At some point around this time last year, I decided to begin writing a lot of “Best of” lists: The best movies I’d seen in 2015, the best books I’d read, the best games I’d played. And mixed in with those lists was a group of articles I never finished, but meant to, a collection of lists of the best shows on television that ended halfway through because I had a real issue committing to what I could label as “best.”
So I’m trying something different this time. I’m taking the same format–20 shows spread out 5 at time over 4 separate posts–but this time, I will make it a very general and non-committal “shows worth checking out.” Obviously some of these shows will be some of my favorites, but that isn’t necessarily true. They will simply be “good shows,” “interesting shows,” “shows that are worth your attention”–let’s begin.
Oh and caveat: while there are shows that are probably inarguably great, and there are plenty that I should have seen by now, I have not seen everything, nor have I had the opportunity to see everything, whether that be because it is unavailable to stream for example or I have simply not heard of it. Also, this list will not include cartoons or anime, only live-action TV–not because there aren’t plenty of those shows that I would place on this list, but because there are plenty that I would place on this list; I don’t want this list to become an even harder thing to create than it already is so I will make a list devoted to those at some point in the future.
How I Met Your Mother
Starting it off is the heavy hitter that is How I Met Your Mother. If you haven’t heard of HIMYM–which…I mean…what…come on–it is the story of a man named Ted, telling his teenage children all about how he came to meet their mother. The story itself takes nine years to complete and, by the end, there is a resolution to that question, but the show is one that is much less about the big reveal (who the mother is) and instead is more about who Ted is, who he becomes, how the journey from bachelor to father shapes the man who is telling this story.
That’s what makes it all compelling.
The overarching plot drives the younger Ted forward as he searches for his perfect woman among a sea of endless heartache, but every episode stands on its own and presents to us greater resolutions to more immediate and more important questions: what does it mean to be a friend? To be a boyfriend? To be an adult? To have dreams? And while the ending was, to me, one of the most disappointing endings to a story I’ve experienced, this show sits near the top as one I can consistently come back to.
It’s hilarious, it’s meta, it’s clever, it’s smart, and dare I say it’s legen…
Wait for it…
For whatever reason the USA channel has this thing for making A LOT of really good television shows (a couple of which are appearing on this list). I don’t know what it is, but when you watch a show from the channel, whether it be Royal Pains or Covert Affairs or Fairly Legal or Burn Notice, there’s a style to it all, a sort of cohesion if you will, that just screams USA and means it’ll probably be good. White Collar is no different.
It’s about a con artist, forger, thief, etc. named Neil Caffrey who is arrested by the FBI after years of pursuit and is given the opportunity to have limited freedom in exchange for helping the FBI. Episode to episode, the plot revolves around “crime a week,” white collar villains, as Neil uses his expertise in criminal activities to help the FBI. But when you zoom out and look at the show as a whole, or on a season by season basis, White Collar revolves around larger themes: Neil’s wrestling with who he is, his relationship with the FBI and head agent Peter Burke, and his past coming back to bite him from behind as he attempts, most of the time, to do good.
It may sound strange, but it’s a show that has you rooting for, who would be in most crime shows, the antagonist: the criminal. There’s an art to what Neil does, and what the other high end criminals do, that’s hard not to admire. Sure, it’s crime in most cases, and crime…well, isn’t good, but Neil is an artist, a charismatic con, and it’s hard to not be impressed by his work.
The show’s funny, exciting, and interesting, and it gives you a sort of New York City with a layer of something else beneath it. Gritty and entirely realistic it is not, but hey–doesn’t mean it’s not good.
So Chuck is one of those shows that I actually
didn’t was unable to watch and sink into before the entire run was out and done and up on Netflix. It was in large part due to the fact that, before it was all available for streaming, there was no real place to watch it other than when it aired, and if you were busy on the nights that it showed, (*cough cough*) then you were plum out of luck. I saw episodes here and there as they premiered, but the experiences were generally scattered, separate of the larger whole and I didn’t keep up with it all, despite my wanting to. And despite it all, despite my only seeing a half a dozen episodes pre it all becoming available, I knew that the second I had access to it, I would binge on it completely from start to end.
It tells of Chuck Bartowski, an intelligent, but lazy computer service expert at the equivalent of our Best Buy and Geek Squad, who is sent an email of sensitive encoded data by an old friend from college turned CIA agent. The data, through encoded images, is embedded into Chuck’s brain, causing him to become a target for the NSA, the CIA, international terrorists, assassins, and anyone interested in some of the most sensitive information in the world (i.e. everyone).
It sets the stage for this bumbling, but lovable, oaf of a character to come into his own, to be forced to be forged into something greater than himself, rather than sitting comfortably in the dead end job he’s been in. It allows for a spy drama akin to Get Smart where the protagonist isn’t so self serious. He’s not an expert, he’s not the go-to, but he has to be there and is raised up into a better him because of it.
It’s funny, it’s charming, there’s action and intrigue and…it’s all up on Netflix. Just go watch it. Now.
Community had a rough go of things during its run. From lineup droppings and re-additions, to the show’s creator being fired and then rehired again, Community’s fate was rarely certain, in large part due to its unconventionally meta storytelling signature and the rabid fanbase that followed it–the former being perhaps to its detriment and the latter, undeniably, to its salvation.
The show begins with Jeff Winger, a lawyer that is disbarred when he is discovered to have lied about his degree. Forced to attend the local community college, Jeff makes the best of things when he becomes attracted to a Spanish course classmate and starts a study group to spend time with her. The group that attends, much to Jeff’s dismay, is diverse, from a high school quarterback that lost his scholarship, to a single mother, recently divorced, attending college to begin her own business.
Community lays heavy on that setup for awhile: Jeff pursues the classmate and the group settles conflict as a result of their differences, but Community, dare I say it, becomes a show about community, about this group of friends, about the school as a whole and how being different, how being yourself, can be so much better than being what the world may refer to as normal. It’s an underlying narrative that is masked by its self-referential humor, its plays on familiar tropes and suspension of disbelief–one that exists very cozily behind clever plots and tons of laughs. Community is easily one of my favorite shows on this list. The characters are unique, each one gets their moments, and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea (my wife hates it for some odd reason), it certainly is a show that is worth an honest try–especially given the high chance that you will probably, most certainly, fall in love with it early on.
Broadchurch was one of these shows that showed up on my radar for two reasons:
One – Netflix, I believe, had it featured fairly prominently at one point as one of these promoted shows they nabbed from the British–they did a similar thing with Peaky Blinders. And…
Two – The less well received Gracepoint, our American adaptation of, what I believe was, the same story, was debuting around the same time and I couldn’t stop hearing about that.
Because of the interesting premise and David Tennant (who was my Doctor), I decided to give it a shot, with Abbie beside me the whole way. And boy–am I glad I did.
Broadchurch is a show centered around the small, close-knit town of Dorset and how the town as whole reacts to a local boy who is murdered, for, what appears to be, no reason at all. It’s an examination of how a town reels from a tragedy like this, how suspicion changes people who were close into enemies with a snap of the finger, and how what is comfortable and simple may not be at all when one tiny drop sends ripples through the bucket.
It was, and still is, one of the most captivating shows that Abbie and I have watched together. Every episode was an event, every twist drew speculation, and every moment, every character, seemed so throughly satisfying that all I wanted was more. It’s hard to say much about this show without giving things away, but if you enjoy mysteries and like things a little grittier, a little darker–Broadchurch is probably right up your alley.
And that’s it! …at least for this part everybody. I will, I promise this time, continue to bring you the next installments in this series until this series is through. Part two will come soon, keep your eyes open for that and some other 2016 lists as this year winds to a close.