Ten TV Shows to Binge-Watch this Summer - Part 1

by Audioworm

Summertime offers, for many, greater leisure time and fewer responsibilities than the rest of the year, so now is the time to catch up with the very best out there.

Whether it is a well-deserved break from school or college, a long planned escape from work, or just enjoying the brighter evenings, summer is a fantastic time to relax and catch up with some the of the best TV out there. No matter your taste or preferences, there is something in this list for everyone.

10. True Detective

The greatest cinematography on TV

The one line description that piqued my interest in True Detective was 'Homicide Detectives Show with Lovecraftian themes', and with that, how could I not tune in.

The description however underplays how truly brilliant this new show is, and how amazing McConaughey and Harrelson are as they carry the complex, time hopping, story and draw you into their chaotic lives

Rust (McConaughey) and Marty (Harrelson)
Rust (McConaughey) and Marty (Harrelson)

The premise you are introduced to appears simple enough. It's 1995, and there has been a brutal murder in Louisiana, that appears to be ritualistic in nature. Marty (Harrelson) and Rust (McConaughey) are two homicide detectives are brought in to investigate the crime. Marty is a church going, white picket fence family man with two young daughters, while Rust is nihilistic, chain-smoking obsessive, whose attention to detail has made him one of the most accomplished detectives in the state.

Running parallel to this is the story set in 2012, where the two detectives are being interviewed about the crime we are following in the past part of the story. Rust is looking dishevelled, with long grey hair, and a rapid consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, while Marty is still looking like the straight man of the pair. 

As the series unravels we are introduced to more weaves and turns, as well as exposure to the darker side of humanity, and to the Yellow King.

The story itself is fantastic, and as you watch these parallel stories unfold you will continually feel enthralled and disorientated in equal measures. The show is built around you investing emotionally and intellectually into the show. The writing and performances from the entire cast make you care about these flawed human beings, and the cinematography leaves you constantly trying to spot the clues that are layered with foreshadowing.

The show revolves around a brutal crime in Louisiana
The show revolves around a brutal crime in Louisiana

On the topic of cinematography, True Detective may have some of the best shots I have ever seen on TV. The director is well known within the indie film circles, Cary Fukunaga directed both Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre. Sin Nombre won a huge amount of awards, including Best Direction at Sundance. The kid has talent, and he takes all his talent in to making True Detective one of the most visually stunning shows to ever exist. 

The show takes place across two timelines
The show takes place across two timel...

Every single aspect is perfect. The hard focus changes that catch the perfect change in expression during a dialogue, the pans that show the size and remoteness of the land they are working within, to even the way the camera lingers uncomfortably during tense scenes. This skill and prowess culminated with what many are calling the greatest long take in television.

 Six minutes of an unbroken tracking shot that follows Rust through an intensely chaotic and tense scene. The fact that you are never allowed to look away pushes your heart rate up, and begins to pump you full of adrenaline. When the whole shot is finally complete you can physically feel the relief, as your fight or flight response starts to calm down. 

True Detective is a show that rewards attentive and invested viewers with an experience unlike anything we have seen for a long time. It explores themes of religion and spirituality, the nature of cult and mass hysteria, as well as the dynamics of families. Each episode feels like a full feature movie, and takes quite a bit out of you emotionally. The second season is in development, and with its anthology style of storytelling, the next season is going to be taking us away from the swamps of Louisiana to sunny California, and introducing us to a new cast and crew. The hype and excitement for the second season will begin in the next few months, so now is the ideal time to catch-up, and discover what everyone is so excited for.

9. House of Cards

'Democracy is so overrated'

Kevin Spacey re-imagining a British political thriller with the backing of Netflix may not sound like the greatest idea, but the result is a phenomenal tour-de-force of deception, manipulation, and political maneuvering. 

Frank Underwood (Spacey) and Rep. Blythe (Birney)
Frank Underwood (Spacey) and Rep. Bly...

Each season of House of Cards introduces us to a piece of legislature that we follow as the various Senators and Representatives try to get the bill passed. We see the interpersonal relations that are required to get what you want, and to get ahead in the game.

But the legislation is merely a vehicle that carries the story of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a power hungry and manipulative Southern Democrat, as he goes about his day to day life as a force of persuasion within the Senate.

Connected to this we have sprawling stories about the election campaign, mental illness and addiction, and an analysis of new and established media (something very close to Netflix's heart). There are a few pieces of art that media fanatics, and historians, look to as being a reflection of the time in which they were created, and House of Cards is one of these shining jewels. 

The stories and themes of the show feel like they are pulled directly from the disaster zone that is the United State Government, and it is this realism that allows you to feel so invested and connected to the show. House of Cards doesn't treat you like an idiot, and expects a certain level of knowledge about the political system and discussions we are having today.

Throughout all the political thrills and intrigue, the show is driven forward through the aforementioned Frank Underwood, who turns to the audience occasionally to break the fourth wall, and to let us know the motives for many of his moves, but the real show stealers are the women of House of Cards, showing that politics isn't just a men's game.

Zoe Barnes (Mara) steals the show
Zoe Barnes (Mara) steals the show

House of Cards

House of Cards: Season 1

Ruthless and cunning, Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) stop at nothing to conquer everything. This wicked political drama penetrat...

View on Amazon

House of Cards: Season 2

Masterful, beguiling and charismatic, Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his equally ambitious wife Claire (Robin Wright) continue their ruthless rise to power in Season 2 of ...

View on Amazon

Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is an investigative journalist trying to get the inside scoop at any cost. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is the supportive wife of Frank Underwood who is playing her own game, to push both herself and her husband to as much power as is possible. And to name but one more, there's Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), an escort who gets involved in a power play she is kept completely in the dark about, with far reaching consequences.

All of these characters play out in connected, but independent stories. To even begin explaining any intricacies of the plot would begin to spoil the twists and turns that are protagonists face. 

The show excels at dragging you kicking and screaming into the underhanded world of Frank Underwood, and then using this to force you to consider the wider social ramifications of the American political system. Discussions on gender, race, sexual orientation, war, and money in politics are naturally and openly discussed throughout the show all while feeling authentic and organic. None of the many complex stories feel shoehorned into the story to satisfy a quota.

House of Cards was one of the first Netflix Originals, and reflected the Netflix culture by releasing the entire season at once, allowing the fans to binge watch the entire series (and most of us did). The show is a rewarding and exciting whirlwind tour through the lives of those in and around Washington, and has you cheering despicable and immoral actions that you are left trying to rationalise. Bathe yourself in the moral ambiguity, and emerge feeling far dirtier, but far happier.

8. The Wire

'...The best show since The Wire'

The Wire appeared on our televisions in 2002, and tore apart what was expected of police procedurals. While most shows within this genre follow the crime of the week approach, The Wire introduced multiseason arcs to the many crimes and investigations that the Baltimore Police Department are dealing with. 

Rather than focusing on a few hero police officers bravely fighting hollow criminals with minimal motives, The Wire makes Baltimore the major character. Throughout the show we follow the homicide detectives, the narcotics division, various levels of the drug dealing operation (including the logistics, the gaining of territory, and the low level pushing), human smugglers, dock workers, school children and teachers, politicians, and journalists. Each story is a self contained narrative, but each story influences each other. 

While following the narcotics team and their investigation into the drug dealing, we also see the daily routine of the hoppers (very young members of the drug dealing operation) and how their bosses react to the increased surveillance. 

When Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) is introduced as a shotgun wielding Robin Hood-esque character, who only robs drug dealers, we see how the police and drug dealers cope with his unpredictable presence. The inter connectivity and complexity of all the stories can not be done justice in this article alone.

The Wire's approach to storytelling is to carry on a continuous narrative across the five seasons, but with each season focusing on a specific theme or aspect of life in Baltimore. The first season introduces us to 'the wire' (a phone tap) as we see the battle between a secretive narcotics operation and a highly intelligent drug empire ran by Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), and focuses on the effects of the illicit drug trade in Baltimore. The effects ranging from the turf battles that emerge from warring groups, to the personal life of an addict hooked on heroin and always in need of a fix.

The second moves the focus to the seaport workers of Baltimore, who are implicated in a heinous crime. The investigation and story take us through the position of Worker's Unions in American culture, and the evolution of the economy away from blue collar jobs that have been passed down family lines.

The third season buries us in the politics and bureaucracy of running a city with failing schools, and a high crime rate. The political game, and the fixing of numbers by police chiefs. All the actions done in an attempt to save their own careers is unravelling an already broken town.

The fourth introduces to the consequence of these actions, as we go into an inner city school, and also ties us back to the first season as we see when and how the corner kids emerge. As the school system focuses on getting the test scores it needs to be considered functioning, the failing kids return to the streets to make a living the only way they know how. It is a fantastic entrance to a part of society that very rarely receives a sympathetic view from our media

And the fifth and final season wraps everything together while exposing us to the journalistic cycle that focuses more on exciting front page stories than on serious and important news. The show runner David Simon worked in newspapers before going into television and his cynical vitriol for the area oozes throughout the show.

The show focuses on allowing the amazing performances of the actors (many of whom are unfamiliar faces) to carry the story through their dialogue. Long stretches of time will be filled by two or more characters talking to each other, arguing and discussing what is happening next. Monologues often express the themes and more subtle parts, rewarding those are who are watching carefully.

If I were to list all the actors who made this show amazing the article would double in size. The cast just hits out of the park across the board. You will hear critics and reviewers refer to a show being the 'best thing since The Wire' because the show was so critically acclaimed.

Trying to express just how good it is turns me into an excitable and flapping fool as I gush over why everything it did is so amazing. 

Watch this because it is the benchmark upon which all other TV is graded. Watch this because it pulled apart the police procedural and turned it into an epic. Watch this because it has a hugely racially diverse cast, giving shining roles to otherwise under-represented actors. Watch it because knowing just one more person watched it would make me so incredibly happy.

Part 2...

In the second part we'll be focusing on some of the best historical dramas on TV. Going back to before England was a unified kingdom, all the way to the Cold War.

What are your thoughts on the shows mentioned above, and which shows would you put in a list of Top 10 TV Shows? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Updated: 06/18/2014, Audioworm
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JoHarrington on 06/19/2014

PS Can I be Zoe when I grow up?

JoHarrington on 06/19/2014

I'm trying to write here and I've just accidentally watched the second episode, and now I HAVE to watch the third. I'm holding you FULLY responsible.

Audioworm on 06/19/2014

@Ember You should watch them then! They're all fantastic.

@Jo House of Cards is just fantastic. Spacey plays it so well. The history of how they came about producing the reboot is really cool as well. He pitched the idea to several TV Networks and they all wanted him to produce a single pilot episode, before they decided whether to commission it or not. Spacey, and the HoC team, wanted to develop a complex and deep narrative that couldn't be done justice in a single episode pilot. That is why Netflix contacted him and agreed to make it, and Spacey is all about the new methods of content delivery.

JoHarrington on 06/19/2014

Wow! Were you right about House of Cards or what?! I thought I'd start watching the first episode while I had my dinner. Next thing I know, the hour long episode is over and I'm hungry for more! Consider me a convert.

Ember on 06/18/2014

*waits patiently for OITNB to make the list*

I've heard of all of these, but haven't seen any of them yet :D

JoHarrington on 06/18/2014

Looking good now! And it's introduced me to some programmes to watch.

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