HBO has given us amazing entertainment, groundbreaking, shocking, hilarious entertainment. However, this is only a Top 3 list, so I do not have a lot of space to spare, and also I am not basing this list on the number of viewers or prizes (if I did, The Wire wouldn’t even be on this list). I am solely basing this ranking off my personal taste. So I do apologize to those who are missing Game of Thrones, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or True Detective on this list, because I can only speak for myself and what I have seen. And the three shows I am about to introduce to you are three of the best TV drama series you will ever have the joy of watching.
3. Boardwalk Empire
The Volstead Act, which introduced the Prohibition era to the United States that lasted from 1920 to 1933, was a bad idea, because it did not work the way it had been planned. Boardwalk Empire shows how a group of gangsters became millionaires by smuggling alcohol into the US every which way, killing whoever stood in-between them and the alcohol they wanted to illegally import into the US. The series centers around Nucky Thompson, played by always awesome Steve Buscemi and based on a real-life person. Nucky is the treasurer of Atlantic City, but basically controls the entire city, and when the Volstead Act is officialized, he and a group of politicians and gangsters decide to cash in. The first 3 seasons of this historic TV show are epic and thrilling, with an amazing ensemble cast, including not only good old Steve, but also Michael K. Williams, Michael Shannon, and Daredevil Charlie Cox. The scale of this superbly written drama really reaches epic proportions, considering the producers were unable to shoot scenes on the actual boardwalk in AC, so they built a new one in another city, furnishing it with amazing details from original 1920’s postcards and photos. The wardrobe and cars used in the show are so true to the prohibition era the production costs must have been astronomically high, and it pays off: anyone watching will definitely feel like they were transported right into the year 1920. Add to that the amazing variety of characters and gripping dialogue (as usual for HBO), this show is just fun to watch. It can be quite gory at times, though (there is a scene in season 2 where someone is literally scalped), so it might not be suitable for people with weak stomachs, but that just proves how amazing the special effects make-up is, as well. Characters you hate will die, and characters you love will die, and you just have to know how the story continues. There are several characters involved in the plot who existed in real life, such as Charlie Luciano, Bugsy Segel, and Al Capone (portrayed perfectly by Stephen Graham), which again proves the attention to detail applied to the writing. Season 4 loses some of the show’s excitement and speed, and season 5 seems like a tired, idea-lacking wrap-up that had me quite disappointed, but the first 3 seasons are just plain brilliant TV drama.
“We been on the road for eighteen hours. I need a bath, some chow, and then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies, eh?”
“F***in’ tough guy, you gonna shoot me for mouthin’ off?” – I wasn’t going to, but you kinda talked me into it.”
“Untie him. Oh, but before you do, put a bullet in his f***ing head.”
2. The Sopranos
This is a TV drama that basically paved the way for all other TV dramas that followed. There would be no Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Dexter, without Tony Soprano and his family of thugs. For those of you who have actually never seen it, it is a show about Tony Soprano, New Jersey mobster and capo and later on the boss of the Soprano clan. Officially employed in waste management, he and his underlings are stone-cold killers who make their living with drugs, prostitution, illegal gambling, and collecting debts. At the same time, however, Tony is a loving father of two children and an unfaithful husband. The show explores themes of faith, family, loyalty, friendship, Italian-American intercultural conflicts, and lays down ground rules for storytelling and dialogue that were revolutionary at the time. Also, you will see some of the finest acting ever broadcast, on the small or big screen. Michael Imperioli especially, portraying Christopher Moltisanti, will tear your heart out with his all-in performance, and was awarded with the Emmy for his efforts. Moreover, I believe it was the first TV show to begin the tradition that was later copied by Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead of killing off characters unexpectedly that you were sure would stay until the very end. Some of the deaths you will see coming, some will hit you completely unprepared and make you weep with either glee or (more often) grief. The show stays brilliant throughout its six seasons, but the finale is, well, debatable. Nonetheless, if you love TV dramas, and you liked Goodfellas, Casino, and of course The Godfather, you need to see this. Even Martin Scorsese himself did not want to miss out on the fun and has a very brief cameo in the first season.
“Who do you think you are?” – “I’m the person who says how things go, that’s who I think I am.”
“You don’t think that human beings possess free will?” – “How come I’m not making f***ing pots in Peru? You’re born to this sh*t. You are what you are.”
“You’re being set up! He’s lying to you, whoever he is!” – “Wouldn’t make any difference.” – “What do you mean, it wouldn’t make any difference?!” – “He wants you dead.”
1. The Wire
Once denoted the “best show that nobody watches,” The Wire is possibly the best TV drama ever created, and still, if you research how many awards the show has received, you will be appalled, and rightly so. Even though it was supposedly suffering from continuously low ratings, luckily the creators managed to produce five whole seasons, and they are a gift to anyone who loves watching high-quality TV drama. At first glance, it seems to be a cop show, but it cannot be compared to Law and Order and the likes thanks to HBO’s liberty to give it a gritty sort of realism, which is what the show is praised for and owes largely to its creators, who are an ex-cop and a journalist, respectively, and know how the real world of crime and punishment works in Baltimore, Maryland. Using their background to thoroughly investigate and tell the story of life in Baltimore from as many angles as possible, the show aims to portray a new point of view in every season. While the first season begins with introducing the police in Baltimore and kicks off the amazing plot by starting the investigation of the Barksdale clan, a drug-dealing organization operating on the streets, the second season introduces the struggles of the dockworkers on the Port of Baltimore. The third season focuses more heavily on Baltimore’s politicians, showing a white councilman’s attempt to become mayor in a predominantly black city. In the fourth season, we enter the school system of Baltimore, while the fifth season places us in the newsroom of a big Baltimore newspaper. The fascinating thing about this multi-faceted way of portraying Baltimore is that we not only learn more and more about the city and how its institutions have an effect on the individual, but that the plot manages to outline not only the stark differences, but also the striking parallels between all these milieus. Giving every character, from the lowest street thug to the richest politician, their moment to shine, we see how every system is built on greed and deception to achieve its goals of surviving and persevering. The Wire is also the only TV drama I can think of that stays equally strong and brilliant in its casting, acting, and storytelling from the first episode to the very last one. If anything, the series finale is the best episode of them all, because it manages to wrap up the story of the entire show by demonstrating how everything always changes and yet stays the same. There is a reason why it has been termed a literary show. It is beautiful, skillfully crafted, and yet still entertaining enough for people who prefer less demanding entertainment, through awesome and funny characters such as Omar, the gay gunman who robs drug dealers for a living. The Wire is my favorite TV show of all time and will always be an example of how to do it right.
“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
“Does this sh*t look like money, motherf***er? Money be green!”
“You heroic mother***ers. Fighting the war on drugs, one brutality case at a time.” – “Girl, you can’t even call this sh*t a war.” – “Why not?” – “Wars end.”