So, About that Top 5

The other day my friend and fellow writer Brandon Crilly and I were hanging out and, perhaps inevitably, got to talking about writing we’ve enjoyed, and that got us to talking about TV shows we’ve both enjoyed, and we both mentioned shows that ‘would be in our Top 5’. That of course got me thinking about what my actual Top 5 would be, and I didn’t have a topic for the blog this week, so here we go.

My main criteria for picking anything here was that I couldn’t pick and choose parts of a series. So, for example, much as I love the first few seasons of X-Files, it was never going to make this list because it really dies hard in the later seasons.

Bear in mind that I haven’t actually seen every show ever, so if your favourite isn’t here, that may well be why.

Bear in mind that you can also just fight me.

I think these are in order? Maybe. I guess there may be spoilers.

Battlestar Galactica (2004 Series)

Right out of the gate we’re probably in trouble. I know a lot of people didn’t like where this series ended up, but I thought it was perfect. Yes, even the last episode. I can’t really think of another series that gave me so many characters that I genuinely cared about, did character development as believably and well as this did, and went to some dark and difficult places without ever quite turning the light out entirely. None of the characters were two-dimensional. Starbuck is still my favourite.

Person of Interest

I wrote about this series once before, so I’ll just briefly reiterate – this seemed as though it was going to be the most procedural procedural that ever procedured. It wasn’t. Person of Interest turned out to be really thoughtful SF about AI and a surveillance society, and the ethics of both. It also had really, really good characters, and really, really good performances again. Michael Emerson is good in everything I see him in.

Fringe

I came into this show thinking, as I think a lot of people did, that it was basically going to be an X-Files knockoff. For a couple episodes it kind of was an X-Files knockoff. Then it took a huuuuge left turn and never looked back. It ended up being nothing like any other show on TV. It was hilarious, it was disgusting, it was genuinely disturbing, and like BSG, it made you care. It had tremendous sustained performances from Anna Torv and John Noble. Even crunching the timeline of the series down by several seasons, it told its story well and ended it on just the right note. Absent everything else, ‘White Tulip’ is a fantastic SFF story. Fringe did not get nearly the attention it deserved, and it was some of the best SFF television we’ve had.

Orphan Black

I didn’t even really know what this show was going to be about, I just kept hearing ‘man you’ve gotta watch Orphan Black‘. I finally did. Holy crap this show was good. So much of it hinged on the amazing performances of Tatiana Maslany in pulling off portraying all of the various Leda clones, but the story being told was genuinely original and genuinely very well done. Again, they gave us amazing characters that you couldn’t help but get invested in. The transformation of Helena from an almost Michael Myers like threat into a beloved ally was beautifully done. The writers introduced a cold, manipulative villainess in Rachel, got you to care about her, and then got you to buy her as a villain again. Orphan Black wobbled just a little in its last season, but it was still so so good.

Doctor Who

Ok this one was a little tricky to leave on the list, because honestly, if you look at the whole immense size of the series, you’ve gotta say that the quality is more than a little uneven. There are, I will admit, some truly awful episodes in there. I’ve talked before about how sometimes the special effects, well, they reflect the budget the show had at the time. ‘Continuity’ is a very vague sort of concept for the show at all, by this point.

And yet. When I think about the TV show that probably has more to do with me being a fan of SFF today, and someone who writes fantastic stories, it’s Doctor Who and it isn’t close. I was never that into Star Trek (sorry), and my Star Wars fandom came a little bit later. I started out watching shows from before I was born on PBS Sunday afternoons, and just got terribly, terribly hooked. Tom Baker will always be ‘my’ Doctor, but I truly like them all and I like all the various eras the show has gone through. It wins huge points for longevity and for continuing to find new stories to tell about an itinerant busybody alien and the people who wander around time and space with them. I forgive it its misses because among the hits are things like ‘the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alters their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit the views’, which is really very good. And also ‘You know, I don’t think these cows know anything about the time scanner”.

Doctor Who is good.

Missed the Cut:

The Americans: This was very, very, very close. I love this show and I love the writing on this show. Partly I cut it because this is otherwise an SFF list and I like that, because ‘genre TV’ tends not to get the same critical respect as other shows do. Also though, as much as I adore the main storyline, in the last couple seasons there have been some plotlines I am not spellbound by. Watch The Americans, though.

Stranger Things: You know I love this show. It didn’t quite make it because I feel like I need to see more of the story the Duffers are creating to really evaluate it yet. Season 1 was damn near perfect, but now they’re working on a bigger vision that we haven’t had fully revealed yet. Maybe this one gets shuffled up in a few years.

Both Jericho and Deadwood were series that I thought had very nearly perfect first seasons, but didn’t maintain that quality throughout. Lost was a series I thought was awesome out of the gate and then by the end was watching out of spite. I’m still kind of bitter. I thought the writers of Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles were trying to do some genuinely bold and interesting stuff, but they had some really heavy misses and then the show got cancelled. One day I’d like to pick the writers’ brains about what they would have done. Before you ask, I haven’t had a chance to see Westworld yet. I hear it’s very good. I also haven’t seen The Wire.

Brandon tells me these blog entries are too long. I’m stopping. Thanks for reading. Come fight me in the comments if you want.

More importantly, go check out Brandon’s blog and work here.

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8 thoughts on “So, About that Top 5

  1. emaymustgo says:

    This is a comment test.

  2. Matt says:

    Ooooff, Battlestar Galactica. I’d have to fight you on that one – I thought the first 2 series were really good, 3 was pretty wobbly with some really bad BAD episodes and then 4 started off great and then just nosedived into total rubbish.

    The problem was the writers wrote themselves into a million corners that couldn’t really be resolved without pulling out the ol’ ‘god did it’ or ‘starbuck is actually an angel ghost’ (?!)

    – sidenote: I think this rubbed SO many people up the wrong way because it started off as a hard sci-fi program and then dove off into religion and magic (and again, I think this is because the writers kept leaving all these loose ends to create suspense without any idea of where they were actually going)

    • emaymustgo says:

      I’m not sure I agree that they didn’t know where they were going. 100% agree that the direction they went was not what many people expected, and that’s where the bad reaction came from. Since the series started out with a very gritty tone I think most (me included) expected a similarly non-fantastic resolution to everything. (I’m not sure I agree that BSG was ever ‘hard SF’, but that’s like a whole ‘nother thing) I’m not sure the writers are responsible for our expectations, though, and they did introduce the idea of a God with a Plan from the very first season. We just didn’t think that would turn out to be the actual explanation, but it did. If you accept their premise that this universe has a God then it all comes together perfectly; we just tend not to like that premise very much since society today is pretty aggressively atheist.

      I’m not sure that ‘Starbuck was an angel’ is objectively a worse explanation than ‘Starbuck was a clone’ or w/e, except perhaps in that they hadn’t necessarily laid enough groundwork for the idea yet.

      • Matt says:

        Maybe hard sci-fi was the wrong term – ‘non-fantastic’ is better.

        I haven’t watched the series for a while so I may be misremembering – but I really don’t recall any sense of there being a god who sorts out things driving the plot in the earlier stuff.

        And even then I felt it was used very lazily – basically the equivalent of ‘they woke up and it was all a dream’

        I think Starbuck was the worst example of that. They had a very believable, sympathetic character and then put her in a situation where she found her own dead body from years ago and then got some magically powers kinda and then vanished? And none of it really made sense plot wise

      • emaymustgo says:

        Season One had the episode ‘Hand of God’ where Six insists that Baltar submit to God’s purpose, and he (apparently randomly) picks a target for the fleet’s strike on a Cylon facility that turns out to be correct. He comes away at least temporarily persuaded.

        I still think Starbuck makes perfect sense. The character we first meet dies flying into the maelstrom. She’s sent back as an angel to guide the fleet to Earth. At the end her purpose is fulfilled and she (presumably) goes back to the hereafter. I agree that that wasn’t necessarily a resolution they had primed their audience to be ready to accept.

      • Matt says:

        I don’t remember that episode at all – I’d have to do a rewatch. And I’d have to rewatch the starbuck stuff again as well – I remember thinking at the time it was a massive copout. It really felt like the writers had 0 plan and then just hand-waved a bunch of stuff away with ‘god did it’ (not helped by having 5 minutes of one of the lead characters chasing a pigeon around with a broom in the final episode.)

        Maybe it is time for another look.

      • emaymustgo says:

        I’d be interested to hear what you think about it if you do a rewatch.

        When I went back and watched the TV movie/pilot again the main thing that struck me was that it’s rough to watch in a lot of ways because you know where some of these characters are headed and it’s not great.

  3. […] Evan May called me out on Twitter by blaming me for his most recent post, where he ranked his Top Five television shows of all time after a conversation we had over dinner. So now obviously I have to discuss the same thing, to […]

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