In Praise of 10 Superbly Written TV Series

Found on the interwebs: The kind of article we don’t see often enough in what remains of the original Hollywood trade publications. In others words, critical praise for our favorite oft-forgot species – writers.

The Americans

by Tim Goodman
Chief TV Critic, The Hollywood Reporter

I had a week off, ostensibly to do something other than watch or think about TV — and yes, some of that actually happened — but there’s always peripheral brain creep when it comes to television, with everything from highbrow conceptual ideas to lower-brow (but probably more fun) list-making clanging around in my head. A recent random thought that popped up concerned great writing on television. Quickly — in about a nanosecond — four examples came to mind.

The result was oddly troubling. But at least in that flash of a moment, it was clear that I don’t have recency bias.

What’s that? Well, our brains are basically set up for recency bias. Whatever we’ve experienced memorably in the very recent past is what sticks. The best food we’ve eaten or wine we’ve discovered, even the sex we’ve had. If you’re older, nostalgia might be more upfront in the brain pan, or maybe thinking about things like “best vacation memories” takes you back to Paris because Paris is sublime and your last five holidays have been staycation; trip to in-laws in Boise, Idaho; staycation; ill-advised camping trip; much too nearby bed-and-breakfast (and no, thankfully, that’s not my itinerary). But often what’s newest is what comes back in our mental search results.

So why, when a fleeting idea about great writing on television flashed in my head, did I, without hesitation, reel off Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos?

Probably because they are all Hall of Fame first-ballot series, yes.

But they are also, respectively, from 2007, 2008, 2002 and 1999. That’s not recency bias. (And hell, there’s not a comedy in there and I love comedies.) Rather than wonder about the why of it all, I wrote down a list of current, wonderfully written series.

That was harder than originally imagined. Because there are so many excellently written series that I was riffing faster than I could jot them down. The list grew, and grew, to ridiculous proportions. I guess that’s a fine sign for the state of the industry, or the writers in the industry, in 2018.

In the end, I kept it simple: a list of currently produced series, each with more than one season under its belt (otherwise, with the likes of The Deuce, Counterpart and so many others, this list would have no end), whose writing has lingered with me in some way. Not just funny jokes for the comedies or standout emotional scenes for the dramas, but something cumulative where story construction, dramatic tension, intelligence, relentlessly creative humor, poignancy, thoughtfulness and believability, among other fine traits, left a mark. In no particular order, here are the 10 series I chose…:

Read it all at hollywoodreporter.com