Dramatic television has upped their game, to the level where film makers are saying many television series are better than films today. You can look at this list and see that cable, pay cable and other providers are responsible for most of these changes. Only one network series made this list, and it comes from CBS.
My one recent critique would be with critics themselves. Critics have turned into fan boys becoming far too harsh on some series (The Newsroom, Homeland). I think being "critical" is important, but there is such a thing as being overly critical. The show I have been the most critical of this season was Mad Men, the show just did not have enough oomph, like with past seasons. This seemed to be a consensus from both fans, and critics. I do not want to pat myself on the back, but this is one area where we agree. There are other shows where this is not the case. As many of this "year's" shows come to an end it will be interesting to see how Emmy rates these shows.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
This past week on twitter, Bryan Cranston tweeted, there would be no Walter White without Tony Soprano. Cranston is correct, but in my opinion Breaking Bad has surpassed the greatness of The Sopranos. This past season Walt took an even darker road, in a post Gus world. As we moved toward the end of a one year experience, inching toward's Walt's 51st birthday, there was such an interesting analysis of what drives the characters within this series. Skylar realized her greed/husband's evolution were the wrong path, her quiet jump into the pool, left me speechless as you watch these characters lose themselves in the darkness of this world. The revelation at the end of the season (no spoilers) was one of the most intense yet subtle moments, proving throughout the many years of this shows history, they can still knock out the intense drama in the most spectacular ways.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
The best season in the shows history? The shows critiques have always been, too slow. The way the novels are set up, never allow this to be a action packed always on the go show, but it does not need to be. This seasons "red wedding" is reason enough to place this show in this category. Watching the intensity of the last moments of this episode as Rob and his mother Catelyn Stark as they are faced with their darkest hours is one of the most emotional scenes in television history. Then there is the journey of Jaime and Brienne as they head back to King's Landing. Then of course there is the "mother of the dragons." Each of these stories along with the other journeys provide some of the most intense and interesting character journeys. Thrones is at the top of its game, no pun intended, and this series is must watch television.
The Good Wife (CBS)
There was pang of nervousness at the beginning of the fourth season of Wife, Kahlinda's husband Nick, who should have given things a jolt, was a drain. Michelle and Robert King heard the outcry from fans, and Nick soon disappeared. Beyond this small blip, Wife was one of the best shows of the year. You will often hear that guest stars bog down a show, but the King's know how to integrate them well. From the firm's financial woes, their always interesting cases, Cary and Alicia vying for partner (and eventually doing something more bold, to Peter's gubernatorial race, this show fired on all cylinders. The show blends character development, and the procedural better than most shows I have ever seen. This is one of the best ensembles on television, and while Marguiles is the titular character, each of the other actors contributes to the brilliance of this show. This year's drama led you further into getting to know who these people are, and keeps you invested in wondering where they are going next.
Homeland received a lot of criticism for delving into the will they or won't they drama between Carrie and Brody. People cried out that this show is not about a love story, but my argument is that isn't this show about an intense cat and mouse relationship between these two characters? The answer is simply, yes, and the show delivered on the continued development of this relationship. The episode entitled "Q&A" is one of the most intense confrontations between these two characters and put their relationship at a cross roads. The show is a rip of the band-aid, let's mess with everything type series, and this season proved that this show is brave enough to tackle and to move story forward without getting bogged down in the difficult aspects of these characters. The show explores domestic terrorism so well, and within the last episodes when an attack actually occurs you are left speechless wondering how things can be recovered.
House of Cards (Netflix)
Netflix has entered the game, in a big way. House of Cards is the first original series from the rental system, and boy did they start things right. While many will give most of the credit to the performance from Kevin Spacey, as Francis Underwood, the show is an interesting look at the complexity of the modern political system. While Aaron Sorkin examined complex issues within The West Wing, this show from Beau Willimon (Ides of March) examines the modern politician, and the virtues and vices they confront within this modern era of politics. Willimon wisely made Kate Mara's character, a journalist, a central character within this series, because as you will observe, the journalists drive the story, and politics as much as a the politicians do today. Cards breaks the fourth wall, provides excellent deep characters like Peter (Corey Stoll) a conflicted Congressman, and at the end of the day makes you wonder how our system became as flawed as it is today, brilliant show.
The Newsroom (HBO)
This show had the most mixed reviews on this list, critics trashed many aspects of this series, but I thought this was an excellent analysis of the blending between quality journalism and the trying to deal with the style over substance method used today. Will (Jeff Daniels) is a pompous arrogant asshole, he is not typically a like able guy. Daniels is fantastic in the role, never letting you forget the passion Will has for this business. The writing is always stellar, and is a great looking glass back in time on how news was covered, could be covered, and just how personal it can become. The main critiques of this show were the hooky romance plot lines, and the way women were portrayed. While some of these critiques were valid I do not think Sorkin and his writing time missed the mark on portraying a variety of different men and women within this series. While the women are not always the strongest, the men are sometimes, or often assholes. Sam Waterston's Charlie Skinner brings this group together, and helps focus most of this show's energy. If for nothing this got Dan Rather's stamp of approval for realism, and that's enough for me.