TV shows like Game of Thrones, Mad Men and the West Wing get a lot of attention – often rightly so. Other shows go quietly under the radar, usually because their genre brings a negative bias when looking at the box cover. Space ships, pirates, western… these genres are so powerful, that they tend to drive a binary response; I like it, or I hate it.
So here I suggest three often overlooked TV series’ – all of which have done very well with people that like the genre or have stumbled upon them by accident, which is more often the case for me.
Hell on Wheels
I know – Battlestar Galactica… that’s the Sci-fi thing, right? Yeah… Sci-fi isn’t really my kinda thing, I’ll pass.
Well, you’ll be missing some of the best inter-personal drama. Don’t let the spaceship theme get in the way. Reframe the genre; this plays more like the Hunt for Red October, with tension borne out of people enclosed in a tightly controlled space with enormous threat all around them – some imagined, some real.
The character development is excellently executed and you learn to care about the crew of the Battlestar, a huge battleship in space, protecting the last of humanity as they are hunted by a relentless aggressors in the form of the cylons.
The chase takes place over 4 seasons, and whilst there are some slow patches, the overall story is powerful and consistent. It also offers one of those rare things in TV series – a complete finish. You may not like the finish, but it does give you the closure that you never get when a series just ends or is pulled.
Hell on Wheels is aptly named, telling the story of how the US transnational railway was built – by hard men in a hard time, when the west was still being opened up. The story tracks several events of the time, from politics through to the growth of the mormon religion.
The series doesn’t shy away from tougher themes, like slavery and prostitution, portraying them in the context of the time.
You won’t find yourself necessarily wishing to live in time before medicine and toilet paper, but you will see the honesty in accomplishing something as massive as carving a railway into the raw, untamed world.
Again – the people and their relationships are at the heart of this story, with Cullen Bohanen taking centre stage. He is a moral man, hard on himself and driven by his set of values that are often at odds with the world around him.
The good news here is that the sixth season is currently in production, with five very strong seasons already aired.
Lastly, a pirate theme; Black Sails.
This TV series tells about the events that led to the story of Treasure Island. This is done very subtly, and the world is very richly filled with the history of the time – drawing from the struggle between different empires in their quests to claim the new world. The pirates stand as their own rule of law between the different forces, and have set themselves up with their own island fortress.
Battle on the high sea is dramatic and beautifully shot. The sea and world are as much characters as any other actors, rich in their content and context.
The power play between the pirates and the empires is matched evenly by the inter-pirate conflict, with some truly powerful acting and story writing.