For all of you out there who appreciate good drama – enjoy my very own list of the best TV shows of all-time! Acquire snacks and go for an all-night marathon!
As I’m sure all of you film fans have already noticed, most of the creativity, originality and artistry has long ago shifted from the big screen to small screens – that is, the film industry has been quite uninspiring lately and very predictable in comparison with what the masters of TV drama production have been offering to us.
Needless to say, you can encounter quite boring and, let’s face it, downright stupid things in this area as well, but when you only take the good and high quality stuff into account – there is no doubt: television takes the first prize.
What follows is my own list of seven of the best TV shows that have influenced and inspired me greatly (I honestly can’t remember a movie that has managed to do the same in a long time). In the beginning, it looked as though the list would contain many more “items” – but, after some adjusting and filtering, in my opinion, this is what it comes down to.
Just a little warning for you to consider before you start reading: the list includes no cheap and unintelligent sitcoms, no jaded and mediocre drama, no soap operas, no dragons, aliens, or princesses, no Kardashians or other reality show stars. Hold on reading at your own risk!
1. Homicide: Life on the Street (1993 – 1999)
When it comes to this (you could even say – classic) television gem, fans and critics are unanimous: Homicide might very well be the best show of all times. If you think this statement is also strong, take a look at the reasoning behind it.
Only at first sight, this might seem as just another cop show – a team of Baltimore City detectives working on solving murder cases on the city streets. You would expect a little bit of shooting, plenty of blood, and the omnipotent and flawless men in blue who always find the answer to “whodunit” in the end. If it were like this, you can rest assured that this girl would not have given it the time of day.
What we get instead is a variety of characters that are flawed, utterly realistic and easy to identify with, but still somehow larger than life. It is a Shakespearean drama set in a modern-day homicide unit in a major American city: we see our detectives doing, what, according to them, is a sacred calling – speaking for the dead, serving justice, and helping the restoration of human order the way it is supposed to be, every day.
The specter of moral and philosophical topics and questions that this show deals with or at least touches upon is truly fascinating: the value of human life; the functioning of human institutions; whether murder is sometimes justifiable; what is truly moral; racism and bigotry; religious faith and lack of it; dealing with your own personal demons day in and day out; relationships and marriage; a person’s professional duties and how they affect their family life (to name just a few).
You will love the timeless characters of Frank Pembleton, the deeply religious catholic and a brilliant detective who is always burdened with moral dilemmas; his partner and friend Tim Bayliss, struggling with his childhood traumas and difficulties that affect his relationships with women.
There is also Al Giardello, the wise paternal lieutenant of the unit who at one point has to choose between his inner beliefs and his calling and a long-awaited promotion; a female detective Kay Howard who struggles to make it in a predominantly male profession, etc.
Every character has something to offer, and every episode brings a different story. The quality of the show may not be surprising if you consider that the author behind it is David Simon, who is also responsible for bringing us The Wire, another high-rated urban odyssey taking place in the city of Baltimore.
Watch at least a few episodes from the first six seasons – you will feel that you have grown as a person.
2. Sex & the City (1998 – 2004)
No list written for girls, by a girl, would be complete without it – the four friends from Novel York City looking for love and breaking many taboos in the process. What else could I possibly say about this revolutionary show that hasn’t been said already? Whether you are in your twenties, a thirty-something single girl, a career woman or a stay-at-home Mom in her forties – it is a must.
Dating, romance, sex, city life, friendship, family, motherhood, fashion, cocktails, men, men, men – this show has it all! So gather up a group of your closest girlfriends, make some tasty drinks and a bowl of popcorn, and dabble into this survival guide for a modern woman.
In case you have already – do it all over again, from episode one. Thanks to the superb directing and performance by the leading actresses, the quintessential female topics, brilliant non-PC humor – it just never gets boring!
3. Mad Men (2007 – )
Now, different from the previous one – here is a very “manly” show. The story is set in the “golden” 1960s in post-WWII America, and centered around Donald Draper, an alpha male and a very mysterious and talented executive, working for one of Novel York’s most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s.
So what is it all about? It’s about the beginnings of advertising industry as we know it today – at a time when it was perfectly alright to smoke and drink heavily at your workplace, and call your female coworkers things that would nowadays most surely lead to a sexual harassment charge.
It is about how personal and professional lives of men and women working together can intertwine in so many different ways; it is about office dynamics, about the various roles a woman can play in a man-dominated office, about the struggle for power and influence in the business surroundings – an ever relevant topic, if I may add.
It is about a very significant era in American history – the time of the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, the glamorous age of Hollywood, the “ideal” American family, the uncensored cigarette adds showing people puffing away happily, the slow but steady expansion of feminist ideas, equality of the sexes, and sexual revolution. And finally – it is about identity, the self, the truth and the lie, in an ever-changing world.
Noteworthy characters, superb drama, perfect costumes and settings – so what are you waiting for?
4. Fractureing Depraved (2008 – 2013)
We will of course continue with another epic story – a small, everyday man in face of adversity, a life-threatening condition, and a serious moral choice to make. Walter White is a humble chemistry teacher from the American South, living in an average house with his family, doing two jobs, the other one being in a carwash, and living a peaceful and, you might even say, an insignificant and unremarkable life.
All this is about to change when Walter is diagnosed with terminal, inoperable lung cancer. A good and quiet family man shows unexpected potential for turning bad – starting from teaming up with his former student to cook crystal meth to be able to pay for his treatment and leave some money to his family, Walter goes to become the most powerful drug lord in the area, feared and respected even by the notorious Mexicans.
While you are watching it – and once you begin, it will be impossible to stop all the way through to the end – ask yourself the following: What would you have done if you were in Walter’s shoes? Is he a truly corrupt man or just a victim of consequences?
Did Walter contribute to his downfall himself, and to what degree? What makes a human life remarkable and worth living, and what kind of society places such a great value on money? What makes YOUR life worth living, are you living it to the fullest and what could you be doing differently, while it’s not also late?
The role has made Bryan Cranston an international superstar, and for good reason. Appreciate the subtle nuances in the performance of this incredibly talented actor.
5. The Simpsons (1989 – )
The television’s favorite eccentric yellow family, the Simpsons, have been stretching and extending the boundaries of entertainment and the sitcom genre for 25 years. The show’s variety of hilarious characters, its subversive yet playful humor, the numerous adventures the family has gone through are just some of the reasons you could never omit it from a list like this one.
The fact that it has dealt with every major social and cultural phenomenon during its long run (including a host of celebrities who were more than happy to appear in the show – as animated characters, that is), we can surely say that Homer, Marge, and their children have had an enormous influence on contemporary culture throughout the world, and have made us look at our own lives with irony and amusement.
After all, although they are yellow and animated, they are so much like the rest of us – we all know a Homer: a lazy, beer-loving and heavily overweight power plant employee who hates his boss and is sometimes negligent with his wife and children, although he loves them more than anything.
We all know a Bart: a mischievous elementary school underachiever; a Mr. Burns: a greedy old misanthropic rich man; a local drunk; a Willie; a man like Skinner with a particularly complex relationship with his mother; a school bully such as Nelson, coming from a dysfunctional family…you name it, it is depicted in the Simpsons.
Finally, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about (if it’s at all possible): yes, it is a caralson. Yes, they are yellow. No, it’s not just for children. Watch it – your general knowledge will suffer greatly unless you do.
6. Six Feet Under (2001 – 2005)
Six Feet Under can be best described using the three D’s: dark, deep, and dysfunctional. It’s a California story at its best. Imagine being a weird, artsy and slightly messed up teenage girl growing up in a family that owns and runs a funeral home.
You have been surrounded by death your whole life. Your father was just killed in a car accident, and your brother returns after being purposely away for many years, to take over the family business, together with your other slightly creepy gay brother. Add a pinch of a neurotic housewife of a mother who is prone to (slightly) comical emotional outbursts, and you have all the ingredients you need for a dark, disturbing comedy.
If there is a single gloomy, eccentric or melancholic bone in your body, you will laugh and cry with the Fisher family, rejoice at their successes and mourn their losses. You will feel how complicated it sometimes is to just be a human being, you will think about life, death, and transcendence. And let’s not forget the music – you will hear, and possibly discover, some excellent alternative rock, such as this:
Does this seem like your cup of tea? Appreciate!
7. The Borgias (2011 – 2013)
There are many breathtaking historical TV drama series out there – the Vikings, Rome, I, Claudius, The Tudors, to name just a few. So what makes The Borgias special? Well, for starters – the magnificent Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI. Convinced? I thought so.
As the famous (or rather – infamous) Borgia family rises to power in the Renaissance Italy, we witness their ruthless struggle and overriding ambition that stops at nothing – bribery, simony, fornication, incest, murder – all very much in accordance with the principles of ruling and staying in power described by another of their famous contemporaries – Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of “Il Principe” (“The Prince”, a kind of a handbook for 16th century rulers), who also appears as one of the characters in this show.
Without adding any further spoilers, in short, here is why you should watch it: It is a compelling and historically accurate story that will get you hooked in no time; beautiful settings and costumes; outstanding performances of leading actors; and, of course, a chance to consolidate your knowledge of history.
You might be surprised to see how many of the principles and events described in the story set in 16th century Italy can apply to our modern world of today – I guess there is something in the human nature that will never change.
And, finally, feel free to add your own suggestions. What have I unfairly not taken into account? What is it that absolutely needs to be in this list as well? Or, go ahead, let this article inspire you, and give us your own list of all-time TV favorites! It will be much appreciated!
The more you understand yourself, the more silence there is, the healthier you are. —Maxime Lagacé