With critically acclaimed shows like "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and, most recently, "The Walking Dead," AMC is "giving HBO a run for its money," says Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon. In the last five years, the cable channel has gone from a little-discussed dumping ground for old movies to a major cultural talking point. It's done that by following the novelistic mold of popular HBO shows like "The Sopranos" and going even further. And, unlike HBO, the network is not merely intent to push the boundaries of how much sex or violence can be shown on television. To AMC, "adult" means "situations that kids aren't mature enough to understand or care about," says Zoller Seitz, not just "blood and boobies." Here, an excerpt:

The great HBO series balanced prurience with literary and cinematic ambition. AMC is doing the same thing, but the emphasis is more on the second half of the equation. Yes, you sometimes see things on AMC that you wouldn't want to have to explain to a 6-year-old who happened to wander through the room: The lawnmower scene in Season 3 of "Mad Men," for example, or in Season 4, Don Draper getting slapped during sex with a prostitute... or the drug trafficking and violent threats strewn throughout any given episode of "Breaking Bad"....

At the same time, though, AMC's shows just don't have the same "Let's see how far we can go" ethos that seems to have driven HBO and its blatant imitators in the '00s. That's partly because they're a commercially supported channel; it also seems to be an aesthetic choice. The channel allows almost every kind of profanity except the F-word, which it bleeps; but by and large, the language on AMC shows isn't as salty as what you'd find on HBO or Showtime or even FX. The attitude toward sex and violence is just as measured. Violence is rare on "Mad Men," and when it happens — as in the lawnmower episode — it's more shocking because it's not normally a part of that world. Sex is mostly implied. And when it's shown, it's R-rated in physical frankness (you're never in doubt as to what acts are being performed) but PG-13 in terms of how much skin you see and how long the scene typically goes on.

Read the whole story at Salon.