The 10 Most Anticipated Cable Drama Series of 2014
While the phrase "acclaimed network drama" still resides outside punchline territory for the moment, only those with the rosiest of glasses believe the position is temporary. Unbelievably, last-place NBC, with the tandem of "Hannibal" and "Parenthood," is the lone broadcast network with any semblance of a quality drama on its schedule. This week's upfront presentations had the potential to rectify that slight. Sadly, the Big Four trotted out its annual assortment of uninspiring "new" cop, doctor, and lawyer shows, each more derivative than the last.
Ninety-seven percent of this site's readership won't watch any of these. They'll stink. Even if one manages to fall ass-backwards into respectability, they have almost no chance of survival (waves to "Hannibal"). You wouldn't buy stock in an obese redshirt 20 minutes before he beams down to a planet populated by hostile treadmills. So why commit to a sure-to-be-cancelled series that isn't all that great to begin with? Especially when there's too much outstanding content already?
Thankfully, cable outlets are more than willing to plug the quality gap. So leave the network offerings for your paper-book-reading grandparents. Here are 10 cable dramas you can't afford to miss in 2014.
A quick note on criteria: in order to make this list a series must be at the pilot stage or picked up for a full order, not merely in the development pipeline. There's a significant difference between a network optioning a property ("That person is hot") and commissioning a pilot ("I asked him or her out, we're going to dinner next week, and we'll get it on if the meal's good.") There are more than enough fascinating drama concepts in development to merit a separate SRL, which I'll create one day for nine Bitcoins.
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Why You Should Care: Think The Social Network with a Genesis soundtrack and raging coke habit. Set in the early 1980s, this series dramatizes the personal computing boom through the eyes of a visionary former IBM salesman, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a frustrated engineer, Gordon Clarke (Scoot McNairy), and an ambitious prodigy, Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) in Texas' Silicon Prairie. Freshmen showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rodgers certainly cobbled together a strong cast for their debut effort, the title of which refers to an old computer code that causes the CPU to cease meaningful operation (the "catch fire" part is a joke).
Chances it gets picked up: 85 percent. Impressive cast. Captivating concept. Affordable. Those are ideal conditions for AMC.
Why You Should Care: Two-time Oscar-winner Ang Lee. That's the cat who will direct the series pilot, which centers on an American family caught up in the turmoil of an unnamed Middle Eastern nation. Think "The Americans" in Iran. There's no cast as of yet, although producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff ("Homeland") and Craig Wright ("Lost") confirmed that the pilot will film in Morocco. This inevitably ends with Lee winning a directing Emmy while "Tyrant" loses out on Best Drama.
Chances the series gets picked up: FX outbid multiple cable outlets for the rights and already ordered additional scripts. 90 percent.
The Leftovers (HBO)
Why You Should Care: Any time an A-list showrunner like Damon Lindelof teams with an esteemed novelist like Tom Perrotta ("Election," "Little Children"), it's hard to tune out. "The Leftovers," which examines life in a small town after hundreds of residents disappear in a Rapture-esque event, is a darkly comic, remarkably insightful novel that should translate well to the small screen. Plus, Perrotta's involvement in adapting his own source material all but eliminates the chance Lindelof touches the third act where it pees. Director Peter Berg (the hilarious, jingoistic Battleship) begins shooting the pilot in New York next month.
Chances the series gets picked up: 50 percent. Felt a lot better about this before HBO recently passed on another popular literary adaptation ("The Corrections") from a respected producer (Scott Rudin). Wouldn't be surprised if it gets the "Criminal Justice" treatment and survives as a miniseries.
Why you should care: Ron Moore is the Marlo of the sci-fi television world - his name rings out. The visionary behind the exceptional "Battlestar Galactica" returns to SyFy with a thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travels to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak. Obviously, there's more to the disease than meets the eye, and the group becomes charged with preventing world annihilation. This could go a lot of ways, all of them stimulating.
Chances the series gets picked up: 100 percent. SyFy ordered 13 episodes earlier this spring for a 2014 premiere.
Buda Bridge (HBO)
Why You Should Care: Not to be confused with FX's summer series "The Bridge," this concept from Oscar-nominated Bullhead director Michael Roskam and executive producer Michael Mann is a Belgian-set crime story set in a near-future Brussels. When a woman turns up dead on Buda Bridge, violence and eccentric science combine to create chaos in the European capital city. Roskam will write and direct the pilot. Want more? Too bad. There's been almost no news about "Buda Bridge" since HBO ordered the pilot last summer. Hell, there are conflicting reports as to whether the script was even ordered to pilot.
Chances it gets picked up: We'll let Roskam take this one - "There's a 10 percent chance, maybe five percent, that it will become a series." Damn.
Why You Should Care: Because if you don't, you hate America and should move to Canaxico or some other ninth-world cesspool. "Turn" tells the story of Abe Woodhull (played by Jamie Bell), a cabbage smuggler (he and Davos would be besties) who forms grassroots spy organization known as The Culper Ring to help the Colonials win the American Revolution. Our nation's birth is criminally underexplored by modern film and television, which makes this series - based on the book "Washington's Spies" - insanely appealing. The one catch is cost. Though General Washington himself may eventually appear on screen, his presence behind the scenes is far more critical. Considering that the notoriously stingy AMC has shown an unwillingness to pick up the tab even for its established hits, the bean counters might blanche at greenlighting a pricey period piece lacking recognizable stars. Sneaky-talented Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of The Apes) will helm the pilot, which began filming last month in Richmond.
Chances it gets picked up: 65 percent. AMC has lots of compelling original content its development pipeline ("Ballistic City," "Area 51," "Raiders," "The Terror") but nothing immediately ready to step in and plug the looming "Breaking Bad" hole. Hard to imagine a network starved for a new smash passing on a potential mass-appeal series.
American Gods (HBO)
Why You Should Care: Because this series could be the next "Game of Thrones" if it ever gets off the ground. Based on the twisty, atmospheric 2001 novel by fantasy icon Neil Gaiman ("Sandman," "Coraline"), "American Gods" depicts a modern world where gods and other mythological creatures exist but only gain power from human belief (Think Thor crossed with Tinkerbell meets those awful Sam Worthington Titans movies). These waning gods face an impending war with powerful new "American" gods born from our worship of drugs, sex, celebrities and the Internet (the Pajiba god is a giant Kangol-wearing multi-racial lobster with two dads and six liberal arts degrees). Playtone, the Tom Hanks/Gary Goetzman production company behind such television landmarks as "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific," wants six 10-12 episode seasons, each with a $40 million budget. Anyone not ready to watch the hell out of this? Well, be patient. HBO picked up the series in April 2011 and Gaiman still hasn't delivered a pilot script. In March, Gaiman tweeted that we could see the pilot episode by the end of 2013 provided he finishes the script. Keep dreaming. The staggering amount of effects work required coupled with HBO's silence on the project means you shouldn't expect to see a single frame until "Thrones" wraps its fourth season in late spring 2014. At best.
Chances the series gets picked up: 80 percent. Too many heavy hitters (Gaiman, Playtone) involved for this to die on the vine. Six seasons is probably a pipe dream, though.
True Detective (HBO)
Why You Should Care: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play lawmen tracking a serial killer through back-country Louisiana over the course of 17 years. Just take my money. Writer Nic Pizzolatto (ughhhhhh "The Killing") employs a split narrative and multiple time frames to track the case from its origins in 1995 to the present when the two detectives are testifying in court after the case is reopened. Look, McConaughey's character is named Rust Cohle. There's no way this isn't fantastic. Also, ladies - the average temperature in Louisiana is 80 degrees. That's 26.6 degrees Celsius, 299.75 degrees Kelvin, and a 17.8 on the bongo scale, which McConaughey uses calculate his shirtless appearances per project.
Chances it gets picked up: 100 percent. HBO committed to an eight-episode run last year. No word on the premiere date.
The Vatican (Showtime)
Why You Should Care: Coach Taylor trades his Permian Panther cap for one of those red beanie things in pay-cable series produced and directed by Ridley Scott. Oh, and the Pope is Hitler*. Why wouldn't you watch this? "The Vatican" is essentially a contemporary "Tudors," exploring spirituality, power and politics set against the political machinations within the current Catholic Church. Kyle Chandler stars as Thomas Duffy, the progressive Cardinal of New York, with Ganz filling the giant hat of Pope Sixtus VI. Creator Paul Attanasio ("House") insists the show won't court controversy, although an honest, modern examination of a scandal-ridden religious institution that just elected a new leader should make Marcus Bachmann angry enough to forget he loves all the dick-shaped foods for a few weeks. Forgive me father, for I have grinned.
*The Pope is not Hitler. Rather, the character of the Pope will be played by Bruno Ganz, who portrayed Hitler in Downfall, AKA the source of those endless Angry Hitler videos.
Chances it gets picked up: 75 percent. Showtime is trying to increase its original content library, and this is a strong fit for an outlet familiar with religious dramas.
The Strain (FX)
Why You Should Care: Guillermo Del Toro. Chuck Hogan. Vampire apocalypse. There's more, but what else do you really need? A synopsis? You're already on the Internet, look it up. Fine, f*ck you - Corey Stoll, who stole "House of Cards" from under Kevin Spacey, just nabbed the lead role of Dr. Ephraim Goodwater, a CDC specialist tasked with stopping a virus that's turning humanity into terrifying vampires. Badass Kevin Durand (Keamy from "Lost") co-stars as a badass former exterminator who discovers that his badass skill set translates quite well to a world overrun with vampires. Everything about this series - which Del Toro and Hogan will adapt from their trilogy of novels -- screams massive cultural and commercial success.
Chances it gets picked up: The upcoming launch of FXX means FX president John Landgraf has twice as many programming hours to fill, and he wants to be in the Del Toro business so much that FX committed to the pilot immediately after hearing the pitch. More scripts have been ordered. This thing is a lock. Well, 95 percent. It loses five percentage points because of Del Toro, who has the follow-through of an apathetic meth addict.
Brian Byrd once erroneously accused a co-worker of smuggling cabbage out of the grocery store under her shirt. Turns out she was pregnant. You can email him or follow him on Twitter.