As much as I adore movies, my real passion will always be for TV, although not just any old show, but beautifully written, tightly plotted shows, with fully formed characters that you end up feeling an affinity towards.
A great TV series offers the ultimate in entertainment and value for money. With a huge array of TV series now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix etc, there has never been a better time for you to discover some yet unseen treasures.
I have tried to include shows that started airing over the last 13 years, as this is truly a golden age in small screen entertainment. Here is the to 20 best TV shows of the new millennium.
An excellent show about a small town in Kanas who have to band together in the wake of nuclear attacks on the USA. It was cancelled after its initial first season run, but huge fan pressure got it brought back for short run of 7 episodes to finish out the story.
19. Arrested Development (2006 to 2008)
A word perfect comedy with a cast who seem born to play their respective roles. Jason Bateman has never been better as Michael Bluth, the level headed son of a disgraced businessman, who now has to hold the family business together. It was cancelled in 2008, but Netflix resurrected it with a new season being made available in May 2013.
18. The Walking Dead (2010 to ongoing)
This would be higher, if not for the crap they served up during season two. The Walking Dead is a first for horror, a genuine success all over the world, showing the TV network execs that people will accept shows that are slightly different to the normal run of the mill stuff.
Season 4 is currently hitting all the right notes and hopefully it can go on to become a long lived great series.
Don Draper and co. probably deserve to be higher, but i must confess to being slightly behind on my Mad Men, so it gets a lowly 17th ranking. Its a great show (from what i have seen) and John Hamm is excellent as the conflicted Draper. I’ll be catching up with this in the coming weeks, so it might end up higher in the future.
Oh Terriers, never has a TV show been marketed so badly, It featured one of the worst advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen, with FX fucking it up big style, which goes a long way to why no one watched it.
The plot revolves around an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) who partners with his best friend, former criminal Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), in an unlicensed private detective business. Sounds a bit run-of-the-mill?, watch it though. It should have run for years, but FX killed it off after its first season. It also never even made its way to the UK. Shocking.
15. Battlestar Galactica (2004 to 2009)
This was a show which really shouldn’t have worked, a rehash of a cheesy 80’s Star Wars ripoff. But it’s to Ron Moore’s credit that he completely manages to pull it off. By grounding it in a form of reality that we could (sort of) relate to, making it dark and gritty and having kick-ass characters, we could actually imagine living aboard the Galactica and running from Cylons.
It really was one of the best TV shows of the new millennium.
14.The Big Bang Theory (2007 to ongoing)
It’s a rare thing when a TV show continually adds new viewers year after year. Geek is chic and Leonard, Sheldon (Moon Pie), Howard and Raj make you feel good about liking comics and other nerdy pursuits, even though things rarely work out for them. Hands down the best comedy show currently airing.
13. True Blood (2008 to ongoing)
Although True Blood’s got a little silly as the seasons have worn on, it’s still the best vampire show around and with characters like Eric Northman and the so-stupid-its-funny Jason Stackhouse. It is still great viewing.
The first season is probably still the high point, being a little more dramatic and visceral. Still essential viewing.
12. Game of Thrones (2011 to ongoing)
A powerful show that’s just going from strength to strength based on amazing writing, fantastic acting (especially Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion Lannister) and the way it ends great storylines with another just popping out like a woman giving birth to her 8th child. If we redo this list in a year or two’s time, I’d expect this to be moving into the top 5.
Fringe was an amazing show, only slightly let down by the ‘freak of the week’ format that featured quite heavily during the first couple of seasons. As the show ran into its latter years, it aimed more at long-term viewers with brilliant season long story arc’s and was all the better for it. Unlike other TV shows, Fringe never got too tangled up in it’s own mythology, with great characters and a compelling plot. The only downside, was that was increasing difficult for new viewers to jump in halfway through the series.
John Noble’s Walter Bishop is a truly remarkable character, being so off-beat and nuts, and lets face it, there is not many characters on TV who are regularly dropping LSD like Walter.
For those who have been missing out on the glory of Dexter, it follows Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a blood spatter pattern analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department (based on the real life Miami-Dade Police Department) who also leads a secret life as a serial killer, but not any old serial killer, but one that only kills other murderers.
I must confess, I caught Dexter pretty late on, i started watching during Season 3, then gave it up for a couple of years, and have only recently returned back to it. Watching the whole show from the beginning again, you get to see how the cast have evolved from the first series right through to season 7, which has plenty of nods back to season one, with flashbacks to Doakes and Dexters brother.
The real stand out star of Dexter is Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Dexter’s step sister Debra Morgan, an unbelievably great actress who just takes over every time she’s on screen. Debra is foul mouthed, driven and extremely funny to watch, normally all at the same time. An honorable mention must go to John Lithgow, who played the ‘Trinity Killer’ in season 4, who has to be one of the creepiest bad guys ever seen on TV.
It shows how good an actor is when millions of Americans didn’t even realize that Hugh Laurie is British, and his House accent is fake.
House follows the medical genius Gregory House, M.D, who heads a diagnostic department at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey.
House is a slightly unusual doctor, as he’s hooked on prescription painkillers, he doesn’t give a shit who he upsets and generally does what he feels like, regardless of the consequences.
Where Dr. House excels is being the undisputed king at diagnosing hard to fathom medical conditions, to the point where he normally rejects cases that are too easy or uninteresting.
Although the series follows a Case-of-the-Week format, there is some cracking plot-lines that run through each season. The show completely works because of Hugh Laurie, who is just mesmerizing when on screen.
So much has already been written on Firefly, with its cancellation before the first series even ended, to the network showing the first few episodes in the wrong sequence, that the story around the series is just as famous as the show itself.
What Joss Whedon has continuously proved throughout his career is that he’s a genius with a pen and paper. Firefly’s real strength was in the writing, by getting viewers invested in the characters so quickly.
Captain Mal remains the best thing since Han Solo, he’s part scoundrel, part don’t-give-a-fuck flyboy, He’s the type of character who should have had at least 10 seasons of airtime. The whole cast was a perfect fit for their characters, each getting a moment to shine along the short 14 episode run, with perhaps Jaynestown as our standout episode. This is where you see first-hand just how good Joss Whedon is at writing both comedy and drama.
As a small token to fans, Universal Pictures allowed Joss to make the feature film ‘Serenity’ in 2005, which at least allowed us to see the crew one last time. Firefly, we miss you.
For all the TV shows that Steven Spielberg has produced, Band of Brothers is his highest achievement. Technically a mini-series rather than a continuing show, Band of Brothers was, at the time, the most expensive show ever produced with a budget of $125m for the 10 episodes. Tom Hanks played a large role in getting it to the screen, spending months detailing the plot outlines for individual episodes.
The story follows the training and deployment of ‘Easy company’, a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, during World War 2. The shows main character is Major Winters, played by Damian Lewis, although its an ensemble drama at heart, with other characters taking a larger role in specific episodes. It’s a must have for anyone who likes military drama.
Entourage never really hit the heights in the UK like it did in the States, mainly due to ITV2 doing a poor job of publicizing it and then dropping it completely, which is a shame as it easily one of the best shows of the last few years.
Entourage follows Vince Chase, an up and coming actor,his brother and two childhood friends. Entourage is equal parts drama, comedy and sitcom, all played out in Los Angeles as Vincent Chase’s career goes skywards. The real star though of Entourage is Ari Gold, Vincent’s brash, ruthless agent, played to perfection by Jeremy Piven.
5. The Sopranos (1999 to 2007)
For a drama about new Jersey mobsters, The Sopranos has so many levels of greatness that it almost defies trying to categorize it. James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano is undoubtedly one of televisions greatest creations but it’s also the people he surrounds himself with at the ‘Bada Bing’ who truly make the series shine.
Pauly Walnuts is one of the funniest characters to ever grace the screen and for proof, look no further than the outstanding Season 3 episode ‘Pine Barrens’, as you will never see a better episode of TV anywhere.
Kiefer Sutherland… just saying his name immediately brings up a mental image of Jack Bauer, gun in hand, about to stick a cap in someone.
Sutherland was so good as Bauer, that I couldn’t even watch his new show, Touch, without a little disappointment that he wasn’t going to start kicking the shit out of some terrorist.
When 24 first launched, it was most famous for its real-time storytelling and the spilt-screen images around the ad breaks, but the fast paced action and brilliantly plotted story pushed it into the public’s heart.
It was a real credit to the writers that at 24 episodes a season, the story never really lagged, constantly evolving like mutating virus. Every season is a stand alone story, with season 5 probably being the high point, but all are well worth checking out. Jack Bauer is returning in May 2014 with 24: Live Another Day.
Ah Lost, never has a show split opinion more. Without a doubt, Lost captured the pop culture consciousness, like The X Files in the nineties. It was THE show of 2004 and networks today have tried their hardest to recreate the magic, with shows like Flash Forward, Revolution etc all trying to drip feed in plot-lines slowly.
For those who have been living in a cave for the past ten years, Lost is about a group of survivors from a plane crash, who are stranded on a desert island, but the Island holds a great many secrets. Lost is the absolute definition of a character ensemble TV show. With over 13 main characters, It’s to the shows credit that it actually makes you care about all of the them, by slowly fleshing them out with backstories told through flashbacks and their various paths they travel on the island.
Lost caught some flack along the way by its frustrating ability to answer one mystery by providing you with another two, plus if you missed one or two episodes, you were screwed. The ending is also now just as famous for bamboozling most of its audience and if you asked ten different viewers of Lost what happened, you would likely get ten different answers. Regardless though, its still great TV.
In many ways it is almost scandalous that Breaking Bad isn’t at the number one spot, It was an incredibly hard choice as it is almost perfect in every way.
The story follows Walter White (played note perfect by Bryan Cranston) a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He needs some money to pay for his treatment and to leave a little behind for his family, so he turns to a former pupil Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a low level drug dealer, to help him cook crystal meth.
Now that may not sound so exciting, but believe me, it is. The pilot episode plays out like a Hollywood movie and the first season slowly draws you in to Walt’s world.
The series really hits the ground running in season two, and it never lets you go. Every season just gets better and better, with Walter getting deeper and deeper into a world of shit. If you have Netflix, the first 4 seasons are on their streaming service and should be on everyones list to watch.
1. The Wire (2002 – 2008 – 5 seasons)
The Wire was the very definition of how to make a truly great episodic TV show, the writing, acting, cinematography were all perfect. They didn’t need big set pieces or over-blown effects, the simple story of working the streets is enough.
The show is set in Baltimore and is told through the eyes of both the police and the drug dealers that operate Avon Barksdale’s drug empire, you get to see how both sides work, and how the decisions of one affects the other. Dominic West is the stand-out star as Jimmy McNulty, a brilliant but deeply flawed detective who dislikes authority, his bosses and the chain of command but does love a drink.
I could easily fill up a whole article about the show’s many excellent characters and various story-lines, but, this is what sets TV apart from movies, the ability to fully flesh out characters, to see their strengths and flaws over various seasons, to see positive growth or weaknesses deepen. It’s a show that completely wraps you up in the narrative and never lets you go.
It’s a testament to the shows power that long after you have finished season 5, you will still be thinking of McNaulty, Omar, Stringer Bell and Co.