“Succession” and 9 other TV dramas that are intense without being about life and death

One way to almost guarantee interest in a dramatic television show is to bet it life and death. When there’s a feeling that no character is safe and anyone of importance could die at any moment, the tension is inherent. As such, many TV dramas revolve around war, crime, survival, or action/adventure, and it’s easy to see how much discussion has arisen over the deaths of characters in popular death-heavy shows like the Walking Dead And game of Thrones.

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However, constant death — or the looming threat of it — isn’t the only way to make a dramatic TV show compelling week after week, season after season. Some dramas manage to be captivating, suspenseful, even tense without being constantly a matter of life and death, and feature characters that generally feel out of reach of The Grim Reaper. Subsequent shows aren’t necessarily deathless, but they tend to find drama in a way that doesn’t often endanger characters, showing that substantial body count isn’t required to make a TV drama series compelling.

10 ‘Succession’ (2018-2023)

Follow-up Season 3 Roman and Shiv
Image via HBO

successor ends its fourth season in 2023, but judging by the progress so far, it’s extremely unlikely that things will end in a bloodbath. It can be inspired Shakespeare’s King Learfor it was a show that began with the question of how to carve up a dynasty, but a similarly violent ending is likely to be avoided.

Instead of violence and physical fights successor sees his characters involved in constant battles of words. The stakes are high, as characters can make—or sometimes lose—billions of dollars all the time, but it’s rare that someone’s physical well-being is compromised. On the other hand, the personal wealth and professional reputation of the characters? You are constantly in danger, do successor a sometimes surprisingly intense show.

9 ‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015)

Mad Men - Don Draper

It may have been created by Matthew Weinerwho became known as a writer The sopranosBut mad Men was a very different show from HBO’s hit gangster series. Sure, both followed flawed, complex male protagonists who must balance their work and family lives, but each one’s missions felt different.

The sopranos was notoriously full of death, however mad Men does not deal with organized crime, and much of its drama revolves around family and professional struggles instead. When someone died it was usually sudden, certain characters rarely felt like they were in danger of being hurt. It was still a fantastic, character-driven show, and more than compelling thanks to its interesting cast and portrayal of life – in and out of the office – in the 1960s.

8th Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

Peter Krause in Six Feet Under
Image via HBO

Granted, there was a lot of death in there Six feet under. Its powerful opening episode began with the main characters losing someone close to them, and its iconic finale memorably showed how death eventually comes to everyone. In between, there’s usually one death per episode, since the main characters work at a funeral home, but it’s almost always a one-off character’s death.

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Six feet under normalizes death to the point where it’s so inevitable that it no longer feels like a source of tension. What’s more, the main characters themselves are rarely in physical danger (except perhaps for the infamously intense Season 4 episode, “That’s My Dog,” in which David is terrorized by a disturbing hitchhiker).

7 ‘The Newsroom’ (2012-2014)

the editors 0

It is not surprising of The newsroom title that it’s a series that probably doesn’t have a lot of traditional action or thrills. It is in fact a (fictional) newsroom and focuses on an ensemble of characters working in such a high-intensity work environment and struggling with all the challenges that entails.

Thanks to Aaron Sorkins well-known fast-paced dialogue, The newsroom manages to feel nimble and exciting through character interactions alone. It’s also a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at the kind of team dynamics those outside of the industry who do for newsrooms what Sorkin’s previous series, The western wingdid for the Oval Office.

6 ‘The Bear’ (2022)

Jeremy Allen White, Lionel Boyce and Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Carmy, Marcus and Richie in The Bear.
Image via FX

If The bear teaches viewers that working in a restaurant kitchen is brutally hard and often intense. Of course there are physical dangers, but even if you never get physically hurt, there are so many other things that probably make working in such an environment unnerving.

From worker disputes to customer complaints to the fact that running a small business is financially stressful, The bear manages to squeeze a lot of drama out of its seemingly simple premise. It’s notorious for being a stomach-turning and angst-inducing show, and that it’s able to squeeze so much suspense out of a fairly ordinary setting is remarkable.

5 “The Queen’s Gambit” (2020)

Beth Harmon is seated and turns to the left in the Queen's Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit was a Netflix miniseries that garnered widespread attention upon its release. It follows a woman who became a chess expert at a young age and competes at a professional level at a young age while also battling her personal demons.

It’s a show that at first glance seems to be about chess, which isn’t exactly the most cinematic of games out there. Still, it was enough to keep viewers hooked and of course it ended up being about more than just chess as Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor Joy) as a character in depth.

4 ‘The Leftovers’ (2014-2017)

Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon in The Leftovers
Image via HBO

At the beginning of The rest, a far-reaching and mysterious tragedy occurs. Two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears, and with no indication of where they went or if they are still alive, the remaining 98% are left wondering what happened and how to move on with their lives after so many disappeared .

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Maybe those who disappeared died, or maybe not. The show isn’t so much about solving the mystery, instead focusing on those who are still on Earth. It’s a gripping and often emotional show that explores grief, loneliness and the difficulty of finding meaning in life, without the kind of action/adventure/horror elements often present in (somewhat) comparable post-apocalyptic shows are.

3 “Scenes from a Marriage” (2021)

Image via HBO

Based on the Swedish miniseries of the same name Scenes from a Marriage is ultimately about the slow, drawn out process of a divorce. A middle-aged husband and wife realize they want to separate, and so begins a mini-series centered around them discussing their feelings and issues with each other, and what’s about to happen in their lives .

It’s all very dialogue-heavy, but the verbal sparring can prove just as intense as any physical combat in a more action-packed show. It helps that the miniseries has great source material, as well as two great actors – Jessica Chastain And Oscar Isaac – both of whom can always reliably deliver emotional, passionate performances.

2 ‘M*A*S*H’ (1972-1983)

Soldiers saluting in the final episode of MASH,

In 11 seasons and about 250 episodes, there is only one main character’s death MASH. It’s a huge and impressive one, but it’s somewhat surprising that a show about medical workers set in an army hospital during the Korean War would make the vast majority of its characters out of the conflict alive.

However, it also makes sense since the characters are rarely in actual combat, and instead patients are flown in to them for surgeries and treatments. These patients and other supporting characters have a pretty high mortality rate, but when it comes to the main characters, the drama comes from the show examining their mental well-being and the grueling nature of their high-pressure job. MASH was also very funny when it had to be, but it was serious enough (especially in later seasons and the finale) to be as effective as a drama as it was as a comedy.

1 “The West Wing” (1999-2006)

President Jed Bartlet is seated back in the Oval Office
Image via NBC

Before The newsroomcreated by Aaron Sorkin The western wing, and wrote an alarmingly high number of episodes in the first four seasons. It was a drama series that followed the various employees working for a fictional US President, Josiah Bartlet, with some time in the show also being spent with Bartlet himself as the character.

It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the world of politics, albeit a fictional one, that overall offers an idealistic view of politics and the way it might work. It’s not all smooth, with plenty of personal conflicts between certain characters and tensions over whether or not they’ll achieve their various goals, but it’s a show where death — or the threat of it — is overall pretty unusual, especially for his main characters.

NEXT: The Saddest The Sopranos Episodes Ever

https://collider.com/intense-tv-dramas-low-stakes/ “Succession” and 9 other TV dramas that are intense without being about life and death

Dustin Huang

Dustin Huang is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Dustin Huang joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: dustinhuang@24ssports.com.

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