With A-listers Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey on the marquee and HBO footing the bill, we figured True Detective would be the kind of quality fare we’ve come to expect from the premium cabler. But we were completely unaware of what a mindgame the self-contained first season would play on our collective unconscious, the series’ decades-long murder investigation twisting over and around on itself until Marty and Rust weren’t the only ones obsessed with a string of ritualistic killings. In director Cary Fukunaga’s hands, Nic Pizzolatto’s scripts drew us ever deeper into the sultry Louisiana bayou, a place where spaghetti monsters, Lone Star men, the Yellow King and a Big Hug mug all seemed to carry a deeper meaning. By the end of the grueling finale, we were relieved to have some closure and psyched that the excellent project would be back for Season 2 – a sure sign, if you ask us, that the light’s winning.
Masters of Sex
OK, Masters of Sex: You got us. We started watching the Showtime period drama – which follows researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson’s 1950s investigation into human coupling – for its titillating premise. Imagine our surprise when the bedroom (or rather, laboratory) scenes turned out to be the show’s most perfunctory element. You want to talk real eye-grabbing? Watch Michael Sheen’s buttoned-up pillar of science fall to pieces after his wife’s horrific miscarriage. Witness Lizzy Caplan’s jazz-singer-turned-secretary grasp her future with both hands as she enrolls in medical school. And even after hundreds of topless (and bottomless) scenes, the Michelle Ashford-created series is never so naked as the moment that Masters realizes he’s fallen for his velvet-voiced assistant – and makes a beeline to her house to tell her so. If you’re looking for top-shelf, Emmy-worthy drama, Masters of Sex – pardon the pun – nailed it
Season 2 of Bryan Fuller’s visually sumptuous thriller was a classic game of FBI-cat-and-suavely-sociopathic-mouse in which profiler Will Graham had to get unspeakably close to the titular Dr. Lecter without falling completely beneath his spell. With hauntingly understated turns by Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and a sublime supporting cast, plus crime (and dinner) scenes so disgustingly beautiful you half-wished you could frame them and hang them in the parlor, Hannibal became a weekly fever-nightmare from which you didn’t really want to wake. Nobody summed up the Emmy-worthy juxtaposition better than ill-fated meatpacking tycoon Mason Verger (as he prepared to eat chunks of his own face): “I am enchanted and terrified!”
The Good Wife
From the birth of Florrick-Agos to the shocking death of Will Gardner, The Good Wife‘s fifth season rained turmoil and upheaval down on its core characters — to absolutely stunning effect. Exploring everything from the ethics of wiretapping, eavesdropping and client-poaching to the emotional reverberations of a loved one’s violent death, showrunners Robert and Michelle King brought together compelling story crafting, razor-sharp direction, second-to-none casting and powerhouse performances from its deep cast of regulars — best captured in the must-rewatch episode “Hitting the Fan” — to reach an undeniable creative peak in Season 5. The Good Wife and the Emmys is a merger just waiting to happen… again.
Game of Thrones
Who in seven bloody hells would disagree that Game of Thrones just keeps getting better? Season 4 saw scads of the most anticipated moments from George R.R. Martin’s book series (bye, Joffrey!) as well as some of the most memorable performances from the HBO drama’s incredible cast (Tyrion’s trial speech!) thus far. The characters’ loyalties may have been constantly shifting, but the quality of this epic saga remained unwavering. Plus: Khaleeeeeeesi.
There are few TV dramas that are able to reduce us to near-hyperventilation on a weekly basis, but Breaking Bad‘s final season did just that. As the AMC juggernaut came to a near-perfect conclusion, we let our jaws take up permanent residence on the floor and marveled at how Vince Gilligan & Co. maneuvered their way around such a magnificently tangled web. Plus, with an ensemble cast that gave heartbreaking performances week after week — even baby Holly! — there’s no question that Bad‘s Emmy-worthy final run was so, so good.