In no particular order. I`m going to compile a seperate list for comedy, as it deserves it`s own category. Disclaimer – This is my opinion, and may differ from yours, so please don’t get mad. I’ve included some shows that could potentially fall into separate genres like Sci-fi/Action, etc. I did this for simplicity’s sake. For more info, scroll to the comments below. I’ll also include reader suggestions, so remember to comment! I love reading your thoughts and suggestions.
1. Lost.- Intriguing characters played by attractive actors whose plane crashed on a beautiful mysterious island filmed in Hawaii. This is perhaps the most exceedingly complicated storylines in television history with multiple timelines and dozens of characters including a heroin addicted rock star, two con artists on the run, a quadriplegic, a lottery winner, and many others. There are tons of plot devices including a mysterious hatch, a smoke monster, and time travel accompanied with excellent sound design that make this an unforgettable series.
2. The Prisoner. (1967-68) - Only 17 episodes were made of this fascinating storyline with excellent writing. Apparently the star (Patrick McGoohan) was also the producer, writer and director and many times he didn’t know where the story was going. He ended up firing many directors during the course of the series. You can really see a high level of intensity in his acting. A great show where themes like the establishment and conformity were explored (“I am a free man – I am not a number!”). Plus there was a giant ball in it. Check out the original trailer here. There is a re-make in 2009 that is quite good as well, but start with the original.
3. The Twilight Zone. (1959-64) Unpredictable and fascinating. Many great themes and subtexts. Had to be one of the earliest shows to be so wonderfully strange and subversive. Look for some cameos including William Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 feet“, and one of my favourites – “Nick Of Time“. “… This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
4. X – Files – Two dashing looking FBI agents investigate the paranormal. Low budget, low lighting, film noir style shot in Vancouver. What’s not to love? A talented supporting cast playing characters of interest including the Lone Gunmen were my favourites as well. Some of the subject matter explored in the series included vampires, giant tape worms, ghosts, and of course aliens. A creepy, very stripped down sound design worked well with competent acting, and occasional self-deprecating humour from Agent Mulder kept the series from taking itself too seriously despite the out of this world content. You can tell they had fun making the series, here is a link for a collection of bloopers.
5. Star Trek – The Next Generation. – Ok. I admit, I am a trekkie. But this is honestly the best of the franchise. Themes explored in the series included racism, ethics, consumerism, war, communication, decision making, cybernetics, and many others. A collection of excellent actors, starting with the irreplaceable Shakespearean trained Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard. Tea, Earl Grey, Hot. Here is a link to their original 1987 promo.
6. Twin Peaks – David Lynch scores again with small town weirdness. An FBI agent eccentrically played by Kyle MacLachlan is sent into Twin Peaks to solve the murder of local high school sweetheart Laura Palmer, but ends up uncovering innumerous secrets. And damn fine coffee. Classic Lynch here means an incredible sound track, thanks mainly to Lynch and the haunting voice of Julee Cruise, and beautiful, dark, troubled characters caught up in a small town of lies and deception. Here is a link to the original pilot.
7. The Sopranos - Like many of the other shows by HBO, a triple threat of smart writing, compelling characters, and a complex storyline make this show about New Jersey mobsters a success. Slow character building episodes are peppered with gratuitous nudity, drug use and violence that is quick, bloody and brutal. Delicious!
8. 24 - Although there is a host of good characters played by some great actors that nobody should trust – and could be killed at any given moment; the show is really carried by Kiefer Sutherland. And it is a role, one feels he is born to play. A government agent who listens to no-one and has his own code of ethics. Unfortuntaly this code generally leads to many people being tortured and killed. A special mention to the sound design of this production should be made as well. I would say more, but dammit we’re running out of time. Here is the trailer for season one.
9. Oz - HBO strikes again. The story about a group of lifers in a brand new state of the art maximum security prison. Many themes explored like retribution, courage, race relations, politics and the human condition. And if there is one show that scared me straight, this is it. I never want to end up in prison. Here are some highlights from Episode One.
10. Breaking Bad - An AMC series. When High School Science teacher gets diagnosed with cancer, he decides to make some serious cheddar the only way he thinks there is: he makes serious meth. With his former meth head student. As I’m sure you can guess, hilarity and hijinxs ensue. Here is the first scene from Season One, Episode One.
Honourable Mentions: The Wire, Californication, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice, Mad Men, Carnivale, Caprica, The Unit.
Reader Suggestions: The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Homicide – Life on the street, Deadwood, ER.
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