Best TV Channel Tournament Primer: AMC

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

So now that we’ve gone from network to cable, we go from quantity to quality.  These channels don’t have the same budgets, revenues, and reach as the networks, but they’ve got something that the networks don’t have:

The ability to say “Shit.”

As I said during the ABC primer, it was amazing that they ever had a show as good as LOST.  There was a time when FOX turned down The Sopranos, and thank God that they did because it would have probably ruined the entire show.  Programming like The Sopranos is partly special because of the gritty, dirty, bloody nature of the show (but quality writing and acting is more important) and The Sopranos would have been too tame for network television.  Attempts to re-create “grit” on networks have fallen flat each and every time.  While AMC can’t go quite as far as the premium channels like HBO, they do have the ability to go further than what they could have done on ABC.

More importantly, they’ve got some of the best writers and actors in the business (television OR movies) today.  AMC doesn’t have a lot of quantity, but it’s held up by two of the best shows on television and arguably the best two dramas in the history of television.  It’s hard to believe that they’ve come this far from where they started.

AMC launched on October 1, 1984 (and they probably did their first “Halloween” special 30 days later.  Not really.)

It was a premium cable channel, much like HBO, but played old movies and appealed to an old demographic.  Three years later it went to basic cable and per Wikipedia, was in 39 million households by 1989.  It’s hard to believe now, but it wasn’t really until about 2000 that AMC started airing commercials and became closer to the channel we recognize today.  Even then, you only have to go back to 2007 to find an AMC that didn’t have any of the original programming that made it a TV power player that we know today.

A stroke of luck (and misfortune for HBO and Showtime, who turned it down) brought the groundbreaking show Mad Men to AMC.  The success of that one show, much like the success of The Simpsons on FOX, opened the door for AMC being able to put it’s name prominently in the hat of “Best TV Channel.”

AMC has become so big that it’s recently given a big “F YOU!” to Dish Network after another unbelievable dispute between two more conglomerates that can’t decide how they want to split our money, but the programming is so good that I think most of us would just side with AMC.  Dish subscribers aren’t getting to see the new season of Breaking Bad (but AMC aired it online so that they could) and I can’t help but think that they’re ready to switch over when more AMC programming is lost to them over the coming months.

There’s a lot of good “Shit” here, let’s take a show-by-show look:

Mad Men (2007-present)

I did not actually watch this show until last year, and then I watched the whole series in about a week.  This is perhaps the most addictive and well-acted show on TV and when people ask me what’s so good about it, I honestly think there’s nothing I can say to do it justice.

“Ummm.. it’s about advertising sales in the mid-20th century… but you see it’s on Madison Avenue… no, like, it’s really good cause this guy Don Draper is actually using an alias… no, you’re not getting it, his wife is like crazy and the other guys in the company are all greedy but that’s business… no like it’s really good.  Damn it, just watch it.”

The writing is so good that it’s not so easy to just say “This guy gets cancer and starts making meth to support his family for when he dies” like Breaking Bad, but you can’t stop watching it.  The premise seems hard to sell, but watch an episode and tell me that you don’t want to immediately watch the next.  Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, just make the tip of the iceberg for an excellent cast  that has been nominated for 14 Emmys and four more as of this morning.  (Good luck, Lane Pryce!)

I don’t know what the future holds for Mad Men, how much longer they plan on going, but I could probably follow this crew right up to present day.  It’s that good.

Breaking Bad (2008-present but not much longer, sad face)

Hey, yo.  Aaron Paul is like the best actor on television, bitch.

That’s saying something, especially when you consider that Bryan Cranston has his own very solid case as the best actor on television.  Paul is vying for his first Emmy win and going against Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring) in the Supporting Actor category this season.

And if Cranston can’t finally get a win as Walter White, what’s argument do the Emmys have left of being legitimate?  Watch Malcolm in the Middle for awhile and then watch Breaking Bad for awhile and tell me that you aren’t seeing one of the best transformations that an actor has ever made on TV.  Hell, watch Walter White in season one and then watch him in season four and see the amazing transformation.

Oh, and how the hell did Bob Odenkirk go from being one of the funniest dudes on TV or movies to crafting Saul Goodman into one of the best supporting characters in TV history.  Or Dean Norris as Hank Schrader.  Or Anna Gunn as Skyler.  Or, oh my God, Jonathan Banks as Mike.  Jesus, how could you even pick a favorite?

Walt, Jesse, Gus, Mike, Hank, Saul… It’s the best character development I’ve seen since The Wire, which probably has the best character development ever.

And it all comes back to Vince Gilligan.  Who the hell was this guy to come out of obscurity (unless you were an X-Files ubernerd) to create one of the best universes I’ve ever seen?  (And he wrote Hancock?  What the hell?)

Breaking Bad debuted it’s fifth and final season on Sunday with the same amazingness and bravado we’ve seen in every other season so far.  Re-watching the series in anticipation of this, I found that I liked it even more the second time.  It’s sad to see it go but for now I’ll just enjoy it while it’s here and continue to follow the careers of some of the best people in TV.

Let’s hope that AMC keeps some of them around for another project.

The Walking Dead (2010-present)

This show has a lot of die-hard followers, and I’m watching it, but there’s a considerable difference between those first two shows and this one.  I like The Walking Dead, but it’s flawed.  Really flawed.  And I’m a fan because I was raised on horror movies and have been waiting for something like this for a long time.

The attachment of Frank Darabont, who has directed some of my favorite movies (The Mist is soooo underrated), gave me even higher hopes.  But I don’t see myself falling in love with any of the characters.  I don’t root for anybody.  I’d gladly see a few more get killed off just so that something happens, because TWD can drag on for weeks sometimes.

YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY ZOMBIES.  ITS THE APOCALYPSE.  WHY ISN’T ANYTHING HAPPENING?!

I think part of the reason that the show has such a dedicated following is because there are a lot of people, just like me, that want so badly for the show to be good.  I am even worried that I so badly yearn for more quality that I was highly enthused by the preview for season three that was shown after Breaking Bad on Sunday.  (Michael Rooker is BACK!)

It looks like it’s getting better.  I can see the direction that I think that it could be heading and I really hope that it is, because it has an opportunity to be like a zombie version of Justified, but it needs to get there much faster.

Faster than a Walking Dead zombie, at least.

The Killing (2011-Present)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Killing is not a good show.

One of the “problems” about having two of the best shows on television, is that we’re going to hold you to that standard.  You started with Mad Men and Breaking Bad… that’s the bar now.   An unfair bar, maybe, but that’s the bar.  Don’t serve me filet mignon for dinner and expect me not to notice that you gave me a scoop of rum raisin for dessert.

I’ve watched every episode of The Killing now, wondering if it would get better, and it hardly ever did.  Oh, at times it seemed to show signs of not being terrible, maybe even enjoyable, but in the end they will only let you down.  We got the “answer we were waiting for” and I didn’t feel satisfied at all.

“Oh.  Cool.  I guess we’re down now.”

Yes, The Killing.  We are done now.

Hell On Wheels (2011-Present)

I still have four episodes of Hell on Wheels on my DVR that I need to watch to finish the first season.  It’s not that its a bad show, it’s just not a very enthralling one.  I wouldn’t leave an episode of Breaking Bad on my DVR unless I was planning on re-watching it.  “There’s a new episode of Breaking Bad record?!  Hold all my calls!  Cancel all my plans!”

“You don’t have any plans, sir.”

“MAKE ME PLANS AND THEN CANCEL THEM THEN!”

But four episodes of Hell on Wheels just sit there… They’ve been sitting there for however long since the mid-way point of season one.  I still plan on watching them because Hell On Wheels was more appealing than The Killing (not quite as appealing as Walking Dead) and I have hopes that its going to get better.  Some shows need to set a boring foundation before they start building the awesome.

Please.  Hell On Wheels.  We need to get more good Westerns.  Start building the awesome.

The Pitch (2012)

I watched AMC’s premiere of The Pitch, a reality show based around real-life advertising agencies as they compete for the services of a major brand name.  At first I was like, “This is cool!” because I think I’d be really good at advertising and I wish an ad agency would give me a job without me having any… you know… credentials.

But by the end of it, I was like, “Did I just watch an hour long Subway commercial?”

I like Subway the restaurant, but I’m getting overblown by Subway the advertising company.  WHY THE F DOES EVERYBODY ON TV HAVE TO EAT SUBWAY?  I see more Subway subs on Pawn Stars than I see actual items being pawned.

And then when I REALLY thought about it, I thought, “Wow, what a bullshit way to get free(?) advertising.”

In the episode, one team pitched a rap by the YouTube artist Mac Lethal and I thought that was pretty cool.  I thought it was a good idea and sure enough, the pitch “won” the battle over a rather lame pitch.  I was wondering when we were going to start seeing Mac Lethal commercials for Subway.  Answer: Probably never.

Subway basically got what they wanted, but for a lot cheaper I am assuming.  I’m sure that Mac Lethal was paid a handsome time for his work and effort, but an actual advertising campaign would be worth tens of millions.  Luckily for Subway, they can be on a one-hour show that’s dedicated to telling you why you should eat Subway, got a rap from a popular internet performer, and aired like three different campaigns without having to actually pay full price for three campaigns.

The Pitch is an interesting show and all, but I am against it in principal.  I don’t want to watch an hour-long commercial for a billion dollar company.  They get enough of my time by perpetuating my everyday life with their dumb ad campaigns.  This probably isn’t fair to the people that work on The Pitch, but I am simply against it.

Good show?  Maybe.  But I don’t want to sit through an hour-long commercial that’s broken up by commercial breaks.  A better reality show maybe though is…

Small Town Security (Just debuted)

AMC got sneaky (and kind of pulled some bullshit) when they aired Small Town Security, a reality show set around a real-life security company in a very small town, right after the highly-anticipated Breaking Bad premiere.

They were going to get a lot of  viewers from carry-over anyway, but they did even worse by saying “We’ll air previews for next weeks Breaking Bad…. during Small Town Security!”  They basically forced you to watch it, though I heard a lot of people say that they decided not to watch it anyway.  I did.  And….

I liked it!

I never felt like the characters in Small Town Security were “acting.”  I thought they were being genuine and that they weren’t really thrown into weird scenarios for the purpose of “interesting television.”  These people are already interesting because of how naturally weird they are.  It reminds me a little bit of one of my favorite all-time documentaries, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, but it’s not nearly that extreme.  These people are mostly just… weird.  And I like that.

Beyond all of that though is the surprise twist ending that will throw you for a complete loop when it’s revealed.  And yeah, it sucked me in to watch again.

I guess your sneaky bullshit plan worked AMC.  No surprise here though… you’ve been roping people in to keep watching ever since you premiered Mad Men in 2007.

Bravo.

(Wait no, that’s another network.)

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