A few years ago, AMC jumped into the narrative TV business with both feet (as they had done a few scripted shows previous like “Remember WENN”) and unleashed Matt Weiner’s critically-acclaimed, award-winning and avid-fan-attracting “Mad Men”. And as “Mad Men” went on to win an unprecedented number of Best TV Drama Emmys over the last 5 years, it also ushered in this new Golden Age of TV (and perhaps if you know much about the previous Golden Age, it was marked by great comedy, whereas the current Golden Age is marked by great drama). Cable became the place to be, and pay cable was the halcyon for mature storytelling (even though you could argue that “Breaking Bad” is one of the most mature shows on TV and it’s on basic cable).
Even though the prognosticators, pundits and plutocrats have been declaring TV, as we know it, “dead” for at least the last 5 or 6 seasons, Cinemax — the black sheep, red-haired stepchild of the crown jewel of pay cable, HBO — entered the serious narrative TV drama game in 2011 with a B SKY B co-production called “Strike Back”… it quickly became one of my favorite shows; never missing a beat or flinching with its frank sexuality and potent violence (remember this IS Cinemax) or morally challenging storylines (it’s a show about a British special forces team). I’ve trumpeted my excitement and interest with “Strike Back” in this column before, so that’s no surprise.
However, this year after “Strike Back” concluded its second season (without Frank Spotniz, who I think gave it a narrative zing that was therefore missing in season 2 … is season 3, if you’re really in the know), Cinemax debuted “Hunted”; which is where Spotniz jumped to. “Hunted” wisa spy thriller about a corporate infiltration team ,and its main operative – Sam Hunter (played marvelously by Melissa George) – as they’ve been contracted to disrupt a high-stake international business transaction, but with some dark implications and underpinnings for all the characters involved beyond the case at hand. “Hunted” is tonally and executed moreTINKER, TAILER, SOLIDER, SPY than “24” or James Bond; it is peppered with smart action and some titillating flesh exposure. The story was textured and vertiginous in ways that I didn’t expect and it ended with not just a bang, but a what the fuck?
The latest entry into high-octane, pheromone-drenched storytelling is “Banshee”, which only after two airings is one helluva show. Alan Ball, the guy who gave us AMERICAN BEAUTY and “True Blood” is the showrunner, and this tale of a master thief who becomes a master con man trying to settle the score on a robbery he did that cost him 15 years in the joint is exactly the kind of
Sadly for NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and Starz, Cinemax is owning Friday night, a night that they’ve basically given up on for premium quality content. It’s a bold move, and smart, because Cinemax would want to compete with HBO on Sundays.
It’s seems that Cinemax’s biggest battle is convincing the viewing audience that their programming is more than just soft core sex (who can ignore Skin To The Max though!?!?! But that’s why I’m here giving it props.
It’s unlikely that Cinemax will be HBO, in terms of perceived quality (because outside of “Game of Thrones” I’m digging the three aforementioned shows more than anything on HBO), but maybe the plan is create a niche for high octane programming — which there is obviously an audience for.
Now, the big question is: would they do a hard sci-fi project?