One of the most enduring television trends of the last decade is looking into the past and telling stories that use those settings to provide a parallel to our own lives. This has led to some of televisions best dramas so let’s celebrate the ten best examples of the past delivery compelling stories.
Manhattan only lasted two seasons before cancellation came calling, but it’s still worth a watch. The show follows mostly fictional characters as they work towards the very real goal of creating the first nuclear bomb as part of the Manhattan project.
This sweeping romance/sci-fi/historical/period drama (phew) is the best example of a hybrid TV show. Outlander follows the story of Claire: a wartime nurse who is transported back in time to Scotland in 1743. While there, and separated from her husband by about 200 years, Claire strikes up a romance with Scot Jamie, and becomes a part of the Jacobite risings. Outlander is huge in scope, and ambition, but it’s the characters that make it sing. Claire and Jamie have a cliché-free romance, while the Redcoat Captain Jack Randall (an ancestor of Claire’s husband, who also looks just like him), is one of the best villains of the last decade.
8. The Deuce
It’s still early days with The Deuce but in just a handful of episodes it has become a must-watch. Created by David Simon, the man behind The Wire, The Deuce focuses on the rising porn industry in 1970’s New York. It also boasts some grade A acting talent with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco starring.
7. Boardwalk Empire
Brought to screen by Terrance Winter and Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire charts the bloody history of the Prohibition Era. Steve Buscemi stars as Nucky Thompson, the unofficial ruler of Atlantic City in the 1920’s. Through five seasons Boardwalk Empire proved itself to be the best mob drama on television, outdoing similar shows like Mob City, and Magic City that couldn’t recreate Nucky’s Midas touch.
Set in 1977, Mindhunter charts the birth of criminal psychology and criminal profiling at the FBI. With David Fincher directing four out of the ten first season episodes, and the fact that the show is based on the book of the man who is the inspiration for Hannibal’s Jack Crawford, Mindfhunter is more than just the origin story of the procedures used in every modern crime show. It’s also an engaging character study into the two men, Agents Ford (Jonathan Groff), and Tench (Holt McCallany), as they delve into the darkest depths of the criminal mind.
5. Peaky Blinders
The only gangster show that had a shot at beating Boardwalk Empire did just that. BBC’s Peaky Blinders follows Birmingham’s most notorious gangsters, the Shelby family, headed up by Cillian Murphy as Tommy. With gorgeous period detail, and brilliant performances from Murphy, Sam Neil, Helen McCrory, and even a guest turn from Tom Hardy, Peaky Blinders takes a razor to all comers.
4. Stranger Things
The next three places on the list are part of that oh-so nostalgic decade, the 80s. We start off with Stranger Things that wears it’s 80s influences on its sleeve. While there’s no need to sum up the ploy (because everyone already knows), Stanger Things with its stellar first season and highly anticipated second season has more than earned its place on this list.
3. Halt and Catch Fire
Halt and Catch Fire began life as an 80s Mad Men, with Lee Pace taking the Don Draper-ish role of Joe MacMillan. Thankfully the show morphed into its own distinct story over the course of the first season, and from the on became a compelling character drama set during the computer revolution of the 1980s. From Mad Men clone to a show that is just as important.
2. The Americans
The Americans is one of the greatest shows of all time, but it doesn’t get the love. Equal parts spy show and family drama, The Americans stars Keri Russel and Mathew Rhys as Russian agents in deep cover living in suburban Washington. Over five seasons The Americans dived so deep into these characters that it’s impossible to see them as the enemy. Hopefully when the show ends with next year’s sixth season, Th Americans will get the credit it deserves.
1. Mad Men
There was only one show that could beat The Americans to the top spot, and it is the show that made the multitude of period dramas possible in the last ten years. No show has been told such a powerful story about America in a period of cultural and social change with a cast of characters, like Don Draper, and Peggy Olsen, trying to make a buck out of it. Of course, Mad Men is many different shows all at once, and that is why it tops our list.