America is still a fairly young country, just 241 years old (and doesn’t look a day over 190 if we do say so ourselves). Still, it’s been a harrowing road to get here and the history of America is ripe for good drama. There have been some great shows about the American experience, and Damnation will join them on Nov. 7. If you’re a history buff, here are 10 other quintessentially American TV shows. How many have you seen?
1. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The western frontier produced a whole genre of films in the first half of the 20th century, and almost as many TV shows. This ‘90s classic starred Jane Seymour as the title doctor in a feminist take on the old west. There’s some edgier adult westerns on this list but Dr. Quinn was good medicine for the whole family.
2. The Kennedys
If America had a royal family, it would be the Kennedys. In two miniseries, Katie Holmes played Jackie Kennedy with Greg Kinnear as JFK and Barry Pepper as Bobby. The Kennedys: After Camelot brought in Matthew Perry as Ted Kennedy in the events following the assassinations of Jack and Bobby.
3. Texas Rising
The Texas Rangers are the noble officers of our largest state. Throughout history they’ve policed the old west, prevented presidential assassinations (U.S. President Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz), and caught Bonnie and Clyde. The miniseries Texas Rising showed how the Rangers were formed with an all-star cast including Bill Paxton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Thomas Jane, Crispin Glover, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Liotta and Brendan Fraser. You don’t get that many stars in most movies!
4. John Adams
When it comes to presidents, it’s always George Washington or Abraham Lincoln who get the movies. So HBO told the true story of our second-ever President. Paul Giamatti played John Adams, one of the original Founding Fathers, with Laura Linney as his wife Abigail. With seven hours of unrestricted pay cable to tell the story, HBO covered 50 years of America through John Adams’ eyes.
5. Turn: Washington’s Spies
Another take on George Washington, AMC’s series follows the people who provided Washington the intel that helped win the American Revolution. Jamie Bell played Abe Woodhull, a leader of the Culper Ring. If you didn’t read about them in history class, you can binge-watch their story in four seasons!
6. Hell on Wheels
Today we take it for granted that our cars can take us wherever we need to go -- to say nothing of planes! But back in the 1800s, building a train across the country connected regions who’d only read about in books. The AMC drama starring Anson Mount and Common told some stories of the backbreaking work and turmoil behind the transportation landmark.
As westerns go, few were as gritty and real as HBO’s Deadwood, and certainly not on television. When they called it the wild west, that wasn’t just exciting stage coach robberies and heroic sheriffs. Deadwood used all the profanity but its bite was as big as its bark when it came to realistic frontier violence.
This landmark miniseries spanned centuries. Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) is kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. In America, his family line sees the founding of the country, Civil War, and eventual end of slavery. An acclaimed, emotionally wrought education on the African-American experience.
9. Mad Men
For better or worse, men in suits defined a lot of recent American history. Through the executives on Madison Avenue, Mad Men saw the power brokers slowly lose their grip with the rise of free love and feminism. It was a more innocent time, but the cracks were showing and sexism ran rampant, making it the stuff of great drama.
If you only watch one western, it might as well be the one that lasted 20 years. Marshall Dillon (James Arness) never seemed to run out of trouble to deal with in Dodge City. If you get through all 20 seasons, there’s also a radio show full of more Marshall Dillon adventures to hear.
Are you ready for television's next quintessentially American drama? Be sure to tune into Damnation, an epic saga about the Heartland in the 1930s, premiering this Tuesday at 10/9c on USA!