cop vs. occult pretensions of Nic Pizzolatto. You know what you’re getting here: Hollywood-level actors (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) in a whodunit scenario that’s an excuse to explore the complicated lives of fully grown men. It’s a great show, but your end episode mileage may vary. As for season 2, I can’t promote that.
Band of Brothers (2001, HBO)
Creator: Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman
Stars: Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston
History is strange. We’re supposed to remember the looks, who’s and where’s of our past, but rarely do we have the tools to remember the emotions. Released in 2001, Band of Brothers was a 10-episode mini-series that dramatized the war-time scuffles of “Easy Company”, an infantry regiment during WWII. And yes, it borrowed certain aesthetics from Saving Private Ryan—raw, dark colour grades with shaky camera work—but it also adapted that with quieted moments that placed audiences within the headspaces of everyday soldiers. It was a rare glimpse into the horrors of war that can still hold up today.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (SPACE, 1987-1994)
Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes
Star Trek is the infinite milking cow of every studio executive’s wet dreams. It spawned movies, cartoons, toys, and most importantly TV shows. There’s a lot to choose from here ( Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Voyager) but Star Trek: The Next Generation was responsible for reinvigorating a series that would have stayed axed in 1969. It starred the always smooth Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), and fleshed out the idea of humanity’s growth and discovery of new cultures. From memorable births of alien concepts (The Borg), to episodes that challenged our ideas about death within the series, there was plenty of drama here to go around.
The Wire (2002-2008, HBO)
Creator: David Simon
Stars: Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce, Idris Elba, Michael Kenneth Williams
You’ve never seen a show like The Wire and you’ve never experienced characters like those in The Wire. We’re talking Indri Elba’s top-tier hateable hood scoundrel of a dude, Stringer Bell. And big belly swindler, Proposition Joe. And then there’s Michael K. Williams and his big-gun-toting-trench-coat-wearing gay avenger. Writer David Simon has managed to create an entire system of schemes, stories, and interactions that display the wider perspectives of Baltimore’s narcotics scene. It’s the best show on this list, and if you don’t watch it you suck.
Barry (2018, HBO)
Creator: Alec Berg, Bill Hader
Stars: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg
It’s the newest trend in TV: perfectly likeable people as eccentric, human killing folk. Sounds like something my no-lunch eating self can get with right now...In this 30 minute “comedy”, we’ve got Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) as a hitman and ex-Marine with a side hustle of human-like stuff like depression and acting classes. Some dramatic things happen, as it normally does in dramas, but there’s a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy that a certain murdering cousin Dexter never quite grasped.
The Deuce (2017-Present, HBO)
Creator: George Pelecanos, David Simon
Stars: James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe
Sex never looked so raunchy and beautiful at the same time. Don’t come in here looking for eye-induced titillation. Sex in The Deuce is work, as it once and still is. Creators David Simon and George Pelecanos dropped viewers into the raw birth of porn in America, and the humanity that came with that shows. Characters like sex worker Eileen Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal) chip away at the tropes of tits and poor rhythmed fucking being the only things that mattered. These women had literary tastes, and ambitions that felt real. Sex was only the byproduct to the goals they had as people.
Succession (2018-Present, HBO)
Creator: Jesse Armstrong
Stars: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox
Rich spoiled kids doing rich spoiled shit. Don’t expect to actually like any of these terrible fucking people. You’ll want them to die. In fact, you’ll wish that this was Game of Thrones so these Joffrey-impersonating sons a bitches (Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong) can get the poison down the throat. Plotwise, it’s all in the name, where a dysfunctional global media family goes through the dramatics of a family inheritance tug-of-war. The real payoff is witnessing the worst of the worst go at each other, turning the least terrible of the few into people you could almost sympathize with. And the story and dialogue happens to be pretty damn good as well.
Sharp Objects (2018, HBO)
Creator: Marti Noxon
Stars: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina
More depressing dramas about innocent murdered girls. It’d be nice to get some straight grownup being murdered for a change, but that’s for another article. This is still deeper than my unhappy description. Sharp Objects is largely based around Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel by the same name, where we've got alcoholic self-cutting Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) who returns home in Missouri to report on—you guessed it—two murdered girls. But writer/producer Marti Noxon pulls a True Detective illusion, by using a mystery to paint a psychological portrait of dysfunctional human beings, because what’s drama without terribly broken people.
Killing Eve (2018, BBC America)
Creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Stars: Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw
More lovable humans killing other humans, but with less shitty dudes. This series is pure pit sweat tension. You’ll sit thinking good thoughts for our titular spy Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) without knowing when the slick assassin Villanella (Jodie Comer) will decide to seduce or murder the by the books series lead. For a show that’s about an agitated assassin and agitated spy, it’s generally like two high-heeled talents dancing on thin ice. You know it’s about to end in disaster, but the distillation of that dance makes this such an addictive watch.
In Treatment (2008, HBO)
Creator: Rodrigo García, Hagai Levi, Nir Bergman
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Forbes
It’s psychologist Gabriel Byrne having 20ish minute long conversations with semi-familiar faces like Blair Underwood, Dane Dehaan, Melissa George, and Michelle Forbes. TRUST ME, that isn’t boring. In Treatment actually remains one of the more underrated TV shows in the HBO god-tier lineup because it focused on exchange—deep conversations between human beings trying to figure the next person out. This 25-minute show was the definition of less equals more, and it managed to extend that to three whole seasons.
Game of Thrones (2011-Present, HBO)
Creator: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Stars: Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington
Some advice; don’t enter the realm that George RR Martin built if you don’t believe in the old adage, “people die every day.” In terms of insanity, you’ll come across face-changing child assassins named Arya, dragons, and ice zombies (white walkers). But in this fantasy drama, your favs will die. They’ll die in very creative ways that will take entire seasons to get over. Drama is not Game of Thrones, drama is you, when you burst into tears from absolute agony. Season 8 is coming, and you nor I will be ready.
Kidding (2018, Showtime)
Creator: Dave Holstein
Stars: Jim Carrey, Frank Langella, Judy Greer
We’ve seen the comedians who smile on the outside until the tragic news hits us. So there’s something a tad disturbing about Jim Carrey playing a comedic, children’s show host, who goes through an emotional breakdown after the death of a son—art imitating reality? Hard to tell, but it’s without a doubt a series made for Jim Carrey. Our protagonist Jeff doesn’t know how to look at the world as a fully grown adult, and when the laughter stops, everything begins to collapse. This isn’t a show about death, it’s about the aftermath and how that can impact the happiest of people.
Angels in America (2003, HBO)
Creator: Tony Kushner
Stars: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, Mary-Louise Parker
Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play by the exact name, this 2003 HBO series focused on six New Yorkers intersected through a single commonality; the aids epidemic. Yes, in regular HBO “I gotta be extra” fashion, there was an element of the supernatural with angels visiting earth, but the series also explored themes around Reagan era politics, the stigma around the disease, and the ways homosexuality changed the political and social climate. Considering all the films and TV shows that failed to portray HIV-positive with sensitivity, this was refreshing. And btw, this is Jeffrey Wright’s best performance in anything, bar none.
The Young Pope (2016, HBO)
Creator: Paolo Sorrentino
Stars: Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando
Everything about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope is equal parts flashy and insane, like Jude Law’s face, which is flashy and insane. In this Vatican flip, Law plays as Pope Pius the Thirteenth who doubles as a madman that will yell at an underling for not knowing some popular pop culture thing. If you’re looking to imagine the catholic church as the scandalous place it almost certainly is, this is your watch.
Show Me A Hero (2015, HBO)
Creator: David Simon
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Peter Riegert, Natalie Paul
Leave it up to David “The Wire” Simon to turn public housing into a halfway interesting subject. Coming off of a three series run ( The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme), Simon takes audiences to the Yonkers in 1987, with Nick Wasicsko (the youngest mayor in America that year), who found himself in a tight spot when the Federal Court ordered 200 units of affording housing set for white neighbourhoods. Shit happens in six acts, and fans of any previous Simon-esque show will see the familiar perspectives that paint a larger tragedy.
Deadwood (2004, HBO)
Creator: David Milch
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker
Based on the little experience I’ve had with the very good Deadwood, it’s still rough television—were talking sickly quick-tempered folks with speech patterns that swerve from poetic to modern day cuss bombs in a single sentence. It’s why it’s beloved and deserving of its coveted feature length film in 2019. To this day, it’s one of the best portraits of a wild west, when morals were gray and way more complex.
Ray Donovan (2013, Showtime)
Creator: Ann Biderman
Stars: Liev Schreiber, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Jon Voight, Katherine Moennig
Ray Donovan is your scruffy, working-class James Bond. He isn’t about the Aston Martins, he only needs a half decent shirt, a wearable suit, and a baseball bat to do the business. That’s our Liev Schreiber in a nutshell: a Boston player with a side-hustle of freelance dirty work for shady power players—at times criminal, and at times, not so criminal. He’s got a wife that he fights with in highly exaggerated Boston/Irish accents. And he’s got a father in Mick (Jon Voight) who’s an absolute dick; a better gangster than a dad. A great watch if the dramatics of a “fixer” is your thing.
Big Little Lies (2017-Present, HBO)
Creator: David E. Kelley
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley
We’ve got some murder. Some secrets. Some adultery. Some sex. Some lies. And some penis injuries. In scandalous speak, Big Little Lies is the place to be. It starts with an Avengers-level A-list cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern. And then there’s the plot, based on Liane Moriarty’s best selling novel, about well off white women who bicker, gossip and disintegrate until we have ourselves a murder. Whodunit? Watch the show.
Castle Rock (2018-Present, HULU)
Creator: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason
Stars: André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård
Police brutality, the prison industrial complex, mass shootings, and some telepaths. Yup, this isn’t exactly Shawshank Redemption, but it’s the closest thing to Stephen King’s shanked mythology that you’re going to get. It’s a hard TV show to describe, as it lifts ideas and moods from a Stephen King multiverse. For the most part, it’s set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, that played a setting in several of King’s past works.
My Brilliant Friend (2018, HBO)
Stars: Valentina Acca, Antonio Buonanno, Gennaro Canonico
Too many shows revolve around men and their feelings. I live in an unglamorous body manliness every day, I don’t need another tale from my POV. My Brilliant Friend is different in that way, with a perspective that’s fully female, and entirely about friendship. This is an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel about girls growing up in the 1950s just outside of naples. Yes, it’s subtitled, but it’s refreshingly gentle and heartbreaking for an HBO show.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014, HBO)
Creator: Terence Winter
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon
Much like Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire doesn’t make it clear who you should root for—not surprising since Terence Winter was a major force behind The Sopranos. Everyone's a little bad, a little good, and a little terrible. Taking place in the roaring twenties, Boardwalk Empire tells the story death, corruption and crime that took place during prohibition in Atlantic City. On one side, it’s the law, on the other, it’s the gangsters including top dog, Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson who struggles to maintain his power through five long seasons. People get shot and shit, it’s good watching.
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