Here's my first list of great TV series


  1. The Crown Sumptuous sets and soaring music bring proper grandeur to this royal tale. Apparently, much of the history is sound. For those of us who don’t follow history, there are revelations like Churchill dictating his famous speeches to his secretary from the bath. Most of the acting is superb, as you’d expect from the land of Shakespeare. Claire Foy’s depiction of a young Queen Elizabeth brings her to life as a complicated, conflicted and deeply sympathetic character. Foy’s face can run a gamut of emotions in a few seconds that most actors struggle through careers to pull off.
  2. Ann Biderman—who won an Emmy for her seminal work on NYPD Blue—created this police drama. It’s set in grody South LA, which feels like the worst parts of my native Oakland. Southland does a fine job with the usual cop stuff—car chases, chases on foot (even better in this skeezy hood), tangled department politics. What distinguishes it from the competition is its big beating heart. You feel like you’re riding right next to the three complex main characters on the job and suffering their conflicts off.
  3. The Bureau The Brits have the spy drama MI-5 and we have Homeland. The French have The Bureau. The characters are great. The scenes of Paris make me long to return, and the scenes of Iran glad I’m not there. If you love the intrigue of double agents and byzantine plots twists, this is for you.
  4. Six Feet Under Life in a funeral home, focusing on morticians David and Nate Fischer and family. Each episode starts with a death, and mortality is the theme of the show. The subject is explored bravely and in depth. 
  1. Homeland. A man returns from years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie Matheson at the CIA wants to know - is he a hero or a closet terrorist? The twist is that she’s bi-polar, so you never quite know what is real and what’s her illness. And the way Clair Danes plays her, when she gets crazy she’s really crazy. The first couple of seasons are superb; after that it’s up and down.
  2. The premise is elevator pitch genius – a police blood spatter specialist who moonlights as a serial killer who kills serial killers. You hear this premise and you’re immediately wondering—how does that work? Amazingly well for the first four of eight seasons. (John Lithgow plays one of the creepiest villains in memory.) After that the show starts falling apart, but I have to admire how the writers keep pulling surprises out of it. It’s not for the squeamish, of course.
  3. The End of the F***ing World. James is a budding psychopath. His ambition is to kill someone. He meets his match (and more) in Alyssa, and they’re Bonnie and Clyde, off on a gruesome killing spree…Except they’re not. It dawns on us that what we’re watching is actually a touching love story. I enjoy falling for a deftly engineered plot twist—that visceral experience of total surprise. This show offers a tonal surprise, just as delightful, as our expectations are turned on their heads.
  4. The Killing Murder cops Lindon and Holder chase down the killer of a young girl in rainy Seattle. (It’s actually shot in rainy Vancouver.) Our protags both have troubled pasts, and while Lindon (Mireille Enos) is fine, Holder (Joel Kinnaman) is wonderfully dark and occasionally hilarious as the only former-tweeker cop I know of. Stan Larson (Brent Sexton) the father of the dead girl brings the all-too-rare POV of a victim’s family to the mix. And did I mention that it’s rainy? Water’s the metaphor in this show, and they squeeze every last drop out of it. The plot sags after Season One, but acting and atmospherics more than make up.
  1. Luther Speaking of troubled cops, Luther is a total mess. Which might get annoying if he wasn’t played by Idris (People’s “sexiest man alive”) Elba. The fun is in Luther’s tangled relationship with psychopath Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). He knows she killed her parents, but now she’s helping him track down the murderer of his ex-wife Zoe…the story is over the top, but it works.
  2. The Deuce The subject—the sex trade in 70s New York—may be a bridge too tawdry for many viewers. But if you can stomach that, this show is David Simon at his Wire-level finest. If Mad Men is the ultimate 60s New York period piece, this is its 70s equivalent. You can practically smell the garbage strike. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a prostitute turned director of x-rated films, as they were called then. By the end of Season Two the writers have used their wizardry to transform her sad, sleazy tale into a story of feminist empowerment.


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Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 24, 2019 at 6:48am

all terrific :)

Comment by John Manchester on April 24, 2019 at 8:04am

They are. Thanks, Jonathan.

Comment by Anna Herrington on April 24, 2019 at 8:47am

I was with you during The Crown... ha! but not much after that. I used to dive into intense fare but lost my appetite for it after Silence of the Lambs. That dates me, I know.

I go for British shows, more often, if it's darker stuff - Wallander, hinterland... liked Sherlock. Broadchurch, a bit too intense... have even tried tidy and easy Midsomer Murders... meh. Personally, am ready to find some thrillers with a little less of solely depressed and odd white people. 

I've been watching Atlanta, instead, when there's some time for sitting and watching something... that is a good show.

I would definitely agree, re Claire Foy's expressive and nuanced facial gestures. (Is there such a thing as facial gestures?) She is good. Olivia Colman, from Broadchurch actually, ought to be good in the next installment as QE2, as well...

Comment by John Manchester on April 24, 2019 at 10:51am

I liked, but didn't quite love Broadchurch. It was my introduction to David Tennant, and that was fun. 


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