The 10 Most Anticipated Cable Dramas of 2015
Imagine that each year, broadcast and cable executives back a dump truck filled with festering garbage bags onto their audiences’ shores. They then point to the piles and announce that somewhere inside these reeking mounds are a few sacks filled with cash, not trash. You’re welcome to the money, but there’s no way to distinguish between the two without opening each bag and covering yourself in filth.
That’s pilot season. Most of the content is garbage. It’s our job at Pajiba to find the prizes. We take that responsibility seriously.
Dustin already ran down the most promising network series of the 2014-15 season. Those shows arrive in your home free of charge, which is why one can be titled Black-ish without anyone really raising an eyebrow. Personally, I’d prefer Brackish, a coming-of-age-comedy set in a tidal estuary where freshwater meets its saltier cousin. Donal Logue would star as Gordon “Old” Bay, a grizzled yet charming crabber with a heart as big as a box of chicken necks. But I digress.
I’m here to cover the cable side. Specifically, cable dramas. We performed this exercise last year, and while I don’t want to pat myself on the back of my own horn, my prognostications proved pretty prescient - just three of the 10 selections didn’t make it to series. Way to go, Buda Bridge. You dick. So you can digest this year’s list secure in the knowledge that I’m only lying to you 30 percent of the time. At most. Politicians would personally punt a dozen grandmothers into steaming tar pits to have that type of track record with their constituents. Anyone dwelling on trivialities like “accuracy” will be sent the following form letter:
We’re playing by the same rules as last year: in order to make the cut a series must be at the pilot stage or picked up for a full order, not merely gestating in the development pipeline. There’s a difference between outlets optioning a property (“Yeah, man, I may be able to help you move”) and commissioning a pilot (“I’ll show up to help contingent on free pizza and craft beer”).
Onto the gems:
Why you should care: I’m all for historical fiction, but the logline for “Quarry” - a Marine sniper coming home from Vietnam in 1973 finds himself shunned by those he loves and demonized by the public - sounds absolutely ridiculous. These men and women defeated Hitler, freed the slaves, and repelled the Redcoats from our shores. I highly doubt they returned to an angry populace. Historical liberties aside, the series follows the title character (played by Logan Marshall-Green) as he tries to cope with his increasing disillusionment all while being recruited by a cabal of contract killers. “Rectify” screenwriters Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller - a pair who know a little something about men trying to rebuild their lives after traumatic experiences - wrote the script. The awesome John Hillcoat (The Proposition, Lawless) directed the pilot, which also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Stellan Skarsgard, and Jamie Hector.
Chances it gets picked up: 80 percent. Cinemax has only “Banshee,” “Strikeback,” and the new Clive Owen/Steven Soderbergh series “The Knick” on their drama schedule for 2014-15, and “Strikeback” is on a six-month hiatus while Sullivan Stapleton recovers from an injury. The former softcore specialist wants to grow its original content library, and “Quarry” fits nicely with the brand.
Criminal Justice (HBO)
Why you should care: “Criminal Justice” has endured a turbulent 12 months. James Gandolfini was scheduled to begin filming this seven-part miniseries - a remake of Peter Moffat’s 2008 BBC drama - when he returned from vacation in Rome last June. When the former “Sopranos” star died suddenly it appeared as though the series was finished. Enter Robert DeNiro. The screen legend signed on to fill the Gandolfini role…until he pulled out last month for scheduling reasons. Now it’s John Turturro in the lead role of Jack Stone, an ambulance-chasing New York City attorney who gets in over his head when he takes on the case of a Pakistani accused of murdering a girl. Richard Price (he wrote lots of books you should read) penned the story. Look, any material that’s strong enough to attract hitters like Gandolfini, DeNiro, and Turturro is going to make this list.
Chances it gets picked up: 100 percent. HBO committed to all seven episodes. No airdate yet, though.
Public Morals (TNT)
Why you should care: What up Edward Burns, you ageless, never-quite-made-it-big goombah? It’s nice to see you again, even if it is on TNT. While The Dynamite (is that an accepted nickname for TNT?) doesn’t have the best track record with prestige dramas, this 60s-era po-leece drama from Burns at least has potential buried underneath the horrific accents and cop clichés. Burns is Terry Muldoon (what a 60s cop name!), an officer in LA’s Public Morals Division, which I assume regulates blasphemy usage and flagrant breastfeeding. Actually, according to the press release this is a place where “cops walk the line between morality and criminality as the temptations that come from dealing with all kinds of vice threaten to get the better of them.” Whatever. Known gator menace/fellow accent abuser Michael Rappaport shows up as Burns’ partner and Katrina Bowden gets non-pay-cable naked in the trailer. I’m in.
Chances it gets picked up: 100 percent. It airs sometime in 2015.
Why you should care: Quick quiz. Winner gets nothing. Ready? Which is greater: the number of shows produced by J.J. Abrams, or the number of podcasts Joanna Robinson appears on each month? I don’t know the answer, but Abrams must be feeling the heat because he’s trying to bring yet another series to the small screen. This one is a remake of “Westworld,” the 1973 Yul Brenner classic based off the novel by Michael Crichton. No cast announced yet, but Jonathan Nolan (Christopher Nolan’s more famous sibling) will direct the pilot. If you believe as I do that “Westworld” is one of the few sci-fi classics that could actually benefit from a reinvention, these are the two guys you want infusing it with new life.
Chances it gets picked up: 30 percent. The pilot deal was announced before Abrams secured the Star Wars franchise. Selfishly, that takes precedence.
The Bastard Executioner (FX)
Why you should care: Ever watch “Game of Thrones” and think, “What this show needs is more Kurt Sutter? WISH GRANTED! According to Deadline, Sutter’s “The Bastard Executioner” tells the story of “a knight in King Edward III’s charge who is broken by the ravages of war and vows to lay down his sword. But when violence finds him again he is forced to pick up the bloodiest sword of all.” And wash it. It’s a reverse gender roles drama. Filming won’t begin until “Sons of Anarchy” wraps production on its seventh season, so don’t expect casting news or a formal go/no-go announcement for a while…although Sutter did tell Larry King that he plans to cast some “Sons” actors in key roles.
Chances it gets picked up: Sutter served as EP on “The Shield” ran “Sons” successfully for seven years. He has cache at FX. 75 percent.
Why you should care: HBO’s recent decision to pass on David Milch’s “The Money” - a drama about wealth and corruption among the super elite that still I hope lands elsewhere - may prove to be Showtime’s gain. “Billions,” from New York Times financial columnist and “Too Big to Fail” author Andrew Ross Sorkin, centers on the “collision and collusion between an aggressive U.S. attorney in New York and some of the richest hedge fund billionaires in the country.” Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders, the underrated Runaway Jury) wrote the pilot with Sorkin and will act as executive producers. The televised adaptation of “Too Big to Fail” was fantastic. If Sorkin can make non-fiction that engaging, imagine what he can do with fewer restrictions.
Chances it gets picked up: 90 percent. “Vatican” notwithstanding, Showtime tends to nurture its own (six of the eight pilots network president David Nevins has ordered since taking over have made it to series), and “Billions’” themes would pair nicely with “Homeland” on Sunday nights.
High Moon (SyFy)
Why you should care: Even with 900 channels all starving for content, sci-fi still feels like an underexplored genre. Thank goodness for SyFy, the only network on television whose name doubles as its mission statement. Based on the novel “The Lotus Caves” by John Christopher, “High Moon” explores what happens when a Moon colony (h/t Newt Gingrich) harvesting lunar resources discovers a new form of life. Intriguing, right? Here’s where it gets really dope - Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal”) is the EP. Is that not enough? Are you not entertained? Fine, here’s your cherry: the screenwriter’s name is Jim Danger Gray. DANGER IS HIS MIDDLE F*CKING NAME SHEEPLE! /fips table
Chances it gets picked up: So far, this is the only property SyFy exercised a pilot option on for 2014-15. That alone puts its odds at 90 percent.
Why you should care: Remember when AMC was going to become the new HBO? A “Killing” here and a “Low Winter Sun” there, and the once-rising juggernaut is suddenly scrambling to establish a franchise that attracts fans who care about something other than zombie-kill bukkake. Their best shot is “Galyntine,” a “Revolution” rip-off that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after a disaster creates a new society that avoids technology. Humanity survived, but our evolutionary path may now have a few more dark alleys. Yes, it’s a familiar premise, but the 13-episode cable season should trim story fat and allow the world to build slowly. That approach worked well for “Rubicon,” so why not try again with this?
Chances it gets picked up: AMC needs a hit other than “Walking Dead,” and the network already passed on another series it ordered to pilot (“Line of Sight”). This and “Knifeman” are the last remaining hopes for 2014-15. 90 percent.
Why you should care: A 10-hour series about Pablo Escobar directed by the man behind Elite Squad and Elite Squad 2 (the latter is on Netflix; add it to your queue right now). KATT WILLIAMS PIMP STRUT DOT GIF! The Netflix model doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Sure, go ahead and pretend like you hate when all the episodes release simultaneously. It’s fine. Just know you’ll be holed up in your living room the weekend this debuts, uncontrollably devouring huge chunks at a time. YOU’RE NO BETTER THAN THE FIENDS ONSCREEN! Also, how has no meathead come up with a sugar-infused protein snack called Escobars yet? Do I have to do everything myself?
Chances it gets picked up: 100 percent. All 10 episodes drop in early 2015.
Why you should care: Any time you have a chance to watch Paul Giamatti star in “a story of mid-life crisis and murder that features the hardboiled and possibly insane homicide detective Hoke Moseley in pre-chic Miami circa the early 1980s,” just do it. “Hoke,” based on a series of novels by a notable crime writer Charles Willeford, will draw “Justified” comparisons not simply because FX is involved. Scott Frank, who wrote the pilot and will act as showrunner should FX opt for a full series order, handled script duties for the two best Elmore Leonard film adaptations to date: Get Shorty and Out of Sight.
Chances it gets picked up: This is a tough one. FX has a crowded development pipeline, but with “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified” signing off in the next 12 months, John Landgraf is going to need content to fill out the schedule sooner rather than later. 50 percent.
Brian Byrd can be found rooting through garbage. Follow him on Twitter.