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Four Swell Shows from AMC

by Maureen Ryan, posted Dec 20th 2010 2:30PM
Countdown to Festivus on Dec. 23: On the fifth day of Festivus, TV gave to us ... four dramas from one ambitious network.

Step into the wayback machine, TV fans. Remember those dark times when AMC had no original dramas on the air?

It seems as though the channel's offerings have (deservedly) occupied the media spotlight forever, but only a few years ago, AMC was best known as the place to watch old movies.

The movies are still there, but so many other things have changed. As the end of the year approaches, it's time to give thanks for AMC's offerings, which were among the year's finest.

Don Draper, Walter White, Will Travers, Rick Grimes. Who could have predicted how hard we'd fall for these guys? And I'm not talking about a love connection (though the characters are not hard on the eyes). It's simply difficult to imagine how much poorer the television scene would be without the fascinating shows that star those twisted, tortured, driven men.

'Mad Men'

We're used to 'Mad Men' picking up awards like Don Draper scores stewardesses (and, er, waitresses), but this year the AMC drama took things to the next level by ruthlessly removing all the props from Don's carefully constructed life. His bulletproof self-confidence, his easy magnetism, his sharp creative instincts, his fractured family -- all those things deserted Don as he endured a long night of the soul that threatened to destroy him for good. Jon Hamm was riveting as he depicted Draper's long, painful descent and his slow climb back to the land of the living. Given all that, who would have thought we'd laugh our hardest during season 4? But the Miss Blankenship follies brought some welcome lighter moments to the well-constructed season, and the fine work of the show's exceptional ensemble cast once again proved why 'Mad Men' is one of the best dramas on television.

'Breaking Bad'

Like Don, Walt White spiraled ever deeper into a maelstrom in the taut third season of 'Breaking Bad,' which followed Walt and his partner Jesse as they endured their darkest moments yet. It's no surprise that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, actors who've committed more deeply to these roles every season, were equal to the task set by 'Breaking Bad' creator Vince Gilligan: Cranston and Paul had to get viewers invested in the journeys of two men who were engaged in a terrible, damaging business venture, and yet we felt for them -- for the wounded, haunted Jesse and for the resigned yet defiant Walt. 'Breaking Bad' isn't always easy to watch, but it's easier than ever to appreciate its uncompromising vision, its unforgettable aesthetics and its storytelling prowess.

'The Walking Dead'

This show did a lot of things right -- the zombie chronicle's restraint only added to its air of intensity -- but its impact may be greater than even AMC counted on. Not only was the 6-episode drama a hit with viewers, it may prompt other classy cable networks to commission more smart genre fare and, one hopes, more shows based on well-regarded graphic novels. Dear AMC/FX/HBO/Showtime/Starz: Bill Willingham's 'Fables' was stuck in some kind of development hell over at ABC last time I checked. And what's up with Brian K. Vaughn's 'Y: The Last Man'? Please rescue these comic-book properties from wherever they're languishing and give them to writer/directors with a good sense of story, atmosphere and pace. Frank Darabont is busy just now, but I'm sure you could find a dozen scribes willing to take on Willingham or Vaughn's thought-provoking tales and bring them to the small screen.


Maybe 'Rubicon' could continue in graphic-novel form? With a spinoff books for Truxton Spangler and Kale Ingram? I can dream, can't I? Sad to say, this drama won't be returning to the AMC lineup, and that is a real shame. Like the rest of the network's drama offerings, the moody, beautifully crafted 'Rubicon' chronicled the dilemmas and heartaches of smart yet troubled souls, and its cast was astonishingly versatile and subtle. No doubt other 'Rubicon' fans are, like me, still imagining various scenarios regarding the American Policy Institute's employees. What did they do next?

The thing is, 'Rubicon' created a world that seemed real and characters whose problems may have been extreme but still felt deeply relatable. That's what the best television dramas do. Along those lines, some intriguing prospects are in AMC's pipeline. Come March, AMC will debut 'The Killing,' a crime chronicle with great Michelle Forbes as one of the stars, and it's also commissioned the period drama 'Hell on Wheels,' the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad.

None of the shows mentioned above are flawless; they all had glitches and bumps here and there (and generally speaking, as is the case with the most challenging cable fare, there were more good roles for men than there were for women on AMC's dramas). But on the whole, the new crop of AMC shows have a high standard to meet. For that, there's reason to be grateful.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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How could be this possible , i am never gonna believe that four swells has shown their face on this earth without even conducting the real battle between the storm.

December 23 2010 at 9:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tried to post, got lost somewhere, apologies if it turns up. Just a pedant point - it's Vaughan, not Vaughn. And Y ricked. I also thought there was a Runaways movie option.

I'd love to see Grant Morrison's Invisibles get made; and Brian Wood's DMZ. Can't see either of those though :)

December 22 2010 at 5:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Help for a Breaking Bad Newbie (Please):

I just atrted watching Breaking Bad with AMC running it from season 1 on Wednesdays, 2 episodes a week.

Question - Mo, did you recap the show in the beginning and is your old blog still accessible? Otherwise, is there a good source for episode recaps from the beginning of the show? My TV viewing has really changed and I now really like to read ongoing recaps/commentary as I wacth favorite shows.


December 21 2010 at 10:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I doubt any other network will get it right if they try to copy the success of Walking Dead. The best thing about it is that it takes itself as seriously as movies like the original Night of the Living Dead did. So far it has avoided horror movie cliches and a never winks at the audience for a cheap laugh. I'm not sure any of the more commercial networks would ever stick to that approach.

December 21 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sareeta's comments pretty well echo mine.

The Walking Dead, much like Mad Men-and the reason I cannot get into that show despite several attempts, is not a show with sympathetic leads. This could become a big issue in Season 2. Hopefully new characters that are more accessible will be introduced.

Breaking Bad worked for me because the characters started from an accessible starting point which has pulled me along to the dark places where they have gone to. Mad Men started in a dark place which is an insurmountable hurdle for me to get over.

December 21 2010 at 8:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I definitely agree with you on Breaking Bad and Rubicon. I am watching BB again and it's cool to see how different the characters were back in season 1, knowing where they end up in Season 3. I think season 3 was some of the best TV I've ever seen.

Rubicon was truly one of a kind. Maybe it was before it's time? Honestly, I don't know what they could have done differently without losing the essence of what made the show so unique. I only wish I knew how it ended for all those great characters.

The Walking Dead's first season was too short for me to really form an opinion, though I did really enjoy half of the episodes. My one complaint is I only care about a couple characters. Hopefully they fix the flaws from season 1 when season 2 comes out.

I'm considering giving Mad Men one more try. They're replaying season 1 On Demand. I was able to get through ep 7 last time before giving up. I really want to like this show, especially considering all the praise it has gotten.

Definitely interested in The Killing and Hell on Wheels. Hopefully they have more success than Rubicon.

December 20 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wish Justified was on AMC so your list could be complete.

December 20 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great review and your comments are spot on. All 4 shows made AMC the latest home of "must-see TV." I think your idea of a graphic novel for Rubicon is brilliant, especially the spin-offs. I am going to miss Rubicon, but not the slow burn it took to get to the payoff. I think it was just a bit too cerebral and convoluted in the beginning; it required the viewer to be patient and take notes, which is not what most want when looking for escapist fare. Even so, I ended up really liking it and was very disappointed to see no second season.

Here's to hoping AMC continues their run of good shows especially with new series in the next year. I really think AMC and FX are giving the pay channels a run for their money...

December 20 2010 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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