Breaking Bad — Killer TV No 1

Here is the final entry in our Killer TV top 50. It's been fun revisiting favourite series.

Below is the full list of 50. Are any of your favourites not here? Leave a comment and let us know…

new-breaking-bad-photos-offer-hints-at-the-final-eight-episodes

AMC, 2008-2013

'Nah, come on, man. Some straight like you, giant stick up his ass at like what, 60, he's just gonna break bad?' – Jesse Pinkman

Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk

Identikit: A humdrum chemistry teacher turns to crime to provide for his family when he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.


WHAT an unlikely premise it must have appeared to US cable network AMC! A low-grade chemistry teacher in dullsville Albuquerque discovers he has cancer and decides to make and sell methamphetamine to provide for his family (his wife's pregnant with their second child). From that idea came one of the most dazzling, profound and blackly funny TV dramas ever. Through five seasons creator Vince Gilligan (once of The X Files) offered a compelling portrait of a man, Walter White, going bad and giving in to his dark side. This journey from decent man to criminal radically subverted TV's traditional formula of flawed characters learning life lessons. Gilligan summed it up: "The goal was to turn him from Mr Chips into Scarface." Walter's transformation is wild but convincing, with the teacher having missed out on making a fortune earlier in life, so that when he faces death he's determined to use his talents to cash in before it's too late. Bursting with superb, three-dimensional characters, sublime acting and bravura visual storytelling, Breaking Bad rarely failed to pack an emotional punch. Sometimes it was bleakly violent, sometimes heartrending. An episode in series three called One Minute was breathlessly suspenseful and moving at the same time, a typical powerhouse piece of drama with Dean Norris (as Hank) putting in an affecting performance as the shaken DEA man, unknowingly facing assassination and confessing to his wife that he may not be the man she thought he was. This coupled with a gallery of nightmarish psychos (Tuco, Gus Fring, the Cartel's hit-men cousins) and memorable characters (such as lawyer Saul 'Better Call Saul!' Goodman) makes Breaking Bad an undeniable modern classic. It's unlikely AMC could out-resource the BBC or ITV, but the (comparatively) fledgling network produced an unforgettable series with a scope and ambition UK channel honchos can't even dream of.

Classic episode: Grilled – crazed Tuco takes Walter and Jesse prisoner in the desert. Tense, with a bloody finale.

Music: Main theme by composer Dave Porter. Fine music throughout the five series, with The Ballard of Heisenberg by Negro y Azul particularly fun.

Watercooler fact: The pink, burnt teddy bear, which is seen throughout series two as a harbinger of the plane crash at the end of the season, appears in black-and-white flash forwards. Only the bear appears in colour, in tribute to the little girl in a red coat in Schindler's List.

Cagney and Lacey — Killer TV No 15

cagneylacey8CBS, 1982-86

‘You feel like a little girl. What I see is a woman of great courage.’ – Mary Beth Lacey

Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless, Al Waxman, John Karlen

Identikit: Two women show their strength and vulnerabilities dealing with their private lives and careers as New York detectives.


The TV landscape is awash with formulaic police procedurals. Cagney and Lacey was one that lifted the genre above the norm, for the first time depicting women as buddies in a tough job. Christine Cagney was the career woman, Mary Beth Lacey was the working mother, and here was a drama that cut away a lot of guff usually seen in hero cop shows. Cagney and Lacey did rough police jobs in brutal New York to make a living, usually close and mutually supportive but occasionally dishing out home truths to each other, often in the privacy of the Ladies. The weekly stories had the usual chases and shootouts, along with the odd corny routine for light relief, but what made it distinctive was the human side of the characters – Mary Beth’s breast cancer, her pregnancy; Chris getting shot, being raped, her failed relationships and dread of ending up alone. It also never shied away from the bleak side of policing, such as Chris’s occasional lapses into booze dependancy (like her cop dad before her). The cases they dealt with exposed the underbelly of grimy Gotham – abandoned children, victims of the pornography industry, sexual abuse – some based on true events. And real issues were confronted – abortion, nuclear weapons (Mary Beth was arrested on an anti-nuke demo), date rape. But in addition to its strength as a crime drama, its depiction of working women in a male environment certainly spoke to women holding down jobs in the real world. It was Christine’s boyfriends and frustrations, and Mary Beth’s family crises that always chimed with fans, rather than unravelling the whodunit. Despite early misgivings by some execs in CBS that the characters would be perceived as ‘dykes’, or at least as too unfeminine, executive producer Barney Rozenzweig steered the show through two cancellations. Sharon Gless was brought in to replace Meg Foster as Cagney after the first series to reduce the character’s aggression a bit. When the show was cancelled at the end of the 82-83 season, it was brought back by popular demand when viewers (many of whom were women) wrote to CBS to complain. It became one of the most cherished series of the 1980s, with Daly and Gless going on to share best actress Emmys for six years on the trot – a unique achievement.

Classic episode: Turn, Turn, Turn, the two-part conclusion to season 6. Christine’s dad dies after a drunken fall, and Mary Beth confronts her about her own disastrous boozing, eventually dragging her to AA. ‘My name is Christine, and I’m an alcoholic.’

Watercooler fact: Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday actually developed an outline for the series in 1974, but it was turned down by all the networks, none of whom thought a series about women cops would succeed.

http://www.cagneyandlacey.com/Home

Westworld, Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores in Westworld

Who am I? Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores

Holidays from hell in this imaginative update of the 1973 movie

★★★★ HBO and Sky Atlantic, starts October

OK, it’s science fiction and this is a crime site – but Westworld is also a thriller. We don’t often stray from the beat of cops and criminals, but occasionally there’s an intrigue with speculative elements such as Utopia or The Frankenstein Chronicles that we need to investigate.

'Westworld' is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin. The one-hour drama features actors Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Angela Sarafyan, and Simon Quarterman.

Playing god – Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright as Dr Robert Ford and Bernard Lowe

And having seen a couple of episodes of Westworld, it’s been a delight to get away from the more mundane fare (Lewis, DCI Banks, anyone?) for something this absorbing.

Westworld is based, in case you didn’t know, on the fondly remembered 1973 Michael Crichton movie, which starred Yul Brynner. Like Crichton’s blockbuster Jurassic Park, this was a yarn about a futuristic theme park gone lethally haywire.

Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood and Ed Harris

Westworld is the western-themed virtual-reality holiday camp where the rich go to indulge their dark desires, such as shooting villains or bedding prostitutes. This new TV version from HBO is much more sophisticated and beautifully realised than the original (watch a trailer for the movie here).

Thandie Newton as Maeve

Thandie Newton as Maeve

On top of that it has attracted the kind of brilliant cast even the movie could not (Brynner was on the wane in 1973 and Richard Benjamin was not quite A-list). Now we have Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Borgen‘s Sidse Babett Knudsen.

Where the movie was told from the vantage point of the two average joes on holiday in Westworld, the series focuses on the scientists and the artificial beings who populate the theme park. We first encounter Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who wakes everyday and goes through the same narrative for the guests, or town ‘newcomers’ as she believes they are.

Who – or what – is the Man in Black?

Dolores’s life is on a Groundhog Day loop, only when she wakes every day and greets her homesteader father, she has no recollection of the day before. When she sleeps, her dreams are probed by the boffins – ‘Ever feel inconsistencies in your world?’

'Westworld' is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin. The one-hour drama features actors Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Angela Sarafyan, and Simon Quarterman.

Off script – the Man in Black

In 30 years there have been no critical failures at Westworld. Until now.

One cowboy, Walter, seems to have got tired of ‘buying it’ – or getting shot by the guests. And when Dolores’s father finds a discarded photo of a guest in modern-day New York, the image does not compute and sends him into meltdown.

Dolores herself even seems to finally be picking up on ‘inconsistencies’ in her reality. As for Ed Harris’s menacing Man in Black, he’s totally off script.

It’s a bold idea to take us into the minds of artificial beings who seem on the dawn of breaking free of their bonds, and adds a fascinating dimension to the original story. The story also breathes modern norms of computer technology, talking the language of program updates, new builds and system bugs.

Artificial Intelligence, sex tourism and sin

Which could be behind the malfunction. Anthony Hopkins plays the equivalent of Jurassic Park‘s Richard Attenborough character, Hammond, the brains behind the games. He’s been perfecting the software, which seems to be allowing the artificial beings to retain some memories.

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores

Memories are made of this – Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores

Is he playing a dangerous private game? Or is he and his team just not as ahead of the curve as they have always thought?

The movie was certainly ahead of its time and today the ideas behind it are even more resonant. It looks into the worlds of artificial intelligence, sex tourism (with fembots), consciousness and even the idea of sin. It’s going to be intriguing to watch this unfold over 10 episodes.

There are even reports that HBO is already planning five series of Westworld, according to The Verge. With Game of Thrones reaching a conclusion, Westworld is apparently being lined up as heir apparent.

In a shootout between the two, I think Westworld looks the more provocative and engrossing.

HBO’s Westworld coming this October

HBO’s sci-fi thriller Westworld will be on air this October (on Sky Atlantic in the UK) – and it looks a bit special. Inspired by the classic 1973 movie starring Yul Brynner, which was written and directed by Michael Crichton, this 10-parter has a terrific cast – Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. You know the story – nutty scientist (Hopkins) sets up a theme park where all human desires can be indulged. Now check out the trailer…

Narcos 2 soon on Netflix

Here’s a flavour of Netflix’s Narcos 2, coming on Friday, September 2. The Pablo Escobar story was chilling but utterly compelling first time round. This second blast of 10 episodes looks pretty high-octane too…

5 Upcoming Crime Shows to Get Excited About

From Warner Bros Lethal Weapon on ITV Pictured: Roger Murtaugh [Damon Wayans] and Martin Riggs [Clayne Crawford]. This photograph is (C) Warner Bros and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

Lethal Weapon: Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and Martin Riggs [Clayne Crawford)

Between the autumn television slate and some promising titles around the corner in 2017, there’s a lot to be excited about for fans of crime and mystery television. Some of these shows are brand new and others are merely moving on to new seasons, but in considering both categories, here are five programmes that are already looking like a whole lot of fun. 

Lethal Weapon (Fox)

Lethal Weapon has to be one of the more exciting new crime shows in at least a few years. Announced earlier this year, it’s set to debut this autumn for American audiences on Fox and on ITV in Britain and will presumably be available for streaming soon thereafter. The show us based on the 1987 film of the same name, which has an iconic place among American crime thrillers. That film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, ultimately spawned three sequels, each as exciting as the last. It also led to a 1992 NES video game, which you can actually still obtain from Game Fabrique, a site featuring several old titles available for download. That the game is still around is a testament to the fact that even the distinctly ’80s and ’90s feeling of these films hasn’t made them any less popular with action and crime fans. 

The new show looks to be a fairly straightforward reboot. Clayne Crawford (24, Rogue) has been cast as Martin Riggs (Gibson’s character), with Damon Wayans (Major Payne, My Wife and Kids) playing Roger Murtaugh (Glover’s role). It ought to be a standard buddy-cop action show with elements of drama and comedy, and the key will be for Crawford and Wayans to develop something that at least remotely resembles the chemistry of Gibson and Glover. Interestingly enough, Glover said he’s skeptical of the project, or at least that he’d prefer people still remember his four films fondly. But the name Lethal Weapon still carries a great deal of weight, which should make this show one of the more watched debuts of the coming season. 

MacGyver (CBS)

In another move to reboot an American crime classic, albeit one that’s generally taken with a grain of salt, MacGyver will also return to television screens in the near future. Set to debut in late September, this show concerns a secret agent who uses scientific knowledge and off-the-charts resourcefulness to get out of sticky situations and, in all likelihood, save the world. If you’re not as familiar with the original series, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and starred Richard Dean Anderson in the titular role, you may well have come across the parody: Saturday Night Live and Will Forte’s “MacGruber. In this skit that ultimately became a film, the hero would frequently fall short of saving the world due to comical miscues. 

The new drama will presumably be a little bit grittier, though as stated MacGyver isn’t necessarily meant to be taken seriously. Lucas Till (X-Men: Apocalypse) will star as a young Angus MacGyver, who essentially creates his own organisation within the United States government to fight crime with his own bizarre blend of skills. 

Sherlock (BBC One)

What Sherlock has done for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective series is remarkable. Released just months after the blockbuster film Sherlock Holmes and before Elementary in the US, it managed to become most people’s picture of the definitive modern Holmes. It also brought popularity back to the character and concept. One can argue that Elementary sprouted from this show, and we’ve also seen a greater prevalence of Holmes material, such as video games, since the 2010 debut. Frogwares has a well-known console series going, but the characters from these stories have also popped up in high-volume online gaming arenas. The choices for slot machine games at Betfair include numerous connections to pop culture and fiction, and a delightful Sherlock Holmes title is now among them. The game uses character images, detective equipment, and the setting of 221B Baker Street to make for a more interesting casino experience, with reel spins turning up all kinds of elements related to the stories.

Despite all this influence, Sherlock is actually a pretty abbreviated show. Presented in a way that each series consists of only a handful of (long) episodes, it plays out almost like a collection of short films. There have only been three series to date, as well as one Christmas mini-episode and a 2016 special that existed outside of the timeline of the regular show. And for that reason, fans simply can’t wait for more material. Series four will debut in 2017, with more wonderful action expected from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. 

[Read more…]

The Sopranos — Killer TV No 2

the-sopranos-blu-ray-finally-arrives

HBO, 1999-2007 (six series)

‘What fucking kind of human being am I, if my own mother wants me dead?’ – Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano), Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano), Lorraine Bracco (Dr Melfi), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts), Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante), Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano), Peter Bogdanovich (Dr Kupferberg)

Identikit: A mobster in therapy balances problems at home with running a New Jersey crime empire.


CREATOR David Chase had worked in network TV for 20 years (Rockford Files, Northern Exposure and others) before pay channel HBO came along offering the freedom to make this bold and multilayered chunk of television brilliance. The Sopranos was the first of the non-network series to show that TV could be better than the movies given the artistic scope and freedom from network TV’s puritanism and advertiser-sanctioned wholesomeness. From its opening moments it was clear The Sopranos would break and toy with mobster-genre conventions. Tony Soprano – the late James Gandolfini was shrewdly and bravely cast – has a panic attack and secretly starts seeing a shrink, a chink of potentially lethal vulnerability in a mob boss, but one allowing viewers to watch him go on to balance his criminal empire with the demands of family life – troublesome kids, ballsy wife and psychotic mother. Brilliant writers (Terence Winter, Robin Green and others), directors (Tim Van Patten, John Patterson) and guest stars (Annabella Sciorra, Ben Kingsley, Annette Bening, Steve Buscemi, Lauren Bacall) came together to magic up a drama that was controversial, parodied, analysed by academics and given a glut of awards – including 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes. The Sopranos became the show everyone in the mainstream networks wanted to work on, but despite the great talents who came on board, the prime influence was always David Chase’s. Tony’s monstrous mother, being in therapy, the New Jersey setting – all reflected the showrunner’s own experience. The result was a series of extraordinary episodes, such as College (Tony is shown to be no hero when he brutally strangles a former wiseguy), Pine Barrens (Paulie Walnuts and Christopher lose a ‘dead’ Russian and get lost themselves in the snowy forest), and Whitecaps (Tony and Carmela’s toxic break-up). It had superb dialogue and direction, surreal dreams, great music, tears and black humour – but ultimately The Sopranos served up a radical new style of weekly TV drama. It also finished with a dazzling, ambiguous flourish, with Tony and his family in a diner after a mob war has just concluded, causing the death or injury of his top lieutenants. A man who’s been staring at Tony in the diner then goes to the Gents, and daughter Meadow Soprano enters the restaurant as the screen abruptly cuts to a long black silence – and an unknown fate for the Sopranos. The fate of TV was known, however. It could be more complex, audacious and involving than it had ever been.

Classic episode: Long Term Parking – Adriana, Chris’s wife, was developed throughout the series. However, when she was forced to become an FBI informant, Chris was tempted to run away with her, but finally decided to tell Tony about her new friends. This led to her heartrending demise at the hands of Paulie.

Music: Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix) by Alabama 3

Watercooler fact: The Sopranos shared 27 actors with Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, including Lorraine Bracco (Tony’s shrink Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos, and Karen Hill in Goodfellas), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo/Billy Batts), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti/Spider), Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts Gaultieri/Tony Stacks), Suzanne Shepard (Mary DeAngelis/Karen’s mother).

Best thrillers on Sky Atlantic

While we’re waiting for new episodes of our favourite crime thrillers, there are some hidden gems playing on Sky Atlantic. Here are my favourite three series boasting risk-taking anti-heroes in high-pressure situations. What they lack in finesse, they make up for in adrenalin and escapism…

Ray Donovan (2013 to present)

This ongoing series has four seasons thus far for you to start watching, making for a few great weekends of binge viewing. Starring the excellent Liev Schreiber, the story follows a professional fixer who makes life better for the rich and famous. The ethos of his job is that if you have enough money, he can take care of it.

The twist comes when we find out that Donovan can get rid of all the problems of others, but none for himself. His family seem set on creating trouble for Donovan, but can he fix things? The acting, directing and writing on this show is exemplary, so you’re in for a treat if you dive into this one. If you enjoy forensic dramas like Code of a Killer, then you’ll enjoy this.

Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Ray Donovan, and the series is available on NowTV.

Billions (2016 to present)

After just finishing a triumphant first series, the next season of Billions is already slated for a 2017 release. The series examines the life and culture of hedge-fund managers, which is exciting to say the least!

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This ultra glamorous series is an exciting foray into the changing world of hedge funds, and every second of the action is fantastic. It’s a really cerebral thriller, so you’ll need to be paying attention if you want to keep up. It’s also a star-studded affair, with actors like Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff and Paul Giamatti leading the action.

Sky Atlantic is currently showing repeats of Billions, and the series is also available on NowTV.

Banshee (2013 to present)

You’ve probably seen this TV show advertised on the likes of Now TV and other Sky channels. Sadly, the final series has just finished on Sky Atlantic, but it’s been a furious, violent and lurid roller-coaster ride of a show.

Antony Starr takes the title role and he plays an ex-criminal who’s chasing the ghosts of his past. This leads him to Banshee, Pennsylvania, and brings action the like of which the small Amish town has never seen. It has a true crime feel, as there is a bit of forensic investigation to watch out for.

The best part of this series has to be the writing, as it keeps the pace exciting at all times. And as for the action, it’s the most adrenaline-fuelled and bruising anywhere on TV.

See our Killer 50 tribute to Banshee. Watch out for repeats on Sky Atlantic.

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