And here we are with the final installment of the “20 Television Shows That Are Worth Your Attention” series (in case you couldn’t read it on the title above)! Let’s be honest here—television is in its golden age now and has been for a number of years. Stories, good stories, can be told through individual episodes and some of the best visual forms of storytelling are no longer exclusive on the big screen, but are accessible, every week, from your home.
When I say that, I also mean to say that this list by no means makes up the “best of” list of shows on TV. There’re great shows I did not mention here, but these are the ones I picked, if for no other reason than the fact that they are somewhat varied, a range and different, offering to you, hopefully, an opportunity to check out something new, should one of these have eluded you until now.
The future may hold another “shows worth your attention” installment. Or maybe I’ll do one for cartoons. Or books. But for now, enjoy the final five(~) shows left on this list and see if a favorite of yours made it here!
Truly this is the greatest time to be a fan of superheroes. Marvel is killing it on a yearly basis with their theatrical Marvel installments, not to mention their lesser known properties are shining on Netflix, and while there could be a number of other superhero shows that could be here instead of this, The Flash is perhaps the most comic-booky of all of the shows on television and that’s why it is so great.
Comic books, for the longest time, weren’t taken seriously for probably no other reason than the fact they were what they were: comic books. I can’t nail it down, but stories about men in their underwear single-handedly saving the world just sometimes doesn’t scream realism. Comic books though, love them or hate them, have always done something well: they’ve served as an accurate commentary on the times, wrapped in a colorful banner. They’ve always served a purpose, they’ve always inspired, and it’s heartening to know that superheroes are bigger today than they have been in a very long time.
The Flash is complete comic book cheese. That isn’t to say that shows like Daredevil and Arrow haven’t embraced their comic book roots wholeheartedly, but The Flash, where those and so many other comic book shows have been darker and more serious, revels in the fun of superheroes and their villains. There are emotional moments, sure, but there’s something just fun about watching The Flash, something missing from a lot of other superhero shows and, hell, TV together these days.
If you like superheroes (and I know you do), do yourself a favor and watch some of The Flash; you’ll surely thank me for it.
Ah, the inevitable addition of The Office to the list. Say what you will about the later seasons of the show, say what you will about it’s standing when placed against its British predecessor, The Office is a modern classic.
I began watching the show during college, about a month from the season 8 premiere and in that month, probably less time actually, I burned through the entire series. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed watching a show as much as I did when watching The Office. I don’t think a show brings me as much comfort as it does when I rewatch it. The Office is far from perfect, but even its weakest episodes are fun, and I’d be hard pressed to believe another show could match what it means to me.
Look at me, getting all emotional. Watch The Office if you haven’t already. It’s truly one of the greatest shows to have come on TV, and hey, if you watch it while having a bad day, I assure you you’ll only feel better.
Atlanta was a last minute edition to this list. I held out publishing a final copy of the post solely to see if Atlanta would manage to be a show that I wanted to talk about.
Boy is it.
Atlanta is, perhaps in a word, unreliable, due, in large part, to the realist and surrealist balancing act it plays. The story follows Donald Glover’s character, a young man named Earn who tries to manage his cousin’s burgeoning rap career in an effort to support himself and his family. Earn is a tragic character: brilliant, undeserving of the lot he’s cast and out of place in the city he lives in. He struggles, and Atlanta successfully shows off the struggles Earn and his acquaintances face in a way not unlike a literary tale.
The episodes are grounded in a hyper-realistic sheen: colors are muted, lives are unglamorous, but beneath it all is something more. Moments of clarity, sometimes so surreal, surface frequently, and much of it serves to convince the viewer that what they are watching is subject—largely to the interpretation of the viewer. Atlanta has a lot to say—about racism, about fame, about mental illness and progressivism—but rarely does it seem preachy, largely because of the way in which it is presented.
Atlanta feels real. To someone who didn’t grow up in the rap community of urban Atlanta, I was convinced of the culture being shown, but Atlanta is perhaps equally as much about hip-hop as it is about existential thought. Something is always being said—sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it isn’t—but Atlanta is masterful at saying those things that are in a moment dramatic, and the next utterly hilarious.
Check it out.
It wasn’t until about a year after I’d seen the first episode of Mr. Robot that I watched anymore past that, not for lack of interest, but rather, out of sheer anticipation, out a desire to hold out for as long as possible before Mr. Robot was no longer a show I couldn’t wait to watch and instead a show (or at least with regards to the first season), an experience that was now behind me.
Mr. Robot follows Elliot Alderson, a security engineer for a cybersecurity company called AllSafe, who moonlights as a vigilante hacker. Elliot, like perhaps many of those with his skillset and interests, is less driven by a need to cause chaos and unrest, but by need for a challenge, a need for a spark, a need to feel and be moved by something new when the world around him seems grey. Elliot is complex, and the characters around him (at least the main ones) are also complex, much like the world they are operating in, much like the code they are using, much like their lives, and their pasts, and their struggles, and needs.
Mr. Robot is strangely fascinating. It isn’t cheery (it perhaps is the least cheery show present here), but there’s something truly endearing about Elliot and his journey. I’ve only seen the first season so far (of which there are two), but Elliot’s growth, and his supporting cast’s growth, are so much about what makes this show so great.
You may not always understand what’s going on, you may not understand the code, but there’s humanity injected within Mr. Robot—a lot if you keep your eyes out for it; Mr. Robot is definitely a must see if you even think you may be interested.
Justified makes this list not as a show that has been on my heart for a long time, but as one that my wife and I are currently watching and by extension, currently loving.
Justified stars Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, an Old West-style lawman of a bygone era with an unconventional approach to justice that is at all points at odds with the practices of the modern day. The right mode and wrong mode of action and approach to situations is often tossed to the side for what is “justified,” what is right in that moment, despite the reprocussions to come—and Raylan is fascinating for it. But he isn’t the only one.
Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan is an incredible character to watch, but I would argue that Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder—career criminal and old friend, coal mining partner, and rival to Givens—is the truest shining point, for a similar reason that makes the show so good: authenticity.
I never grew up nor have I ever lived in the Kentucky Applachia, but having spent my entire life in the south, it’s captivating to watch actors with such a grasp on the intricacies of the southern, of the country, of the hillbilly, the redneck, and Appalachian cultures. From the names to their hobbies, from their motivations to their flaws, every character feels real. Boyd Crowder is perhaps the truest and most charismatic example of this, but all save for a few characters aren’t too far behind his mantle.
Justified is a crime drama, but it’s genuinely funny. It’s witty, it’s clever, and the characters are so endearing and so flawed that I guarantee you will find something to keep you watching, if it sounds like your sort of thing.
BONUS: The Walking Dead
When I began writing out this list, The Walking Dead wasn’t even on my radar. I’d comfortably enjoyed the show when it first was released, but somewhere around the beginning of its fourth season I dropped off, with no sign of ever returning. Since then, I began anew. I watched from season 1 onward, through what I’d seen previously and on through Terminus, on through Alexandria, and the Hilltop Community, and big bad Negan himself. After finishing all that is currently up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include The Walking Dead if for no other reason than its incredible high points.
The Walking Dead can be a mixed bag. Some arcs are slower than others, some of the conflicts, some of the antagonists, some of the main characters themselves don’t always resonate as well as others, but so much of what convinced me to create an extra spot here to house this old show was the sheer emotional impact of the highs, and boy are there many.
I heard a number of different opinions about the most recent few seasons, every one of them ranging from “they’re alright” to “they’re great” to “they’re the worst ever, this show needs to calm up and just stop now”—I fall in the second category. Few moments can best the horrifying wonder rife within the first season and the second season, while sluggish to a fault, has some great moments as well, but I’ll tell you what—the latter half of what’s available (seasons 5 and 6 especially) have some of the best moments in The Walking Dead, full stop.
The show is by no means perfect and I doubt it will ever lose its rhythm of ups and downs, but there’s something about Rick and crew that charms you over time, that truly makes you cheer in their success, reel in their tragedies, and mourn the ones that are gone. The Walking Dead is not “happy” in most of the ways you could use the word, but it is, in many moments, hopeful. It raises out of the strife toward something better everytime the need for it arises and in those moments, though there is apocolypse, there is a glimpse that things can get better.
The Walking Dead—if you haven’t watched it by now, maybe you don’t want to, but you should, especially, especially, if zombies are your thing.
BONUS 2: Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders is a bonus on this list for one simple reason: I forgot about it. It’s been so long since I’ve watched any of this show that it has essentially been buried deep in the dusty cobwebs of my mid-twenties mind, but listen—Peaky Blinders deserves a very high spot on this list.
It follows the Shelby gang—often Thomas Shelby specifically—and their rise at the start of 20th century in their home of Birmingham, England. I realize in giving such a brief description I have done little to help you understand what the show is actually about, but it would be difficult to sum it up. Peaky Blinders is, erm, peak British, meaning every season, every arc, is short and concise. The storylines aren’t stretched out, screentime isn’t wasted, and to describe what happens in enough detail to give you a good idea as to what you may expect, I’d probably ruin the show for you.
Instead, I’ll give you descriptors. Peaky Blinders, like a number of shows on this list, is dark, it’s clever, it’s effective in its themes and the way it tells them, and every character finds a way to be in some way compelling—filling out the cast with contrasting voices, contrasting values, ideas and moral obligations. Peaky Blinders isn’t a long show by any means (currently there are 3 seasons I believe, each 6 episodes a piece), but every moment feels to be used in its best way. The struggles of Thomas Shelby and his crew as they face the police and other rival gangs in their rise feel personal and relatable even if you’ve never tickled the thought of crime once. Every person feels human, every victory, every failure matters, and Peaky Blinders always manages to be mesmerizing. If you’re able, watch it; I only regret I forgot to mention this show earlier.