TV’s Dark Dramas

I love dark dramas… mysteries, horror, psychological thrillers, slashers, you name it.  And in the past, I’ve had to turn to the Hollywood blockbusters to catch my fair share.  But not anymore!

Television entered this dark world last year with FX’s American Horror Story.  While this program wasn’t for everyone, I certainly enjoyed it, with the sinister and twisting storylines and the supernatural elements with the hauntings and ghosts.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when the network announced the show’s renewal… but was hesitant when I learned the cast (for the most part) and story would be completely different from the first year.  And while I didn’t necessarily enjoy the second season (AHS: Asylum) as much as the first, it kept me intrigued.

Looking back, the idea was quite brilliant actually… and now I find myself anxiously awaiting season three.  Again, the plot will be different, as will some of the cast, but the idea behind AHS: Coven is right up my alley.

But as far as dark television dramas are concerned, FX’s American Horror Story is no longer alone…

The 2012-2013 TV season saw a handful of dark programs that I really enjoyed:

Fox’s The Following

NBC’s Hannibal

A&E’s Bates Motel

ABC’s 666 Park Avenue

The CW’s Cult

Granted, only three of these shows will live to see a second season (666 and Cult died early on, but luckily the networks are airing the remainder of the taped episodes this summer for those of us who actually watched and enjoyed these mysteries).  Therefore, for the sake of today’s post, we’ll just talk about the surviving three.

To me, what really stood out with all three of these television series was the acting, character development, and the writing.

First, let’s look at The Following

Viewers are immediately taken into the mind and history of the two main characters.  The protagonist, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), is now a retired FBI agent, who is also a recovering alcoholic and a man fighting to stay healthy (he has a bad heart).  Hardy’s not limited to the rules of the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.  More importantly, he doesn’t care… he will do anything to catch his guy.  He reminds me a LOT of Jack Bauer from Fox’s 24.

Then we have the antagonist, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s a former literature professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe… oh, and he’s a mass murderer.

“Carroll was obsessed with the Romantic Period… in particular, his hero, Edgar Allan Poe.  And like Poe, he believed in the insanity of art, that it had to be felt.  He didn’t just eviscerate fourteen female students, he was making art.  He cut out his victims’ eyes as a nod to his favorite works of Poe: ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Black Cat.’ See, Poe believed the eyes are our identity, windows to our soul.  To classify him (Carroll) as a picarist would be too simplistic.” ~ Hardy about Carroll to a group of FBI agents

But it’s not just that.  James Purefoy is perfect for the role of Carroll.  His charisma leaves audiences at home believing he has that special ingredient necessary to make hundreds of “crazies” follow him, thus the idea of the cult.  One moment I would feel sorry for his character, and the next, I would fear him unlike any other.  The character, and his performance, was creepy good.

Next, we have Hannibal

I personally loved the character of Will from the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon.  But then again, I adore Edward Norton.   When I truly enjoy a character and/or an actor’s performance, I can’t help but worry about the decision to re-do or continue the same character in another adaptation with a different actor at the helm.  However, I’m happy to report that I do like Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of Will Graham in NBC’s Hannibal just as much.

And since we’re talking about the films, what more can be said about Anthony Hopkins?  He will forever be Hannibal Lecter in my mind.  However, considering the TV series couldn’t land Sir Hopkins to resume his iconic role (well, maybe they could, but they didn’t), Mads Mikkelson will definitely do.  He’s got the creepiness down and he’s playing the demented sociopath quite well.

I only recently finished watching the first season, and I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed Dancy and Mikkelson as the lead characters.  But performances aside, the story is what really pulled me into this series.  It is dark, dark, dark, dark, dark… and creepy.  It’s fascinating, chilling, and intense.  The creators do not shy away from the gore; and the way the viewers get to experience the minds of both Will and Dr. Lecter via the cinematography and writing is fantastic.

And finally, we have Bates Motel

I wrapped up the first season of Bates Motel this past weekend, and much like The Following and Hannibal, the performances in this television series are what set it apart from all the other dramas on TV.

In this series, we revisit the Alfred Hitchcock favorite… only this time we see how it all began with a young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his very-much-alive mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga).  Anyone who has seen Psycho understands why Norman is how he is as an adult, but Bates Motel shows us more of the sordid relationship between mother and son.

Speaking of the relationship between mother and son… just how inappropriate is it?  Well, we haven’t seen anything sexual between the two, but we have seen Norma undress in front of Norman… as well as crawl into bed with him.  What normal parent cozies up next to their teenage son and cuddles with him for a good night sleep?  Norma.  And Norman is such a “good boy,” he’ll do anything to please his mother.

But is Norman such a good boy?  Not if we believe all the things Norma tells his older half-brother (Max Thieriot)… not if we believe all of the hallucinations Norman suffers from… and not if we watched the season finale.

Bottom line, this family has issues… but the actors do not.  Highmore and Farmiga are great as Norma and Norman Bates.  I don’t know what I expected from A&E’s new series, but I will say the writers and creators have far exceeded whatever expectations I might have had.

What do you think?  Do you like these “dark” TV series?  Which is your favorite and why?  I’d love to hear from you!

3 Replies to “TV’s Dark Dramas”

  1. I’m ashamed that I haven’t checked more of these shows out, but I plan to.

    Regarding Hannibal, I have only this to say: Mads Mikkelsen is awesome. If it’s blasphemy to say I think he’s better as Dr. Lecter than Anthony Hopkins was, I guess I’m a blasphemer, because I think his performance is brilliant, and the show is remarkable.

  2. I missed AHS last year. I had the DVR set to record “American Horror Story,” but not “American Horror Story: Asylum” (or whatever it was called). So, long story short, it did not record, and I didn’t realize it until the season was nearly over. I’ll watch it on Netflix. Grrr.

    Now, I got pretty into Bates Motel. My husband and I spent a good deal of time discussing Norma and Norman’s effed up relationship. On commercial breaks, we sang random lyrics from “Mother” by Pink Floyd. If you’ve never really listened to the lyrics of that song, go do it. Now. It had to written for Norma and Norman…or just a certain kind of relationship between a mother and son.

    For me, Norma and Norman’s relationship was completely defined by the moment where Norman is about to go to the dance, and Norma tells him about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Hubby and I both howled. It wasn’t funny, but, if you’ve known someone like Norma (which we both have), it was so, so typical of a person like that.

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