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Saturday, 20 October 2018

Four of The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time

I love stories, whatever their form; book, play, movie, TV show. If there is a good story I will be interested. Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are four TV shows that I believe are some of the best of our time. Together they have great stories, fascinating characters, well-written dialogue and mess around with cliches. Here is my long and enthusiastic post on them all! (Will contain spoilers if you haven't seen the shows). 

The Anti-Hero

YouTube channel 'ScreenPrism' has extensive video essays on these men. Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White are all examples of the non-conventional male hero. Tony is a mafia boss suffering from depression and panic disorder. Walter is a chemistry teacher who has terminal cancer. Don is a Creative Director at an advertising agency who assumed the identity of another man (his real name is Dick Whitman).

All three men have darkness enveloping their lives. Tony and Don both appear to be rich, powerful men who have it all - doting wives and children, work colleagues who worship and fear them, and plenty of side-girlfriends who bend over backwards, forwards and sideways for them. Yet they are deeply unhappy, frustrated and disturbed, plagued by inner demons from their childhood. Tony grew up with an emotionally abusive mother and a father in the mafia, seeing things he shouldn't have seen at such a young age.

Naturally Tony is no angel - calling him evil is a stretch but he is a pretty bad guy; he murders people with his own hands just because they annoyed him. Yet as an audience we constantly sympathise with Tony, forever on his side. The same goes with Walter, arguably the most unconventional of them all. Walter is not sexy or alluring like Tony, Don or everyone in GOT. Walter is a nerdy genius and very much a middle-aged dad - he is uncool and overly concerned with his son and with Jesse, which adds comical effect to BB. Unlike Tony and Don, Walter is not respected at the start of the show - his wife nags him, his students find him uninspiring, and his boss at the car wash walks all over him. Walter becomes respected through his viciously ruthless behaviours. He becomes Tony Soprano, while Tony spends the whole of TS trying to change and yet ultimately failing.

GOT tops the anti-hero trope out of all four shows. It is also the most unique out of the four because it has multiple protagonists and antagonists. MM, BB and TS all focus mostly on their three male protagonists. They have lots of supporting characters who are given lots of screen time and character development (Peggy Olsen, Jesse Pinkman, Christopher Moltisanti) but ultimately these are the stories of three men struggling with their inner demons.

However, there is no 'one' main character in GOT. Ned and Robb Stark both seemed to be the key male protagonists, but they got killed off. Jon Snow is probably going to be the hero of the entire story, but Tyrion, Jaime, Bran, Stannis, Littlefinger and Tywin are/were also key protagonists. Plus what really differentiates GOT from the others is that the female protagonists are just as important. Daenerys, Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Catelyn and Cersei are all deeply important to the narrative and are given lots of screen time as well as chapter viewpoints.

And it goes without saying that all of the protagonists in GOT are arguably antagonists as well, such as Cersei, Tywin and Littlefinger. The really villainous characters - Joffrey, Ramsay, Viserys and (perhaps) the Night King are all fully formed, but as there is no single protagonist, there is no single force of evil coming to stop them. (It can be said that the white walkers are the key antagonists of the show, but as we don't know much about them and there is so much evil within Westeros anyway they may turn out to be the good guys).


All four of these shows are set in different situations. GOT is set in a medieval fantastical world. MM is set in 1960s New York, focusing on an advertising agency. TS is set in 1990s-2000s New Jersey, focusing on life in the mafia. BB is set in the present-day New Mexico, with the most seemingly ordinary setting of normal suburban life. Yet all four of them deal with concepts that can be translated to all elements of the human experience. They all really deal with the same things: love, family, honour, sacrifice, what it means to be a good person, what power does to you, why we do the things we do and discovering who we really are.

They also all depict some of the most disgusting things humans have done and are capable of. GOT shows people repeatedly sacrificing others to their 'Gods', in some of the most horrific ways possible. BB and TS also depict murder and violence in such a nonchalant and almost 'necessary' way, with Tony justifying the mafia killings to Dr Melfi as 'soldiers killing other soldiers'. Walter constantly tries to justify all the awful things he does as 'doing it for his family' when its pretty clear that's total bullshit.

MM is the most 'normal' of the four regarding its story line, as there's no magic, no fantasy, and no crazy bloodshed - it's just about a group of people working in an office and their lives. Yet it still shows the nasty things humans do to one another, if psychologically. Racism, sexism and homophobia are all shown through various characters and the way they treat and get treated. People are placed in certain boxes and pushed into certain situations. Betty Draper appears to have it all, yet is deeply miserable with her life and spends most of her marriage to a man she doesn't really know. Joan is pushed into sleeping with a client just to help seal a deal. Suicide, rape and addiction run throughout MM, just in a more subtle way compared to the other three shows.

Story Structure

BB is the most 'simple' story to me; it has one single thread that weaves its way throughout, and is mainly set in one location with the smallest amount of 'focus' characters. It is also probably the most original story line, and as the show goes on it builds and builds, getting better and better until it reaches its explosive climax. The whole story is really about this one man who wants to build a meth empire, and the terrible consequences of his greedy and selfish actions.

MM and TS are more situation-based stories; they don't really have one main plot, instead depicting life within specific situations. Both focus on their key male protagonists, but also branch out and delve into the lives of the other supporting characters. I find most of the characters in both shows to be pretty unlikeable, especially in TS, but they are fascinating and real. The characters drive the narrative and its their reactions and decisions that make the story happen, which to me is the best kind of story-telling.

GOT's overarching story line is that there are a bunch of royal houses fighting for the iron throne; meanwhile white walkers are moving closer to Westeros to invade yet no one besides the Night's Watch seems to care until Season 7. GOT is naturally the most confusing due to its immense cast of characters and many side storylines brought out by the various characters. It is also the only of the four to be based on a book series, and with literature there is more space to delve into backstory and description whereas with a movie/TV show things have to be shown and edited within shorter and snappier time frames.


This post will be in the 'Entertainment' tab of my blog. Only one of these shows has its own tab and that is GOT, my favourite of the four shows. After that I would say TS, and then have MM and BB tied. I have seen TS several times - I started watching it with my family when I was in my teens. None of these shows are really for young audiences, but I would say GOT is the most 'adult' of them all due to the severe emotional complexity and horrific scenarios that occur (such as a young girl being burned alive while her dad watches stoically).

TS is probably the most darkly humorous, but all of them contain elements of black humour and satire. I found BB to be the most 'sad', and it took me the longest to watch - I sort of started and stopped whereas I watched the others straight to the end over some months. They're all quite rich and dense TV shows - I know some people like to binge watch them but I can't do that with heavy TV programmes, I need time to digest the content and the messages. I've heard similar shows with rich story lines and complex characters are House of Cards, Twilight Zone and The Walking Dead. Here's to them!

If you enjoyed this super long post then please leave a comment below letting me know! Which show do you like best out of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Mad Men? Or if you don't like any, let me know why!

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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