by Mike Shea on 22 August 2010
I've been spending a lot of time watching three excellent TV shows recently. There seems to be a shift in one-hour dramas over the past few years. Since the Sopranos, we've had a lot more grittier shows with character-driven stories. Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, and Breaking Bad are three such shows. All of them are excellent.
I'm a late-comer to Mad Men. While the initial sandbox storyline of the ad-men in early 1960s Madison Avenue, New York City is fun at first, with a focus on chauvinism, alcoholism, and social manipulation; it's the main character of the show, Don Draper, that makes this show completely addictive and worth watching. While the baseline story is interesting, and it's awesome to watch these guys work out a five-word slogan to sell deodorant on a bar napkin that recently padded an Old Fashioned, it's a very interesting thread that slices through the story like a hot knife that keeps the show moving on. Don has a secret, and it's a big one. We have a show about people who lie for a living with a main character whose entire life is a lie. It's fascinating. While I haven't managed to build a D&D game out of it yet, I'm betting I'll be able to.
Built in the same world as the Shield (another incredible series), Sons of Anarchy follows a motorcycle gang in a small California town that runs guns to LA. The characters are awesome but it's the constant twists in the story that make it so strong. Nearing the end of Season 2 we're following the clear path of the story until the last 20 minutes of the final episode which turns the entire thing on its head. Clearly steering away from the obvious, we never know which way the show is going to go, and that makes for one hell of a ride.
The best of these three shows, Breaking Bad follows a high-school chemistry teacher who begins to spiral down into the depths of the crystal meth empire of the southern US. Incredible characters drive this story forward with no overused story lines or predictable outcomes. The show creator's propensity to take a microscope to one particular group of side characters makes every character deep and meaningful. Take the show's introductions to The Cousins in the beginning of the episode "One Minute" in season three - in five minutes we have a much greater understanding of these Mexican hitmen than most shows build out in a season. It's brutal, beautiful, and wonderful.
You can pick up Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, and Breaking Bad all on DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon.
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