Breaking The Wire, Being Human, and Getting Lost on the Battlestar Galactica
What makes a good TV show?
First lets start with my definition of a good show. A lot of shows are very watchable, but if what I'm watching doesn't hook me and make want to come back for more, it is not that good.
For me there are several factors which make a great show such as an interesting story, characters that I care about, and good acting. Above all else though, the main factor which most influences my judgment of a show is the next episode.
Does the current episode leaves me salivating for the next week’s episode, thinking about what just happened, and what will happen next? One current show like this is Orphan Black.
My Top 5
This list is just my Top 5, not Top 10 or Top 20. That leaves out a lot of shows like Boardwalk Empire which I haven't included because I'm only partially through it. Or Stargate Universe which flirted with greatness, but didn't seem to be able maintain it. Or Heroes, a show with a mind blowing first season, a less than spectacular second, and a very confusing and uninteresting third season. Or even better, Beauty and the Beast, my favorite childhood series which starred Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.
Each of the following five shows has certain things in common - great writing, acting, and production. Yet even though many other shows may have similar ideas, themes, production, and talent, those other shows pale in comparison to my top 5.
Enough with the formalities, on with the list!
5. Being Human (U.K.)
When I tell people that one of my favorite shows involves a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost, it always sounds like I'm about to tell a joke. And while this show is very funny, it is far from a joke.
It manages to do what other shows in its genre cannot - deconstruct the mythology and build a new, fresh world that still honors the original. Being Human is the anti-Twilight, the anti-Ghost and the anti-Teen Wolf. This show is neither a lampoon of the genres that it represents, nor does it hide from them.
There is enough carnage and creepiness to keep fans engaged, yet at the same time the horror aspects take a backseat to the human drama, the crux of the show which is represented in its title, Being Human.
Also, not many shows can lose major characters and maintain the same quality (Misfits, for example), but this one manages to do just that. The writing is excellent, the dialogue is very witty, and the storylines are engaging. In the end though it has that rare mix of humor and drama, and oh yeah, its British.
4. The Wire
There are so many reasons why The Wire is such a great show. The characters are great. The story arcs, some of which span the entire series, are great. The grittiness and reality of street life, from the perspective of both law enforcement and criminals, are great. But there are other things as well which make this a great show.
The use of music for example. Unlike many shows (probably most actually) The Wire had no soundtrack. If there was music playing it was atmospheric - on the radio while someone drove a car, in a bar while people had drinks, or on a boombox. Apart from the theme song and the ending credits, there was no music.
Also, The Wire felt real where other police shows felt fake: Bad things happened to good people. Key characters died. And often, as in real life, these things happened quite randomly and sometimes in a seemingly unprovoked manner.
In a steel cage match, who do you think would win?
3. Battlestar Galactica
In general I detest Hollywood's love for remakes. To me its boils down to a lack of imagination combined with a desire to make a quick buck. (The Brady Bunch movie anyone? Or even worse, The Dukes of Hazard movie? Or how about the less than thrilling remake of that classic sci-fi show V?)
However, occasionally a remake comes along which is not just better than the original, but light years beyond whatever the original was trying to be.
I watched the original BSG as a kid and had high hopes for the remake. And not only was I not disappointed, I was flabbergasted. To be fair, the success of the remake owes a lot to the failure of Firefly (in the same way that J.J. Abrams owes some of Star Trek's success to BSG). Firefly was ahead of its time, while BSG seems to have struck at just the right moment.
Like the rest of the shows on this list, BSG had me panting for the next episode. It was more than just a sci-fi epic, it was a character driven drama that made me care about what happened to the people.
2. Breaking Bad
The complex plots, the amazing stories, and the brilliant acting are only a few reasons to love this show. It is also dreadfully funny.
The first time that I heard about this show I thought it would be a big joke. I mean, who could believe that the dad from Malcolm in the Middle could pull off something like this? Not only did Bryan Cranston start off well as Walter White, but he nailed the character throughout the show's run.
And Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn are certainly no slackers either. Their evolution of their characters, Jesse and Skylar, is arguably as drastic as Cranston's Walter White.
Anyone who has ever watched Breaking Bad will tell you that it is, without a doubt, one of the greatest things to ever grace the small screen.
The First Moments of Lost
If you've never seen Lost, where have you been? Just watch the clip then come back here.
After the first few minutes of the pilot episode, I was hooked. And for the next 6 years or so, I was mildly obsessed with the show.
Let me be honest for a second. I think Breaking Bad is a better show that Lost. But the reason why I put Lost ahead of Breaking Bad because out of all the shows on this list, no other show took up as much of my mental energy as Lost did.
I spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about the show, reading blogs, trying to figure out what it all meant. And in spite of the less than satisfying ending, I choose to focus on the greatness of the journey.
This show was a trend setter in so many ways. After its success a number of shows with 'international' and 'ensemble' casts cropped up. Sadly, None were as smart, interesting, or watchable as Lost.
I haven't watched it much since it went off the air, but what I have watched still holds up very well. This will be one of those shows that I will get my children hooked on when they're a little older. Its the show that I'll be talking about when I'm in a nursing home and not making any sense to anyone but myself, reciting the numbers or talking about 'the temple'. And that's why it is my favorite show of all time.