Based on the Australian film of the same name, TNT’s “Animal Kingdom” is a wonderfully bizarre guilty pleasure. After his mother’s overdose, Josh “J” Cody, 17, moves in with his grandmother in “Animal Kingdom.” Even so, granny isn’t busy knitting, baking cookies, or chit-chatting with the neighborhood ladies while she waits for her social security check to arrive in the mail. Instead, J learns that his grandmother is the head of a drug trafficking and robbery ring in Southern California. Are there any new members? Of course, it’s made up of J’s uncles.
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With a title like “Animal Kingdom,” it’s easy to see why it’s a hit with listeners. A perfect blend of criminal activity, dysfunctional family dynamics and a fetishized California lifestyle, only seen on television, combine in this show. There is a lot of sharp writing in the script as well as unpredictable developments throughout the show. There are a lot of great shows for “Animal Kingdom” fans to choose from, and we’ve put together a list of the top fifteen.
1. Sons of Anarchy
It has everything that “Animal Kingdom” fans will enjoy in “Sons of Anarchy,” Kurt Sutter’s Shakespearan storyline about the titular Northern California biker gang. There are also motorcycles, a genuine approach to emotional drama, and Ron Perlman in it. Some critics have compared the story to “Hamlet in black leather,” as it follows Jackson “Jax” Teller, the son of the Sons’ now deceased founding member, as he battles his stepfather for control of the gang. This oversimplifies the show’s many strands, including encounters with the IRA, white supremacists, the cartel, and the FBI, but it captures the essence of the conflict.
What makes this show stand out from others in the genre is how much emphasis it places on the tumultuous personal relationships of its protagonists. There are many different types of betrayal committed by characters throughout the course of the show, including murder, cheating, lying, and the most heinous of them all, ratting. In this show, the audience feels every knife between brothers, club members, sons, mothers, and lovers as if they were right there in the room with them during the entire production. The Sons’ “Road Trip” is the perfect follow-up to “Animal Kingdom” for anyone looking for another great binge.
2. The Sopranos
One of the most popular types of shows on television right now is a drama about a crime family. “The Sopranos” is a must-see for anyone who enjoys family dysfunction with a side of homicide. In addition to being an early example of the genre, “The Sopranos” is the best example. New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano and the consequences of his mob life on his family are the focus of “The Sopranos.” It’s a simple concept now, but when it first came out, it was completely different from anything you’d see on television.
Not only did the show have top-notch writing, acting, and cinematography, but it was also not afraid to pose difficult questions to both its viewers and its fictional cast. Is it safe to assume that the people in the audience will get along with Tony? Should Carmela (Tony’s wife) stay married to the mob boss Tony? Is it possible for people to change, and have the best days of our lives passed us by? These were the types of issues that were discussed on the show on a regular basis. Being able to tackle such serious and existential issues while maintaining a light and entertaining tone makes the show a masterpiece. I’m not going to watch this one… fuckedaboutit!
3. The Shield
The Strike Team adventures on “The Shield” are a must-see for fans of the dark take on Southern California in “Animal Kingdom.” “The Shield” follows Officer Vic Mackey and the special team he leads in the fictional Los Angeles neighborhood of Farmington, which is loosely based on allegations of corruption in the LAPD’s gangland CRASH Unit. Corrupt cops are one thing, but Vic is another. The pilot concludes with Vic assassinating the cop who was planted in his special unit as a mole — a minor spoiler alert.
Afterwards, the show keeps ratcheting up the tension and portraying corrupt cops in a highly fictionalized manner season after season. Some may find the show’s dark themes and handheld shooting style unsettling, but fans of Michael Chiklis and Walter Goggins, the series’ charismatic leads, will find solace in the show’s strong writing and compelling performances. Anyone who buys a ticket will be rewarded with one of the best series finales of all time if they do take the ride.
Cinemax’s “Banshee” is a must-see for “Animal Kingdom” fans who enjoy a pulpy take on crime. In a bar fight, a newly released robber kills the sheriff and then assumes the identity of the dead sheriff, which is ludicrous. The sheriff arrives in a small Pennsylvania town on the same day as the new sheriff. It’s got such a B-movie crime vibe to it that you can almost imagine the show’s creators taking inspiration from Frank Miller’s “Sin City” comics when creating it.
To counteract this, the series’ creators made two key decisions: they hired veteran stuntman Marcus Young to choreograph the fight scenes and cast Anthony Starr as the series’ main character. Together, these two decisions helped lift the show out of the schlock crime abyss. Lucas Hood, a convicted robber-turned-sheriff played by Starr, is a masterclass in playing a role against type. PTSD and extensive special training have left him with little more than reflexes and instincts. Some of the episodes are so well-done that the viewer wants Hood to be blunt in the hopes that he can save himself from his own heinous actions. Watch the show if you want to see the fights.
James St. Patrick, better known as “Ghost,” is an up-and-coming drug dealer who decides to go straight after a failed attempt at doing so in “Power.” Nevertheless, his aspirations of becoming a legitimate business owner and running the hottest club in New York are at odds with those who helped him build his drug empire. Many crime dramas explore the idea of duality: is it possible for one person to be two people at the same time? There are other shows that attempt this, but none do it as well as “Power,” which is understandable given that it was executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
The show excels in more ways than one. Among the show’s stellar cast, standouts include Omari Hardwick as Ghost, whose magnetic presence practically leaps off the screen. After three seasons, it has amassed an impressive fan base. In 2019, its premiere drew the largest premium cable audience of that summer. The show’s devoted audience keeps praising it and spreading the word about it. So many people wanted to read more from the “Powerverse” of the 1950s that a spinoff series was created, titled “Power Book 2: Ghost.”
There are crime family dramas, and then there’s “Bloodline,” which depicts the dysfunctional Rayburn family, the fictional first family of Florida. The series was Netflix’s first attempt at producing a wholly original, high-quality drama series.. In addition to being visually stunning, it is also exceptionally well-written, managing to strike the perfect balance between the seedy and the realistic without devolving into parody. The show’s most valuable feature is the impressive ensemble cast. Among the cast members are Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek, and Sam Shephard, all of whom have appeared on television before.
In addition to its excellent writing, the show’s stellar cast plays off one another brilliantly as siblings and parents with a trove of secrets to hide. Getting too deep into the plot spoils the fun of trying to guess where the show will go, but suffice it to say that “Bloodline” is a must-see for anyone who believes that crime shows are just a little bit better when there’s a family involved.
Networks have been known to drastically reduce the scope of a beloved film or book in order to fit it into a 30-minute time slot. There are times when a unique and talented voice can transform a Coen Brothers masterpiece into one of the best television anthology series ever made. Fargo, an original series on FX, is a good example of this. Noah Hawley is the man behind the show’s success. Every aspect of “Fargo” (the movie) — shocking violence, overly polite criminals, irony, existential questions, and small crimes that inevitably snowball into big ones — are brilliantly transported into four completely original stories over the course of four seasons by Hawley.
There are a few recurring themes in each film: a heroic underdog small-town sheriff who’s smarter than the bad guys but not nearly as dangerous; a good guy, a bad guy, and a tragic fool whose get-rich-quick scheme goes horribly wrong. Seeing how these elements are remixed from season to season, on the other hand, makes returning for a new “true crime” story feel exciting. The performance of Billy Bob Thorton as Lorne Malvo, the show’s main antagonist, alone is worth the price of admission. Forewarning to readers: After the first season concludes, the second will feel like a must-see.
8. Breaking Bad
Many best TV show lists include “Breaking Bad,” and it’s easy to see why based on the pilot alone. It’s one of those rare shows, like Vince Gilligan’s Odyssey of a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin, that’s hard to leave. Star Bryan Cranston’s outstanding acting helped make him a household name. The plotting and character development are strong in this show because it emphasizes the importance of consequences. There are consequences to every choice, no matter how small, in the A and B plots, character arcs, and sometimes even seasons.
The show, on the other hand, never moves at a snail’s pace. Episodes flow into one another like a 1950s serial, and viewers will find it difficult to stop watching once the action starts. For a brief period of time, nothing else had the zeitgeist-grabbing power of “Breaking Bad,” and it’s easy to see why now. Please devote a weekend or two to binge-watching “Animal Kingdom” for anyone who hasn’t seen protagonist Walter White’s descent into the New Mexico equivalent of Hades.
9. Peaky Blinders
Look no further than “Peaky Blinders” if you’re looking for stories about gangs that don’t take place in New York City, New Jersey, Los Angeles or Miami. With its setting in post-World-war Birmingham, “Peaky Blinders” explores the activities of a notorious gang as they engage in criminal activities such as rigging races, drinking, and plotting while avoiding the relentless pursuit of Sam Neil’s Major Chester Campbell. The cunning and ambitious Thomas Shelby leads the Peaky Blinders, who are named after the razor blades kept in the rims of their hats (Cillian Murphy).
Slow burn Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds music plays in the show’s title credits as Shelby rides his horse through Birmingham territory. The title, “Red Right Hand,” should give the audience a good idea of what to expect. ‘Blinders’ is a dark, suspenseful, and engrossing thriller with a distinctly early-to-the-21st Century aesthetic. In addition, as the series progresses, so does the creator Steven Knight’s vision of the criminal underworld in England following World War I. Expanding the world also means bringing in new characters, like Tom Hardy’s smug mug in Alfie Solomons, the rival gangster.
“Family man wrapped up in the drug business” may sound familiar after reading the previous entries. In terms of plot and lead actors, “Ozark” and “Breaking Bad” share some similarities. However, when it comes to execution, the two shows couldn’t be more different. Instead of focusing on the effects of change, as in “Breaking Bad,” “Ozark” begins with the story having already taken place. We don’t see Marty Byrde, played by Jason Bateman, go bad; instead, we find him pretty broken and preparing to go deeper with the criminals whose money he launders.
Consider a scene from early in the show’s first season as an example of how different “Ozark” is from any of its contemporaries. Wendy, Marty’s wife, played by Laura Linney, finally tells her children the truth about their family’s current situation after years of questioning. Just a quick, honest discussion in the kitchen, not season after season of wacky and increasingly unbelievable near misses of discovering the truths. Moments like these highlight the show’s resilience, demonstrating its ability to keep raising the stakes even higher. ‘Ozark,’ a new crime drama, is sure to get the blood pumping and the palms sweating of any crime fiction fan.
Look no further than “Greenleaf,” the Oprah Winfrey Network’s first scripted series, for genre fans who enjoy the intrigue of crime dramas and tense family dynamics but not shocking violence. Follows the Greenleaf family, who break the law to get rich off of their Memphis megachurch and the ensuing hysteria. In the first episode, Merle Dandridge’s character, Gigi Greenleaf, who was estranged from her family for twenty years due to her sister’s mysterious death, returns home.
As much as the show is focused on the truth-seeking of Gigi, it also explores her fraught relationship with her parents Bishop James (Keith David) and Daisy Mae (Lynn Whitfield). While other shows on this list lean toward self-aware high drama, “Greenleaf” finds a wildly entertaining spot in the melodramatic, thanks in large part to the quality of its actors. Lynn Whitfield’s Daisy Mae is the only way to see Lady MacBeth as a diva Memphis megachurch matriarch. ‘Greenleaf’ is unlike anything else on television right now, despite the fact that many shows have pushed the boundaries of what makes a good soap opera.
12. True Detective
“True Detective” is a one-of-a-kind viewing experience in its first season, thanks to writer/producer Nic Pizzolatto’s eye for the gothic and ear for updated hard boiled dialogue. In each season, the show follows a new group of detectives as they deal with the case that will make or break their careers. To say any more would be to give away the show’s intriguing premise, which would be punishable by law.
Nevertheless, what we can say about each season is that it features a diverse group of A-list actors, including Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Mahershala Ali, and has its own distinctive aesthetic feel. For the most part, director Cary Joji Fukunga’s portrayal of Louisiana in season one comes across as dystopian without ever going overboard with the surrealist notions. In addition, one of the best single-take shots in television history can be found in season one. To shake things up, watch the stories of men and women living on the other side of the thin blue line on “True Detective.”
John Singleton, director of “Boyz in the Hood,” produced a television series about the impact of the early crack epidemic in Los Angeles, which should be enough to convince viewers to watch “Snowfall.” Instead of focusing on “the how,” Singleton is an empathic storyteller who chooses to focus on “the why” of his plots and premises. It’s in this way that he gives his stories a basis in character decisions, so that the audience understands why a character makes or doesn’t make a particular choice.
In comparison to the other songs on this list, “Snowfall” is quite unique. It’s not a story about a single family, a criminal gang, or a detective team. Instead, the plots diverge to include individuals from various corners of the drug trade. The show’s appearance was also meticulously crafted. “Snowfall” is a must-see for crime moviegoers looking for a story told with a distinct vision.
14. Ray Donovan
The show’s namesake, Ray Donavan, is a Hollywood fixer with a difficult job. There isn’t a PR guru in Showtime’s excellent crime drama; instead, the antihero solves problems for a living. ‘Ray Donovan’ works because of the depth of the characters’ motivations.
Of course, seeing Liev Schreiber use charm or punch to get himself out of sticky situations makes for compelling television, whether it’s saving a dead girl from the champion boxer’s hot tub or freeing a producer from the grips of a drug lord. Nevertheless, watching him struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance while also protecting his estranged father, played to perfection by Jon Voight, elevates the show’s best moments.
All of the show’s real brilliance lies in its scripting. Unlike many other shows with large casts, “Donovan” manages to keep everything on an even keel while still keeping the stakes high. The overall quality of the story isn’t diminished if viewers are forced to spend an episode primarily on Ray’s father or brothers. Fans of “Animal Kingdom” won’t want to miss this.
Kingdom, a show about a family running a mixed martial arts gym in Southern California, rounds out the list. MMA rising star Nate (Nick Jonas) is trained by his father Alvey Kulina, the gym owner and family patriarch, who is played by action star and Captain America punching bag Frank Grillo. There are complications when Jay (Jonathan Tucker), another son, becomes jealous and begins working in the family business with conflicting motives.
The show moves at a fast pace and yet it gets very little attention. A lot of the themes explored in “Kingdom” aren’t found in other kinds of media, like drama or comedy. A family drama unlike any other, “Kingdom” revolves around his battle to come out and his involvement in mixed martial arts (MMA). A few minor crimes, the director’s recommendation, and some truly visceral fight scenes (it is about modern gladiators, after all) add up to a show genre fans should put at the top of their priority lists for viewing.