5. The Expanse
The show: Sci-fi with a gritty edge. That’s what ALL good sci-fi is like, right? The Expanse is worlds apart from every other show in the genre. Set hundreds of years in the future, it tackles the reality of a future where mankind sprawls into the universe, taking command of everything it lays its hands on. Mars is now its own military power, and at odds with Earth. Their squabbles lay the foundation for an imminent war, which forms a tense backdrop for the show’s main story, of a ship’s captain (Steven Strait) and a detective (Thomas Jane), who unite to solve the case of a missing young woman.
Why it’s worth a watch: The world-building is as close to realistic as you can imagine. Forget the typical sci-fi signifiers; there’s no weird portals to other dimensions, mad extraterrestrials, or weaponry that defies physics. What you’re left with is a damn good story that’s set to receive a season 4, courtesy of Amazon who picked it up for a final season. I know, season 3 isn’t available right now - but it will be next month!
4. The Wire
The show: Uncompromising in its premise, David Simon constructs a densely-plotted, thematically-rich morality play that takes place in the U.S. murder capital, Baltimore. What sets it apart from other police dramas is its relentless investigation of what justice truly means; does the cop holding the gun and wearing the badge stake a claim in righteousness more so than the crook? It's in this blurry grey area that the show has its strongest components.
Why it's worth a watch: That fine line between good and bad is slowly unpacked throughout each successive season, which delves into different aspects of Baltimore’s corrupt cityscape. No other show has ever come close to accomplishing this with such balls.
The show: Starring an award-winning Ian McShane as the foul-mouthed Al Swearengen, the old west gets the R-rated revamp you never knew it needed. Much like Thrones brings violence and nudity to fantasy, Deadwood does the same to the lawless post-Civil War era of the west. David Milch's canceled-too-soon series takes place in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota at a time when every man took matters into his own hands. Misfits, thieves, weirdos, they’re all eager to make their fortune, or even better, steal it. Swearengen is at the centre of things as the owner of the Gem Saloon.
Why it's worth a watch: This richly-textured drama might bungle the historical accuracy of its 1870s pilfering, but more than makes up for it with attention to detail. Characters this well-drawn don't come around that often, even if they’re not exact replicas of their real-life counterparts.
2. The Americans
Region: UK, US
Season(s): 1-5 (UK), 1-6 (US)
The show: All good art is never appreciated in its own time. The Americans seemed to be headed that way, snubbed repeatedly at the Emmys, the Globes, until it finally nabbed two of the former for its show-stopping series finale. It’s not like the FX show needed awards: its devout fanbase continued to tune in week-after-week for this thrilling tale of a soviet family living undercover in the US as a regular American family. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as the KGB officers posing as the married couple, whose suburban homestead happens to be next door to an FBI counterintelligence officer.
Why it’s worth a watch: When society looks back at some of its greatest ever TV shows, The Americans will be near the top of the list. A deep-rooted look at marriage, it’s also a damn good thriller that traces the couple throughout the 1980s, with career-best performances from Russell and Rhys. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this, drop everything and get going.
1. The Sopranos
The show: A pioneer in the golden age of television, The Sopranos threw out the rulebook when it came to hard-hitting drama. How will viewers sympathise with a mob boss who's also a serial murderer, cheater, and extortionist? Easily, because he's also quite charming, funny, and likeable despite his vast shortcomings and shady moralising, unlike some of his co-workers, who range from idiotic to scheming.
Why it's worth a watch: What sets this apart from other mob shows is the attention to detail. The traditions of the gang will draw you in, because it all seems so unusual. They’re crooks, philanderers, thieves... but they know loyalty. James Gandolfini breathes life into the Soprano family lynchpin, Tony, a grizzled anti-hero who ties together this epic modern tale of what it means to be family.