Where does ‘Charlie’ rank in the top political dramas?

After the three part series about the rise and fall of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey reached its conclusion in weeks past, we look at where the RTE programme ranks among the top political dramas on TV.

1. The West Wing (1999-2006)
The American drama is rated as one of the best of all time, spanning 156 episodes in seven seasons. The show is set in the West Wing of the White House during the fictional reign of Democratic President of the US, Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen. The show won 3 Golden Globes, including Best Actor for Sheen, and 26 Emmy Awards.
Praised highly for its realism in capturing the atmosphere of the actual West Wing by White House staff, and for its film-making techniques which keep the dialogue driven programme engaging and snappy, The West Wing is at the pinnacle of political drama, and is what all others should aspire to beat.

How does Charlie stack up against House of Cards?

How does Charlie stack up against House of Cards?

2. House of Cards US (2013-present)
The Netflix US adaption of the UK TV series is about to launch its third season at the end of the month and already it is rated as one of the best shows on television. The story of the conniving politician, Frank Underwood, has captivated audiences around the world. It has even enticed younger generations to take an interest in politics.
Underwood is masterfully portrayed by Kevin Spacey, the Academy Award winner creating a character who is as easy to loath as he is to love. Spacey has completely changed the landscape of the political drama by breaking the fourth wall and allowing the viewer to gain a special insight into the lust for power that Underwood has. We await season three with bated breath.

3. Scandal (2012-present)
Scandal differs from the other shows on this list in that the protagonist is not a politician or attempting to rule a country (or in Frank Underwood’s case, the world). Instead Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, the head of a crisis management firm whose job it is to fix problems and media scandals for the President. More based around the adulterous relationship that Pope shares with the fictional US President than political issues, the show gives the watcher exactly what they would want from a drama; a love affair which could destroy the lives of all the main characters as well as numerous inter-twining subplots such as murder, assassination attempts and court cases. What’s not to like?

4. House of Cards UK (1990)
The original House of Cards TV series was based on the British government in the time after the retirement of Margaret Thatcher. The four episode mini-series catalogues the rise to power of Francis Urquhart, Chief Whip of the Conservative Party.
As deceptive and evil as the Kevin Spacey’s character, Ian Richardson won a BAFTA for the role, while the Terry Kirby of the London Independent wrote that the show “caught the nation’s mood” at the time. With plot lines almost identical to its US follow-up, the original version is well worth a watch as it is much closer to home.

5. Charlie (2015)
The RTE three part mini-series based on the real life events in Irish politics during the 1980’s was highly anticipated at the turn of the year. Aiden Gillen expertly dissected the character of former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, with his immaculate impersonation described by one reviewer as a tour-de-force.
Although criticised for a linear plot which often only depicted monumental moments in Irish politics as quick flashing images, the programme was visually pleasing and gave an accurate sense of Ireland in the 80s.
By no means perfect, but for the performance of Gillen alone the show deserves praise and completely watchable for those unfamiliar with Irish politics.

6. Borgen (2010-present)
The Danish political series tells the tale of Birgitte Nyborg who becomes the first female Prime Minister of Denmark. After becoming a big hit in Denmark the show has gained success in the UK and has even progressed across the Atlantic to the US. Touching on many social issues such as gender equality, marital problems and divorce, the show is easy to relate to and engaging for and audience. And yes, it is in Danish, it’s a Danish drama after all, so be prepared for subtitles.

By Conor Farrell

Images courtesy of google images


  1. Personally, I’m afraid I would have to disagree about the idea of “Charlie” been watchable for audiences outside of Ireland – it’s hard enough for Irish people who don’t know the basics of Irish politics in the 80’s to watch, let alone foreigners who know nothing about Ireland or it’s political history.

    And as a “Borgen” fan, I am a bit insulted that you ranked “Charlie” higher than “Borgen” – I admit I never watched the other shows on the list, but “Borgen” is definitely superior to “Charlie”. It does get a bit rubbish in the third season, but that’s no worse than the deplorably rushed first episode of “Charlie”, and it wins a prize for being a LOT more relatable in an international context than the latter. And that’s saying a lot, considering how unusual the concept of “coalitions” still seem to the Brits and the Americans…

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