A Few Good TV Shows
I’ve always been more drawn to good TV shows than to movies—and it’s been fascinating to see the evolution of TV series during my life from episodic, everything-must-reset-at-the-end-of-the-episode style to serious character development, long-running serials with budgets meeting—if not exceeding—feature films.
If I listed all the shows that I watched religiously and enjoyed, we’d be here all day. The shows on this list stand out in that I find myself regularly watching them again.
Here, then, in alphabetical order, are some TV shows that rise above the crowd for me:
Babylon 5 (1993–1998)
J. Michael Straczynski’s masterpiece. Never getting the budget or attention that Star Trek did, Babylon 5 nevertheless set a higher bar for writing and storytelling than Trek tended to achieve. Without Babylon 5 demonstrating that it was possible, and that TV viewers were smart enough to follow long-running stories over years, it’s hard to know if we’d have amazing shows on TV like Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones. Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but in the timeline we’re in, Babylon 5 set the stage for the new golden age of television that we’re benefiting from today. Even more impressive is that Straczynski, known as “JMS” to fans, single-handedly wrote nearly every episode of the 5-year run, a feat never before or after repeated by any showrunner/writer. He had a vision for this show and its story, and he delivered a true labor of love to the world. This was also a time when the Internet was becoming available to a wider audience, and JMS embraced it as an effective tool to communicate with fans of the show.
Straczynski’s 2019 autobiography, Becoming Superman, is shocking and incredible.
Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica shares almost nothing with its campy 1978 namesake. One of the bright stars to come out of the Star Trek: The Next Generation writer’s room, Ronald D. Moore, gave us a dark, compelling, serious sci-fi series that (unless you happened to be a Babylon 5 fan) the likes of which the television world had never seen before.
Whenever I re-watch this series, I’m consistently surprised by just how quickly so many events that I remember happening over a few seasons actually happened–major events played out by the end of the first 13-episode season.
Ultimately I don’t think the writers knew quite where they would take the story, and personally I felt let down by the end of the story. However, I will say that on more recent re-watches of the series, the finale sits better with me than it did originally.
So say we all.
Boston Legal (2004–2008)
William Shatner may be best known as Captain Kirk, but it’s hard to argue that his role as Denny Crane in Boston Legal isn’t the best of his career.
Boston Legal is, first of all, hilarious. It’s irreverent in a way that probably wouldn’t be possible today with seemingly everyone looking to be offended on someone else’s behalf. But the real magic of Boston Legal is its heart: the friendship between Denny Crane and Alan Shore is one of the best relationships ever written.
Downton Abbey (2010-2015)What can I say? Deep down inside, I kind of long to be a turn-of-the-century English aristocrat. I await your judgement.
Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
If we all just pretend the last season or two never happened, we can agree this was one of the greatest shows ever created, right?
I also can’t mention Game of Thrones without giving particular notice to Ramin Djawadi for his beautiful score. And Djawadi, unlike the writers and producers, did actually show up for the last season, which earns him even more respect in my book.
Scrubs (2001-2010)A quirky medical sitcom on its surface, with a health dose of the surreal thrown in, this show makes my list because at its core it’s one of the best shows about friendship and the relationships between the characters over the years that I’ve seen. That and you’re always wondering what Dr. Cox will say next.
Slings and Arrows (2003-2006)
I don’t know anyone who has seen this show, but it’s easily one of my favorites. It’s a fun and smart Canadian show with three short seasons of six episodes each, in which we follow the lives of a Shakespearean theater company after their long-time artistic director dies and comes back to haunt his replacement—his former friend, Geoffrey Tennant, who left the company in the past after an apparent mental breakdown—as a ghost.
Every second of the show is delightful.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999)While The Next Generation wins my heart, Deep Space Nine wins my mind. Not everyone agrees with me, but DS9 is objectively the best series of the Star Trek franchise. DS9 came out at the same time as Babylon 5, when science fiction TV was just starting to begin the trend that would spread to the rest of television years later where events in one episode could actually have consequences in later episodes. Babylon 5 went all in at the beginning: it was one story told over five years, but Deep Space Nine entered the waters more tentatively. Nonetheless, we did eventually see long-running stories, we saw that actions could have consequences that last beyond the end of the episode, and with less of a focus on humans and the Federation, we explored stories that were never before possible in the Trek universe. It’s those reasons many people shied away from the series, but (especially with what we expect from television now) that is what makes it shine for me.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994)
My favorite TV show of all time. This show was hugely important to me growing up, and occupies a special place in my heart. I wanted nothing more than to live on the Enterprise in the world of The Next Generation, and I spent huge amounts of time as a child learning everything I could about this fictional world. Every few years I re-watch the entire series from start to finish, and while there are good episodes and bad episodes (and the first couple seasons don’t stand up nearly as well as seasons 3–7), I fall in love with the show, characters, and the Enterprise herself again every time I watch it.
I will also add that no show I can think of had a more satisfying, perfect finale than the final TNG episode, “All Good Things.”
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006–2007)
This is perhaps one of the best shows ever to be canceled after only one season. I’m not sure why it didn’t work in the market, but Aaron Sorkin’s first venture after The West Wing had a cast that had magical chemistry together, the great writing we’ve come to love from Sorkin during the early seasons of The West Wing, and a fun premise to play with.
The only good news about the quick cancellation was that the decision was made before production of the season was finished, so at least an “ending” could be written and played out instead of just leaving us hanging like so many shows do.
The West Wing (1999-2006)If you dive in to only one of Aaron Sorkin’s creations, let it be The West Wing. Regardless of your political leanings, the West Wing in this fictional world shows us the intelligence, thoughtfulness, passion, and conscience that we all wish real-life politicians brought to the job. Sadly, The West Wing is just a work of fiction.