Top TV Drama in 2013 – Human Stories, as Complex as We Are

A promotional campaign championing the dramatic stories that abound on television today prompted me to address our ever-growing craving for creative stories as complex as we are. They retain a certain seductive appeal as they offer a unique glimpse into the heroes of our age, while continually both inspiring and entertaining us.

It would perhaps be fair to say that the rise and rise of really excellent quality drama series on television, whether it be FREEVIEW or FOXTEL, really began with the production of Aaron Sorkin’s landmark series The West Wing. It ran from September 1999 to May 2006.

Until that time quality drama was not something associated so much with mainstream television, but with the BBC at London and the ABC in both America and Australia. Otherwise the best drama was either on stage or produced as a major feature movie.

The West Wing changed the game forever. It won 3 Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series four consecutive times from 2000 through 2003. While production ceased in 2006, it has since gained a loyal fan following on cable networks, where today channels like Showcase, Soho, FX and others are bringing more and more great drama series into everyone’s living room.

Hollywood studios are eagerly jumping on board because they realize at last the full potential of television is being able to tell a good ongoing story, one that needs to be told in a considered and creative way.

Shows like Covert Affairs, Castle, Criminal Minds, Downton Abbey, Elementary, Mad Men, NCIS, NCIS L.A, Person of Interest, The Mentalist and White Collar have all have garnered huge fan followings. They have an aim of providing drama, which offers scenarios that reveal interesting perspectives on our humanity, impacting on our point of view and engaging our curiosity.

The dramatic production excellence of shows such as The Borgias, The Bridge, The Blacklist, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, The Newsroom, Breaking Bad and some of the British series, including DCI Banks, Silk and Sherlock continually intrigue and put the capital C into Class.

My top ten drama choices, each for very different reasons in 2013 to date are: Sherlock, Elementary, Homeland, House of Cards , Covert Affairs, The Borgias, The Bridge, The NewsroomDCI Banks and White Collar, not necessarily in that order.

Plus, for special attention, it’s good to give a bow to the long running NCIS and NCIS LA.

NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Services and this great drama series has just finished its first decade, entertaining millions of people. It’s not hard to find the reason why.

The thoroughly likeable mature handsome Mark Harmon as the flawed four times married Leroy Jethro Gibbs, is just the sort of strong silent type of man every woman wants to be with. He has both captivated and entertained audiences while heading up a stellar team of players who define their characters admirably as they deliver fine performances.

It’s the varied idiosyncrasies of their striking personalities that go together so well, which draw you in and takes you captive. Michael Weatherly’s wonderful Anthony (Tony) DiNozzo, Sean Murray’s fine Timothy McGee, Paula Perrette’s zany Abby Sciuto, David McCallum’s marvellous Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard, Brian Dietzen perfect as Ducky’s long suffering assistant and Rocky Carroll as Leon Vance the Agency Director.

It will be interesting to see how the show survives without one of the main lynch pins, the very lovely Cote de Pablo as Mossad Agent turned American citizen Ziva David. She only appears in Episode 2 of the current 11th series and fans will take as long to get over her exit from the series after eight years, as the rest of her on screen team will.

Ziva was the girl every other woman really wants to be. Feisty, cool, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, looking good in work clothes as well as sensational in haute couture as she either wooed or wrestled the guys.

The spin off from NCIS is NCIS LA, which is now enjoying its fifth season, garnering a huge following of its own. Both shows are a credit to their visionary creators, casts and crews.

If had to choose one to be top of my list of choices for 2013? The stand out highlight would be the British production of Sherlock, followed closely by the American production, Elementary. They both put a capital E in Entertainment.

From the moment Britain’s new poster boy Benedict Cumberbatch as the legendary Sherlock Holmes hit the ground running and texting in 2010 with his faithful sidekick Martin Freeman as Dr Watson by his side, you knew you were in for a real treat.

My whole family quickly became quickly hooked on this fabulous, furious and innovative take on author Conan Doyle’s legendary detective by its visionary creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. They transported him successfully into the technological world of the 21st century without losing the mystery and magic of the novels.

That warm and fuzzy feeling, which meant you were enmeshed immediately, hasn’t abated over two seasons and six episodes. With world wide release Sherlock has fans salivating, anxiously awaiting Season 3.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are perfectly cast and a wonderful foil for each other as they bring Doyle’s immortal characters into the contemporary age. They are aided by a stellar talented cast and crew and together they have benchmarked a standard of excellence in television drama that it will be hard to go back from.

Gatiss and Moffat have kept their eye on the quality of every aspect of this show script wise, visually and performance wise. They haven’t churned out too many too fast; ensuring we are all holding our breath as we eagerly await more.

Very interesting to note that the legendary actor Harrison Ford said to Benedict Cumberbatch on Britain’s Graham Norton Show last weekend ‘I am a big fan of yours. I think the Sherlock Holmes thing is amazing’. High praise indeed for Cumberbatch, who admitted he has been a Ford fan since embryonic Star Wars days.

The creators of Sherlock have relaxed, ensuring time is on their side as Cumberbatch and Freeman forge burgeoning movie careers aside from this series. Their slow release will only enhance Sherlock’s world wide TV ratings as they both prove acting tour de forces to be reckoned with.

Clever Mr Gattis and Mr Moffat, plus an enterprising Cumberbatch and Freeman, all obviously communicate very well. It’s to their credit.

To say the brilliant series Homeland, is compelling viewing is clearly not enough! This always exhilarating, tense, intriguing and puzzling psychological thriller has managed to retain its freshness and potential for controversy as it proceeds and it remains at the top of every list in terms of quality and performance art excellence.

Beautifully paced, patient, engaging at a very deep level with wonderfully intelligent award winning actors Claire Danes portraying CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison, and Damien Lewis as Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, they are both ably supported by multi-award winning Mandy Pantinkin and a sensational cast and crew.

This is first-class television drama at its best.

The American version of the former BBC hit series House of Cards (1990) in which politics was hailed as a dark art form; one in which manipulation thrives and absolute power corrupts absolutely, was both timely and terrific.

All the episodes of the new House of Cards were released in America and Australia at the same time so that cable subscribers were able to download to watch it how they wished. After watching the first few at nightly intervals, as it gained in momentum so did I. By the following Saturday I had to watch the rest of this special series in a final sitting. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were both truly superb.

There will be just one more series before it comes to an end.

The Borgias, the story of history’s famous crime family, who became a force from hell after being given the keys to heaven, finished abruptly recently.

Over its few seasons on cable’s Showcase channel, it had gained a devoted following because of the quality of the script, the actors superb performances and its sumptuous visual appeal.

England’s charismatic Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, who becomes the Pope of Rome, with France’s heartthrob Francois Arnaud as his son Cesare, together with England’s Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia and Sean Harris as Cesare’s very intense manservant and enforcer Micheletto, headed a fine ensemble cast. They were all totally believable and challenged in, and by their roles.

Fans were deeply disappointed when it ended so suddenly due to an executive regime change, failing to bring the series to a satisfactory conclusion, despite the writer providing an excellent script for a two hour episode to do so.

Couldn’t help thinking what dunces they must be, even though I know there must be reasons to qualify their decision. In such a big organization it did not seem a very wise approach? Social capital should have a high value.

Based on a Scandinavian TV series and featuring the talented Mexican actor Demián Bichir and the cool beautiful German Actress Diane Kruger, The Bridge on FX became a quiet achiever; with a powerhouse of stellar performances. The protagonists are investigating a brutal serial killer, who is operating on both sides of the border crossing between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Renewed for a second series on the FX network, the pairing of Kruger and Bichir was certainly inspired. His performance is masterful, very ‘Bogey’ as he works with the complex female detective who has the debilitating Asperger syndrome, a very difficult road to hoe.

They are both dealing with the criminal from hell who kidnaps and kills Bichr’s on screen son. No happy after endings here, just really tough deeply disturbing comments about life and the sometimes distressing aspects of our humanity.

Aaron Sorkin’s new drama The Newsroom may be infuriating for some, exhausting for others but it is, in the grand scheme of things, passionate and completely irresistible entertainment.

TV anchor Will McAvoy follows a quixotic quest that by the end of the season ensures that everyone is smiling, especially the audience.

British actor Johnny Lee Miller is the key to the success of Elementary, the modern enigmatic U.S.A. portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, who is busy solving crimes for NYPD in America.

His likeable, clever character reacts to his surroundings in a unique way, setting Elementary quite apart from other productions.

It’s a surprising and sensational show.

Miller plays his Sherlock as another Aspergic style genius, whose observation skills are on total overload. Lucy Liu’s brilliant Dr Watson has a few surprises up her sleeve.

Her ability to take on the detective who is his own worst enemy is a tough assignment and she brings something fresh and new to her role, which endears her to many, most especially me.

Really love this show and eagerly await each episode. Good that Channel Ten is rushing it to Australian shores only hours after it has shown on the box in the U.S.

British drama DCI Banks being on my list might surprise some. It is a BBC production and so most of mainstream TV watching Australia certainly would not have seen it, screened as it is on ABC 1. But there is always iView.

They should also tune in when it comes back for its next series!

Multi award-winning actor Stephen Tompkinson has featured in many popular and successful TV series during his stellar stage and television career. As DCI Banks he is really excellent in this role.

This is tough no nonsense show that deserves the many accolades it has been receiving.

Tompkinson perfectly captures the essence of the character of author Peter Robinson’s fictional Inspector Alan Banks from his popular crime novels, turning this one savvy detective into an international success story.

Career cover girl CIA agent Annie Walker and her heart-crusher co star the vision impaired August ‘Auggie’ Anderson, played by Piper Peribo and Christopher Gorham respectively, have both captivated hearts and entertained fans in Covert Affairs.

They both display raw emotional vulnerability as they track down and chase enemies of the U.S.A., in exotic locations.

The fabulous ensemble support cast features a variety of very talented actors. Annie being rescued by heartthrob spy Oded Fehr, who features as Mossad agent Eyal Lavin, has proved a great hit when he makes his spasmodic appearances.

It was wonderful to see him suddenly pop up again in the last episode of Series 4 2013, before the mid season break.

Hopefully we will see much more of him in the future.

The more dangerous things get for Annie, the more dangerous it gets for her to have someone she cares about kept close.

Going dark is the only way forward, which offers a whole new story line of possibilities that should continue to excite the show’s growing legion of fans.

Making Annie a fashionista gives the show and in the here and now feel. Filming it on location has surely boosted many cities in Europe’s popularity as tourist destinations. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Annie returning with dark hair as she goes ‘undercover’ in the second half of the current series has an impact.

Do blonde’s have all the fun?

Neal Caffrey aka the very handsome Matt Bomer of White Collar is one likeable rogue, oozing confidence, a contemporary conman who wears his suits as if they were crafted on Savile Row.

Originally Caffrey was brought out of gaol to work with one of the FBI’s best agents Peter Burke, who is played brilliantly by Tim DeKay

Forging an unlikely friendship has led them on many adventures to date and has proved a winning formula, one that makes us all want to go along for the ride.

Nicknamed The Suit by Caffrey’s best friend, confidante and conspiracy theorist freak, the loveable Mozzie (Willie Garson) Burke, together with his wife Elizabeth, is finding out this season what it is like to be in gaol.

The irony of his role reversal is not lost on Peter or his FBI colleagues.

This stylish series has a great supporting cast and they have all grown considerably in status and stature as it has slowly built its storyline and legion of fans.

Caffrey definitely puts the capital C back into classy – he’s way cool! Well my son’s partner definitely thinks so!

While these shows are all very different what they all have in common is excellent writing and direction, top quality performances and production, great vision, wonderful visuals and supreme confidence in execution.

Great drama stories such as these both educate and enhance our continuing quality of life.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

PS Downton Abbey is not in my top choices this year because so far this season, apart from a few great lines delivered by the always marvellous Maggie Smith it has failed to engage my complete attention. In some scenes the well-established actors have even looked ‘wooden and ‘uncomfortable’. Can’t quite put my finger on why?

Perhaps a point for discussion?


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