Filling the Dragon Sized Hole
Sunday marks the end of an era for post-Golden Age television. In case you were living in an internet blackout for the past two months (two years?), Game of Thrones is fire-scorching its way to a guaranteed-to-be-polarizing end this weekend. Adios, Westeros. Sort of. HBO is already trying to occupy the dark fantasy void with an expanded universe of a beloved graphic novel (albeit, one that seems to hope we forgot the film adaptation ten years earlier). Disney+ is primed to flood us with live action Star Wars series once it launches, not to mention even more Marvel content. Yet its doubtful that any of these shows will capture Thrones' unique mix of genre twists that made us rethink our ideas on character longevity and moral depravity in television. However, to occupy that hollow place in your TV viewing heart after this weekend, here are list of shows that capture a little bit of that spirit in one way or another.
Babylon Berlin - Arguably, the title of best show on TV has been up for grabs since 2017. So far, this German import has been the leading successor. Tom Tykwer's Weimar-era noir thriller evokes the decadence of Cabaret with a healthy dose of political intrigue and historical tension. As the most expensive foreign language series created, it also allows Tykwer to flash the visual style he showed in films like Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. And yes, its worth watching even with the subtitles. (Netflix)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - It's hard to imagine a world where TV executives take a pitch about dark fantasy, sex and magic seriously without the success of Joss Whedon's follow-up to his own unsuccessful movie. Whether you recorded every episode on VHS back in the day, beat up the kids who wouldn't shut up about it or binged it in a few weekends when no one cared anymore, you've absorbed its influence in one form or another. The rise of geek culture started here, but the show also broke new ground for its depiction of teenage sexuality and LGBTQIA characters. Plus, anyone disappointed by the final season can take a transmedia trip and read the "real" final season in graphic novel form. (Hulu)
Rome - By the time George R.R. Martin came knocking, HBO was no stranger to sex, violence and lavish, expensively produced period set pieces. The true spiritual ancestor to Thrones (at least on TV), this revisionist history about the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Caesars offered the same Macchiavelli-meets-Freud view of how dysfunctional emotions can shape power politics. However, the show's real brilliance is how the actions of forgotten and minor individuals have inevitably steered the course of history. Co-created by Conan the Barbarian director (and Walter from The Big Lebowski inspiration), the series had just enough of his gleeful anarchy and nihilism to overcome its biggest flaw: the source material itself meant that when, say, certain major characters die no one was too surprised. (Amazon, HBO)
American Gods - When Starz picked up this adaptation of a popular novel by a visionary fantasy author, they probably weren't too concerned about the genre distinctions between high and low fantasy (look it up, non-nerds). They were just hoping to get a Thrones of their own. The decision to let cult showrunner Bryan Fuller and stylish horror maestro David Slade take their Hannibal magic to a new show gave it a cool visual sensibility and narrative quirkiness, but it may have also limited the audience. That, and being on Starz. Given its cable home, the departure of Fuller and Slade in the second season, and the fact that the source material is (generously) two novels and a few short stories, this show probably won't run for 8 seasons with a bunch of rumored spinoffs. (Starz)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - For anyone who ever wished Thrones was a little bit more like Downton Abbey, this comedy of manners about two English magicians fighting the Napoleonic wars and cutting dubious deals with amoral, David Bowie-esque spirits is the antidote. Adapted by acclaimed BBC writer Peter Harness from Susanna Clarke's bestseller, the show offers a curious mix of history, literary magic and dueling philosophies. While the bittersweet ending that George R.R. Martin promised may not deliver, this limited series features one of the more memorable finishes. However, there probably won't be a second season, though Clarke did write a series of female-centered short stories set in the same fictional universe.