WITHIN two months of each other in 2018, the primetime premieres of two new American series had given us the decade’s two most successful and addictive television dramas not seen since the days of ‘Dallas’ in the 1970, or ‘Game of Thrones’ in the early 2010.
Welcome back to the glory days of television!
HBO’s ‘Succession’, which aired its very first episode on May 6, 2018, had starred Brian Cox – a relatively unknown but well-established character actor in the Shakespearean mode (he had once played the role of Hannibal Lecter in 1978’s film production of ‘Manhunter’) headed an ensemble cast of great actors who included Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong and Alan Ruck.
In the television industry, there is this highly-regarded segment that is termed as ‘prestige drama’ and had included in the recent past such classics like ‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007), ‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015) and ‘The Wire’ (2002-2008), and HBO has led the field in this segment for the past few decades.
‘Succession’ is a powerful drama about a dysfunctional media family based loosely on the Rupert Murdoch clan and was born from a feature length script called ‘The Murdochs’ a decade earlier, of which the main character Logan Roy was supposed to be based on.
Jesse Armstrong, the creator, had thrown into the mix an American flavour with three stateside families in the media industry – the Roberts who own Comcast; the Redstones who own CBS and Paramount, and the Sulzbergers who own the New York Times.
The casting of the four siblings – all potential successors to Logan Roy’s media empire – is currently unmatched on primetime television, with all four actors giving exceptional performances in award-worthy scripts week-in and week-out over four seasons lasting 39 episodes (with seven episodes left to run).
The excellent writing, the tension and the drama of the rivalries between father and family members and his board; the four siblings – the betrayals and the back-stabbings, yet the obvious filial loyalties and bonds when under common outside threats combined with a topical and politically aware current world affairs status – all combined to make this an engrossing and absorbing watch even if your interests do not fall within this arena of politics and finance.
‘Succession’ draws its captive audience back again and again each and every week and that makes for spell-binding addictive television not seen since the days of the height of ‘Who shot JR?’ during the peak cliffhanger episode of Dallas in 1991.
Paramount’s ‘Yellowstone’ does the exact same thing with its audience as a modern-day Western and even looks like a combination of both ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ – two other runaway hits from the 1980s – but all dressed up in Calvin Klein’s Western outfits and on horses and shot on location in Brokeback Mountain country.
The scenery is lush, music evocative, storyline escapist.
Its superlative casting of Kevin Costner as the head patriarch of the Yellowstone Range – imagine a westernised version of Tony Soprano in cowboy hat with boots on a horse instead of cigar-chomping, hard-boozing womanising and drug-peddling Mafioso on the streets of Little Italy.
Costner had won Golden Globe’s Best Actor award last year for his role as John Dutton.
The character’s daughter Beth Dutton, played with a man-eating sexiness and prowess with a hardcore-drinking sluttiness by British actress Kelly Reilly (her last series was the little-seen ‘Britannia’ of 2017) matched only by Cole Hauser, Luke Grimes, and the great Gil Birmingham.
Filming locations for the sprawling, picturesque and beautifully-scenic series were done at the Chief Joseph Ranch at 125 Appaloosa Trail in Darby Montana, USA, which had stood in for the Yellowstone Range for the entire series throughout the four seasons of the year.
‘Yellowstone’ came on our screens on June 19, 2018 and has gone through five seasons and 53 episodes. It has also spun off so far two off-shoot series called ‘1883’ and ‘1923’, with two more additional spin-offs set to join the universe in the upcoming future – ‘1883: The Bass Reeves Story’ and ‘6666’.
As they say in the industry, success will always breed more success.
‘Yellowstone’ is creator’s Taylor Sheridan’s biggest success so far; and Taylor is currently the hottest property on television – he is an American actor, screenwriter and director having written the screenplay for ‘Sicario’ in 2015 and ‘Hell or High Water’ in 2016 for which, he received an Academy Award (Oscar) nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Besides ‘Yellowstone’, ‘1923’ and ‘1883’, Taylor is also responsible for ‘Mayor of Kingstown’ starring Jeremy Renner and Tulsa King with Sylvester Stallone; Nicole Kidman and Zoe Saldana are in the cast for his next series entitled ‘Lioness’ now in production.
Netflix was recently responsible for reviving an eight-year old British television BBC series called ‘The Last Kingdom’, which could well be the bastard child of ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Vikings Valhalla’.
‘The Last Kingdom’ first aired over BBC on Oct 10, 2015 without much fanfare and had met with a rather cool audience reception then. Five seasons and 46 episodes later after Netflix picked up the series, promoted and made it a sleeper overnight sensation, it had claimed a spot left empty after the monster hit series of ‘Game of Thrones’ left the firmament on May 19, 2019 after ending with Season 8, Episode 6.
Based on a series of books written by Bernard Cornwell, the setting was historical England around 800 AD-900 AD, involving the conflict between the invading Vikings who were eager to take more ground, and the Saxons English who stood firm to repel them.
The screenplay, locations and production values were excellent, with superb casting and all round top-class craftsmanship in its storytelling.
‘The Last Kingdom’ was binge-watched by a massive worldwide audience and had culminated in a two-hour full-feature final episode called ‘Seven Kings Must Die’, which premiered over Netflix last night (April 14) – I hope that you had managed to catch it!
I, too, had happily binge-watched all these three foregoing television series and felt gratified that in recent years, we have been entertained once again by such well-produced and superb pieces of entertainment on our screens, no matter how small they were on hand-held devices, on our laptops or on our super-sized 72-inch screens with Sensurround Dolby digital-enhanced soundbars and all.
I am sure that if you searched hard enough, read reviews or did a bit of Internet and Google search – and the best online search engine for such entertainment on screen could be found on www.imdb.com, you’d be able to find something to your liking, be it an unheard of foreign series, a revealing documentary, a piece of musical concert you missed or a long forgotten feature film that you’d love to watch again – dim down the lights, click on the button and let the film credits roll.
Enjoy your movie – it’s time to chill out!