It’s hard to imagine that there was life before Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece that was Breaking Bad. People would show up to work on Monday regaling coworkers with story lines encountered on expensive trips to the cinema where they were treated to CGI monstrosities looking to eradicate Earth – or other big budget fare where concept far outshone character. Yet, there was a small nugget of television programming that served as the precursor to what consumers ultimately wanted – to be both entertained and challenged as viewers. In the five years that we kept up with Walter White and his exploits, other networks began to take note that television was no longer a secondary medium. Thus, we entered and continue to be in a small screen renaissance. Sure, Breaking Bad is over, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a healthy amount of smart, funny and dramatic TV out there dying to be consumed like Walt’s fateful Baby Blue. These are the shows that you need to be aware of.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
what it’s about: Nucky Thompson, the undisputed ruler of Atlantic City, who is equal parts politician and gangster, as he handles quarrels with real world counterparts like Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Meyer Lanksy and Arnold Rothstein.
why you should watch it: The production design and attention to detail will make other shows look like school children attempting to shoot a TV drama. Additionally, Richard Harrow is one of the most dynamic characters on TV today.
what it’s about: From the creator of True Blood, Banshee stars Antony Starr as Lucas Hood, an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania, where he continues his criminal activities, even as he’s hunted by the shadowy gangsters he betrayed years earlier.
why you should watch it: If there is one thing Alan Ball knows how to do, it’s create tension and mystery in a small town.
what it’s about: A Danish political drama about the fight for political power and the personal consequences for everyone involved amidst the historic run of Birgitte Nyborg – the first female Prime Minister of Denmark.
why you should watch it: It is produced by DR – the same public broadcaster responsible for The Killing.
Broadchurch (BBC America)
what it’s about: It centers on the investigation into the murder of a young boy in a British seaside town.
why you should watch it: During the finale of the first season, 90 percent of all TV-related tweets in the UK were about the show – culminating in 8,493 tweets a minute.
Downton Abbey (PBS)
what it’s about: Beginning in the years leading up to World War I, the drama centers on the Crawley family and their servants.
why you should watch it: Downton Abbey was nominated for 12 Emmy’s this year.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
what it’s about: A sprawling narrative about the quest for the iron throne and the sacrifices various families are willing to take to rule the Seven Kingdoms.
why you should watch it: While ambitious TV dramas like to entice viewers with threats to their beloved characters, Game of Thrones has proved that truly no one is safe so long as creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss stay true to George R. R. Martin’s source material.
what it’s about: A gifted criminal profiler who is on the hunt for a serial killer enlists the help of Dr. Lecter, one of the premier psychiatric minds in the country.
why you should watch it: Network TV is pretty vanilla these days, but certain stylistic choices made by creator Bryan Fuller makes for a visceral and challenging viewing session.
what it’s about: After being presumed dead as a casualty of the ongoing war on terror, Nicholas Brody returns home to a heroes welcome – but some suspect that he may have been “turned.”
why you should watch it: The drama and mystery surrounding Brody’s allegiances isn’t just ratcheted up episode to episode, it’s increased minute to minute.
House of Cards (Netflix)
what it’s about: After being passed over as Secretary of State, Congressman Frank Underwood vows to make all those who wronged him taste both proverbial and very real blood.
why you should watch it: For those weary that there is too much “politics” in the series, Kevin Spacey ensures that there’s a certain Keyser Söze-esque performance to his turn as a Congressman.
what it’s about: Based on a character created by Elmore Leonard, it follows Marshal Raylan Givens as he attempts to capture fugitives of the law – while navigating the intricate and explosive situations in and around Harlan County.
why you should watch it: Walton Goggin’s portrayal of likeable, yet sadistic Boyd Crowder is a masterclass in creating the “anti-hero.”
what it’s about: It’s loosely based around the real life of comedian Louie CK as he combines career, family and the awkwardness often associated with Curb Your Enthusiasm.
why you should watch it: Life is cruel, sometimes it’s nice to laugh at other people’s misfortunes that are grounded in enough truth to prove to be valuable lessons.
Luther (BBC America)
what it’s about: Starring Idris Elba as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, the titular character solves a string of cases in self-contained and often abbreviated seasons.
why you should watch it: Luther has the feeling if someone asked, “what if Stringer Bell became a detective in London?”
Mad Men (AMC)
what it’s about: The turbulent 1960s as seen through the eyes of those working and associated with a Madison Avenue ad agency.
why you should watch it: Mad Men is a much needed respite from high octane story lines – proving to be a needed visceral cocktail after a long week.
Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
what it’s about: A middle class woman convicted of a drug crime years ago must finally serve her time in jail where she runs into an eclectic cast of inmates – including the woman responsible for getting her busted.
why you should watch it: Television is said to be the writer’s medium, and Jenji Kohan (Weeds) has assembled some of the most strange, yet interesting group of characters on television – employing flashbacks to see just how each ended up in prison.
Orphan Black (BBC America)
what it’s about: A woman witnesses her lookalike commit suicide, then assumes her identity, eventually realizing they’re clones and nothing is as it seems.
why you should watch it: Tatiana Maslany’s portrayal of several different key characters is memorizing to watch.
Ray Donovan (Showtime)
what it’s about: It tracks a Hollywood “fixer” whose day to day exploits range from spinning drug overdoses into positives, to dealing with a recently released father (Jon Voight) who seems hellbent on destroying everything Donovan has created for he and his family.
why you should watch it: It was created by Ann Biderman who is responsible for TNT’s underrated series Southland.
what it’s about: The Gallagher family – an Irish/Catholic clan on the Southside of Chicago – who like the show’s title suggests, is willing to do anything to put food on the table.
why you should watch it: The dynamic between William H. Macy as the patriarch and Emmy Rossum as the eldest child is electrifying.
Sons of Anarchy (FX)
what it’s about: A fictional motorcycle gang that is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
why you should watch it: Creator Kurt Sutter – who cut his teeth on The Shield – isn’t afraid to push the boundaries on morality.
The Bridge (FX)
what it’s about: A murder that takes place on the border of El Paso and Juarez which forces dual cooperation between Texas law enforcement and the Chihuahua State Police.
why you should watch it: Using the murder as a starting point, real world issues like immigration and the drug trade seem to be ripped from the headlines of one of the most notorious border crossings in the world.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
what it’s about: Zombies!
why you should watch it: We like our zombie apocalypse with no light at the end of the tunnel, and thus far, there is little sun shining on those that still have a heartbeat.
Top Boy (Channel 4)
what it’s about: A thrilling and raw four-part drama about young lives lived on the edge in east London – an honest and gripping rendition of inner-city drug and gang culture.
why you should watch it: It has been called Britain’s answer to The Wire.
Top of the Lake (Sundance)
what it’s about: Twelve years old and five months pregnant, Tui Mitcham suddenly disappears from her remote mountain town in New Zealand. Detective Robin Griffin returns home to investigate, but every step closer to solving the case unearths a dangerous truth about her past.
why you should watch it: It is written and directed by Jane Campion who was the first female filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and won Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards for The Piano.
what it’s about: Chronicles the exploits of Vice President Selena Meyers and her at times inadequate staff as they fall on the sword for Presidential mistakes while trying hopelessly to make a difference from a seat no one really respects.
why you should watch it: If you can’t imagine Julia Louis Dreyfus playing anyone else but Elaine Benes, think again. Her insults and acid-tongued responses are some of the best on television.
what it’s about: A perpetually depressed man imagines the neighbors dog as a hard partying and offensive Australian man wearing a dog suit.
why you should watch it: There’s dark humor…and then there’s Wilfred’s brand of the macabre.
Workaholics (Comedy Central)
what it’s about: Three best friends who live and work together in that tricky period between adolescence and full-blown adult responsibilities.
why you should watch it: Workaholics captures the “it’s funny because we think it’s funny” attitude reminiscent of the early seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.