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Friday, March 2, 2012

12 MUST Watch Telelvision Shows - Old and New

Join us in re-visiting these and other shows in our latest concept called Watch-Along-TV - an opportunity to watch/discuss older shows as if they were brand new.  Starting soon. 

Television gets a bad rap.  In the game of respect it always playing second fiddle to film.  Over the last decade there has been a revolution in the television world, bringing intelligent, complex characters and storylines to the small screen.  As our airwaves are being loaded up with Housewives of Who Give a Sh*t and the Kardashians, it is nice to see networks approach the medium as the art it can be.

Here is a list of 12 shows you MUST watch, along with a cheat sheet for those of you that do not have time to watch all 121 episodes of LOST.   My criteria varied, but each episode of these shows provide much more for your brain to chew on than any reality programming ever will.

Of course there are others shows that barely missed the list, some that may have been forgotten and others I have yet to view.  Sound off in the comment section and let me know what you think.  (BTW) they are listed in random order. 
Premise:  Average ordinary everyday college student, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), is offered a job at SD-6, a top secret division of the CIA, which she tells her friends and family is just a bank job.  When she gets engaged she chooses to reveal the truth about her job to her fiance - shortly after he is murdered for his knowledge. It is revealed that SD-6 is not CIA, but an enemy of the CIA. Sydney also learns that her father is a double agent for the CIA - they together try to take down SD-6 from the inside.
Why to watch it: The kinetic energy of Run Lola Run blended with the action/thrills of James Bond and La Femme Nikita with a hint of Felicity to top it off. Every commercial break is a cliffhanger and every episode ends with an even bigger cliffhanger.  This show is a lot of fun and a throwback to the old serial cliffhangers.
What you MUST watch: Seasons one and two. Sadly they tinkered with the show after in an attempt to raise ratings – they are still good but not the same caliber as he first two.
Best Episodes:  Truth Be Told (the pilot), The Telling, Rendezvous, Double Agent

Breaking Bad
Premise:  Walter White is a top grade chemist whose skills are sadly being put to waste as a high school chemistry teacher as he tries to support his family. That's the good news.  The bad news is he has terminal lung cancer and not enough money to provide a future for his handicapped son and pregnant wife.  So what does he do?  Uses his skills to develop the best crystal known to man. With the help of his former student/small time dealer, Jesse, he begins distributing and catches the attention of drug cartels, his DEA brother-in-law and every junkie in the south west states.  His money making scheme quickly pulls him deep into a web that he cannot get out of, putting everything he values at risk.
Why to watch it:  It is the only show that I have watched that provides great entertainment and a cardio-workout at the same time. When this show does intense it does not hold back. This Walter White character study is captivating: one part family man doing what he need to do to supply for his family, another part ultimate bad-ass proving he is much more than the under-achieving he is currently known to be. It takes you in unexpected territories for basic cable; offering up some of the most nail-biting, intense, unpredictable scenes to ever to hit the small screen. This show is for anyone that has the stomach to handle the violence, the intensity and the periods devoid of any trace of ethics.  The best show on television - you won't be disappointed.
What you MUST watch:  Sorry, no cheating here - you must watch every episode.  Starting at any point other than the pilot is only cheating yourself - starting halfway through you miss out on the transformation from Walt to Heisenburg.  Do the right way or do not do it at all.
Best Episodes: Crawl Space, Fly, Grilled, Salud, One Minute

Mad Men 
Premise:  Set in the during the1960's follows Don Draper, the cool debonair creative director of a prestigious advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  You see his world inside and outside the office and quite often in the bedroom as he reaps all the benefits of being one of the best at what he does, no matter the consequences.  The ultra competitive work environment makes him both the focus of of co-workers envy and respect. 
Why to watch it:  It works on many levels: a snapshot of family life in a long gone era, the inner workings of the advertising world, the story of a troubled man trying to hide from his pain or just to laugh at the ridiculousness of the constant in-office smoking and drinking. The show gives a beyond the surface look at business, sexuality and family values in an era that often receives a perfect polished portrayal.  Everyone seems to love something different about it and no matter how unraveled his life becomes every guy wants to be Don Draper.
What you MUST watch:  Every episode.  Nuanced storytelling like this loses something if you do not take part in each experience - it is like watching a portrait being painted one stroke at as time.
Best Episodes:  The Suitcase, The Grownups, Gypsy & The Hobo, Babylon

Premise:   A group of travelers on board Oceanic Air Flight 815 become the residents of an uncharted desert isle (sorry no Ginger or Maryann) after their flight falls from the sky.  But, this island is no resort; it is home to many numerous mysterious events - all of which beg an answer to the question, "where are we?"
Why to watch it:  What other show proposes so many questions, answers so few and still, has people coming back week after week?  That's entertainment.   LOST creates an absorbing element of mystery, keeping you wanting more.  A combination of mythology, drama, romance, action all on one tiny little island.  If you have heard people mention the Hatch, the Smoke Monster, the numbers, The Others, Hurley and not understood what they were talking about - it is time to see why they have become part of our pop culture lingo.
What you MUST watch:  Everything but the last episode, then you will never need to be disappointed what questions you may have had that weren't answered.  Sometimes the question is better than the answer, get over it and enjoy.
Best Episodes: The Pilot, Through the Looking Glass, Walkabout, The Constant

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
Premise:   Sunnydale High School cheerleader, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is told by her school librarian that she is the Chosen One in a long line of Slayers that protect the world from vampires, demons and anything else the Hellmouth (a portal between earth and demon dimensions) can throw at them. Lucky her, the Hellmouth just so happens to lie directly beneath Sunnydale. Oh yeah, and her boyfriend is a vampire.
Why to watch it:  This show that started the whole vampire craze and has not been matched in quality yet. A coming of age show that combines realistic family relationships, the trials of fitting in at high school, some feminism and an intriguing mythology that holds it all together. The metaphors are smart, the dialogue is witty... perhaps my favorite.
What you MUST watch: Seasons 2 thru 5. There are elements of brilliance in each season, but if you are only going to watch a portion of the show those four seasons will work.
Best Episodes:  Hush, Once More With Feeling, The Body, The Wish

Premise:   When bright, young Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) starts working with the toughest lawyer in the business, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), she believes her career in law has taken a turn for the best. That is until her fiance is murdered and as the details surrounding the murder are revealed, nothing is what she expected.  One she is certain of, she wants revenge no matter who she takes down, even her own boss.
Why to watch it: Perhaps the most underrated shows on television. More twists and turns per episode than any other show on television. Every episode is filled with jaw-dropping moments, revelations, betrayals - all without stepping into the world of melodrama or cliche. Each season is its own mystery that is revealed scene after scene in bite size pieces leading to a satisfying meal of a conclusion.
What you MUST watch: You can watch each season individually, but for the best results watch every one, every episode, in order.
Best Episodes: The show does not work in episode, it would be like asking, “which is your favorite puzzle piece?” I will choose season one.

The Shield 
Premise:   Vic Mackey may be the most corrupt, nastiest, ruthless person you ever meet - he's also a cop. He leads a team of cops meant to remove crime from the streets of LA known as the Strike Team.  Using numerous unethical and illegal methods they take down some of the roughest criminals, while at the same time transforming into criminals themselves.  They do not cross the line between good and evil, they erase it.
Why to watch it:  The show blows the doors off the typical cop procedural by creating characters and setting populated by a wide array of shades of gray. The shows piles layer of corruption on top of layer of corruption.  The strange thing is even though you may know what you are seeing is immoral you are conflicted as find yourself supporting one of the biggest slime balls on television.  
What you MUST watch: Every episode. They all lead up to the best series finale I have seen to date.  If that is not feasible, then any random season will do - but, you are missing out.
Best Episodes: Pilot, Post Partem, Possible Kill Screen, Family Meeting

The Sopranos
Premise:   Tony Soprano has two families he needs to juggle, his wife and kids and the mob.
Why to watch it: The Sopranos takes the mob and makes them easier to relate to than any other mob story out there because they are like everyone else you know - Tony has marital problems, a nagging mother, a screw up of a son and is therapy several times a week. His mob family is not in much better shape. Together the tales of two dysfunctional families create some TV magic. Violent, unethical, unabashed realism.
What you MUST watch: Season 1 and 2 are the best, but based on the fact that the last 20 seconds of the series were the most polarizing in the history of television, you may want to stop after two seasons. Then again, grow a pair and watch it straight through. BTW, most people are wrong about the ending – just saying.

UPDATE 3/2/2012:  COMING SOON: Why Tony Soprano Is (SPOILER ALERT) Dead!   I am tired of the questioning, the complaints, the doubt.  Soon you will have the one stop resource to explain the ultimate end to the ultimate mob boss.  ONLY on  Follow our Facebook page and our @filmsnork Twitter to be notified when the article is posted.  It may take a little while to create this multimedia answer to the question, Is Tony Dead?

Best Episodes:  Pine Barrons, Long Term Parking, Join the Club, Made in America (the series finale)

Dexter (season four)
Premise:    Dexter works as a blood stain pattern analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department and at night he moonlights as a serial killer, Don't worry, he's not a bad guy – he only kills those that deserve to die.
Why to watch it: The irony of a serial killer hunter being a killer himself should draw you in. If not, the inner ongoing moral battle with in Dexter himself, a milder than mild boyfriend during the day that just happens to plastic wrap, stab and dispose of evil people at night might interest you. If not, throw out your television.
What you MUST watch: Season 4. The whole series is worth the viewing but season 4 is my vote for best stand-alone season of a television series to ever see the light of day.  Without knowing any back story you can hop in and instantly be absorbed into a heart racing season that plays like a 13 episode version of Silence of the Lambs. If time allows watch the series from the beginning, if not this season is 13 awesome hours that will leave your jaw literally hanging.
Best episodes: Season 4

The Office (UK)
Premise: The hilarious day-to-day lives of office employees in the fictitious Wernham Hogg Paper Company run by David Brent (Ricky Gervais) delivered in mockmentary style.
Why to watch it:  Proof that comedy can be subtle and understated and still have you rolling on the floor laughing. It is hard to sell someone on comedy since it is so subjective. The best comedy is based in reality and these these are all people you know, scenarios you have been in....just a laugh out loud version of it, not a sad I want to go home and drink myself to sleep version you may be used to. Often so painfully honest it is tough to determine whether to laugh or cry. This version of The Office makes the US version look like an absolute mess.
What you MUST watch: Watch the entire series (a mere 7.5 hours in total running time and worth every minute.)
Best episodes: Party, Motivation, Training, Merger

Arrested Development
Premise:  After his father is arrested for sketchy accounting practices, the level-headed Michael returns home to assume the role of head of household for the formerly free-spending Bluth family that is struggling to learn to live without the never-ending bank account they are used to. Hilarity ensues.
Why to watch it:  Proof that comedy can be in your face and and over-the-top and still have you rolling on the floor laughing. Like The Office, this is comedy done right, yet in a completely different way. Smart writing and characters which are both outrageous and familiar make this show a comedy success story. Add to that the tremendous performances from a perfectly chosen cast (including a young Michael Cera) and this show has earned the reputation for being gone too soon.
What you MUST watch: This series only lasted 3 seasons, don't cut yourself short watch them all.
Best episodes: Good Grief, Pier Pressure, MotherXXX, Meet the Veals

Veronica Mars
Premise: Veronica Mars is a feisty teen detective that uses all the skills she learned from her father, a PI, to solve mysteries in her hometown while simultaneously trying to solve the murder of her best friend.
Why to watch it:  Plays like a modern-day film noir, but in color and with a teenager as the lead. The mysteries are captivating enough to keep you interested, but the characters and relationships are what will hold your interest. I know what you are thinking – teen sleuth, not for me. You are wrong. The show has a much wider appeal than the premise would suggest. It is an under-watched gem from the guy that seems to work in the genre of under-watched gems, the creator of Party Down, Rob Thomas.
What you MUST watch: Season 1. Something tells me you will not stop there. Sadly, the show never received a true finale.
Best episodes: Pilot, Leave It To Beaver, Not Pictured, The Bitch is Back

Disagree???  Sound off in the comments section.  If you enjoyed this article, follow our Facebook page or on Twitter @FilmSnork to receive updates to the latest stories. 


dadassmofo said...

nice list. why Lost though? really!?!? that show was terrible.

Craig Kornacki said...

Alias was a great show. Acting was quite good.

Michael said...

LOST = Best (my favorite) show ever! Great list, I agree with all the shows that I have already watched, a few I have on my to do list are Dexter, Sopranos and Breaking Bad. Looking forward to them.

Joe said...

Oye... I've seen exactly two of these shows. Hopefully, some of them are on Netflix... But c'mon, the Lost finale is the only TV show ever to bring tears to my eyes. Not counting the '99 Stanley Cup Finals or Super Bowl XXV of course...

FilmSnork said...

@Joe, you've got it wrong. I loved the LOST finale, but for those who want every question answered, perhaps they are better off skipping the finale so they do not need to be angry about unanswered questions.

Your comment gave me an idea - I will add where you can stream or locate these shows (i.e. Netflix, Amazon, etc)

jtwburger said...

Ok, great list, but I'm confused. On Dexter, is Season 4 the season to watch or Season 5? You say 5 is the best stand-alone, was that a typo?

FilmSnork said...

@jtwburger - typo of course. Just making usre you are actually paying attention. Hey guys, they are paying attention - fix the typo.



Anonymous said...

Sopranos, Dex, and Roni Mars ARE still the shit!

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