But It's Darker Than You Know in Those Complicated Shadows: Television's Most Beautiful Shows
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But It's Darker Than You Know in Those Complicated Shadows: Television's Most Beautiful Shows

By Cindy Davis | Seriously Random Lists | April 29, 2013 | Comments ()


As important as good plotting, characters and actors are, the experience of watching television is infinitely advanced by excellent art and set direction, costuming and cinematography; it is often a major difference between network and cable series. How good would "Game of Thrones" be without the extreme attention to detail, the locations, the lighting, the brilliant camera work--the visuals are what make the fantasy real and bring it to life. Sometimes (as with "Hannibal"), the art and production design takes us by surprise, elevating what might have been ordinary television to another level. These are the shows that provide exceptional feast for our eyes.

"Game of Thrones"










Production Design: Gemma Jackson; Art Direction: Ashleigh Jeffers, Heather Greenlees, Tom McCullagh, Thomas Brown , Paul Inglis, Frank Walsh, Andy Thomson, Tom Still, Steve Summersgill; Costume Design: Michele Clapton; Set Decoration: Tina Jones, Rob Cameron, Richard Roberts, Claudia Parker; Cinematography: Matthew Jensen, Alik Sakharov, Jonathan Freeman, Martin Kenzie, Marco Pontecorvo, Kramer Morgenthau, Anette Haellmigk, Robert McLachlan, Chris Seager.

"Breaking Bad"










Production Design: Mark S. Freeborn,Robb Wilson King; Art Direction: Bjarne Sletteland, Marisa Frantz, Paula Dal Santo; Costume Design: Kathleen Detoro, Jennifer L. Bryan; Set Decoration: Michael Flowers, Brenda Meyers-Ballard, Susan Magestro; Cinematography: Michael Slovis, Reynaldo Villalobos, Peter Reniers,Nelson Cragg.

"Mad Men"










Production Design: Dan Bishop ; Art Direction: Christopher Brown; Costume Design: Katherine Jane Bryant; Set Decoration: Claudette Didul, Amy Wells; Cinematography: Chris Manley, Phil Abraham, Steve Mason, Frank G. DeMarco, Bill Roe, Don Devine.

"American Horror Story"










Production Design: Mark Worthington; Art Direction: Edward L. Rubin, Andrew Murdock; Costume Design: Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, Lou Eyrich; Set Decoration: Ellen Brill; Cinematography: Michael Goi, John B. Aronson.









Production Design and Art Direction: Matthew Davies, Costume Design: Christopher Hargadon; Set Decoration: Jaro Dick; Cinematography: James Hawkinson, Karim Hussain.

Cindy Davis, (Twitter)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Treme is pretty luscious too. Madmen may be the prettiest tv ever shot

  • Rondette

    The Borgias gets my vote. Almost every shot looks like it could be a Renaissance painting. Beautiful.

  • The show came and went without anyone noticing (and full disclosure, I was working on promotion for it at the time, so boo me) but "Hunted" on Cinemax was a gorgeously shot series. I believe they shared a lot of the same talent who worked on "Luther" and that show was beautiful as well. Something about London in blues and grays...

  • Wednesday

    How did you miss Top of the Lake? Beautiful, beautiful stuff...I'd watch it just for the scenery.

    I also just saw the first two episodes of Rectify last night and they've got some really lovely camera work. Despite the female lead's incredibly, distractingly weird hair.

  • Ashes


  • zeke_the_pig

    This list would indeed have been void without Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. My mouth's gone dry just looking at those stills. The old complaints of TV not being cinematic enough have been shot to bits, buried and justly forgotten.

    It's a bit of a stretch, but I think that shot of Bronn raising his bow with the just-ignited fire arrow might just be my favourite image from GoT thus far. In a show that continuously outdoes itself visually, something about that image... the composition, the tension built up by context, the fact that for a character with so many Crowning Moments of Awesome this one feels like the one to top them all... I dunno, it gets me all tingly.

    As my old grandma used to say: 'The quiet before the storm is oft-lit by a flaming arrow arcing through the air towards some motherfucking wildfire.'

  • BlackRabbit

    Am I the only one amused by the idea of Daenerys getting into the bath and Littlefinger & Tyrion apparently staring at her? Yes, GoT and Breaking Bad are very lovely. Other ones, haven't seen but they look nice.

  • babykangarootribbiani

    mad men, in addition to being one of the best written shows on tv, is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing shows on tv (so i don't watch game of thrones, eat me). cause us mere mortals know we would never look that good smoking a cigarette, and the guy passed out next to me in bed wouldn;t look anything like jon hamm. i;d be lucky if he looked like ginsberg.

  • I fucking LOVE Don's apartment. I'm a sucker for mid century design and it is literally my dream home.

  • MissAmynae

    Old school shout out for HBO's Carnivale.

    Ended too soon, but every episode was a stunning representation of the Dust Bowl era.

  • Three_nineteen

    Good God yes. That plus the amazing representation of Ben's and Justin's visions. There's a Carnivale tree I used to pass on the way to work every day - still makes me shiver.

  • asherlev1

    I was juuust waiting to see Hannibal on this list, to validate the entire thing. Maybe I'm a bit biased because I'm inordinately infatuated with the show, but GODDAMN, it's beautiful.

  • causaubon

    Samurai Jack.

  • Bill Haverchuck

    I watch and thoroughly enjoy all these shows with the exception of AHS, and all I can say is the fact that Boardwalk Empire is not on here is a travesty. I would say its probably the best looking of all the shows, with MAYBE the exception of Breaking Bad. Maybe.

  • ZombieMrsSmith

    This whole list was just for "Hannibal" wasn't it? I am totally on board with that. It's a beautiful show and I am really digging it.

  • asherlev1

    LMAOO I can seee that.

  • sean

    That you for that brief shot of the musical number from American Horror Story. Still makes me laugh.

  • I know the Americans aren't likely to know it, but the BBC Wallander series is a thing of stark beauty -- not least for the inclusion of your oh-so-beloved Hiddleston.

    [Below - Not Hiddleston]

  • Wallander airs on PBS under the Masterpiece Mystery banner (same as Sherlock) so quite a few Americans do know it. It really is beautiful.

  • Jules

    I have to submit Downton Abbey for consideration as well. Also, second the FNL nod!

  • dizzylucy

    As if the acting and writing weren't great enough, Breaking Bad is really beautifully shot, isn't it?

  • It's so thoughtfully created, I can't wait to see what Vince Gilligan creates after this season is up.

  • I know it's not popular 'round these parts, but Bates Motel is quite striking. Defiance has its moments, too.

  • lowercase_ryan
  • TheAggroCraig

    I should really be watching Hannibal, shouldn't I?

  • Calla Dain

    Sho Nuff?

  • Amanda

    Okay I love Pajiba. I love it, all the time but especially when you use arcane Elvis Costello lyrics.

  • Rebecca

    "The Borgias" is phenomenal too, from the sets to the costumes to the lighting.

  • THIS. The Borgias is a delight to watch. I want ALL THE DRESSES. And the sets! And the lighting! And, and!!

  • Is this shows that are currently airing only? If not, I'd also like to submit Friday Night Lights which had those breathtaking shots but could also insert you into an astonishingly intimate moment so easily.

  • dizzylucy

    I was thinking FNL too. The shots of the open sky were always just amazing.

  • That shot at the end of season 3 of Coach and Mrs. Coach standing in the glow of a setting sun and looking around the field at East Dillon is one of my all-time favorite shots.

  • alannaofdoom

    YES. Also that shot in the pilot of the guys climbing up at dusk to turn on the field lights, which was my desktop background for years even though a) as a native New Mexican, anything associated with Texas is worthy of suspicion and contempt; and b) literally everything I know about football I learned from that show. So so so beautiful.

  • Sparrow

    Agree with all of these and would add Boardwalk Empire... always gorgeous.

  • AngelenoEwok


  • Feralhousecat


  • MikeRoorda

    Breaking Bad IS a gorgeous show and incredibly shot. Someone, at some point, pointed out to me that it seems to have bought in heavily to the blue and gold aesthetic that is a popular choice with cinematographers currently and since then I can't unsee it. It hasn't detracted from my enjoyment of the story at all, I just find myself watching it and noticing the color palette more than I might with other shows.

  • Ever since I read about all the color symbolism it's all I can see now. I haven't seen a show in a long time that relies on color so heavily to relay mood and tone. And I think it makes sense to use blue and gold considering they're in New Mexico and that's what everything looks like out there.

  • toblerone

    Yes to all but why aren't Pushing Daisies and Southland here?

  • Pushing Daisies is the most beautiful show I've ever watched. The sets and clothing on that show were amazing.

  • Guest


  • Guest

    And LOST.

  • DeltaJuliet

    Freaking SouthLAnd.....how I love that show.

  • toblerone

    +1 but damn TNT not renewing yet and the writers for the season 5 finale.

    Are they still doing the LA thing? I think it's SOUTHLAND now.

  • DeltaJuliet

    I'm not even sure. i just like writing it like that. .

  • Az

    Sherlock. Where is Sherlock?

  • toblerone

    Elementary isn't too hard on the eyes either. But I do find that the heels on Liu's footwear are little implausible for her work as consulting detective.

  • Candee

    I can't bring myself to watch Elementary. I probably would have if they cast Lucy Liu as Sherlock.

    Love Sherlock so much. Should totally be on this list as well.

    I remember watching one of the episodes with commentary, and someone mentioned how they make a point to make shots as symmetrical as they can--which just adds to how amazing it looks.

  • toblerone

    I have to say you are definitely missing out if you don't watch it. Is it as good as Sherlock? Not yet, but most of the episodes are well done and Liu and Miller are great together (and both are oh so easy on the eyes). My only real knock is that they don't do enough with Joan and her character arc over the season so far has been too slow (but is steady moving forward).

    Now is a great time to jump in because we get Irene Alder for the next few weeks (which I'm really looking forward too).

  • F'mal DeHyde

    This one from GoT too:

  • Pants-are-a-must

    "Hannibal" is such a remarkably gorgeous show, particularly for an NBC show. Let's face it, this is not a network known for splurging on production values. "Hannibal" is so gorgeous, in fact, I bet HBO, Showtime and Fox are really kicking themselves for not picking it up now.

  • deadnotsleeping

    It looks like the best kind of fever dream. Perfect for the content.

  • lowercase_ryan

    The cooking shots blow my mind. They are mesmerizing.

  • DeltaJuliet

    And the eating shots :)

  • IngridToday

    When I saw previews for this show and went to on demand to watch the pilot episode (and all episodes after) I had no idea it was NBC.

  • Feralhousecat

    This show is an enormous hit in my household. Whenever the Glowing Windshield Wiper of Doom lets us know that Murder Vision is coming up we all solemnly cheers the TV.

  • I'm actually not surprised it's beautiful with Bryan Fuller attached. His Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls are also gorgeous.

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