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The best dramas to watch after you finish 'The Sopranos'

Have you found it hard to watch anything new in quarantine? Speaking from experience, I’ve had trouble finding the motivation to commit to the first watch of a lengthy drama series despite this being the very best time for such an undertaking. This isn’t the case for everyone: HBO Now has seen an exponential 179% increase in viewers streaming The Sopranos since stay-at-home orders began. There’s sure to be a split between rewatches and people who are tuning for the first time, but you don’t get that sort of surge without large numbers checking a huge blindspot off their TV bucket list.

But once that or Breaking Bad or The Wire is finished, there are still plenty of options to scratch that prestige-y crime drama itch on streaming. I can understand wanting to knock out a Mad Men rewatch or first watch before it leaves Netflix on June 10 — heads up on that! — but here are some of the best drama series to watch after you’ve finished The Sopranos or any of the other big TV touchstones.

Rectify (Netflix)

The show I recommend the most to others is probably also one of the hardest sells. This little-seen Sundance gem is ostensibly a crime or legal drama on the most basic level, but it’s one of those shows where its subject matter and central plot aren’t the most interesting feature. Aden Young stars as Daniel, a Georgia man who’s been imprisoned 19 years for the murder and rape of his teenage girlfriend. When the show begins, he’s released after DNA evidence contradicts the prosecution’s case, faced with acclimating to a new world with untold trauma. What might sound like a splashy small-town crime drama unfolds with deliberate, strange grace, instead landing on moments of sublime clarity. Paulie, Georgia may not be a real place, but the fraught tenderness of this family dynamic and naturalistic photography unspool with the soft touch of real life.

Better Call Saul (Netflix)

There was reason to be skeptical about a prequel series focusing on this character, right? After a table-setting first season, Better Call Saul quickly evolved into a titan of its own. At this point in the show’s lifetime, there’s nothing crazy about saying it’s equaled or even eclipsed the original run of Breaking Bad. In many ways, it’s two shows in one: the transformation of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman, and Mike Ehrmantraut’s criminal dealings on the side. These two strands have always commingled and cast a wide blast radius to those in Jimmy’s life, but now the series has finally fused into one coherent piece, it’s possibly the sharpest drama on TV. There was a flawed logic behind thinking Vince Gilligan couldn’t match his original effort, ruling out the possibility that he’d only improved over the years.

The Americans (Amazon Prime)

I still miss the hot Russian spies. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys made Cold War espionage first seem incredibly cool, then psychologically torturous. Despite living across the street from an unsuspecting FBI neighbor, the Jennings blend right in with their family and community. Like Breaking Bad before it, The Americans mastered how to escalate the cruelty and gut-wrenching moral dilemma to an increasing number of people in the protagonists’ orbit. But the FX series was a bit more gradual in its pacing and ambitions, posing less drastic revelations about the point when you realize your parents are, at the very least not infallible, and at worst, international assassins.

Succession (HBO)

It’s kind of unfair that one of the best comedies on television is also one of the last to carry the torch for appointment weekly, serialized drama. Following a media mogul near the end of his reign (Brian Cox) and his kids all jockeying for scraps of power, Succession is best when it seizes onto riveting absurdity. The Roy children lead a tragicomic existence, from Kendall’s classic rap performance to Roman watching an overseas rocket launch go spectacularly wrong from the bathroom. Everything these failsons and slightly more capable daughter do is fixed with their eyes on the prize: winning that kiss from daddy.

The Leftovers (HBO)

When Damon Lindelof is on one, it can usually land somewhere between enthralling and mystifying. The Leftovers distilled all of his best inclinations into an immensely powerful show, reflecting on faith, loss, and how society reacts to an earth-shaking transformation. When 2% of the world’s population disappears suddenly without explanation, it quietly upends the lives of nearly everyone, maintaining the veneer of normalcy while society splinters off into cults in search for answers. The series really hits its stride as it moves past Tom Perrotta’s source material in the second and third seasons, never promising clean resolution. As we’ve seen with efforts to reopen the country in the face of mass death, the show might have somehow overestimated society’s capacity to submit to ambient grief.

True Detective (HBO)

Is True Detective now remembered more for its crackling first season or the precipitous decline that followed? Hard to say, but I’ll be clear about this much: certain moments from its half-remembered, second season slump have stuck with me far more than anything in the first. Think of it like a personality test, deciding between the galaxy-brained ramblings of Matthew McConaughey or Taylor Kitsch exclaiming “These contracts...signatures all over them,” immediately after a prolonged orgy sequence. Haven’t watched the third season, but there were gems to go around.