Hello everyone! Sorry for the delay on this part of the television series. To be honest, I had a difficult time articulating what it is that makes these shows so good. Keeping it short, but explaining it semi-well is an art I’m not wonderful at so bear with me, enjoy these next five and hey—I promise the final five of this four part grouping will be up much sooner.
There’s something interesting about post-war America. Granted, who are you are and where you’re from can play a very large role into how you may view that period of history, but the 50s and 60s as a transitionary time is one that can be sort of fascinating. Men began working in fields that weren’t so physically laborious, women took on a role in the workplace, racial equality took its first steps of progress, and music became “Rock n’ Roll.” It wasn’t that the period was the happiest or least dramatic, but rather, it was, perhaps, our revolution, the step we took toward developing into the America we are today—for better or worse.
Mad Men is about a lot of things: the continued rise of the white man, the empowering of the female gender, diversity, war, peace, money, all swaddled up in the world of advertising, but Mad Men at its core isn’t about Don and Betty Draper, it isn’t about their family, but rather it’s about how they evolve, who they become and how that reflects upon where America was at this time in history. Mad Men is a period drama. It is reflective of what America developed into after this period in time, but not just that—it’s about the lives of the people on screen, their loud and silent struggles as the world they’ve come to know pushes against them, bounding toward something new.
Mad Men is fascinating for its characters, but even more so, it is fascinating for its time. The backdrop is the primary here and the world as it evolves behind them and how they react to it, sets the stage for so much of what makes Mad Men so great.
If ever there were an unsurprising addition to a “shows you should watch” list, it would be Stranger Things, if for no other reason than the overwhelming acclaim lauded upon it since its premiere last year. Stranger Things is a show proudly stuck in the 80s, offering up an homage to Spielberg and works like E.T.. It tells the story of a boy who disappears, his friends and family that search for him, and the supernatural events that lurk in the shadows of their small, midwestern town.
Like movies from that period, the stars are the kids. The older characters are compelling on their own, but the most fascinating, most kinetic, most rounded-out characters are the kids who search for the boy, the ones that brave the mystery despite knowing nothing of what they face, simply to see their friend again. It’s short—only one season so far with a second to come this fall—but its story is one that is satisfyingly complete, allowing for more, but standing on its own; in the time it is on screen, the characters, even the minor ones, command the space, creating something that is truly sometimes terrifying and always charming.
Stranger Things is good. It’s really good. Everyone should watch it.
There’s something to be said about a show or movie or piece of fiction that manages to not only recognize the tropes inherent to it, but upend them, freshen them up and present them in a way that seems entirely original, even if its base elements are not. Psych is that show. Constructed from obscure pop culture references, homages to John Hughes, and subversions to the procedural formula, Psych manages to present a set of stories and characters that are rarely serious, but always endearing, raining upon the viewer opportunities a plenty for laughter, but a number or two moments too to watch its characters grow..
It stars fake psychic Shawn Spencer and best friend Burton “Gus” Guster who, after having opened a detective agency specializing in paranormal investigation, aid the Santa Barbara police department in a number of cases where a psychic may be, and often times is, quite helpful. Shawn though is only hyper observant and Gus is an intelligent voice of reason. Their adventures often highlight their ability to fly under the radar and hide their lie from their friends and the people they work with, all the while getting the job done.
I put Psych randomly in this top 20 list, but I would put Psych in the top 3, hands down. Psych is a must see show, full stop. Go watch it, watch it again and then do it a third time—it’s really that good.
Modern Family is in its, what—eighth season? I’ve watched so much of it so many times over that its incredibly hard to keep track. Right from the beginning I was enthralled by the way this show set up it’s situations, its hijinks, always preparing us with a theme of some sort while cleverly playing it out.
It’s about a set of three families, all interconnected to one another through a father and his two kids (i.e. the father, his wife, their son—the daughter, her family—the son, his family) and throughout it all we are given a glimpse into what it means to be a “modern family.” Where the nuclear family of yesteryear still exists in some form and is probably as prevalent as it was before, there are new family dynamics emerging in the world and this show pays homage to them. But even aside from the unconventional family dynamics the show plays with throughout, there is a metanarrative set forth from the beginning that this is what life is now—that texting, disconnection, college or no college, bullying, peer pressure are all so prevalent, even if we don’t always see it. And it is all so deft at taking these ideas, these conflicts, and applying them to everyone, weaving them through in ways that pay off and have us laughing hysterically throughout.
It’s a great show, with great ideas, and great moments, that isn’t afraid to try and be clever, and while the style of it may not appeal to everyone who watches, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Game of Thrones
There’re certain stories, certain movies, certain pieces of fiction that contain incredible and revelatory twists, and when those twists are discovered, some of them don’t have the wherewithal to stand without the support of those surprises. Twists shake the foundation of tales, and the worst stories crumble when they’re revealed—the best remain standing when the surprise passes through.
Game of Thrones is one such story, one where, when I began viewing, many of the most shocking surprises had long since been ruined for me, but every moment carried so much meat, so much weight, that despite knowing some of the events still coming, I couldn’t help but to still be excited.
Game of Thrones‘ story doesn’t just follow one person or one set of people, but multiple groups in multiple areas, many with a grand goal in mind: a place on the throne. Rarely is there a person you simply root for over another. Sure, there’re characters that land closer to evil, but the spectrum from good to bad is filled with grey and many if not all of the characters fall there. The game requires subversion, betrayal, and sacrifice, but every character manages at one point or another to endear themselves to the viewer enough so that backing them seems conceivable—and those same characters a scene or two later, can upend that support within moments.
Game of Thrones is often dreary and dour. Humor is present, but rare. Where the show succeeds is its impeccable ability to bring out the secondary character and cause us, the viewer, to care—which would perhaps have been the show’s downfall had it not done that well. Characters die, new characters rise, but Westeros remains, and Game of Thrones, despite how dark it may seem at times, remains, perhaps, one of the most captivating shows today.