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22 July 2021

10 TV drama series aspiring screenwriters should watch this summer

by Katie Smart Screenwriting, Writing Tips

If you are an aspiring TV dramatist in need of inspiration, look no further! We’ve collated some of the best TV drama series that are available for you to watch now.

Remember, when you’re watching a really gripping TV show for research and inspiration, you should think about how each episode is constructed. You’ll notice how each episode has its own narrative arc that also feeds into the overarching plot of the season and the series as a whole. Analysing how some of best shows work will give you an enormous insight into how the process works, and how your script should fit together.

So, think about the choices that have been made by the screenwriters in terms of structure, action, story and character development. Why have they made the decisions they have – and how might you have done something differently? Then be sure to apply the lessons you’ve learnt to your own pilot script.

Without further ado here’s a list of some the best recent TV drama series that you should be watching this summer for screenwriting inspiration.

Lupin

Everyone’s favourite French thriller is back – Lupin Part 2 is out now on Netflix. This drama is inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, gentleman thief Assane Diop sets out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by a wealthy family. This high stakes heist show perfectly balances mystery and intrigue with characters that you are invested in.

Screenwriters can learn from how fast paced and addictive this show is. It truly has the ‘binge’ factor.

Save Me Too

Season two of this Sky Original Drama recently won the 2021 BAFTA for Best Drama Series. The series follows Nelson ‘Nelly’ Rowe (Lennie James) when Jody, the estranged daughter he fathered thirteen years ago, mysteriously disappears. He is determined to get to unravel the mystery and find his daughter.

Take note of the way suspense and tension build throughout the series. Notice the way that cliff-hangers are deployed.

Feel Good

This semi-autobiographical comedy-drama series follows stand-up comedian Mae Martin (as themself) and girlfriend George (Charlotte Ritchie) as their new romance blossoms. It is a wonderful exploration of contemporary relationships, sexuality, gender identity and mental health.

Screenwriters can learn lots from the way intimacy is built between Mae and George with believable humour and undeniable chemistry.

Sex Education

We’d recommend catching up on this iconic comedy-drama series before season three airs on Netflix this September. The show perfectly depicts the awkward, often cringe-worthy and sometimes heart-warming truths of teenage life. It follows insecure and shy teenager Otis (Asa Butterfield) – son of a sex therapist – as he sets up an unofficial sex advice clinic at his school with the help of his rebellious classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey).

The premise of the show is a big hook, but so are the characters. Look at the dynamic between mother and son and the friendships portrayed – the way the bond between Otis and best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) is explored as external romantic relationships start to build. Also, notice how the intimacy scenes are painfully truthful – they aren’t romanticised or air-brushed – they’re believably teenaged and awkward.

Normal People

During the first lockdown this adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel took the world by storm. If you haven’t seen it yet – get watching. This Irish show follows the on-again-off-again relationship between Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) from their time at secondary school in the to small county of Sligo to their time at Trinity College in Dublin. The series explores of the nuances of class and mental health in modern relationships.

This show is very good at using the ‘unsaid’ and not spelling-out everything through dialogue. Pay attention to the way that misunderstandings and miscommunications between Marianne and Connell are presented.

I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel wrote, co-directed, produced and starred in this semi-autobiographical series. The series follows up-and-coming writer Arabella (Coel) after a sexual assault and it tackles many important topics with brutal honesty. The show explores living in London, friendships, the Black British community, life online, sexuality and mental health. When watching it comes as no surprise that the series won multiple awards including a BAFTA for Best Mini-Series. It is currently nominated for eight Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited Series.

Pay particular attention to the way Coel experiments with structure to reflect a mind healing from trauma, particularly in the unforgettable series finale.

Succession

This American satire was created by Jesse Armstrong. The third season will premiere on HBO this autumn. The show follows the Roy family dynasty, owners of Waystar RoyCo, a global media and entertainment conglomerate, as they fight for control of the company amid uncertainty about the health of the family’s patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox).

The series depicts larger-than-life dysfunctional family relationships, unlikeable characters, and monstrous acts with an appealing humanity. There’s some great lessons here for screenwriters looking to flesh out their characters.  

The Handmaid’s Tale

This Emmy Award-winning series is back with a fourth season – currently airing on Channel 4. Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, this dystopian television series engages in a gripping political discussion surrounding feminism, environmentalism, and fanaticism. The show follows June (Elizabeth Moss) – a woman forced into sexual slavery by the totalitarian government of Gilead – to act as a ‘Handmaid’ to a wealthy couple in the hopes that her fertility will provide them a child.

Look at the way the dystopian world of the series is built with carefully placed flashbacks to ‘before’ Gilead.

The Crown

This historical drama series is about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, has won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama twice. It is an interesting depiction of family, duty, and the changing political and social values of Britain during recent history.

Pay attention to the structure of the show, the research that has gone into the script and the way that real historically and politically significant events are intertwined with reimagining’s of private and personal relationships.

Pose

Ryan Murphy’s critically acclaimed show spans three seasons and is set in New York City’s drag ballroom culture scene during the 1980s and 1990s. The characters of the show (often rejected by their biological families) forge their own drag families or ‘houses’. The show unapologetically depicts LGBTQ+ joy as well as the reality of racism, transphobia, homophobia and living with AIDS.

Above all this show is about family, and screenwriters can learn from the juxtaposition of the out-of-this-world glamorous ballroom scenes with more intimate scenes between characters.

We hope these TV shows will inspire you to get plotting your own TV pilot. If you’re looking for help putting together your application to our Writing an Original TV Drama Serial course, be sure to read our blog full of screenwriting tips.

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