Weekly Spotlight On…”Literary” TV Shows

Here at RFPL Reads, I talk a lot about books, not so much about other forms of media.  One category that I so woefully neglect, and really should not, are great TV shows tailored towards the reader in all of us.  I was inspired to write this post when I stumbled aross this article on BookRiot: Pop Culture Pairing: TV Shows That Should Be Books.  This article names TV shows and then pairs them up with authors that could write the book.  For example, Neil Gaiman was named as the author to write the book for Firefly, a great science fiction tv show that sadly only lasted for one season.  The author of the post said something that struck me: “People who…say they never watch television because they’re too busy reading…are missing out because there are some intensely literary shows out there”.  This is absolutely true–there are some shows out there that are superbly written and contain all the elements of a great novel.  Just to back myself up, check out this article from the Telegraph where author Salman Rushdie says that TV drama is the new literature.  Here are some shows that I would consider to be “literary”.  Click on the cover images to link to their records in the library catalog:


A show set in the late 1800’s, this series revolves around the characters of Deadwood, South Dakota,  a lawless town full of crime, corruption, and very colorful characters.  If Cormac McCarthy had written a TV show, it would have been this one.

Breaking Bad

In this good-guy-gone-really-bad tv series, when informed he has terminal cancer, an underachieving chemistry genius turned high school teacher uses his expertise to secretly provide for his family by producing the world’s highest quality crystal meth.  And yes, it is as good as everyone says.

Mad Men

A highly addictive tv drama about one of New York’s most presitigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960’s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper.  Think The Great Gatsby in a different decade, with more character development.


This fantastical tv drama from HBO takes place during the Great Depression, in the midst of the Dust Bowl.  A fugitive named Ben Hawkins finds refuge within a traveling carnival, only to learn that he may be one of the key players in a proxy war between Heaven and Hell.

The Shield

The story of an inner-city Los Angeles police precinct where some of the cops aren’t above breaking the rules or working against their associates to both keep the streets safe and their self-interests intact.

American Horror Story

For the lovers of horror fiction–this is the television show for you.  Through a combination of the grotesque, the gothic, and even the humorous, this successful show started off as a mini-series on FX, but fans of the first season clearly wanted more, so it has been brought back for a second season.  The first featured a haunted house as the setting, while the second takes place in an insane asylum.  Acting talent such as that of Jessica Lange makes this an even more worthwhile piece of television to watch.

The Wire

Many people have called this HBO show one of the best television shows ever shown. Ever.  I, personally, would have to agree.  The show focuses on different aspects of the Baltimore drug scene, through the eyes of cops and drug dealers alike.  I believe what makes this show so universal is they way it portrays the characters and in the way that you end up sympathizing with both sides; there are characters you love to love and love to hate, and each episode is as compelling and engaging as the last.

The Sopranos

The Sopranos is often considered to be the show that set the standards for television as we know it today.  Doing away with the sitcom and the commercial breaks, The Sopranos proved the tagline “It’s not just TV, it’s HBO”.  It is a modern day morality tale about New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, as he deals with personal and professional issues in his home and business life.

The West Wing

Created by Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter for movies such as Moneyball and The Social Network), this popular series which ran from 1999-2006 takes a look inside the lives of staffers in the west wing of the White House.  This show was hailed for its ensemble cast and its delightfully snappy dialogue.

What other television shows would you consider to be “literary”?  Leave a comment below and let us know!


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