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Top 10 Most Visually Stunning TV Shows

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Script written by Nick Spake These are the TV shows that make you want to screenshot every shot! We’ve included shows like Mad Men, A Series of Unfortunate events, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Pushing Daisies, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Westworld, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Leftovers and The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel.

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Top 10 Most Visually Stunning TV Shows

They might be on the small screen, but these shows are beautiful enough to be screened at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Visually Stunning TV Shows.

For this list, we’re taking a look at shows that take full advantage of the visual medium.

#10: “Mad Men” (2007-15)

This period drama has earned so much praise for its writing and performances that people sometimes overlook how remarkable the production value is. The series starts off in 1960 and progresses to 1970 over the course of several seasons. The progression of time is reflected through the art direction and costume design, adding to its meticulous authenticity. “Mad Men” requires the audience to look closer in order to fully comprehend the complexity of its characters and themes. One of the most memorable shots in the show is when the SCDP partners look over Manhattan with Joan in the center. It’s one of the many subtle images that’ll remain forever etched in your brain.

#9: “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (2017-)

Having previously worked on “The Addams Family” and “Men in Black” films, director Barry Sonnenfeld was an ideal choice to helm this Netflix series. Lemony Snicket’s wonderfully weird world springs to life thanks to Sonnenfeld’s keen eye for the whimsically macabre, not to mention Bo Welch’s gothic production design. Everything, from Count Olaf’s house, to the Reptile Room, to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, strikes just the right balance of being depressing while also inventive. This perfectly matches the tone of the series, which is dreary to the point of being over-the-top. With something visually interesting occupying every scene, we couldn’t look away even if we tried.

#8: “Hannibal” (2013-15)

Despite being a network drama series, you could argue that “Hannibal” is even more visually impressive than the Oscar-winning “Silence of the Lambs.” Bryan Fuller has developed one of the most unusually beautiful programs in television history. The show is full of grim imagery that definitely isn’t for the squeamish, a highlight being a totem pole made of dead bodies. Yet, these gruesome sights are so creative that they could be displayed in a museum. The cinematography additionally makes each shot look like a surreal work of art. On top of that, Hannibal’s dishes appear so appetizing that they almost persuade the audience to try out the cannibal diet.

#7: “True Detective” (2014-)

HBO has always pushed the envelope in terms of how cinematic a television series can be. Each episode of “True Detective” seems like a mini movie and that’s not just because of the A-list cast. This is another show that manages to be bleak and mesmerizing at the exact same time. While the series is grounded in brutal reality, it creates an atmosphere that at times feels otherworldly or even biblical. It’s also hard to think of a modern show with superior cinematography. This is best exemplified during a heart-pounding tracking shot from episode four, which helped earn director Cary Joji Fukunaga a Primetime Emmy.

#6: “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-14)

When Martin Scorsese directs the pilot episode with an $18 million budget, you can expect a series that excels on a technical level. This striking period piece transports us back to Atlantic City during America’s prohibition era. Throughout its five-season run, “Boardwalk Empire” picked up a total of 17 Creative Arts Emmys for Art Direction, Cinematography, Special Visual Effects, and more. While the show has no shortage of compelling characters, perhaps the most interesting one of all is the boardwalk itself. The setting has a booming personality of its own and is so much more than a backdrop. Speaking of which, this is a rare show that knows how to execute green screen effects seamlessly.

#5: “Pushing Daisies” (2007-09)

Believe it or not, this colorful show blossomed from the mind of Bryan Fuller, the same man who brought us “Hannibal.” Then again, perhaps Fuller’s involvement isn’t that surprising, seeing how “Pushing Daisies” centers on a man who can bring people back from the dead. Fuller’s dark sense of humor is perfectly complemented by the quirky visual style of Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed the Emmy-winning pilot episode. The result is a modern fairytale that creates an imaginative world reminiscent of Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss, albeit with a more adult tone. What’s more, the lively sets and vibrant costumes are as visually appealing as a pie fresh out of the oven.

#4: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (2017-)

Judging from the old-fashioned costumes and sets, one might assume that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a period piece. But the series actually takes place in a dystopian future that regresses to a darker time as fertile women are forced into surrogate motherhood. This adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel is essentially America’s worst nightmare brought to life. These disturbing ideas are reflected through the show’s poetic visual style and a clever use of colors. The red handmaid dresses in particular have become a symbol of oppression, immersing the audience in a constant state of hopelessness. Behind these red-clad outfits, however, is a story of female empowerment that ultimately shines through the haunting exterior.

#3: “The Crown” (2016-)

The first season of this Netflix series cost an astounding £100 million to produce and it more than paid off in the technical department. This historical drama follows Elizabeth II from her early reign as Queen and beyond. “The Crown” was immediately hailed for its sheer ambition, planning to cover several decades throughout six seasons. The production team not only does a miraculous job at depicting the changing times, but recreating real life landmarks as well. The interior of Buckingham Palace is so grand that the audience is practically fooled into thinking these scenes were shot on location. Since the show is also named after a fashion accessory, the costume design is another key factor.

#2: “Westworld” (2016-)

“Westworld” is quite a cerebral show, but that doesn’t mean the production value is anything short of fantastic. The series revolves around a futuristic western themed amusement park overrun with robot hosts. The shots of Westworld are gorgeous, but dark secrets lurk behind the scenes of this majestic resort. Where Westworld itself is very vibrant and inviting, the lab where the engineering takes places is dim and brooding. This creates a fitting contrast for a show that blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s artificial. Likewise, the visuals here are so convincing that the audience can rarely tell what’s real and what’s an effect.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (2017-)

“The Leftovers” (2014-17)

“Stranger Things” (2016-)

#1: “Game of Thrones” (2011-)

Through his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, George R. R. Martin created a rich fantasy world populated with diverse characters, detailed settings, and of course, dragons. Martin initially deemed his books “unfilmable” given their vast scale. When HBO entered the equation, though, the Seven Kingdoms came to life in an epic television series that would forever change the medium as we know it. “Game of Thrones” has the distinction of being the most awarded primetime series in Emmy history. In addition to multiple wins for Outstanding Drama Series, it has also been heavily rewarded for production design, visual effects, costumes, makeup, and editing.

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