Originally filling its airtime with theatrically released movies, “American Movie Classics” started to de-emphasize its full name around 2003 for its major shift in programming. Although movies still remain an essential part of AMC’s schedule, the network has gained massive popularity for its number of original quality programming in recent years. In 2007, it aired its first original drama series Mad Men to critical acclaim, and since then has produced a series of well-crafted shows that have taken TV viewers by storm.
With their tagline “Story Matters Here,” AMC has put an emphasis on quality programming that span from all kinds of genres. They’re proven they can produce high-stakes dramas like Mad Men, interesting documentary series like The Pitch and the recent Ride with Norman Reedus, and have even produced spinoffs of past efforts like Better Call Saul and Fear the Walking Dead. Like our ranked list of Netflix series, and our recent best of HBO series, we’re taking a look at the cream of the crop that AMC has yet to offer.
Here are the 20 Best AMC Original Series.
20. The Prisoner
Although ambitious in scope, AMC’s remake of The Prisoner might be their one of their weaker programs to date. The original series, which aired in 1967, is considered a cult classic for its unique non-linear storytelling and psychedelic influences. The updated version, which is more a reimagining than a remake, tries to use the same bag of tricks but to no avail. While the mood-altering original was groundbreaking, by now audiences have come accustomed to trippy television shows like The X-Files or Doctor Who. Nowadays, just atmosphere alone isn’t enough to carry an entire program.
And that leads to The Prisoner’s biggest problem: the show just isn’t compelling enough to warrant a six-part mini-series. The story is rather flat with little substance in the characters’ motivations. Instead of tantalizing the audience, we are left frustrated that so many questions are left unanswered until the finale. While the show was written off as merely confusing, there are brief notable moments where it shines, including Sir Ian McKellen’s wonderful take on the mysterious Number Six.
19. Feed the Beast
For a show featuring two chefs that want to build up a respectable clientele for their restoraunt, with superb ingredients and finer ambiance, Feed the Beast itself is more like a run-of-the-mill burger joint. The program tries to copy superior cable dramas of past, but lacks all of the rich substance or creativity that made those shows hits.
David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess star as two down on-their-luck chefs opening up a fancy new restaurant in the Bronx. AMC’s new show is strongest when explaining the ins and outs of the restaurant business. It’s fun to listen to the characters explain things about finer spices and wines, leading to some witty and entertaining banter. Ironically it’s the more dramatic tropes that fall flat here: the corrupt cop, the evil mob boss, the cliché love interest. Certain elements of the show get very heavy-handed, which is too bad because the cast, especially Schwimmer, are fantastic in their roles. Unfortunately, the first season of Feed the Beast suffers from one too many ingredients, but might find a more suitable audience if it decides to step up its game if renewed for a second season.
18. Low Winter Sun
Like other networks, AMC is no stranger to adapting hit British television shows for an American audience. In 2013, the channel set out to make their version of Low Winter Sun, based on a 2006 British mini-series of the same name. It starred Mark Strong as police detective Frank Agnew, who commits a crime based on revenge and thinks he got away clean. Low Winter Sun deals in murder, deception, revenge and corruption leading to a series that is gritty and atmospheric, but is also unfortunately a tad boring.
Chris Mundy’s series, which only lasted one season, aspires to be the next slow burning crime drama reminiscent of HBO’s The Wire. Low Winter Sun is indeed a dark drama, but perhaps just a tad too dark. The show, while suspenseful, is completely devoid of life, making it far less compelling than it should be. The grim setting is even harder to overlook due to lack of originality in the plot. While there are some solid performances, Low Winter Sun hangs a little too low, and was subsequently cancelled before it could find a niche audience.
17. Ride with Norman Reedus
Ride with Norman Reedus is AMC’s new reality show that features The Walking Dead star as he hits the open road to explore motorcycle culture around the country. Like his character on the zombie apocalypse program, Daryl Dixon, Reedus himself is a huge motorcycle enthusiast, making him the ideal host for a show that dives into the eccentric attractions of some of America’s most picturesque biker hotspots. Judging on the handful of episodes released, the show is surprisingly appealing so far, and not just for pure motorcycle junkies either.
Anyone can enjoy this show, and that enjoyment comes from the distinctiveness of the experience, and Reedus’ impressive adaptability as the host. The actor, like his character, may be a man of few words, but he is still plenty engaging as the viewer’s tour guide. His enthusiasm and curiosity when traveling from place to place with friends and fellow enthusiasts is a subtle notch above most reality shows that appear too stilted and too formulaic. While it’s not breaking ground, Ride with Norman Reedus is still a plenty enjoyable experience that features one of the coolest actors on AMC.
16. The Pitch
Another AMC reality program, but instead of taking cameras on the open road, this one takes cameras behind the closed doors of two rival advertising agencies who go head to head to win a real life campaign for a major brand. The pitch for The Pitch was thought up by Stephen Lambert, who also created the reality show Undercover Boss. Pitch plays like that show mixed with AMC’s Mad Men to form a real life group of cut throat advertisement execs who are confronted with a number of different business crises.
It only lasted two seasons, but The Pitch was a comprehensive look to see what working in an ad agency is all about. The documentary gets up close and personal with different executives as they try and come up with the “right” creative idea for their client. For a reality program, the show offers a good amount of suspense while it keeps you guessing which agency will beat out the other for the top prize.
15. Talking Dead
Some programs are so popular that there are shows based exclusively on discussing them. Chris Hardwick hosts this live aftershow that discusses the current episodes of both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, with guests including everyone from celebrity fans to actual cast and crew members from the series. Some of the segments that take up the 60-minute runtime include online polls, tidbits of trivia about the shows, a behind-the-scenes look at making the programs, and an “In Memoriam” highlighting reel that discusses the deaths from the previous episode.
Talking Dead premiered on October 16, 2011 during the second season of The Walking Dead and featured a half hour runtime. When it returned in 2013, the program had gained enough popularity to be bumped up to 60 minutes, and have its timeslot changed to 10:00 PM, directly after The Walking Dead ended. Hardwick is a great host for the informative program about the super famous zombie shows, especially in his banter and interviews with the cast (of which Robert Kirkman, Lauren Cohan, Greg Nicotero, Gale Anne Hurd and Norman Reedus have appeared in every season).
14. Fear the Walking Dead
AMC’s spinoff series, Fear the Walking Dead depicts the very beginning of the zombie outbreak that eventually leads to the events in The Walking Dead. After the massive popularity and fame of its predecessor, it was all but assured that Fear the Walking Dead would have a huge built in audience waiting at the gates. With its safety net of built in numbers, the program still had the uphill battle of establishing a whole new cast of characters and stories, and while it’s not as magnetic as The Walking Dead, it is still a solid prequel.
Working in its advantage is the new setting on the West Coast, more specifically Los Angeles. The sun drenched backdrop keeps the show fresh while still delivering material for its built in fan base. That being said, it does take a little longer to get the ball rolling. Because it’s still the beginning of the outbreak, it doesn’t have the momentum of its forerunner, with the first few episodes more of a straight up drama about two high school teachers and their dysfunctional family.
Taking place in a futuristic parallel reality, Humans is a sci-fi drama that takes a tired idea and somehow makes it fresh again. In this world, the latest must-have gadget is a ‘Synth:’ a highly intelligent robot servant so shockingly similar to a real human, that it’s hard to tell the difference. When one British family gets their new Synth, it opens the door for all kinds of conflict, both for the humans and artificial lifeforms alike.
The premise of Humans isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. There are literally tons of shows, books and movies about synthetic humans or cyborgs. But AMC’s drama offers a unique spin on a familiar concept. Showrunners Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley instill the show with gripping touches of loneliness and regret, making Humans, well, all the more human. The direction, pacing and performances are all highly compelling, with standout roles including William Hurt as the tormented Dr. George Millican, an engineer of the original Synth project. With just two seasons under its belt, it will be very exciting to see where AMC takes this promising new show next.
12. Into the Badlands
Like Humans, Into the Badlands features a concept which you’ve seen a million times before, but presents it in such a stylized and entertaining fashion, you can’t help but enjoy it. In a post-apocalyptic America, the Badlands are ruled by seven Barons, who have elite killers called Clippers do their dirty work for them. Veteran martial artist Daniel Wu plays Sunny, the most feared Clipper due to his deadly skills and undying loyalty for his Baron, Quinn. Everything changes for Sunny when his path crosses with the young M.K., and the two decide to cross the dangerous Badlands in search of redemption and freedom.
Into the Badlands plays out like a mix of Firefly, Django Unchained and Seven Samurai while still building a world that is unique in its own right. Some of the set pieces are really something to marvel, and the action is top notch. The fight choreography is stunning and worthy of praise, especially for a TV show, as Wu gets several chances to show off his impressive skills with his fists and swords. While the dialog is a bit wooden, Into the Badlands is a fun ride, with a second season arriving in 2017.
11. Comic Book Men
Nobody likes talking geek culture more than Kevin Smith, and in 2012 he was able to parlay that knowledge into an AMC series titled Comic Book Men. The unscripted series takes a look at Smith’s iconic comic shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, and the employees that deal in the many comics and artifacts from fanboy culture that float in and out of the store. For those who like the setup of Pawn Stars, but would rather see vintage comics come through the door rather than old lamps, Comic Book Men is a dream come true.
The AMC reality series features a wide range of cool finds of everything geek culture, like the original prints of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the laser-disc editions of Star Wars. While the knickknacks are interesting, the highlight of the show is the banter and dialog between the workers. Smith’s employees are both funny and extremely knowledgeable in their trade, who are informative as they are entertaining. Even the biggest comic lover might walk away from an episode of Comic Book Men having learned a thing or two about their favorite superhero.
Jason Horwitch’s short lived series, Rubicon, tells the story of Will Travers, an analyst at a New York City-based federal intelligence agency who is thrown into a giant conspiracy. Will discovers that he may be working with members of a secret society that manipulates world events on a massive scale, and starts to decipher clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery he now finds himself smackdab in the middle of.
A pulse-racing espionage thriller, Rubicon calls back to the conspiracy films of the 1970s such as Marathon Man or The Parallax View in which an innocent character gets caught up in the whirlwind of a grand conspiracy. The subject matter is indeed complex and at most times challenging, but still engrossing and entertaining if you love smart TV characters. Sadly, despite generating the most watched debut for an AMC original series at the time, Rubicon was never able to find a target audience, and the show was cancelled after just one season.
As we’ve seen from the mega-popular Daredevil and Jessica Jones, comic book based television shows are a welcome choice when it comes to programming. AMC, like Netflix, has its fair share of comic adaptations, the most recent being the series Preacher, which was developed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin. Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, this twisted fantasy/adventure follows Preacher Jesse Custer as he teams up with a vampire to find God after a supernatural event in his church.
Bizarre, funny and most of all, entertaining, Preacher is quickly generating a lot of buzz making it AMC’s most talked about new show. Its schizophrenic wow-factor runs at maximum capacity, fitting in waves of drama, conflict and endless bloodshed into a one of a kind TV experience. Preacher, which might be AMC’s most violent show to date, has drunken vampires, exploding clergymen and bone-popping fistfights, but still manages to be compelling enough to make the viewer listen even when someone is not being torn apart.
8. Halt and Catch Fire
Set during the technology boom of the 1980s, IMB sales executive Joe MacMillan recruits a reluctant engineer Gordon Clark and a programming wizard Cameron Howe in order to reverse engineer IBM’s BIOS system, which sets up the PC revolution. Did you get all that? Good. While programming and geek talk might not sound like the most compelling drama, Halt and Catch Fire is compelling not for the building of technology, but the rich emotional building going on in the characters.
Like David Fincher’s critically acclaimed The Social Network, creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers construct a compelling character study set to the backdrop of technology. Like most time spent on computers themselves, Halt and Catch Fire is amazingly addicting with corporate conspiracy, personal rivalry and clashing visions all at the center of the conflict. With two fantastic seasons having just wrapped, fans are pleased to hear that the upcoming third season is right around the corner, premiering on August 23rd.
7. The Killing
While it ended its run on Netflix, The Killing was first brought on the air by AMC in 2011. The American crime drama is adapted from the Danish television series Forbryddelsen (The Crime), and was developed by producer Veena Sud. Set in Seattle, Washington, the show is an interweaving tale between a high stakes police investigation, a grieving family, and a mayoral campaign after the body of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen is found in the trunk of a waterlogged car.
Boasting an impressive cast including World War Z’s Mireille Enos and Robocop’s Joel Kinnaman, The Killings sports a solid sense of dread with a bleak atmosphere. Set in motion by a who-done-it catalyst much like Twin Peaks, the narrative is suspenseful and gripping, constantly keeping the viewers on their toes. That suspense wasn’t enough to keep the show afloat unfortunately, and in 2013 it was cancelled by AMC for lack of ratings. Fans of the show were bummed, but rejoiced when Netflix aired a complete fourth season in 2014 which tied up loose ends and finally gave the program the fitting ending it deserved.
6. Turn: Washington Spies
Based on Alexander Rose’s book, TURN: Washington’s Spies follows Long Island farmer Abe Woodhull, who bands together with a gang of childhood friends to form The Culper Ring, the first American spy organization who turn the tide in America’s fight for independence in 1776. Although the period drama takes several considerable liberties with the biographies of its characters, like Braveheart or The Patriot, it does so for the sake of crafting a well told story that spins into one of the best thrillers on television.
Jamie Bell, who started off as a notable child actor in productions like Billy Elliot and King Kong, is strikingly convincing here as Abraham Woodhull, depicting the farmer turned spy as a man with a very troubling journey into the War of Independence. The rest of the cast is just as good, if at times uneven, resulting in a dense and emotionally engaging thrill ride that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat. While TURN has just finished its third season this year, fans will be eagerly awaiting to watch a fourth, with a release date that is currently, up in the air.
5. Hell on Wheels
Everybody loves a good Western, and along with HBO’s Deadwood, Hell on Wheels is one of the very best televised Westerns in history. Anson Mount plays Cullen Bohanna, a former Confederate soldier who works as a chief engineer during the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. After initially attempting to track down some Union soldiers that murdered his wife and young son, Cullen runs smack dab into the production of the Transcontinental and reluctantly becomes a foreman. The show is an interweaving tale between Cullen’s story and everyone else who works on the Continental including the laborers, prostitutes and mercenaries that lived and died during construction.
With a huge cast of characters to follow, Hell on Wheels is rich in subject matter, even if there is a tad too much going on at one given time. The first season spends a good chunk of time setting up all the main players, which may appear a bit tedious to the viewer. It all pays off as the subsequent seasons get progressively better in quality, right around the time writer John Wirth took over as showrunner. While it might take a bit to get going, Hell on Wheels finally get on track, and is now close to wrapping its final season on AMC.
4. Better Call Saul
Like The Jeffersons and Fraiser before it, Better Call Saul proves that a spinoff series can have more than enough value to stand on its own. This Breaking Bad subsidiary tells the story of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a small time criminal lawyer who later becomes Walter White’s morally challenged attorney, Saul Goodman. Also back into the mix is fan-favorite Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), an aged enforcer who helps McGill with his P.I. work. Some new players on the show include Jimmy’s unstable brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), and the ex-love-of-his-life, criminal lawyer Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).
While originally thought to be more of a comedy, Better Call Saul is a fantastically constructed drama with some comedic elements thrown in. The time spent on each character’s story arc greatly benefit the rich characterizations, especially Jimmy’s, whose transformation into Saul Goodman isn’t as black and white as one would think. The writing, like Breaking Bad, is top notch and would even rival its predecessor. While it might not be as thrilling or magnetic as creator Vince Gilligan’s first AMC program, Better Call Saul is a highly compelling show with some standout performances.
While season two has recently finished, a ten-episode third season has been confirmed by AMC for next year.
3. Mad Men
Winner of five Golden Globes, including one for lead actor Jon Hamm, AMC’s series Mad Men is ambitious as it upsetting, diving into the culture, stereotypes and excesses of the early 1960’s. The show depicts the professional and personal lives of the workers in one of New York’s smaller ad agencies, Sterling Cooper. More specifically, focusing on the firm’s most mysterious and troubled ad executive, Don Draper (Hamm), whose daunting past exceedingly tries to catch up with him during the course of the show.
The program harkens back to a time when the ad men on Madison Avenue controlled an entire culture. Political correctness was unheard of, leading to an era of sexism and prejudices. The smoking, drinking and excessive lifestyle these self-coined “mad men” exude is both appalling and intoxicating to watch, because like any good show, Mad Men has an unbelievable cast and superb writing at its core. Hamm’s Draper is the anchor of the show, a troubled ad man that really is a creative genius. During its seven season run, Mad Men was one of the “must watch” shows on AMC, and will continue to be rediscovered many years down the line thanks to its reputation as a superbly crafted drama.
2. The Walking Dead
Besides Game of Thrones, AMC’s The Walking Dead might be the most popular show on television. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Adlard, the show, like its zombie epidemic, has spread like wildfire in television sets across the world. Developed by Frank Darabont, who wrote the screen adaptations of both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, the horror/drama follows Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he becomes the leader of a group of survivors in a world overrun by zombies, referred to as “walkers.” Together, the group does whatever it can to survive in this harsh new world, by frequently going up against the dead, and the living.
When it aired in 2010, The Walking Dead had a healthy following, but today has become a cultural phenomenon. Beginning with its third season, Dead attracts the most 18-to-49-year-old viewers of any cable series, which is probably why AMC is so quick to renew it each season. A big part of the appeal is the compelling cast of characters, who are not just caricatures like in most zombie flicks, but are sharply written and fleshed out, making it all the more nerve-racking to find out whose brains got splattered by Negan in last season’s finale.
Although AMC has proven to have a wide stable of notable series, the choice for our top spot on this list was easy enough. Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, about a high school teacher turned drug kingpin, is a show that only comes around once in a generation. Masterfully written with a performance for the ages by Bryan Cranston, it’s one of the rare breed of shows that somehow gets better with each passing season.
We could mention Aaron Paul’s brilliant take on the troubled Jesse Pinkman, the brilliant direction and cinematography present in each episode, and the nail-biting tension that enwrapped the entire series., but the underlying backbone of Breaking Bad is Walter White’s transformation from (as Gilligan so eloquently puts it) “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” No transition from hero to anti-hero has been so beautifully captured since Michael Corleone’s descent into corruption from The Godfather. With each heinous action, Walter slowly changes into his malicious Heisenberg persona, which made us become disgusted with the character, but surprisingly, still had us root for him.
With a plethora of fantastic episodes under its belt, along with topnotch direction and acting from the entire cast of players, Breaking Bad is arguably the king of AMC programming. Long live the King.
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