While HBO is credited with groundbreaking programming that changed television, it’s easy to forget that FX was there, too. It’s still changing television with shows like Atlanta, Pose, American Crime Story and Fosse/Verdon.
But when FX launched in 1994, it was the scrappy sister to the premium companies. That was back when all anyone knew about the channel was its tagline. Its first three series efforts—none of which you remember—were canceled within the year. But in 2002, FX hit its stride and began producing series that would become among the last of appointment TV before DVRs and Netflix.
So put down that Roku remote and recall some of the original FX shows that helped change off-network television.
As an actor, Michael Chiklis doesn’t get enough credit from going from the lovable Tony Scali in ABC’s The Commish to Vic Mackey, who would have probably killed Scali and framed someone else for it. The Shield centered around Mackey: a cop and the leader of the Strike Team, a good cop (in the sense that he got results) and a bad cop in essentially every other way. You need a confession out of an accused child molester? Give Mackey five minutes and a telephone book.
As much as network television pushed the envelope with police dramas, The Shield started out with a bang and kept the momentum going. In the first episode, one of the Strike Team members is shot and killed by Vic Mackey himself, so it set the pace for future off-network dramas. Anything—and anyone—could go. Mackey and the team are set upon throughout the series by criminals, other officers and, finally, themselves.
By the show’s conclusion, it had drawn the likes of Glenn Close (remember that name) and Forest Whitaker as guest stars. The supporting cast was pretty good, too: CCH Pounder’s Claudette Wyms was the Strike Team foil for all seven seasons, and then there was Dutch Wagenbach (played by Jay Karnes), who may or may not have been very close to pursuing a life as a killer.
Two friends open a plastic surgery practice together. One is a single, handsome, freewheeling guy who has had a very robust sex life in the past. The other is a family man whose son looks nothing like him—but does have the features of his best friend and business partner.
That sounds like a basic premise, but it turned out that Nip/Tuck, the first vehicle done for FX by Ryan Murphy (who is now a writer for Pose), relied heavily on shock value. And it worked. There were the realistic-looking surgery scenes, the sex scenes, the guest stars (among them the late Joan Rivers, playing herself, as a patient who wanted the main characters to undo all the plastic surgery she’d had) and the plot lines, which were, in a word, wild. There were serial killers, and there were love triangles that became love octagons.
Nip/Tuck got a lot of attention from a storyline featuring one of the first transgender characters. Unfortunately, Famke Janssen’s Ava Moore was also a baby abductor and definitely a child molester.
This series put Rose Byrne on the map, and because of this show, it can still be a little unbelievable to watch her in rom-coms. In Damages, Byrne was cast opposite Glenn Close, and they spent the entire series trying to basically kill each other.
Close was Patty Hewes, a lawyer who would do anything to win a case, and Byrne was Ellen Parsons, who was handpicked by Hewes as the newest addition to her firm. It doesn’t take long to figure out why, which marked the beginning of the cat-and-mouse game Patty and Ellen would play for the next five seasons.
Each season focused on a high-profile case that often featured stories stolen from recent headlines. There was also a deep roster of guest stars, including Ted Danson, Martin Short, William Hurt, Chris Messina and John Goodman. Close, Byrne and the show racked up awards in response to the strong showing.
Of course, there were previous legal dramas that showed lawyers as unscrupulous puppeteers, but this was way beyond L.A. law. Patty resorted to means that seemed as if it would often be easier to just try the case, but why argue when you can watch Close and Byrne outfox each other instead?