7 Recent TV shows that are genuinely cinematic

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Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in a still from Twin Peaks. Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Acquired from Showtime

These seven recent TV shows have pushed the boundaries separating film and television.

In the last few decades, television has become more cinematic. The reasons for this change are multifaceted. The rise of cinematography has allowed for the creation of TV shows that look as good or better than most studio films. The recent proliferation of distribution channels within the television space has made room for shows that aren’t interested in mass appeal. The creative freedom offered by new platforms like Netflix has lured high-profile filmmakers to try their hands at the medium. Together, these paradigm shifts have allowed for the creation of TV shows that look, sounds and feel like movies.

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And while there is some overlap between the rise of cinematic TV and prestige TV dramas, the two trends aren’t the same. The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Battlestar Galactica are all complex, formally accomplished and uncompromising works, but they aren’t particularly cinematic. Their power and meaning come from telling stories that take years to unfold. Those series have realized television’s long-form storytelling potential, but they aren’t really trying to replicate a closed-ended cinematic experience.

Similarly, the high production values and filmic pedigree of series like Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Sherlock make them prestigious, but not cinematic. Undeniably, the shows have cinematic flourishes and play with storytelling in ways that are unusual for TV, but their essential nature is televisual. Their narratives are episodic and most of their focus is ultimately telling a story, not creating an experience. And as this Vulture piece notes, most of their screen time is spent on conversations, a choice that is informed by the demands of a TV production schedule rather than creativity.

With those distinctions in mind, there are seven recent TV shows that blurred the lines between television and film. Their default mode of storytelling is visual. They narratives oblique and disinterested in offered definitively conclusions. They are paced in ways that purposefully antagonistic. They are TV shows that feel genuinely cinematic.