Motion Factory Blog
Industry insights, advice
and general musings
from the Motion Factory Team
Posted by Travis James Annabel
I’ve already talked about my favourite shows that have ended their runs on TV, but we’re lucky enough to live in a golden age of television, so there’s so much that is still on that is brilliant, inspiring and relevant in today’s socio-political climate.
From new shows that have a scary realism to big budget affairs that are global phenomenon’s, there’s a bit of diversity here, but one thing is common between them all - they all tell great, inspiring stories.
So from 5 to 1, here are my top 5 TV shows that are still running. Enjoy!
5. Homeland (Showtime)
After its absolutely stellar first season, Homeland stumbled a bit. It had largely exhausted its main premise with one season, so trying to shoehorn in more story off the back of it was always going to be problematic. But there was one thing that the producers had up their sleeve - the incredible lead character Carrie Matheson (portrayed by the equally incredible Clare Danes). Carrie is a flawed human being with an all-too real mental illness that in no way meshes with her chosen profession as a CIA agent, and it makes for some incredibly compelling drama.
As I mentioned, the first season was stellar, but the second and third seasons struggled with direction. But then the producers made a bold narrative choice to kill off a certain character that completely changed what the show was about, and the show has improved out of site ever since. In my opinion, the fourth season which is set predominantly in Islamabad, Pakistan is its strongest - the story is sharp and full of intrigue, it’s action sequences are on point, it’s slew of new characters are relevant and interesting, and the performances from its main cast are brilliant (especially those of Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin).
A great show that is not without its flaws, but well worth investing in.
4. Westworld (HBO)
From the get go, Westworld was being dubbed as the next “Game of Thrones” which was largely fair - it was clear that HBO were investing the time, marketing and money into it for that reason. And while only one season has been released thus far (with a second already being teased), it is certainly showing the potential to be just that.
Westworld is science fiction that has a Western spin on it, which is kind of fascinating considering that the westerns genre has not been particularly prolific for the last three or four decades. Indeed, HBO are really the only ones who have explored it in any real way, with their stellar show Deadwood being the only other one that comes to mind.
While the western setting offers plenty of interesting parts, it’s the other portion of the story - the whole dawning of machine intelligence thing - that makes this show so compelling. The fact that half (or more) of the main cast is made up of “hosts” (essentially robot characters in a real-life video game) is a fascinating way to present the drama.
It’s a well told story with plenty of twists (some that may be a bit too obvious in retrospect), and it’s absolutely beautifully shot and edited.
But the thing that takes Westworld to the next level is its performances. The show is populated by a cast that you’d expect to see in a film competing for an Academy Award - Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffery Wright, Evan Rachel Wood and the always incredible Sir Anthony Hopkins. All of them are sublime in Westorld, but Anthony Hopkins is next-level brilliant. There’s one line that I particularly remember from midway through the first season that he delivered in such a chilling way that it has stuck with me. Evan Rachel Wood’s host character Delores is sitting talking to Hopkins’ Ford (essentially, her creator) and she asks him if they are old friends. “No, I wouldn’t say friends, Delores… I wouldn’t say that at all”. The line is in the trailer below, and for me it’s arguably the best delivered line in TV history - a big claim, but I stand by it!
3. Game of Thrones (HBO)
I’ve never been a huge fan of high-fantasy… in fact, as far as genres go, I’ve always preferred science fiction by a country mile. But Game of Thrones changed that for me, and I daresay for millions of people around the world. It is, without a doubt, a bona fide phenomenon.
Obviously, being based on an existing best-selling novel series initially meant that the story was always going to be solid. And in the first 5 seasons it certainly was. A brutal, confronting, violent and sometimes horrific (yet always great) adapted story was perfectly supplemented with a great cast and big-budget production values. But then the show ran out of source material. I don’t think that anyone would have been surprised if the show then started to miss the mark – but here’s the thing, the exact opposite happened. The showrunners ramped it up, and it became better than ever. Cinema quality battles and special effects, breakneck pacing and stellar performances.
The overall narrative of Game of Thrones is absolutely fascinating as well. In the early seasons, the show received a lot of criticism for its confronting content, which was often viewed as misogynistic. Many would call that criticism fair – let’s face it, there were few female characters who escaped the horrors of a medieval fantasy world. But slowly, and very deliberately, the show has reached the point where women are essentially in control of the Game of Thrones world. It’s a fascinating narrative, and something that I believe has been a plan from day one. The fact that the showrunners had this long burn plan is just one of the reasons that Game of Thrones has performed so well, and continues to be the most talked about show on television.
2. American Gods (Starz/Amazon)
From the moment I first heard of American Gods, I had high hopes for it. And it’s to the show’s credit that it exceeded those hopes.
The best way to describe American Gods is “batsh*t insane”. It is without a doubt one of the craziest shows on television, and that’s what makes it so good. In a nutshell, the show is about a brewing war in America between the “old gods” (taken from all different types of religion and mythology, i.e. Jesus and Odin) and the “new gods” (Media, technology etc). It then throws in characters like leprechauns, Jinns (or ifrits) and zombies, and somehow makes sense.
There’s some great performances in it, especially from Emily Browning (who plays the (un)dead wife of the main character, Shadow Moon) and the always engaging Ian McShane who plays a conman, Mr. Wednesday (but is hiding his real identity). But the standout performance in American Gods goes to Gillian Anderson, who portrays the “new god” Media. Whenever Media appears, she takes the form of a famous TV or media character/personality - we see her as Lucy from I Love Lucy, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Marilyn Monroe to name a few - and each and every time she is on screen, Gillian Anderson absolutely nails it and steals the show.
For a show that features a main character called “Shadow Moon”, a slew of gods and mythical creatures, and personifications of things like Media and Technology, it all comes together beautifully - I can’t wait for the second season to see where the story goes.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Straight up, The Handmaid’s Tale is the odd one out on this list. It doesn’t have the fast paced action of Homeland, American Gods, Game of Thones or Westworld, and nor does it have the big budget spectacle of them.
What it does have, is a message, and it’s a message that cannot be ignored.
The Handmaid’s Tale is equal parts horrific, brutal, demeaning and hopeful. Never before have I watched a show and had to spend half an hour recovering from it afterwards (Yep, not even with Game of Thrones).
If I’m making it sound like it’s hard to watch, then good - because it is (especially for a parent of two daughters), and it is especially the case in the current socio-political landscape that has seen the election of Donald Trump as President of the US.
But, as hard as it is to watch, it is absolutely brilliant, compelling and engaging.
I’m not going to talk too much about the story, the setting and the themes - it’s one of those shows where you absolutely need to experience those things for yourself. But I am going to talk about the brilliant and often heartbreaking performances. Elizabeth Moss, who made her name in the ever-popular Mad Men, is breathtaking in her lead role as June/Offred. She has rightfully been nominated for an Emmy Award for it, and if anyone else wins it, it will be a travesty. But as stellar as Elizabeth Moss is, it is the supporting cast that takes The Handmaid’s Tale to the next level. Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bleidel, Samira Wiley and Ann Dowd are all well-known from previous roles in a wide range of films and shows, but, along with Moss, they are all providing career-defining performances in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Story and performances aside, it’s also a beautifully shot show. The cinematography is stunning, and gives the show the feel and atmosphere that it needs. The way it uses colour so sparingly, but so poignantly is brilliant.
Take the time to watch The Handmaid’s Tale - it may be hard to watch, but it is worth it.
Producer, videographer, editor - Motion Factory's Director of Photography has a huge passion for film making.
Travis james annabel
Filmmaking has been a passion of Trav's for as long as he can remember.