As a medium, TV has rarely been held up as a go-to destination for excellent action sequences and sprawling adventure plots filmed on location across the globe. For a long time, particularly inventive fight scenes and large-scale epics were somewhat restricted to the big screen, where budgets are higher and production schedules are more relaxed.
But in the past several years, a new vanguard of action- and adventure-heavy series has advanced the threshold of what was once considered possible to achieve on TV. And the action and adventure genres are now experiencing something of a renaissance, led by the success of shows like Game of Thrones, the hit HBO fantasy series that overlaps with both.
While Game of Thrones draws by far the most viewers and cultural buzz, there are many other worthwhile series out there that offer exciting action and an epic scope. Here are five underappreciated options that run the gamut from fun diversions to essential viewing.
The Last Kingdom is basically Game of Thrones, but with much faster pacing and twice as many battles
Set in ninth- and 10th-century Britain, The Last Kingdom — which aired its first season on BBC America in 2015 and has a second season coming out on Netflix in May — feels like a cousin of HBO’s Game of Thrones, thanks to its heavy medieval warfare and power struggles in the halls of nobility. But where Game of Thrones is much more measured in its pacing, The Last Kingdom moves at a positively breakneck speed.
The series is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s 10-book Saxon Stories, about how wars against invading Vikings led to the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain uniting as England. And while other shows of its ilk might have spent a solid chunk of time introducing characters and building out a world, The Last Kingdom’s eight-episode first season manages to cover two whole books’ worth of material. The first episode alone fits in the entirety of a young boy’s coming of age before undergoing a huge time jump and then setting up conflicts for the season to come.
Essentially, The Last Kingdom follows the Game of Thrones model of alternating between political maneuvering and battles, but with an emphasis on the fighting rather than conversations about strategy. This laser focus on action often sacrifices the potential for more in-depth character work, but the show generally isn’t trying to be too deep. It’s a ride, and a well-executed one.
The first season of The Last Kingdom is streaming on Netflix. Season two debuts on Netflix on Friday, May 5.
Into the Badlands is a fun salad bowl of Kung Fu tropes
AMC’s martial arts drama about warring feudal barons in a post-apocalyptic America couldn’t be accused of striving for prestige status; the show’s over-the-top sensibility of elaborate costuming, souped-up Mad Max-esque vehicles, and an inability to slow down for longer than a single scene wouldn’t allow it. The show is intended more…