With new seasons of Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks underway, Jamie McEvoy runs down the top 5 US TV dramas currently available on air and online
5. The Walking Dead (2010 – )
One of the longest running dramas still in production, The Walking Dead was the first show to properly introduce the undead to the small screen. Premiering on Halloween, 2010, the series was initially met with apprehension.
With Andrew Lincoln – a British actor best known for roles in small UK shows This Life and Teachers – playing the lead character, AMC’s zombie-horror had to rely on its originality and the loyalty of fans of the comic books to kick start the series.
Despite lulls in Season 4 (enough with the farming already) and in Season 5 (less with the domestic drama and more with the flesh-eating beasties please), the show has retained a colossal fan base, and has spawned a spin off show in Fear the Walking Dead, and various theme park attractions.
The show excellently intertwines horror with drama, and it is scary how quickly mankind overtakes the undead as the major threat to the protagonists, in the form of David Morrissey’s sociopathic ‘Governor’ and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s pantomime-villain-esque Negan. Season 8 airs in October.
Available on: Amazon Prime; NOW TV
4. Westworld (2016 – )
Fresh out of its first season in autumn 2016, Westworld was last year’s surprise hit. A TV adaptation of a relatively unknown 1973 sci-fi film, set in the Wild West – a genre which has somewhat died in the last decade – did not appear to have success written all over it.
However, with a cast which included Sir Anthony Hopkins, Line of Duty’s Thandie Newton and X-Men star James Marsden, Westworld blew audiences away with its mystery, shocking twists, and incredible originality. Its commercial and critical success led to an immediate renewal by HBO.
The show is set in a futuristic theme park where guests can live in an artificial Wild West named ‘Westworld’, which is populated by unnervingly lifelike androids. Visitors can choose to hunt outlaws, spend their days drinking in the saloon, or face off in showdowns.
But as the season progresses, problems creep into the establishment. Is there a darker, ulterior motive behind the park? Can the androids be trusted? And can the guests and staff be sure that they themselves are not machines engineered by Westworld’s creators…?
Available on: Sky; Amazon Prime
3. Game of Thrones (2011 – )
Game of Thrones is without a doubt the biggest show in the world at the moment. Everyone is talking about it, and social media is drowning in memes, analyses and spoilers about the latest episodes. And understandably so.
Based on George RR Martin’s novel A Song of Ice and Fire, it is often described as ‘Lord of the Rings but with sex’. Whilst accurate to an extent, this is a criminal understatement. Renowned for killing off main characters and fan favourites, ‘GoT’ is peak cinematic TV. It is currently in its seventh season, and the quality and excitement has yet to wane.
The show had to employ Sean Bean in its first season to gather the masses – akin to Hopkins’ involvement in Westworld – yet it is its home-grown stars in Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke and Sophie Turner who firmly hold the limelight now.
Available on: Sky; Amazon Prime; NOW TV
2. Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
The makers and cast of Breaking Bad never anticipated how massive their show would be. Lead star Bryan Cranston has even said he didn’t think it would survive its first season.
Prior to filming its debut series, Cranston was best known for the pathetic but loveable character of Hal in Fox’s Malcom in the Middle. But the immense success of Breaking Bad has seen him launched to Hollywood stardom and his portrayal of ‘Heisenberg’ becoming iconic.
The series follows a passive, unassertive high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who, following the news he has lung cancer, decides to start cooking high quality crystal meth in order to provide for his family financially after his death.
Despite an abundance of excellent characters – Aaron Paul’s tragic Jesse Pinkman and Giancarlo Esposito’s sinister Gustavo Fring but two – it is the transformation of Cranston’s White, from timid professor to sociopathic megalomaniac, that made the show the steamrolling success it was.
Available on: Netflix; Amazon Prime
1. The Sopranos (1999 – 2007)
HBO’s ground-breaking drama about the New Jersey mafia marked the arrival of the ‘New Golden Age of Television’. Across six seasons, it follows the late James Gandolfini’s mob-boss Tony Soprano, who, amidst problems from both his literal and figurative family, regularly sees a therapist.
At first glance, the show could be perceived as a television adaptation of Analyze This, which starred Robert De Niro as a disgruntled Mafioso who seeks help from Billy Crystal’s psychiatrist. However, the show shakes off any similarities with Harold Ramis’ comedy, and remains one of the most highly regarded TV series to this day.
For those who have watched Scorsese’s Goodfellas or De Niro’s A Bronx Tale, there will be an array of familiar Italian-American faces in The Sopranos, as well as cameos from Iron Man and Jungle Book director Jon Favreau and Hollywood veteran Sir Ben Kingsley.
The only show in this list to have concluded (Breaking Bad lives on in Netflix spinoff Better Call Saul), The Sopranos claims top spot due to its fantastic characters, rollercoaster plots, and its harrowing yet intriguing vision of the world of organised crime.
Available on: Sky; Amazon Prime