Beth's Top 5 Favorite Prestige Shows
Everyone welcome Beth to the site!
A note from Patrick: Beth Lisogorsky, author of Beth’s Exceptional Video Playlist, and now Feature Presentation collaborator, shares her top 5 favorite prestige TV shows below as her intro piece to the site. Beth will be mostly be talking tv, as she does wonderfully on her site. I’m still trying to get her to watch all 850 episodes of Antiques Roadshow with me. Welcome!
I have a lot more than just 5 top shows, but I’m basing my list off the most memorable. They are in no particular order.
My criteria for this “top(s)” list is the following:
Shows that I watched all seasons and episodes of (a feat in and of itself)
Waited with continuous bated breath for their weekly release (most of these were pre-on-demand, binge-fest days so yeah, “BN” or “Before Netflix”) and offered micro rewards for getting through the week like finally being able to watch your favorite show
In some way, they were integral to my self-perception and understanding of the world around me at points in my life where I really needed it.
Mad Men (2007-2015)
In 1960s New York, alpha male Don Draper struggles to stay on top of the heap in the high-pressure world of Madison Avenue advertising firms. Aside from being one of the top ad men in the business, Don is also a family man, the father of young children. (IMDB)
Gender representation in media has always fascinated me and is a subject I double down on in my film and TV analyses or, as I tell my kids, with my superpower #lifeasawoman lens. In Mad Men, the sexy “alpha” male archetype, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is revered and feared by everyone in his sphere and exudes some serious BDE (sorry to be crass). What’s even more painstakingly obvious as the seasons roll on is just how damn complex and damaged Draper is, hence the fall of the great American hero. You can see this play out in his marriage, his parenting, his affairs, his work style. But it’s in his interactions with a female copywriter, Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), who is trying to break and at times, shatter the glass ceiling here and earn her way up the ladder, where we see Don most clearly and depicted most sympathetically. At these points, we see how his humble beginnings and lack of childhood stability shaped his very manufactured essence and phony facade. For someone who is all about selling people stuff and a bonafide expert on the art of illusion, Don is unable to pull one over Peggy or his daughter, Sally (Kiernan Brennan Shipka). And this is where the most rewarding dialogue magic happens.
The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 were 1,000 miles off course when they crashed on a lush, mysterious island. Each person possesses a shocking secret, but they've got nothing on the island itself, which harbors a monstrous security system, a series of underground bunkers and a group of violent survivalists hidden in the shadows. (IMDB)
Director J.J. Abrams (who went on to find further fame in Star Wars and Star Trek, not to mention directed a Spielberg produced favorite film of mine, Super 8) cut his teeth on this popular, iconic series. In short, this long-running series put him on the map. This show preceded Walking Dead and our culture’s fascination with apocalyptic themes of mortality and after life. It was, however, likely influenced by the reality show Survivor, which saw people being stranded on an island together, reckoning with fellow survivors’ Id-like tendencies and the competitive forces at play in “surviving” or in the case of this show, “winning” and not being cast off. In the tale of Lost we have the representation of so many down-on-their-luck individuals whose lives are enriched and made better in the face of a plane crash tragedy. Coming to terms with end-of-life forces there on the island makes people connect in ways they never would have otherwise and grow and find love in romantic and platonic ways. It’s almost like a summer camp experience or going off to college, but as adults, where you get a do-over. Sure, we had smoke monsters, the man in black, and evil Ben, but we also had Hurley, Kate, Jack, and Sawyer. So forget the last season, put it aside, and just remember how this non-linear “flash forward” and “flashback” way of storytelling made its way into your hearts. And speaking of TV viewing being formative, one of the episodes that aired in early 2010, I still remember vividly. After laboring for hours with kid #1, I demanded a break to watch Lost from my hospital room while waiting for my son to arrive. Thankfully, he complied and let me have my smoke monster first.
Felicity Porter is a shy girl who finds out what life on her own is really following her high-school graduation. Sheltered as a child, Felicity never made any of her own decisions -- that is until she moves to New York to go to college and to follow high-school classmate Ben Covington, whom she had a crush on throughout high school. Felicity may have gone to New York to follow Ben, but once there, she starts to find herself and soon discovers that her move to the Big Apple (against her parents' wishes) holds endless possibilities. (Rotten Tomatoes)
Felicity aired around the same time I was in college and was very much of its time and a coming-of-age story. It was not representative of my college experience but I often imagined it would have been had I followed my high school crush (Ben, in the case of Felicity) to New York City, went to the same college (let’s say NYU), stalked him there, and eventually dated him, but was secretly better suited to date my RA, who I initially saw as a platonic presence in my life. None of this happened to me, but as I said, in a weird fantasy world, I enjoyed living vicariously through Keri Russell and her gorgeous long curly mane and pixie short hair because she epitomized class, intelligence, and out-loud insecurity. Plus, she was a “cool” introvert and recorded her private thoughts to her high school French tutor, Sally. I was a French major! Coincidence? I think not. There was lots of chatter over the Felicity years over whether you were Team Noel (the RA) or Team Ben (the crush). For me, I was always Team Felicity, but if forced to pick, Noel (Scott Foley) all the way, of course.
Widowed suburbanite Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) starts growing and selling marijuana to make enough money to support her family after her husband's unexpected death leaves her in big debt. Nancy has associates in her pot-growing business, which include Andy, who is her brother-in-law, and pot-smoking City Councilman Doug Wilson. Then there's the business of trying to keep the whole thing secret from people like her neighbor Celia. (Rotten Tomatoes)
I really dug MLP’s Nancy Botwin in this show. She’s a bad-ass survivor and thriver. It’s a little of the Breaking Bad motif where Nancy is continually digging herself deeper and deeper into levels of desperation and depravity that she will never be able to come back from, by lowering her standards of what’s acceptable each time she finds herself in a bind, but she starts from a very real and tragic beginning when her husband dies and she’s left to support her sons. Now, for someone who hasn’t really ever worked before a regular job, Nancy needs to get creative with her approach to how she conducts her money-making pursuits, which puts her in direct contact with drug lords, mafias, gangs, and the most vicious people of them all, her suburbanite neighbors. How else will she be able to afford the lifestyle without her husband’s income? This is the show that gave us the second coming of the song “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds and for eight seasons, we rallied for the Botwins, especially a view of what life outside of the regular 9-5 workday could be, if fashioned in an entrepreneurial, albeit illegal fashion. Still, it was a case study in “out-of-the-box” thinking.
True Detective (2014-)
The lives of police detectives as they chase criminals, using unconventional methods. The officers struggle to gain control of their own personal demons as they attack different cases. (Apple TV)
The ultimate in HBO prestige TV, the first season of this show with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as police detectives was by far the best of the three seasons to date. However, one defining characteristic of this show is that you can’t stop watching - unless its focus is too much on bad things happening to kids. That’s where I call BS (Season 3, you know I’m looking at you). That said, Season 1 invites you into a cesspool of villainous acts, a truly chilling bad guy, and, like the perfect story, it peels back just enough (non-linear storytelling at its finest), to reveal the whole in small piece parts. The chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey is off the charts, as is McConaughey’s ponytail in the scenes from “today.” I liked that this show also didn’t shy away from the effects of trauma and mental wellness with respect to male vulnerability. Season 4 is being released this year on HBO with Jodie Foster as its detective lead.
Watch True Detective on HBO Max.
For more of Beth’s TV and film reviews, be sure to check out her streaming playlist.
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Mad Men is definitely on my list too!