As a rule, I don't like to call out my colleagues when they're wrong, but sometimes you have to do things you don't like. So, when the TV Guide staff was charged with ranking the shows they'd put on a list of the best shows of the decade, I was shocked and dismayed to discover I was the sole vote for Cinemax's late, great action drama Banshee. Partly annoyed, partly distressed, I realized I was to be the lone champion singing the praises of the pulpy series starring Antony Starr (now holding court as Homelander on Amazon's breakout hit The Boys) that aired from 2013 to 2016.
Now, a title can sometimes make or break a show (remember Selfie? What about Trophy Wife?), and in Banshee's case, I think the title — a reference to the small Pennsylvania town where it took place and definitely not the mythical figure from Irish folklore — was likely a barrier that prevented all but the most curious television viewers from investigating what lies within sight unseen. But like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many others before it, Banshee and its somewhat misleading title were revealed to be hiding a deep treasure trove.
Banshee featured instantly memorable characters and deeply emotional personal relationships, but it came to be characterized by its thrilling action sequences and exploration of complicated small-town power dynamics made all the more difficult by organized crime and corruption. It was a top-notch drama with such great narrative ambition that it pains me to know how many people have yet to witness the story of Lucas Hood (Starr) — or at least the man who took his name — because no show has ever given me more pleasure (and then broken me more completely) than Banshee.
The series, co-created by Johnathan Tropper and David Schickler, follows an ex-con who, after being released from prison and tracking down his former lover and partner (Ivana Milicevic) after 15 years, assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, the new sheriff of Banshee, after the real lawman dies in a bar fight the night before he's to be sworn in. In his new position of authority and with a new identity firmly intact, Hood, whose real name we never learn over the course of the series, walks a not-so-fine line between being a criminal and a cop, doling out his own special brand of justice along the way, which is to say the series involves a lot of flying fists and knock-down, drag-out brawls in between spectacularly staged action sequences that often send bullets flying.
The first two seasons revolved around Hood and Carrie (Milicevic), who was no damsel in distress but a powerhouse in her own right, attempting to remain off the radar of Rabbit (Ben Cross), the crime lord they betrayed before Hood went to prison and Carrie went into hiding. But as the series aged and the story evolved, the show naturally also grew more ambitious, digging deeper into the complexities of the Amish community and the power struggles of the local Native American tribe who lived just outside Banshee.
But it wasn't just the narrative that grew more ambitious over time; the technical aspects of the series did as well. The episode "Tribal" featured a relentless siege of the local police station so well done that it remains one of the best examples of the bottle episode concept while also having the added bonus of being one of the best episodes of the series, period. Meanwhile, a riveting Season 3 episode featured an exhilarating extended heist sequence filmed with wearable cameras attached to the actors, while another fight scene seemingly filmed all in one take featuring Burton (Matthew Rauch) and Nola (Odette Annable) remains one of the best examples of the series' dedication to its craft, displaying impressive fight choreography and one of the grossest misuses of a hood ornament ever seen on television.
But if viewers initially came for the pulpy action sequences, they stayed for the complicated relationships between the characters that led to deeply affecting stories about love, friendship, power, and identity in between the hails of bullets and endless fist fights.
At the outset, the love story between Hood and Carrie that was interrupted when the former went to prison gave the series an emotional foundation and a reason for existing beyond the promise of revenge, while the long-standing friendship between Hood and computer hacker Job (Hoon Lee) provided light and easy banter as Hood struggled to rein in his more violent impulses while on the job, something that frequently resulted in him butting heads with his suspicious co-worker, local deputy Brock Lotus (Matt Servitto).
As the series matured, however, it was the frequently antagonistic relationship between Hood and local crime boss Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), the slow-building romance between Hood and fellow deputy Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn), the unlikely friendship between Job and former boxer-turned-bar owner Sugar (Frankie Faison), and the fragile relationships between both Hood and his teenage daughter, Deva (Ryann Shane), and Hood and the shunned, rebellious Amish teen Rebecca (Lili Simmons) that gave it much of its emotional weight.
When the time came for Hood to leave Banshee and his violent past behind, it was impossibly hard to say goodbye — this despite the fact the fourth and final season often struggled to live up to the impossibly high standards set by the second and third. Still, Banshee is always one of the first series I recommend to friends and family — or even strangers on the internet whose tastes I have no way of knowing — when I am asked for TV recommendations. Hell, even when I'm not asked, I still tell people to watch it. Maybe one day Cinemax will find out and pay me for all the free promotion I've given it over the years. Or maybe all this work will mean that I've helped someone discover a hidden gem they would have otherwise missed. And then they can join me in forever judging my coworkers for overlooking the show and its place atop history as we honor the best television of the 2010s.
Banshee's first two seasons are streaming on Amazon Prime Video, while Seasons 1 through 4 are available on Max Go.