May 14th, 2017
|02:53 am - The Best TV I've Seen|
After my last post, I found out that a friend of mine had never even heard of Steven Universe, and so this encouraged me to list and describe my absolute favorite TV shows. All of these are from the last 25 years, in large part because while earlier TV had good individual episodes, I found old-style episodic TV to be exceptionally limited, and wouldn't consider much of it to be particularly good or even watchable.
1990s: Note, these shows are all sufficiently old that you can expect levels of subtle (or occasionally not) racism and sexism that are rare on good modern tv – for example sexual harassment was still a topic for humor for at least the first 3 seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space 9)
Revolutionary Girl Utena: A friend once described this as the absolute best visual storytelling she had ever seen. That was almost 20 years ago, and while this might no longer be true, it's still one of the best. This anime is breathtakingly good – it starts out looking like fluff, and builds on itself, layering complexity and detail in ways that are my mark of a well done show. It's also interesting at how most of the secrets are hidden in plain sight. Watch all of it if you haven't seen it. I've watched it 3 times and have gotten more out of it each time
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: I found Firefly to be mediocre, Dollhouse to be not very good, and while Joss Whedon's Marvel films are good, they aren't groundbreaking in any way other than being supers movies that don't suck. However, Whedon earned his reputation with Buffy, and it's well deserved. I'm fairly certain that the female-focused geeky shows and the queer characters that I love would still have existed, but might not have gotten until 4 or 5 years later. This show is well worth watching, and while some of the seasons lag in the middle, it is pretty darn good – at least for the first 5 seasons. There's a lot less good in seasons 6 & 7, which can easily be skipped.
Babylon 5: I gave a lot of thought about whether to include this show in the list. It has major problems, not least of which the first commander is not all that good, and while Bruce Boxleitner does a good job as his replacement, when the show recasts Boxleitner as a messianic religious figure, he's laughably bad – while the show is notably less good, Star Trek: Deep Space 9's Avery Brooks plays a very similar role and does a vastly better job. However, Sinclair and Sheridan aren't why you watch Babylon 5. It has an ensemble cast and most of the other major characters are brilliant. Susan Ivanova is an excellent character as is Michael Garibaldi, and both G'Kar and Londo Mollari are brilliant. Londo Mollari's story arc is the finest classical tragedy I've ever seen on TV. Much of the 5th season isn't good (especially everything to do with the renfairesque telepaths), but the conclusion if Londo's tragedy is well worth watching.
Farscape: The first half of the first season is merely generic SF showing up awesome puppetry, but from there the show goes rapidly and impressively uphill. It's the first SF show I saw where at various points, half and occasionally more than half of the protagonists are female, and it's visually wonderful. Also, I love how they handle the two major villains - Bialar Crais & Scorpius was brilliant. The show ends of a cliffhanger, but is all worth watching, but ignore the made for TV movie The Peacekeeper Wars – it's not very good.
2000s & 2010s: This is modern TV, and while some of these shows are far from perfect, in general they have fewer problems than most earlier shows.
Doctor Who: I no longer watch it, and hate-watched it for a number of seasons, but the first season, with the 9th Doctor (brilliantly played by Christopher Eccleston), is astoundingly worth seeing. I'd also recommend the 3rd season with the 11th Doctor, and Donna Noble (played by Catherine Tate) is quite good, except for the last episode. From my PoV, you miss nothing by not watching the rest of the new Doctor Who.
Fringe: Not a perfect show, but parts of it are excellent. I've only watched a few bits of the first season and have no interest in watching more, and season 5 wasn't good and ended badly, but seasons 2 & 3 form a single ongoing story that has a level of depth and complexity that rivals Utena and is brilliant. Season 4 is mostly good (except for the last episode), but lacks the same level of brilliance. I love it for the complex layering of detail. Smart storytelling which doesn't underestimate its audience isn't common, and like Utena, this is a good example.
The Vampire Diaries: The first few episodes are stunningly terrible, but then it gets vastly better. Start at episode 8, and by 11, it's very good and remains so until the end of Season 3. Season 4 isn't quite as good, and after that it goes downhill rapidly. It's another ensemble cast, with well done female characters. It takes a while, but it also becomes clear that Nina Dobrev is quite an impressive actor.
Orphan Black: It's another show that gets less good with each season, but dear gods was season 1 amazing. Tatiana Maslany is incredible, and it's difficult for me to describe how much I loved the first season, it grabs you in the first episode and doesn't let go.
Hannibal: I didn't watch most of the third season, and I didn't like much of what I did watch, but the first two seasons were amazing. The first episode was brutally grim and I almost didn't watch any more, but after that it went from horrific to ludicrously bizarre in impressively peculiar and stylized manner. If you love food & beautiful decadence, this is the show for you.
Steven Universe: It's deeply humane and makes me feel good, but it's also excellent with many of the same complex storytelling found in Utena. Some of the first few episodes were rocky, but after that almost all of them have been excellent.
Killjoys: It's advertised on the Syfy channel as complete fluff, but it's very good. Also, with the exception of two of the three leads, most of the important characters are female, and are very well done. There are also levels of worldbuilding detail that I find very impressive, especially everything surrounding the scarback monks and their faith.
Lucifer: So Lucifer leaves hell, he runs a nightclub in LA, and then finds a plucky female police detective and together they fight crime. Becca and I watched the first episode merely to see just how terrible it was – it wasn't. It's complex, thoughtful, funny, and impressively sex positive (in a wide variety of ways). For most of the first season, I kept waiting for when the writers would lose whatever bizarre brilliance they had and the show would start to suck, but it never did, and now the second season is almost over, and it remains very good indeed.
Jessica Jones: I find the other Netflix Marvel shows to be too graphically violent to want to watch, and Jessica Jones is almost at the edge of my tolerance for grim TV, but dear gods it's good. It's not easy to watch by any stretch of the imagination, but it's exceptionally well done, and I'm looking forward to the next season.
Sense8: I like almost everything the Wachowskis have done, and this is particularly good. Almost all of the protagonists are interesting and complex, and I love the storytelling. I haven't watched the second season yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
The Good Place: I'll preface this review by saying that I actively loathe comedy TV and movies. I mostly only know of comedy TV by fragments I catch before or after shows I watch, and from what I've seen that's all I ever want to know. I only watched this show because after the season ended Becca read a discussion about it that included a massive spoiler about the last episode and convinced me to watch it with that spoiler, because it made the season actually make sense and not simple be (to me, and to Becca) standard comedy. However, with that in mind, it's very good indeed. I very much doubt I'll watch more comedy, but I'm eager for the second season, despite having absolutely no idea how they'll handle it.
Legion: It's as oddly stylized as Hannibal, but far less grim and also better. I have no idea what season 2 will be like, but I loved season 1. It's fascinating to watch a show where the difference between reality-warping and having a seriously unreliable narrator can blur into invisibility.
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