My friend Tracie posed a question on Facebook last week asking for suggestions of tv shows she should watch while she’s breastfeeding. Given that I am a major tv junkie I was having a lot of fun recommending things to her, so I decided to turn it into a blog post. I gave myself a few rules:
1. The shows listed here are all shows that have completed their run. I have a long list of shows I myself eventually want to watch but that are many seasons into their run. I get not wanting to watch something you’re eventually going to catch up to in real time, so I decided to leave anything still in production off the list. Thus you won’t find good but still ongoing shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men or the BBC’s Sherlock.
2. I am only including shows that I had positive feelings about overall by the end of show. This is not to say that many of these shows did not suffer from creative declines in their latter years as most shows do, but the ones included still have to have enough creative spark and enjoyment left in them by their end that I don’t hate them. For example, you will not be seeing House on this list because though I adored its first three seasons and I did watch all eight seasons it was on, by the end of the show I hated it and any good feelings I once had towards it were gone.
3. I’m sticking with more recent shows for this list. There are some great older shows like Cheers, The Cosby Show, and the Mary Tyler Moore show that I have enjoyed in reruns for years and can now be watched either on streaming or DVD, but I decided to stay more current with this list.
So without any further ado here is the list of tv shows I think you should watch if you haven’t already. I tried to categorize them a bit so you can gravitate towards the kinds of shows you might prefer. Obviously some shows could fit in multiple of my made up categories, so I put them where I felt like they fit best.
Friday Night Lights
If you have never watched Friday Night Lights please stop reading this blog post and go watch it right now. I love this show so much. Despite the title the show is really not a show about football. It’s about life in a small Texas town. The beauty of this show is its realism. (Okay forget season 2 when I say that.) It also has the most realistic portrayal of a marriage ever in Coach Eric and Tami Taylor. Really watching Connie Britton play Tami Taylor in this show is enough of a reason to watch. There’s also the high school kids too of course. This show very realistically let kids move on as they graduated, so the cast changes over time but you grow to love all of them. Season 2 has some real issues, but I promise if you make it through that season the rest is sublime.
The West Wing
I hope you’re picking this up after finishing all 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights. If not, shame on you. Anyway, The West Wing as should be obvious from the title revolves around staff at the White House. It’s an Aaron Sorkin show for both good and ill. If you do not have liberal leanings I can not imagine how you would like this show because I do tend toward liberal viewpoints on most issues and even I want to punch Aaron Sorkin in the face a lot for all his heavy handed preaching. Despite the anvils Sorkin likes to drop on people’s heads it’s a really smart, fast paced show which I liked a lot. The show ran for seven seasons and season 5 after Sorkin pretty much got himself fired is the low point. The show had a real resurgence in the last two seasons with the presidential campaign in my opinion. I know some people don’t care for anything after season four, but I really enjoyed seasons six and seven.
If you’re looking for a show you can get through quickly the 13 episode run of Terriers may be for you. The show revolves around Hank, a disgraced police officer now working as a private detective, and his reformed criminal partner Britt. It was obviously canceled after one season, but I still found it to be an enjoyable run with enough closure in the finale that I didn’t feel like I was left hanging which is often the case for canceled shows.
Chuck is such a fun, delightful little series. I wrote a lot about it right after the series finale, so just hop on over to that post to read about why you should watch this show.
Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks was a short-lived tv show about high school students in the early 80s. It only aired 12 episodes before being canceled, but you can watch all 18 episodes that were filmed. Judd Apatow was one of the executive producers so you will recognize many of the actors he continues to work with today as they were just getting their start including Jason Segel, Seth Rogan, and James Franco.
Want Aaron Sorkin to beat you over the head with the same political issues he does in The West Wing, but this time for some reason in a comedy set in a sports show akin to Sportscenter? Well then Sports Night is for you. This show actually preceded The West Wing, but it is amusing to see just how much Aaron Sorkin manages to use his same pet issues in both shows. If you still don’t have enough after these two shows you can also check out Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where they come back again, though you’ll notice that show missing from this list so you might want to skip it. At any rate as I mentioned with The West Wing I enjoyed this show for the good things that Aaron Sorkin manages to do in his writing. This show only ran for two seasons and is a half hour comedy so you can plow through it pretty fast. Great for getting a taste of how Sorkin works before dedicating yourself to seven seasons of The West Wing if you’re unsure about watching that show.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After having his script for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie eviscerated and turned into the ridiculous (and yet still beloved by teenage me) Kristy Swason and Luke Perry movie, Joss Whedon eventually decided to reboot his ideas into a television show, which wound up running for seven seasons. The show obviously revolves around Buffy, who is a high school student who also finds out she is the chosen one and has supernatural powers allowing her to slay vampires. That comes in handy since her high school happens to sit on top of a hell mouth that gives rise to call kinds of supernatural creatures. There is an overarching “big bad” that she winds up fighting each season coupled with “monster of the week” storylines in each episode. Again the characters and the witty dialogue are big selling points for this show. I found the 13 episode first season to be problematic, but once I was past that I was sold. Like most shows this one had some serious issues by the end of its run, but there are still some episodes in the final seasons that are gems. Although I really didn’t like the storyline of the seventh season I certainly left this show with an overarching feeling of warmth for it, and I still love rewatching episodes from most of the seasons.
Angel is a spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The shows overlapped for four seasons with some cross-over storylines taking place. Some people say you should watch them concurrently starting with season 4 of Buffy so you can watch like they were broadcast on tv thus with the crossover episodes lining up. I watched them back-to-back and was still fine so watch them however you want I say. It took me a little while to get into Angel because I kept expecting it to be Buffy, which it really isn’t. I eventually came to love it for what it was. The first three seasons are great. Season four I didn’t really like that much, and season five is fine but not wonderful. I didn’t feel like the ending had much closure either so if that bothers you beware. If you are a Buffy fan I do recommend watching Angel.
It took me a long time to get into Battlestar Galactica, but I’m glad I stuck with it. A lot of tv critics I usually agree with kept telling me how good this show was so I kept watching until I got to the point I agreed with them. It’s a good thing I was able to binge watch it though as if I was watching it on a weekly basis I probably would have quit. It just took awhile for me to get into the characters and feel like the show was about them rather than about moving the plot forward. I’m much more of a character girl than a plot girl, so until we got past what I felt was a lot of story and a lot of fighting on star ships I was not sold on this show. I eventually got there though. The show takes place after humans have created robots called Cylons to essentially serve as their slaves. As usually happens in these kinds of situations, the Cylons become sentient beings and also unbeknownst to the humans take on human form as well. They destroy the worlds of the humans who are now reduced to a number only in the thousands living on a space fleet and running from the Cylons. I’m not doing a good job explaining this at all, but it is much better than I’m probably making it sound. I know a lot of true sci fi nerds got annoyed with this show by the end, but I thought it got better. They also hated the finale while I liked it and didn’t understand why they were so upset about the religious stuff in the finale as there are pervasive religious themes throughout the show. So take that for what it’s worth.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Speaking of robots becoming sentient and wanting to take out the human race, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is obviously a spin-off of the Terminator films. Despite what I remembered it actually ran for 2 seasons, a short 9 episode first season followed by a full second season before it was canceled. The series takes place following the events of Terminator 2. I was not a huge fan of the Terminator movies and honestly can’t see if I’ve even seen the first two all the way through. I know I haven’t seen any of the latter ones. Despite that I really enjoyed this show when it was on and was sad when it was not renewed for a third season. FYI for anyone who likes real closure for the tv shows, this show does not have it.
Ok, so I made one exception to rule number one and am including Doctor Who in this list. The show is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary, so it’s not like it’s going to end any time soon for me to tell you to go watch it now. I will be honest and say I haven’t seen any of the old Doctor Who episodes. I picked up with the 2005 revival, which is currently in its seventh season. Doctor Who is a British show surrounding an alien time lord known as Doctor Who. He travels around in a blue police box time machine known as the TARDIS on adventures throughout space and time along with his companion at the time. The show is constantly reinventing itself to some degree as the Doctor regenerates when he dies so we are now on the third Doctor of this new series. His companion also changes based on the storyline. In the current series the companions have been Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, and the current companion Clara. The special effects are ridiculous and cheesy, but the show is a lot of fun and the dialogue is very clever. I feel like it has become less episodic and more serial under Steven Moffat’s tenure, which I appreciate though there have always been elements of both.
Lost seemingly started off as a show about survivors of a plane crash on a remote island, but by the end of the first episode it was obvious that there was something more mysterious and supernatural going on. Time gets very convoluted by the end of the show, but at least in the beginning you see the characters struggling to survive on the island interspersed with flashbacks of their lives before the crash and what led them to be on the plane that day. Many people got crazy into the mythology of the show and were disappointed that the insane number of questions raised during the show were never explained. Ultimately I found that the writers were really good about writing mysteries in a way that kept me intrigued and was smart enough to know that whatever answers they offered were going to be less than satisfactory. I am actually happier for the questions they never answered as opposed to the answers for the ones they did. At any rate the show was really about the characters for me. The characters are all really well written and I was happy to spend the six seasons of this crazy show with them.
If you don’t like quirk, don’t come anywhere near Wonderfalls because it is full of quirk as are most of Bryan Fuller’s shows (see also Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies). I happen to like quirk and so enjoyed this show. It was canceled by Fox after only four episodes, but you can watch the 13 that were filmed. The storyline does seem to wrap up well enough, so if you hate to be left hanging you needn’t worry about that. The show centers around a girl named Jaye who is underemployed working at a gift shop in Niagara Falls. She begins to receive mysterious instructions from inanimate objects telling her to help specific people in ways she doesn’t understand. Her subsequent actions obviously cause those around her to question her sanity. I thought it was a fun little show, and if you’re into quirky you might too.
One Tree Hill
As of the writing of this post One Tree Hill is the last big show I finished watching. I wrote about how much I was enjoying it while I was about halfway through its nine season run, so I will mostly just refer you to that post. I still stand by what I wrote there, but will add that I think season 5 of that show is one of my favorite seasons of a tv show ever, though so much of it is payoff for having watching the first four seasons it’s not something I can say just go watch that particular season. Season 9 was awful, but luckily only 13 episodes and still worth watching because the finale really was perfect for the show. Mainly I will reemphasize my point from my initial post on the show and say that many of the plots of ridiculous but the characters and the relationships at the heart of the show are the best.
This show only ran for 26 episodes and definitely ended on a cliffhanger, and yet I loved watching it so I’m not sorry I did despite the lack of closure. Eliza Dushku stars as a woman named Tru who after beginning a job working in a morgue finds the dead people asking her to save them and then waking up backwards in time on the day of their death where she is supposed to try and prevent their death from happening. The show also stars a young and much skinnier Zach Galifianakis as Tru’s boss in the morgue and a young, but still super hot Matt Bomer as Tru’s first season love interest.
I have so much love for Gilmore Girls despite its problematic final seasons. The show revolves around three generations of Gilmores: the rich, proper society grandparents Richard and Emily, their rebellious daughter Lorelei who got pregnant and ran away from home at 16, and Lorelei’s daughter Rory who I believe is 15 when the show starts. Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino the show is smart, funny, heartbreaking, fast-paced and chock full of cultural references. The relationships are really the core of the show though. It’s really mostly supposed to be about the friendship between Rory and Lorelei, but I always found the scenes between Lorelei and Emily to be among my favorite.
Ah Veronica Mars, you seems so timely now with all the news of the Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make a Veronica Mars movie. I will admit I am one of the people who squealed with joy and then immediately went and donated when I saw the story. Veronica Mars stars Kristen Bell as a teenage private investigator in the town of Neptune, CA which is split between the rich students and those who are less than well off. Each season revolves around a central mystery in addition to episodic mysteries. Again the characters and the relationships in this show are fantastic, and it is also full of witty dialogue. The show itself was canceled after three seasons and ends on a definite cliffhanger, but perhaps if you are averse to such things you can take heart that a movie may soon tie things up for you.
Everwood is a family drama that essentially focuses on two families in the small town of Everwood, Colorado. Famous surgeon Andy Brown moves his teenage son and young daughter to the town after the death of his wife. Meanwhile the existing town doctor Harold Abbott is none to pleased to have his territory encroached on. He also has a teenage son and daughter that round out the major teenage faction of the show. It’s a sweet, heartfelt show and I really loved watching it.
I’m pretty sure The Sopranos was the first tv show I ever watched on DVD. I watched most of it’s run as each season was released on DVD as I didn’t have HBO, in fact I didn’t even have cable, at the time it was broadcast. By the end of its run I was dating my now husband and convinced him to subscribe to HBO for the final season because I was tired of being spoiled about everything that happened before I got to watch it. That of course led to us never getting rid of HBO and adopting many more shows on it and Showtime so that we can never go back. The show itself revolves around Tony Soprano who is a mob boss in New Jersey. In the initial episodes he finds himself seeking out therapy after experiencing panic attacks, so much of the show revolves around the relationship between him and his therapist in addition to his family and fellow mobsters.
Six Feet Under
Following The Sopranos I’m pretty sure Six Feet Under was the second show I started watching on DVD. The series follows the Fischer family over five seasons. The backdrop of the show is the family run funeral home though it’s really a character driven drama. The show had its ups and downs, but it by far has the best closing sequence of any show I have ever seen. I almost hate to say that at this point because so many people say that and now I’m worried that it will wind up being one of those things that will never live up to the expectations for anyone who watches it at this point. I can’t stop myself from saying it though because it’s true.
Seriously I don’t know what is wrong with me. I almost posted this without including The Wire. I need to have my head examined, especially since I live in Baltimore where the show is set and even these many years since it’s been off the air we still can’t stop talking about how the city is or is not like it’s portrayed on this show. Although I love to binge watch tv anyway, I think that The Wire is one show that absolutely benefits from the ability to plow through a number of episodes back to back. This show is an amazing novel-like ode to the city of Baltimore. Written by former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, this show does not spoon feed you in any way. It jumps right into the action and it will take you a number of episodes to figure out what is even going on each season, which is why not having to wait a week to watch the next one is really beneficial. Some of the characters carry over through all five seasons, but each season also changes its main focus and introduces a bunch of new characters and plotlines, which is why you feel like you’re being thrown into the deep end at the beginning of each season. The first season revolves around the police and the Baltimore drug trade which is always a pervasive storyline throughout the series, the second season moves us to the docks in Baltimore and the dying of that trade, the third season focuses on City Hall and a mayoral campaign, the fourth season focuses on Baltimore City schools, and the fifth season focuses on the media specifically the Baltimore Sun. It’s an amazing show and one I highly recommend you watch if you haven’t already.
Big Love is again a show that sort of lots its way by the end of its five season run, but overall I think it’s still worth watching. The show revolves around the Henrickson family, who are fundamentalist Mormons practicing polygamy in Utah. Bill and his three wives and their children try to live normal suburban lives while still constantly finding themselves entangled in the fundamentalist compound Bill escaped from and whose prophet is the father of Bill’s second wife.