Favourite Old TV Shows
Alright, well, some of these shows aren't old per se, but the point is they're no longer producing new episodes. Anyway, I have a big collection of TV on DVD so I can revisit the things I love that have gone off the air, and if I really like something I will watch it repeatedly. Below are some of my picks for the best TV shows ever produced. My favourite genre, as you can see, is sci-fi/fantasy. I also tend to like teen soaps, and shows made by Joss Whedon or HBO.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
What: In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone must stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer. She is Buffy, and she and her friends save the world a lot.
Why: It is The Greatest Show Ever Produced. I've watched it over and over. The characters are wonderfully drawn, the storylines are compelling, the dialogue is outstanding, and the ideas behind it are intelligent.
Best Loved Characters: Buffy is one of my favourite fictional characters ever. She's complex and definitely imperfect, but she's strong and heroic and really one of the all-time great female TV characters. I also love Xander, Spike, Oz, Tara, Drusilla, The Mayor, Giles, Glory, Andrew, Anya, and Jonathan. I loved Cordy when she was on this show, too.
Least Loved Characters: Most of the Potentials in season 7 were so lame they made me angry. Warren is disgusting.
Best & Worst: Seasons 3-5 are the strongest in my opinion. 3 is probably the very best, but 4 is my favourite and though 5 suffers from a few weak episodes, the Dawn story arc that runs through it is perfectly played out. The Buffy and Angel love story in season 2 is also great, and I think about half of season 6 is quite excellent. Unfortunately, the other half blows. Season 7 ... well, I try not to think about it because of the rage. Favourite episodes: "Something Blue," "Hush," "The Gift," and too many others to name. My pick for the worst episode is "Wrecked," which officially killed season 6.
What: FBI Agent Dana Scully is sent to debunk the work of the Bureau's basement-dwelling black sheep, Fox Mulder, who has devoted his career to investigating the so-called "x-files" -- unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena -- because he believes his sister was abducted by aliens. Mulder and Scully build a tight alliance as they investigate their cases, some of which appear to be part of a widespread government conspiracy, others of which are just really freaking weird.
Why: This show had an intelligent way of taking old stories and putting a new spin on them. Some episodes were so creepy that I don't even like thinking about them (part of me imagines Tooms under every escalator), while others were funnier than most sitcoms. I'm also a much more paranoid person for having experienced the big conspiracy story.
Best Loved Characters: Mulder and Scully are two of the most interesting, well-developed characters in TV history, and their relationship is what makes the show work so well. Of the secondary characters, I really liked Skinner and the Lone Gunmen, and Cancer Man has a sort of evil charm.
Least Loved Characters: I always found Marita Covarrubias and Jeffrey Spender a little irritating.
Best & Worst: Seasons 2-5 were the best, with seasons 1 and 6 just behind. Seasons 8 and 9 probably should not have happened. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is one of my favourite TV episodes ever. I'm generally a fan of the funny episodes, and I'd also place "Bad Blood," "Small Potatoes," "War of the Coprophages," and "Syzygy" among my favourites.
What: A vampire with a soul fights supernatural evil in Los Angeles with his comrades in arms.
Why: At first, I watched based solely on the strength of Buffy. For a while I didn't care for this one, giving up on it after about half a season. When I picked it up again part way through season 3, I knew how wrong I'd been to stop watching. Angel managed to develop its own identity while still retaining most of the things that were good about the show it spun off from: characters and storylines to be passionate about, along with that snappy Whedon dialogue.
Best Loved Characters: Angel, Fred, Illyria, Spike, Darla, Drusilla, Connor.
Least Loved Characters: I really hated Cordelia after a while, which is a shame because I loved her on Buffy. Also Eve.
Best & Worst: Most of the worst episodes are in season 1 and 2, but the Evil Cordy story in season 4 is pretty atrocious, too. On the whole I think season 3 is the best complete season. Though the first half of season 5 is spotty, the second half is absolutely, completely, utterly brilliant. "Not Fade Away" is, to my mind, the best series finale of any show, ever. Every time I watch it, I am stunned by it.
What: Astronaut John Crichton, on a test flight, gets shot through a wormhole and ends up in a faraway part of the galaxy populated by strange alien creatures, none of whom has ever heard of Earth. Crichton spends the next few
cycles years going from planet to planet as a fugitive with a group of escaped prisoners on a living ship.
Why: It's a weird show; two of the main characters are in fact Muppets. But don't let that put you off, because Farscape at its best was a brilliant sci-fi epic with the amazing love story between Crichton and Aeryn Sun at its heart and one of the best ever villains in Scorpius. The show had both heartbreakingly sad storylines and stupid fart jokes along with everything in between, and did it all with equal amounts of awesome.
Best Loved Characters: Crichton, Aeryn, Pilot, Rygel, Scorpius, Harvey.
Least Loved Characters: Not a big Crais fan, but he was okay. I hated Grayza.
Best & Worst: Season 3 is the best; the two Crichtons storyline kills me. A few notably great episodes from other seasons: "Crackers Don't Matter," "Out of Their Minds," and "Kansas," all of which are hilarious; "Terra Firma" is very moving. Season 1 takes a while to get going and some early episodes are weak, but it picks up by the end. I think season 4's "John Quixote" qualifies as the absolute weirdest episode (though season 4 is pretty much all on the wacky crack).
What: An airplane crashes on a deserted island, leaving the 48 survivors stranded. They soon discover that the island is not a normal place, and that they are not the only ones living on it.
Why: This show could be extremely frustrating to watch at times, but it was also great at creating tension and then presenting really jawdropping moments that made you go HOLY CRAP!! and also ... what the hell just happened!? I really enjoyed looking for the subtext and the little clues they dropped in episodes. At the time, it was like a giant puzzle. Now that it's over and I know how it ends, I find I actually enjoy watching it even more because I'm less concerned about the why and more involved with the excellent characters. There are some great stories being told here. Lost is also visually beautiful, and unique: there just wasn't anything else on TV that looked like it. I would go visit the island, monster and all.
Best Loved Characters: Locke is fascinating. His life is so heartbreaking, and Terry O'Quinn is wonderful in the role. I also love Jack, Hurley, Jin and Sun, Juliet, Sawyer, and Desmond. Ben is a marvellous character, too.
Least Loved Characters: I hate both Kate and Ana Lucia with the fire of a thousand suns. I also disliked Shannon.
Best & Worst: Season 2 and the beginning of season 3 were the weakest part of the show. My least favourite episode is "Stranger in a Strange Land," and my favourite is "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead." Oddly enough, those two aired consecutively. The series finale is polarizing; personally, I loved it.
What: Agents with the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit, led by top agent/rogue person/former political prisoner Jack Bauer, either fend off or abet threats from various extremist groups and psychos in real time, saving the US (or attempting to destroy it) in exactly 24 hours once a year.
Why: Because it was addictive, exciting, thought-provoking, and ridiculously suspenseful. I used to forget how much I enjoyed it when it went on hiatus and then when it came back I'd go, yes! I love this!
Best Loved Characters: Jack, Chloe, Tony, George Mason, President Palmer, Bill, Aaron Pierce, Edgar, Renee.
Least Loved Characters: Nina Myers just refused to die!
Best & Worst: I think my favourite is still season 2 but I also really liked seasons 4 and 5. I wasn't crazy about season 6 overall, but the nuke actually going off still ranks as one of the most shocking TV moments I've ever seen, while Edgar's death in season 5 was one of the saddest. George Mason's death in season 2 was another great moment. Jack's epic meltdown after Renee's death in the final season was magnificent.
What: The story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.
Why: Because its ridiculous characters and storylines usually managed to stay on the right side of that thin line between hilarious and annoying. Not only is the main cast fantastic, but the show also had an amazing cast of secondary characters. Some of the humour was the kind you get right away and fall off the couch laughing at; some of it was stuff you don't get until the third time you're watching the episode. To sum up: it's really damn funny.
Best Loved Characters: George Michael became my favourite after I clued in to his incredibly subtle humour. I'm also a huge fan of Lucille, Buster, Tobias, and smaller characters like Barry, Lucille II, Tom Jane, and Stan Sitwell.
Least Loved Characters: Though she is sometimes extremely funny, I never cared for Maeby.
Best & Worst: The Rita story in season 3 was pretty weak, and it really stood out as such since this show hardly ever had a line that didn't click. I don't think I have a favourite episode, but favourite scenes include Buster's bleeped out anti-Lucille rant in the third episode as well as the incident with the bees. "They don't allow you to have bees in here."
What: Great sci-fi show about the struggles of the approximately 50,000 survivors of an attack on the human race by the Cylons, artificially intelligent robots bent on destroying their creators, apparently for religious reasons. The series mostly followed crew members on Galactica, the battlestar which protects the survivors' fleet, and other major figures in the war as they traveled through space looking for a new home called Earth.
Why: It's bleak but still hopeful. The ideas behind it -- what I understand of them anyway -- are fascinating, and like all the best sci-fi, this show offers plenty of big issues to think about.
Best Loved Characters: Admiral Adama and President Roslin are the exact people I'd want in charge during a catastrophe. Gaius Baltar, by contrast, is the absolute worst type of person to lead, but that's what makes him interesting.
Least Loved Characters: I loathe Starbuck.
Best & Worst: The mini-series is excellent, and I'm generally a fan of the major ongoing story arc. Some of the standalone episodes, however, are not very good, and I don't like anything Starbuck-centric. Because I hate her.
What: Pity poor Bill Henrickson, for he has his own successful retail business, three homes, and three gorgeous wives. No ... seriously, pity him. It's really not as good as it sounds.
Why: It was an interesting show about people with values that don't in any way fit in with the norm. It was both funny and dramatic, and was populated with many great characters. If you liked HBO's other unconventional family drama, Six Feet Under, you will probably like Big Love at least a little bit, too.
Best Loved Characters: Barb, Nicki, and Margene. All the women on Big Love are fairly intriguing simply due to their existence within a structure that by its very nature represses them. The three Henrickson wives struggle with this in various ways, and come to build a wonderful relationship.
Least Loved Characters: By the end, I was very tired of Bill's self-righteousness. I didn't like Ana either.
Best & Worst: I could never get into the stories about all Bill's shady business dealings. I much preferred the wives, and was a big fan of the way the show ended, which I will not spoil here.
What: Life in the almost lawless town of Deadwood during the Gold Rush, when the desire of various rival businessmen for control and profit struggles against the influence of conventional society.
Why: It took me a while to get into it, but it's hard not to be won over by Deadwood's combination of violence, comedy, drama, strong characters, and excellent dialogue. It's like Shakespeare set in the US and made with HBO production values.
Best Loved Characters: Almost everyone on this show is excellent, but there are a couple of standouts for me. I have such admiration for Robin Weigert after seeing her as Calamity Jane, who is a fantastically strange character. Ian McShane is also absolutely wonderful as Al Swearengen. You can see him thinking.
Least Loved Characters: E.B. Farnum is as gross as he's intended to be. I never knew Gerald McRaney could be so scary until I saw him as Hearst. It's a great performance, but you sure don't like the guy.
Best & Worst: I guess I found the first few episodes a bit slow, but I think I was just getting used to the style of it. The whole series is rather brilliant, not to mention visually stunning.
What: 500 years in the future, a group of people living on an old spaceship travel around, taking whatever jobs they can get (legal or not). It turns out two of the crew are wanted by the Alliance -- the inter-planetary government -- for some reason, and life for the crew just got a whole lot more interesting.
Why: My only reason for watching this in the beginning was that Joss Whedon created it. My reason to keep watching was that it was just as good as Joss' other shows. Firefly was smart, funny, dramatic, and full of great characters, and a big part of me will always hate Fox for cancelling it.
Best Loved Characters: Mal and Wash are my favourites, but I like everyone. Zoe rocks.
Least Loved Characters: I'm not as enamoured of Kaylee as most people seem to be. I also don't find Inara all that interesting, and River's coolness really only becomes apparent after you see Serenity.
Best & Worst: I think "Out of Gas," "Shindig," "Jaynestown," and "Ariel" are most likely my favourite episodes. The only one I don't think is 100% great is "The Message." (I have anti-Jonathan M. Woodward bias from Angel.)
Friday Night Lights
What: This show follows the lives of the people in a small town in Texas, where life revolves around the fortunes of the local high school football team. Angsty teen drama and football. Ahhhh.
Why: I started watching it partly because so many people recommended it to me and partly because I love sports, but I was drawn in by the great characters (especially Matt Saracen) and the football.
Best Loved Characters: Matt Saracen! I also enjoy Coach Taylor, Tim Riggins, Buddy Garrity, Matt Saracen's grandma, Vince, Jess, and Luke. Can I possibly express how much I love Matt Saracen? No. Not without sounding like a crazy person.
Least Loved Characters: I was fond of Julie at first, but she became very annoying after season 1. I'm also not a huge Tyra fan for the most part. J.D. McCoy and his dad are evil.
Best & Worst: The low point for me is the Landry and Tyra crime storyline in season 2. The high point is probably Matt and Julie and the football season in season 1. I also think the last couple of seasons were very good: the show actually managed to survive allowing its first cast of high school students to graduate on a realistic timeframe. Impressive.
What: X-Files-ish show about an FBI agent who is teamed with a mad scientist and his son to investigate unexplained events. There's a parallel universe and various different timelines ... it's a show that must be seen from the beginning.
Why: Great characters and great actors plus the creepy weirdness of The X-Files made this the best sci-fi show on television for a time -- occasionally the best show, period.
Best Loved Characters: I like everyone, but Walter and Olivia are my favourites. Olivia is an excellent, non-stereotypical female character, and Walter's brand of madness is both amusing and heartrending.
Least Loved Characters: Everyone is interesting, but I was definitely not an Altlivia fan at first.
Best & Worst: Fringe sometimes allowed its X-Files influence to show too plainly: certain episodes really suffer from this. One other flaw it shared with The X-Files was the potential for the complex mythology to get out of hand; this happened briefly during season 4, but they got it back in the end. My pick for the best of Fringe is the outstanding third season, particularly the disturbing and sad episode "Marionette." The final season was easily the worst.
What: Your #1 source for the sordid lives of wealthy teens (and their parents) on New York's Upper East Side.
Why: I have always loved trashy nighttime soaps (I watched Melrose Place religiously). This was a most welcome addition to the genre, especially as it arrived on the airwaves shortly after its obvious ancestor The O.C. departed them.
Best Loved Characters: Blair Waldorf is fabulous. She's a great "bitch" type character with a razor-sharp wit, but she's also smart (usually) and works hard to create her own identity. I also grew to love Chuck -- something I would not have predicted early on -- and relished Georgina Sparks' whirlwind tours of destruction.
Least Loved Characters: Dan and Serena are both extremely whiny and self-involved. I guess that's why they made such a good couple. Jenny was intolerable by the time she left.
Best & Worst: I love Blair and Chuck and eventually got really tired of the writers finding stupid ways to keep them apart (eg: Blair finding religion in season 5). I very much enjoyed the finale's extremely fun reveal of Gossip Girl's true identity, which left me with the urge to go back and watch again to see if it really all made sense.
What: Wrong side of the tracks teenager Ryan Atwood is taken in by the wealthy Cohen family and moves to Newport, in Orange County, California. He has very little in common with the privileged teenagers he now goes to school with, but soon forms a bond with his new family, especially their nerdy son Seth. He also falls in love with the girl next door.
Why: At first I thought this was going to be incredibly cheesy, but it turned out to be a very clever, and extremely geek-friendly, show. Okay, it was also cheesy, but it was self-aware and it had smart, pop culture reference laden dialogue.
Best Loved Characters: Ryan, because he's all broody and hey, the bad boy thing is appealing. Seth is also great, and I grew to love Summer, Julie, and Taylor more than I ever thought I would.
Least Loved Characters: Although I don't violently hate Marissa the way a lot of people seem to, I do find her a bit annoying. However, some of the recurring characters -- Oliver, Alex, Tre, Che, Volchok, and Anna -- were much worse.
Best & Worst: I don't think they ever surpassed the first season, unfortunately. Aside from the quality of the episodes, it must be noted that this show has possibly the best soundtrack of all-time.
One Tree Hill
What: It began as the story of rival basketball playing half brothers. It became an over the top teen soap in which things that make no sense, like teenagers getting married and dogs eating human organs, are the events of everyday life.
Why: I never intended to like this show. I started watching it with some friends as a joke, and then we all unexpectedly got completely sucked in. It isn't what you'd call high quality television, but in its own ridiculous way One Tree Hill is quite fantastic. Plus, Nathan and Haley's love story is irresistible.
Best Loved Characters: I absolutely adore Nathan. I'm also a big fan of the three main ladies of Tree Hill, with Peyton being my favourite. Dan is one of the great TV villains. Chris Keller is hilarious.
Least Loved Characters: I am not a Lucas fan; having said that, I did miss him when he left. I also found Keith rather boring and Mouth became extremely creepy. Clay and Quinn were useless additions.
Best & Worst: Season 3 is probably my favourite. That was when they seemed to embrace the wacky and just go for it, and they were very successful. This show ran for about three seasons too long: seasons 7, 8, and 9 are easily the worst.
Party of Five
What: The show follows the lives of the five Salinger children, orphaned when both their parents are killed by a drunk driver. Twentysomething Charlie becomes the reluctant family patriarch when his parents' will makes him guardian to his four younger siblings -- teenagers Bailey and Julia, tween violin prodigy Claudia, and baby Owen.
Why: I just really loved this show! It was very sentimental -- sometimes too much so -- but it was also really good. I loved the Salingers and I enjoyed going into their lives for an hour a week.
Best Loved Characters: Charlie for sure. He could be an ass, but in the end he usually did the right thing.
Least Loved Characters: Really, there were times when just about everyone on this show did something to annoy me. Griffin and Sarah were the most consistently irritating.
Best & Worst: This show's biggest strength was that even if a storyline came out of nowhere, nothing ever felt unnatural once it was happening. Julia marrying Griffin, for example, was a big huh?? moment. But their terrible marriage seemed realistic to me. Bailey's alcoholism? Yep, cheesy. But at the same time, you could imagine it all happening that way.
What: The lives of doctors and nurses at Sacred Heart hospital, told from the point of view of Zach Braff's daydreaming perpetual man-child character, Dr. John Dorian (J.D.).
Why: I loved J.D. and his perspective (and his dream sequences), and I found the show extremely funny. Scrubs was built around a great core cast and then a possibly even better group of supporting characters, including randoms like Snoop Dogg Intern and Dr. Beardfacé, who hardly ever had dialogue but were still hilarious. The show that ranged in tone from total slapstick humour to fairly serious drama: it reminded me of MASH, just without the war setting.
Best Loved Characters: J.D., Turk, Dr. Kelso, most of Elliot's boyfriends.
Least Loved Characters: Elliot annoyed me and I almost never liked J.D.'s girlfriends.
Best & Worst: Season 5 takes the prize for me. It was the funniest and I thought the humour was almost surreal without being overly wacky. Unfortunately, most of what followed season 5 was pretty lame. I loved J.D. and Turk's relationship, and their moments tend to be my favourites. Eaaaaagleeeeeee!
Six Feet Under
What: Nathaniel Fisher dies, leaving his funeral home business to his two sons. The series follows the Fisher family: charming but irresponsible Nate, serious David, their tightly-wound mother Ruth, and their artistic sister Claire.
Why: It's a great mix of black comedy, heavy drama, and drug-induced dream sequences. All the actors are outstanding and the characters are very deep.
Best Loved Characters: I didn't care for either David or Ruth initially, but now they're probably my two favourite characters. It takes a while to get to know them, but once you do they're both fascinating.
Least Loved Characters: Lisa is not at all likable, but I think that's the point. And actually, now that I've watched the series through a few times, I sympathize with her. I still don't like Billy very much, or Russell or Edie.
Best & Worst: Nate and Lisa's storyline in season 3 is amazingly done. The dinner scene in "In the Game" is a favourite moment. Everything from "Ecotone" on at the end of season 5 is basically non-stop brilliance, and the finale, "Everyone's Waiting," is one of the best finales in the history of TV.
What: The adventures of a teenaged Clark Kent as he grows up in Smallville, Kansas, and discovers his superpowers and alien origins. The early twist on the classic story was that in this version, Clark is good friends with Lex Luthor.
Why: For several seasons, the only thing that kept me watching was the hotness of Tom Welling. However! By the time seasons 9 and 10 rolled around, I was quite glad I'd stuck with it. The show got a second wind late in its run, mostly thanks to the fact that they finally got rid of Lana and focused on Lois and Clark's relationship.
Best Loved Characters: Clark, Lois, Chloe, Mr. Kent, Oliver.
Least Loved Characters: Not only is Lana my least favourite character on Smallville, I've given it some thought and I believe she is in fact my least favourite TV character of all time. I was overjoyed when she finally left town for good.
Best & Worst: The first two seasons and last two were easily the best. Tom Welling and Erica Durance had great chemistry and I fell completely in love with their interpretation of Clark and Lois. The series finale was so good, I felt rewarded for the 10 years I invested watching this show. I cheered out loud when Clark realized he could fly.
What: A look at institutional corruption in the city of Baltimore. Each season deals with a different aspect of the city: the police, unions, city hall, the education system, and the media, with the police and drug trade being the common element that ties everything together. Creator David Simon sums up the theme of the show like this: "The modern world is becoming increasingly indifferent to individual catharsis and individual dignity, and human beings are worth less. Every day, human beings are worth less. That's the triumph of capitalism."
Why: The Wire has such depth and such complexity that it has ruined cop shows for me. It's a rich, thoughtful look at the ills of society, and everything else seems far too simplistic now.
Best Loved Characters: Bubbles, Omar, Randy, Kima, Lester, Stringer Bell, D'Angelo, Bodie.
Least Loved Characters: Herc, Snoop, Marlo, Drunk McNulty. (Best McNulty season: 4. Oh yeah.)
Best & Worst: My personal favourite is season 4, though it makes for difficult viewing. Season 2 is the weakest; the union guys simply aren't that interesting. Season 5 is a bit ridiculous, but it's also a terrifically biting satire.