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TV Vs. Film: Ten Shows Worth Skipping The Multiplex For

by The Playlist Staff
May 26, 2011 9:58 AM
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5. "Game of Thrones"
The youngest show on this list, only six episodes into a ten-episode first season (a second was commissioned almost immediately), we weren't initially sure about placing the show on this list -- it's not always fair to judge a show, particularly one as plot-driven as "Game of Thrones," until it's finished with its run. But HBO's latest epic, an adaptation of a mammoth series of fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, has overcome a slightly slow start to become one of the most compelling dramas on television. Set in the semi-medieval kingdom of Westeros, where the appointment of the honorable Ned Stark (Sean Bean) as the right hand man of the king sets into motion a terrible series of events, there's nothing with the scope or ambition of this show on television now, or possibly ever. Fantasy-phobics should rest assured that there's little in the way of goblins and trolls -- the back-stabbing and political machinations have more in common with "The Wire," "The Sopranos" or "Deadwood" than with "Lord of the Rings." Considering the sheer number of characters involved (there's at least 20 major characters involved), the storytelling, courtesy of showrunners David Benioff (Spike Lee's "25th Hour") and D.B. Weiss, has been clear and well-executed. And the cast, including veterans like Bean, Mark Addy ("Red Riding"), Peter Dinklage ("The Station Agent"), Lena Headey ("300") and Aidan Gillen ("The Wire"), and newcomers like Emilia Clarke, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Maisie Wililams, Kit Harington and Gethin Anthony, have been exemplary so far. The plotting is terrific and genuinely unpredictable, and, it being on HBO, there's the usual lashings of swearing, nudity and extreme violence (last week's episode featured an unexpected and horrific death for a character who looked to be in it for the long-haul). Whether it can sustain the quality is another question, but we're dying to see where it goes from here, and we suspect the ever-growing audience is with us.
Must-See Episode: A tie between the last two to air -- "The Wolf and the Lion," which features horse decapitation and the introduction of the barking mad Lisa Arryn (played by Kate Dickie, the star of Andrea Arnold's "Red Road") and her even crazier son, and "The Golden Crown," one of the most thunderingly-paced episodes of television we've seen, topped off by the aforementioned gruesome death.

4. “Justified
While “Justified” doesn’t really need your help with numbers -- it’s one of the most-viewed shows on FX -- you should be watching simply because it’s a great show, not quite like anything else on air. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole” and lining up with “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown” as the best adaptations of the crime great’s work, the show focuses on Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). He’s returned to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, where old blood ties and family feuds await...not to mention a ton of trouble involving women, including his ex-wife, drugs, murder and a couple of well-placed explosions. Olyphant does terrific work (truly his best) with an amazing supporting cast, especially the work done by Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, the eternally ambiguous ally/antagonist to Raylan’s lawman ways. While “Justified” really gears itself towards male adult viewers, there’s plenty for anyone who enjoys a bit of intrigue and action -- it’s one of the most consistently entertaining shows around. Most importantly though, the show combines Leonard’s heightened, character-ful prose with an honest, truthful portrayal of life in Appalachia. For example, when Boyd gets shot in the chest early in the first season and survives, we’re appalled that these things happen; but, as the show continues, we begin to see that this “shoot first, ask later” philosophy is just the way things are done (especially for the trigger-happy Raylan). The show just wrapped its second season, which was more than reminiscent of Oscar-nominee “Winter’s Bone,” featuring an astonishing performance by veteran actress Margo Martindale, with a quick renewal for a third, and has really hit its stride in terms of character development and high-octane action without missing a beat the entire time.
Must-See Episode: While we have a soft spot for the season one episode featuring Alan Ruck as a violent dentist, this season’s “Brother’s Keeper” is the apex of the show so far: Martindale’s character Mags Bennett’s cunning scheme is finally unveiled, just as her son Coover (a tremendous Brad William Henke) heads towards tragedy.

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  • Christopher Bell | August 21, 2011 8:27 AMReply

    The Time Capsule episode is season 3, I believe. Honestly though, you have to give it a few episodes before things really kick in. It's a show very dependent on your affection for the characters.

  • The Playlist | July 11, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    This piece partly inspired me watching "Louie.” Or rather, my gf wanted to watch, i remember it was on this list and therefore I acquiesced. Great show.

    However, I started watching some "Parks & Recreations" -- a time capsule episode -- and it was pretty unfunny. Was that from season 1? I hope so.

  • George Otwori | June 5, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    TERRIERS is one the most ground breaking shows ever made. I know other shows are given credit to having novelistic quailties. Once you watch Terriers it gives whole new meaning to blending the TV and Novel mediums. I remember watching this show and missing the numerous of payoffs. I just couldn't place the familiarity with Novel medium until the last two episodes. This show literally shattered my perception on what is quality.

    So I only hope that in the near future someone revisits compelling organic world just as intriguing as TERRIERS was.

  • PT | May 28, 2011 11:11 AMReply

    Can anyone tell me what the soundtrack is playing in the background of Doctor Who episode 6 in the first few minutes while still in the Tardis ?
    Driving me crazy !!!!

  • The Playlist | May 28, 2011 9:35 AMReply

    Having just watched the first episode of Showtime's "Shameless" for some reason and mostly hating it, i'm really glad to see it's nowhere on this list.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | May 27, 2011 9:52 AMReply

    "Is this a joke? I haven’t seen anything except Game of Thrones..."

    Well, then how do you fucking know enough to weigh in?

  • Melwyn | May 27, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    Is this a joke? I haven't seen anything except Game of Thrones, and even in the pilot, it seemed so hollow. How could you mention an epic show like 'The Wire' in the same paragraph as GoT. Stick with films guys, this list honestly is embarrassing. "You fail me."

  • TheoC | May 27, 2011 6:46 AMReply

    But wasn't Parks and Recs mid season replacement due to Pohler's pregnancy and not how good or bad the show was doing?

    Anyway great list well written, I must check out terriers(I like me some Logue) and of course Game of Thrones.

    Well done a great read and great alternative to reading how well the Hangover part 2 is doing.

  • Christopher Bell | May 27, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    An honestly embarrassing list.


    Anyway, I'm now paying attention to TV more than I have in years... but still playing catch-up. I"m working through season 2 of "Breaking Bad" and its fantastic, but yeah, it's got plenty of acclaim. It's more that than it airing in summer that lead us to relegating it to the honorable mentions.

    I love "Parks and Rec." I watched the pilot and hated it, but I gave the first season a shot and while I didn't like it too much, Season 2 is where it's at. It's also surprising how great Rob Lowe is.

  • Sid | May 27, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    Venture Bros. is better than everything here. And Game of Thrones (the books) are the best pieces of fiction since Shakespeare in his prime.

  • scribe | May 27, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Nice article guys- Loved the piece on Louie and Parks and Rec.

  • sp | May 27, 2011 3:04 AMReply

    Thanks Playlist for giving props to FX’s “Archer". It is easily the best comedy on tv , hands down !

  • Kathleen Walsh | May 27, 2011 2:52 AMReply

    Weeds fucking sucks. The first season was brilliant, this past season is nigh unwatchable. I love me some Dexter, but that show has definitely not suffered for praise and acclaim, and when was the last season on? I'm only just beginning the third season. I love this list for alerting me to the fact that I should be watching Fringe, of all things. Need to check out Game of Thrones and Archer too. Parks and Rec is my religion, and its upsetting it got slotted to a midseason replacement, but I'm just glad it's back and so consistently amazing.

  • jonathan | May 27, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    30 Rock is the most unfunny piece of crap on television. Maybe people would realize this if Alec Baldwin's voice wasn't calming down their frustration at every other ridiculously annoying character on the show. Can not stand it.

  • Jax | May 27, 2011 2:45 AMReply


  • Misanthrope | May 27, 2011 2:35 AMReply

    Let's not forget that Curb Your Enthusiasm comes back soon!

  • Mike_M | May 27, 2011 2:10 AMReply

    I know you mentioned Breaking Bad, but that should be on the list and not a honorable mention. You cite that it hasnt been on the air since last summer is a bad reason especially since Terriers is canceled so you cant even watch it anymore.

    Also Sons of Anarchy is a great so as well.

  • samir | May 27, 2011 1:51 AMReply

    You guys are too harsh on Boardwalk Empire. It's one of those shows that youll like a lot more if you watch in a short period of time. After I finished the season and got the full picture is when I really started appreciate the characters and politics of the show. It's not the best show, and it can be better, but that's the best thing about it, it can be even better.

  • wray | May 27, 2011 1:40 AMReply


  • Brendan | May 27, 2011 1:31 AMReply

    I second the "Fuck Dexter!" sentiment, and as someone who is almost finished with a Parks & Rec marathon, I'm really glad to see it at #1 here (so much so I forgive you for that fucking spoiler...). Breaking Bad is definitely the best show on television, though. No contest.

  • Sheed | May 26, 2011 12:49 PMReply

    Sons of Anarchy and Archer, FX takes care of its business.

  • HD | May 26, 2011 12:39 PMReply

    Sons of Anarchy!

  • The Gang | May 26, 2011 12:36 PMReply

    Uh, how about some love for "Always Sunny in Philadelphia"? Last season was uneven, not surprising considering the horde of mercenaries hired to write episodes, but it's The Gang!

    Who doesn't love The Gang?

  • poagwn | May 26, 2011 10:49 AMReply

    "american dad," despite it's lackluster first season, has grown into a wonderful, wonderful show. unlike most of macfarlane's trash, a.d. feels like it actually has direction, and it's paced wonderfully - a single episode will sometimes take place over the course of months or years, which gives it an almost filmic quality few other shows have. it also has a heart. the relationships between the central characters are well defined and fully drawn, and roger the alien has grown into a tool of comedic greatness.

    american dad's major flaw is its inconsistencies. not every episode is as good as it could be, but when it hits, it's the best animated show on network television. being a seth macfarlane show, it can also be a little mean spirited. still, there are some essential episodes. "rapture's delight" is one of the most absurdly ambitious animated half hours i can think of. it really is worth checking out.

  • Michael Bay Evil Twin Brother | May 26, 2011 10:15 AMReply

    Fuck "Dexter".

    Bravo! for mentioning "Louie" !

  • Michael Bay | May 26, 2011 10:04 AMReply

    At least you gave "Breaking Bad" a mention, but what about "Dexter"?

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