What's Next for FX, Now That Justified and Sons of Anarchy Are Gone?

Like most everything in the television industry, the success of any given network is never guaranteed, and often cyclical. All the major American broadcasters have had their runs at the top of the mountain and a few ugly nadirs, and the story is just the same on cable (even HBO hit a rough patch after The Sopranos ended). Of course, these ups and downs occur for a number of different reasons—a couple of big hits here, a surprising failure there, shifting trends—but sometimes, you can see potential turbulence coming in the distance.

Enter FX, home of such past and present TV.com favorites as Justified, The Americans, Fargo, Louie, among so many more. While there's no need to panic just yet, it's time to take a close look at the network future, which is currently a little murky.


SURVEYING FX'S CURRENT SCHEDULE

In this TV season alone, FX has said goodbye to its two most senior drama series, Sons of Anarchy and Justified. The former was a smash hit for the network—the final season was the highest-rated stretch in the history of FX—and the latter, while not a ratings juggernaut even by cable standards, consistently scored critical acclaim and relevant awards attention (though not nearly as much as it deserved). Sons of Anarchy and Justified filled Tuesdays with appointment television in both the fall and spring for a very long time, and now they're gone.

Elsewhere in the last year or so, FX (and its kid brother FXX) said goodbye to Wilfred and The Bridge and announced that the upcoming seventh season of The League will be the fantasy football comedy's last. Ratings performances aside, that's five shows off the schedule. And since cable networks don't air as much original content as the broadcast networks do, the departure of five series in one calendar year can significantly impact their overall depth. That's especially true for FX, which is now spreading its programming across both the original network and the still-growing FXX.

When you start to take a gander at what FX has left, the recent and upcoming departures become even more interesting. Fargo's first season was about as dope as TV gets and the cast for Season 2 is wild, but there are no guarantee that it will become a lasting franchise for the network. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is holding court on FXX and headed into Season 11 with a twelfth guaranteed, but after that, how much longer can the Paddy's Pub gang keep yelling? Archer is no longer a spring chicken. Suddenly, Louie and American Horror Story are a half-decade into their runs, with a substantial overhaul in the cards for AHS this fall as it continues without Jessica Lange. The Strain and Tyrant are big swings that didn't quite gel in their respective first seasons. You're the Worst, Man Seeking Woman, and The Americans are beloved, but far from major hits. The Comedians might become a ratings success, but it's terrible. And the 10-90 deals that resulted in so many episodes of Anger Management seem to have died out before we were terrorized by more Saint George or Partners.

Without Justified and Sons of Anarchy, FX's programming slate is full of question marks (some of them more intriguing than others), aging offerings, and a weird mix of good shows with bad ratings and bad shows with solid ratings. While it's not like there's nothing of value here, and while the network and its head honcho John Landgraf planned for the respective ends of Sons of Anarchy and Justified a little more successfully than AMC did with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, the details of said planning illustrate a smart but potentially misguided strategy for the future.


DOUBLING DOWN ON WHAT WORKS

For many of the shows listed above, you can picture FX's logic during the development stage. Some of them are clearly responses to industry-wide trends, something networks do all the time. Ahem: The network clearly hoped The Strain would be its version of The Walking Dead. Reuniting all the people who helped create Homeland—an award-winning hit—for Tyrant seemed like an obvious move. Married exists because every cable network is seemingly contractually obligated to produce a show about unhappy, white, married people.

Even more of these shows signal that FX believed it could follow up its success by repeating what's worked in the past. The network played a significant role in revitalizing the ongoing anthology series with American Horror Story, so here comes Fargo. Graham Yost does amazing stuff with Justified; why not let him play godfather to another show, The Americans? And hey, viewers enjoy the semi-autobiographical exploration of the life of one comedian on Louie, and thus, how about a mockumentary-style look at the life two comedians, right?

A peak at FX's programming queue hammers this point home further. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll comes from Denis Leary, star of one of the network's longest-running past shows, the post-9/11 firefighter drama Rescue Me. The Bastard Executioner is a new period drama from Sons of Anarchy's Kurt Sutter. American Crime Story is another anthology from Ryan Murphy & Co. Baskets is an upcoming clown comedy co-created by Louis C.K. Louie's Pamela Adlon and Married's Jenny Slate have their own pilots in development. And FX has really made a push into the miniseries arena, with potential projects about the Mayflower, the Inca Empire, and Vietnam, among others, all in the works.

Again, on the surface, these aren't bad decisions or even uncommon ones. We could look back even further and note that Sutter parlayed his work on FX's most notable drama, The Shield, into Sons of Anarchy, or that Ryan Murphy helped put the network on the map long before American Horror Story with Nip/Tuck. Clearly, FX wants to keep great people in its fold, and that's cool. But it's possible there's a point where employing so many of the same creative folks across multiple projects becomes less effective, especially with regard to people like Sutter and Murphy, who take massive swings, but sometimes wiff.

Similarly, building a schedule full of event-style programming is a great strategy, especially in the shadow of American Horror Story, Fargo, and big hits on other networks like True Detective or even the less buzzy but still successful Klondike. In the past couple years, we've seen that this kind of programming brings in talent that might not otherwise want to work on television. Yet, just like allowing the same people to manage multiple shows, there's a danger of reaching some kind of saturation point with centering a lineup on large, presumably expensive event series. FX has several in development now, and maybe they all don't make it to air, but will they eventually cease to feel like actual events when they're so prominent on the schedule?


LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

It's funny what a few hits—or even relative "hits"—will do to a schedule. When you've got tentpoles like Sons of Anarchy and Justified, it's easier to let The Americans and Louie do their thing, ratings be damned. It's also a little easier to dedicate significant resources to big event programming that can fill the space between sturdy, recognizable series. With Sons of Anarchy and Justified out of the picture, FX is perhaps feeling a little urgency to find something to replace them. And it appears the network is hoping that sticking with what and who it knows will ensure those replacements arrive sooner rather than later.

It's worth mentioning that the newer projects I mentioned above aren't the only ones FX has in development. There's also Donald Glover's rap comedy Atlanta (yes please) and a small-screen version of From Hell (no thanks), plus there's a deal in place to air BBC One's period drama Taboo, from Ridley Scott and Tom Hardy (cool enough). As with anything, some of these upcoming series will turn out to be hits, and some will fail miserably. But FX has had a wonderful run that really started back with The Shield and while it's nowhere near a danger zone, the next couple of years will be crucial in determining whether the network can maintain that wonderful run, or whether it will experience a bit of the lull that grabs hold of all networks every once in a while.


Without Sons of Anarchy and Justified in the mix, does FX still have shows you like? And do any of the network's upcoming projects excite you?


Comments (60)
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Apr 11, 2016
You know what I don't want? Is going from Justified to some comedy, or any show, about rappers.
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Jun 12, 2015
Can anybody out there tell Billy Crystal to look in a mirror? He looks old and pathetic and plastic. He is no longer funny, he's painfully unfunny. His sidekick, thankfully I don't know his name, is even less funny than Crystal. Did Crystal have something on FX, that they actually greenlit this jackass of a show?

Whatever the case, it will no doubt win an Emmy.
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May 06, 2015
I love/loved Justified. I'm going through withdrawal without it. It's obvious as to what the series appeal was, why haven't the copycats in Hollywood put out a bunch of Justified look-alikes? Tell me what's required and maybe I can help make it happen.

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Apr 26, 2015
From the house of F and a variety of X's, I am currently with It's Always Sunny and Archer but both indeed do feel like they are winding down. Louie has essentially lost me, it's on my DVR and every time I watch it I feel like I'm being jerked around by an auteur-in-training, a Woody Allen wannabe.

As for Denis Leary's new series, I think I'm going to end up passing, he's funny as a standup but his performances all come out kinda the same and this one sounds like it's designed to fuel his most narcissistic tendencies.

Everything else in their current pipeline is a "not likely but we'll see" sort of thing. But FX has held it together better than any other cabler out there, staying on-voice and guiding quality and ratings just the right way. I still think FXX was a massive mistake, but we'll see if it actually impacts the mothership at all.
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Apr 26, 2015
Save some money and re-run TERRIERS, LIGHTS OUT, THE CHICAGO CODE (not originally theirs but a Shawn Ryan project with season two already mapped out) and EZ STREETS (not an FX property but surely available for a song). Since they are all in the can, *any* income would be profitable without the need for huge ratings, and the positive buzz would drive attention to the shows and the network. FX can tout itself as *the* home of quality television.

All those shows have the grit and humor to fit in to the FX brand, and all are critically acclaimed shows people lamented the cancellation of. Well...if "nobody watched them", then to the majority of the audience they will be "new" shows, except with small but proven critical acclaim rather than the usual false promises. And each fits the 13-episode model the network is build upon.

And by all means, see what Walton Goggins wants to do and give him a fat check. Remember that good things come in threes (Shield, Justified, _____).
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May 11, 2015
First off, I can't believe someone remembered EZ Streets; 2nd, if you threw in Chicago Code, the 6-episode "Thief" with Andre Braugher [ to steal a quote from Roger "DA MAN" Ebert, "This actor is so charismatic, he'd brighten up a funeral scene just by playing the corpse"] and - my personal favourite - SMITH! Of course, because it was great, it had to get f'd up BIG TIME. I mean, the cast alone... Ray Liotta; Simon Baker (obviously not someone who should be doing TV, what with him DECIDING to go out at the top and take "The Mentalist" off the air after 7 seasons); Simon Baker, with the "flop" "ELEMENTARY" (which is currently in the middle of S.3, and S.4 has ALREADY been approved). So, the producer says, "Yah, remember how I promised you a full run of 22 episodes as soon as we signed the final contract? Well, we're only funding 13." So the writers did a plausible 13-episode story arc, incorporating the early episodes already filmed. BUT THEN... Mr. Big Business says, "We're not giving you any more money. We are not showing any more episodes of 'SMITH' on CBS(?)." But, Mr. BB adds that all filmed episodes (the total was 6 or 7 - let's go with 7) will be shown on the CBS website. Mr. BB (to PROVE that he has the biggest sausage) never puts ANY episodes on CBS, nor does he ever say why he fails to keep his words. Instead, Mr. BB sells the episodes to whichever "give us money, and we'll send you digital copies" - type-of businesses. I wanted to see SMITH bad enough, so I rented the 7 episodes, and some *not* Mr.BB person" snuck in a detailed description of eps. 8-13... but, although I was happy to find out that the creators carved out a template of an amazing 13 episode show... but it was the fact that they had to do it in a couple of days when it was switched from, "Mr. Big wants 22 episodes|" to "Mr. Big wants 13 eps!"
More +
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May 28, 2015
I do fondly remember THIEF, SMITH and CHICAGO CODE - I thought the latter had a great shot to stay on the air but figured the other two were goners - too good for the lowest common denominator. Terriers might have clicked except the marketing campaign was AWFUL and people had no idea what the show was about.

PERSONS UNKNOWN was another that needed more time (perhaps WAYWAYD PINES is the reanimation of that show) but EZ STREETS is the one that got away. Should have realized the old TV adage - if Jason Gedrick is in the cast, the show is doomed.
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Oct 04, 2015
I personally never got hooked on "Wayward Pines" (although my wife did, lol...). I personally thought they stole too much from other sources ["Twin Peaks", for example], but I liked the ending of "WP"... maybe they should of made more than 10 episodes...?

As I said above, Andre Braugher is my fave actor EVER, but he's like Jason Gedrick, I guess. In the time since Homicide, AB's had Gideon's Crossing (1 Season); Hack (2 Seasons); The Jury (2 *EPISODES*!!), and, so I can stop typing, LAST RESORT (13 episodes, but could have been a brilliant 7-Season hit).
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Apr 25, 2015
As I've seen other people write, give Walton Goggins his own goddamn show! That guy is one of the best actors of recent memory, more than capable of being a leading man. How could you let him get away FX?
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Apr 25, 2015
Great article. I was thinking, that's a big step, two major dramas ending right after each other. I still like some shows FX has remaining on air,(although I'm still getting over Justified ending. Not Sons, I've just agreed to never talk about that again. Two shows that ended on completely different sides of quality) like Louie, Archer, Sunny, and I've kinda given up on AHS. They don't have any more dramas I like, but Bastard Executioner looks like it could be good? I'll check out the new shows that look promising, but I'm not so sure about the future of FX either. However, the are pretty good in the comedy department (except comedians).
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Apr 23, 2015
The Bastard Executioner, and Taboo, because I love historicals. Even better, dress up Walter Goggins in historical clothing, yes!
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Apr 23, 2015
I suggest they find some type of show for Walter Goggins....he more than proven he can carry one.
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Apr 23, 2015
Adam Arkin is joining Fargo seasnon 2 so I'm thinking FX shared universe.
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Apr 23, 2015
Tyrant and The strain is not half as bad as what Cory mentioned. I m looking forward to their next season. The Americans & Louie are excellent. You are the worst is one of the best new comedies. It seems they are outdoing HBO which has nothing except GOT.
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Apr 23, 2015
Tyrant and The Strain are good shows for free tv but pretty poor for premium cable. I watched them both and enjoyed them but they are SyFY and CBS quality.
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Apr 23, 2015
Now that both SoA and Justified are gone, that leaves me with American Horror Story and Always Sunny. The Americans I still need to catch up on Season 3. I've seen a little bit of Fargo and I do want to catch up on that, as well. I tried The Strain but couldn't keep with it. I'd love for FX to come out with a sci-fi show something akin to Fringe or maybe The 100. Something unexpected
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Apr 23, 2015
Fargo and The Americans receive less credit than they deserve I think. And I think not enough people watch them. Especially Fargo. I think most people were put off by the "tv adaptation" idea. Anyway, these are the only shows that I watch on FX, and none of the rest really interest me.
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Apr 23, 2015
Nice piece Cory and I understand your arguments but from where I'm standing FX is not due for a brainstorming session just yet (though that's what networks do all the time anyway). They still have solid shows out there and some interesting projects on the line. Sticking with the people they know has payed of more or less and in any case change is not a guarantee for success. As for their event series strategy, I don't see why it's a problem. Even their long running shows never went for the 22-24 episode seasons, and it's easier for new viewers both to be attracted by and to invest in new (and easily replaceable) shows than in long running ones, no matter how successful they are.
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Apr 23, 2015
what ever they come up with, it will probably get the standard .4 to .6 demo/1,0 to 1,4 million total viewers that seems to be the standard on cable. One show will win some award for something and fanboys will claim it is THE GREATEST SHOW EVER and the rest of us are too stupid to watch it. and the rest will air for two or three seasons and die a slow death to be replaced by the same. wash rinse repeat. MAYBE MAYBE they may have one hit like SoA, but I doubt it
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Apr 23, 2015
Louie just bores the F out of me and I cant even manage a grin anymore!
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Apr 23, 2015
Again, we desperately need a thumbs down button.
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Apr 23, 2015
Nice write up, Cory.

My list: The Americans, Archer, You're The Worst, Fargo, maaaaybe I'll watch The Strain again. Not quite the marquee names or time-suck that FX used to be, but still more shows than I watch on networks like NBC. Sure they could go the way of USA Network and totally blow it, but FX has been the best network on regular cable for a long while now and that deserves some faith in what they have coming down the pipe, until they prove why they no longer deserve it.
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Apr 23, 2015
Fargo, Archer...welcome to the danger zone( though this show will probably end soon.)
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Apr 22, 2015
What they should do is take Constantine before someone else does.
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Apr 22, 2015
This would be fantastic. Take Constantine and/or develop a Punisher television show to fill in for the "ultra violence" crowd, like myself.
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Apr 23, 2015
who needs a punisher show? wacth daredevil.
besides that, there were rumors of Punisher series a few years back. dont know what happend, but if, it will probablyy pop up on netflix.
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Apr 23, 2015
Daredevil is great. However, that doesn't eliminate my desire for a Punisher series. Imagine a Punisher show by the same people that make Banshee.
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Apr 22, 2015
The only shows I'm watching that are still on air and on FX are now The Americans and Fargo. Admittedly, both aren't the greatest ratings hits but I'm certain FX will find that one show that'll carry on with their artist-friendly policy. Previous shows proved they are a desirable place to work and create as a producer and that will, if only in due time, draw the good ones to them.

The fact that Yost & Co are so involved in the networks productions doesn't only mean FX likes to keep the same people around; it can also mean the good ones like working at FX.

As long as FX gives me one show each year or so to love I'm happy, and with The Americans and Fargo, the last two or three certainly weren't shabby.
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Apr 22, 2015
I never watched SOA or Justified so their absence I won't feel.

I never finished season two of The Americans but I'm looking forward to catching up. Good show but I got behind.

FX has quite a number of shows I do watch (AHS, Louie, Archer, Fargo, The Strain, etc) so I don't think they should flail their arms just yet.

I'm looking forward to ACS + S&D&R&R cos the former sounds like an awesome hot mess and the latter cos Jade West.
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Apr 22, 2015
they should pick up selfie from ABC it' was a pretty descend sitcom XD one of the best this year
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Apr 22, 2015
and they should bring back legit it was amazing XD
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Apr 22, 2015
100% agree, bring back legit.
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Apr 22, 2015
The Americans s going to be "That Show" that streams on Amazon Prime or Netflix in a few years time and everyone is going to say "why didn't I heat of it when it was on?" Despite the fact that evvvvveryone who watches it talks about it.
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Apr 22, 2015
I'm not surprised that those 10/90 deals have disappeared. They never made sense to me. Of course actors and production teams loved them, but why would a network give up SO much power?
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Apr 22, 2015
I'm really surprised that barely no one in the TV.com community gives a damn about Showtime's Episodes. It's literally--LITERALLY--about making TV. And it's spot-on brilliant most of the time. In the 3rd season finale, Castor Soto's zombie rant--which got him carted off Hannibal Lector style--fully and accurately explained the state of Television today. For a spoof it's much better than Veep--although Julia Louis is, as stated, a national treasure. With the brilliant 4th season done, the show continues to deliver the funny in a big way with its wonderful reality show spoof--Release the Bugs!

So, I ask again for an Episodes community--Hey, we could call it Pucks. But a better title would be "Hold for Carol."
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Apr 23, 2015
If only I could like this comment for at least 34 times.
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Apr 23, 2015
"Hold for Carol". Brilliant.
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Apr 22, 2015
Episodes is the poo. It's one of the most consistently funny yet consistently overlooked shows. I don't get how anyone in the TV community couldn't appreciate it. If you know anything remotely about how TV works, you should be dying from laughter.
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Apr 23, 2015
I know nothing about how TV works and it has me dying with laughter. Absolutely one of the best shows out there, and it kills me that it's so underrated.
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Staff
Apr 22, 2015
Episodes makes me cringe
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Apr 22, 2015
See what I mean?
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Apr 22, 2015
Never in my life would I think that someone couldn't see the humor this show. The writing and the cast is awesome. I've been to LA. There's people that are truly like that. Sometimes, it seems wrong to call this show a "spoof" because so much of it seems true. I hope they don't cancel it. I really look forward to watching this.
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Apr 23, 2015
I worked as a Hollywood messenger for 12 years and I saw a lot of this.
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Apr 22, 2015
Great read! Thanks Cory!
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Staff
Apr 22, 2015
gracias
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Apr 22, 2015
The only FX show I watch now is the Americans. Of course, I only watched that show and Justified anyway. I tried Fargo but didn't like it. Maybe I just like Graham Yost shows. I liked Terriers, but that didn't last.
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Apr 22, 2015
FX is dropping the ball if they don't sign Yost, Olyphant and Goggins for an as yet unnamed project. Keep them in the network, guest star them on some of their current shows and develop a show around them. They should do this before another network scoops one or all of them up.

Sutter was three seasons and done and that was about it.

All things Murphy inherently swim around mediocrity so I would question giving him anything further until he can focus in on one consistent season. Either that or reduce his episode count so there is no back end of the season where he always falters.

Give something to Shawn Ryan. I don't understand what the deal is, if it is personal or what. But he has had the most successful show in the networks history and right now he has a comedy show on Amazon? What the hell. Give him something. Anything.

I would also start talking to the runners of The Americans for another series. Whatever they want to do allow them to do it.
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Apr 22, 2015
Goggins is doing a HBO show called Vice Principals, starring Danny McBride, which should be DOPE.
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Apr 22, 2015
That depends on how you feel about Danny McBride.
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Apr 23, 2015
Well, he won't be Kenny Powers, so obviously we'll all feel a little let down on some level, but otherwise I think I speak for everyone with a soul when I say that having McBride back on tv will be like Requiem for a Dream, and we all have front row tickets to the ass-to-ass scene.
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Apr 23, 2015
He's a prince and how dare you suggest otherwise
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Apr 23, 2015
I'm with Kaitlin on this (I think?). I can't stand the sight of him.
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Apr 22, 2015
Dammit. But cool at the same time.
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Apr 22, 2015
FX has always had this curious relationship with me all the way back to Nip/Tuck that gives me almost a similar feel to what I had in high school. I was kind of wimp, like I'm pretty enough, funny enough and never sort of called attention to myself in any odd way and I could chat easier with that group of cooler kids who weren't jocks, maybe dabbled in student government or drama or whatever, but they did scarier things which I made the most elaborate excuses to avoid. Like, the shows on FX are cool and sometimes it feels like its too hard or I just don't know if I will get what's going on.
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Apr 23, 2015
A very eloquent way to describe it. Thank you for the interesting comment.
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Apr 22, 2015
I watch The Americans, Louie, Archer, Fargo, Tyrant and you're the worst (now FXX I think) Also watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX). I like the premise of American Crime Story and I love the work from Kurt Sutter, so I will definetly be watching whatever he comes up with next (The Bastard Executioner). + i will give Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll a chance. So FX to is still one of the best networks out there.
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Apr 22, 2015
The Americans
Fargo
You're the Worst

I'll keep an eye on The Strain - even though the first season was just OK.
I'll check out the next Kurt Sutter show - even if its like SoA (a good sometimes great show)

I say just hire Graham Yost to develop another Elmore Leonard property.
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Apr 23, 2015
Forty Lashes Less One.
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