Welcome to my 100th post. To honour this auspicious milestone, I’ve decided to do what many web sites seem to be doing — come up with my top 50 TV shows of all time (I started with 100, but it was just too much — and even with 50, I hope you’ll stick with me). It’s been a fun exercise, but not easy to pick and it’s also hard to say one show should be slightly higher than another when I’ve enjoyed them all — essentially, any of the top 10 are interchangeable. To decide, though, I asked myself if I had to save one show from cancellation over another, which would I choose?
If you read this blog, you’ll know that I like sci-fi, and this list shows it. Also, I have a number of nostalgia picks that I haven’t seen in ages and in fact might not hold up, but I had to give them points for the good memories. Instead of just talking about each show, I decided to pick my favourite seasons and episodes. Hopefully this will be fun to read (and not just another fanboy’s ego gone wild). Anyway, enough analysis (it’s not exactly the cure for cancer) … on with the countdown:
50. Super-Friends/Spider-man and his Amazing Friends
Pure nostalgia. I decided on a two-way tie for the series that gave me an enjoyment for super-heroes long before picking up a comic book, back in the days when costumed do-gooders were commonly known as “friends”. My favourite episode of Spidey and Friends has got to be when they met up with the X-Men (Storm rocks!).
49. Beauty and the Beast
It was one of the most bizarre concepts for a series, but the story of leonine beast Vincent and beautiful surface-dwelling DA Catherine’s mostly-chaste love affair was the hype-worthy series of its day. Personal note: this show actually helped build my love for poetry with the episode “Ozymandias” (ep.1-21) (and you thought I couldn’t get any nerdier!).
48. Tru Calling
Not enough love out there for Eliza Dushku’s non-cheerleading star turn as med student Tru Davies who relives days to prevent people from dying. While I loved the series from the get-go, it really got good when Jason Priestly came on as her death-dealing nemesis (then it got cancelled). “The Longest Day” (ep.1-11) is my favourite, when Tru has to repeat over and over to prevent a chain reaction of tragedies.
47. Facts of Life
Again nostalgia. I haven’t seen Jo, Natalie, Tootie, Blair or Mrs. G (not even Beverly Ann or Andy) on the small screen for many years, but I loved watching them throughout the 80s. My faves are mostly after the girls graduate from Eastland: silly episodes like “Seven Little Indians” (ep.8-12) where Tootie has a Twilight Zone-style nightmare of a psycho killer on the loose; “62 Pick Up” (ep.8-18) when they imagine themselves as a 60s girl group called The Shalala-lalala-lalalalas; and “Golden Oldies” (ep.9-11) when they imagine themselves 40 years later.
46. Justice League (Unlimited)
Again with the super-heroes: Supes, Bats, and Wonder Woman are joined by their DC comics friends in many stories that are well-written and intelligent. Season 4 was cool when a secret government project attempted to take the Justice League down. My favourite was “A Better World” (ep.2-11) where we see a “what if” alternate Justice League that went too far with their power and dominance over the world – an actually thought-provoking cartoon.
45. Teen Titans
Far less serious than Justice League, Teen Titans was super-heroes done “fun”. The best was season 4 which led to a hell-on-earth scenario as mystical Titan Raven’s demon father decided to take over the world (even “fun” can be pretty intense),
44. Batman Beyond
The adventures of the Batman of the future, this was a really fresh way of looking at the Batman franchise. A lot of cool new villains and old ones revisited. “Heroes” (ep.1-06) was a good story about a group of do-gooder heroes who learn some unfortunate things about their past.
Brothers Sam and Dean Winchester hunt demons across small-town USA. Season 2 really improved on season 1 so they weren’t just like X-Files (with teen-girl appeal). I especially enjoyed “Crossroads Blues” (ep.2-08) when Dean had to summon, bargain with, and out-wit a demon to help save some folks (you ain’t seen Mulder do that!)
What began as a simple re-imagining of the early life of Superman has now become the home of action-laden teen melodrama. Still with its highs and lows, I most enjoyed season 4 (I know, the reincarnated witch thing was lame, but it definitely made Lana more interesting) and “Justice” (ep.6-11) where Green Arrow and friends formed the junior Justice League.
Cheesy or not, I enjoyed this show about three powerful witch sisters up until the last season (which I didn’t enjoy). The best season was 4, when Phoebe was tempted to the dark side and became queen of the underworld. The climax of that season was “Charmed and Dangerous” (ep.4-13) where they finally defeated the Source of all evil (and then went on to four more seasons – go figure).
40. The 4400
For its increasingly intricate storyline involving abducted humans returned to their lives with super-human abilities, and the NTAC agents that watch over them, this show is quite interesting and enjoyable, but it definitely feels a bit uneven and could use better production values. Season 3 was when the story really took off.
39. Real Ghostbusters
A great 80s cartoon spin-off from the movie franchise, the team of humourous spirit exterminators found adventures with all manner of mythological and supernatural characters. Most memorable are “Ragnarok and Roll” (ep.2-03) where the guys help save the world from death-by-magic-flute, and “Collect Call of Cathulu” (ep.2-32) where they stop a mystic cult from summoning its monster-god.
38. Dungeons & Dragons
Another Saturday-morning classic. I loved this show that brought to cartoon-life the adventures of 6 kids in a magical, fantasy, role-playing world. I even memorized an entire episode (ep.1-10, “The Garden of Zinn”) by watching it so much.
37. Veronica Mars
While this show has wicked-smart dialogue and some really great characters, the story of the girl-detective from Neptune, California couldn’t really hold onto the freshness of its first season. Nevertheless, season 1 is chock full of excellent episodes.
36. Dawson’s Creek
A predecessor to Veronica in the smart-dialogue, yet-can’t-sustain-its-drama category, Dawson’s was great while it really dug into the teen angst. From sparkly-eyed boy-film-maker Dawson, to worldly girl-next-door Jen, to tom-boy cutie Joey, to trouble-maker best-bud Pacey, their older-than-their-years conversations and small-town-love-quadrangle melodrama were thoroughly engrossing. I think my favourite was Breakfast Club homage “Detention” (ep.1-07), where 8 hours in the library left many-a-skeleton revealed.
35. Battle of the Planets
I was a huge fan of this show even before I knew anything about anime or stuff like that. I can’t say I’ve seen the adventures of G-Force or Spectra in decades, but I still remember the episode “The Fierce Flowers” (ep.1-32) where alien spores came to Earth and spawned deadly human-eating plants. Hang in there, Princess, help is on the way!
34. How I Met Your Mother
This show about a bunch of young-pretties in NYC having fun is a lot of fun to watch. I especially enjoyed “The Pineapple Incident” (ep.1-10) where main guy Ted tried to recall the events of a previous drunken night; “The Limo” (ep.1-11) where the gang hit four big parties on New Year’s; and the awesome “Slap Bet” (ep.2-09) where main guy’s girlfriend Robin’s secret shame is revealed (in hilarious music-video form).
33. Will & Grace
The Odd Couple of the new millennium, a gay man and his female best friend enjoyed some funny times together. My faves came mostly in season 2, including the riotous “Das Boob” (ep.2-03) where Grace tried to live up to a misleading newspaper photo of herself by wearing the “hydra-bra” to enhance her…er…impression on a former high-school crush. Aquatic hilarity ensued.
32. That ’70s Show
The always-laugh-out-loud shenanigans of Eric, Hyde, Fez, Kelso, Jackie and Donna were fun because they had fun with each other (pranks are always funny when they’re not done to you). I really enjoyed season 5 when Jackie and Hyde had to come clean about their opposites-attraction, and I loved the “Dine and Dash” (ep.3-13) episode.
The 30th century adventures of the crew of Planet Express were a great send-up of so many sci-fi elements that I love. “Fry and the Slurm Factory” (ep.2-04) was a great take-off on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where the gang tour a soft-drink factory only to learn that while the drink comes from the butt of a giant worm, they can’t stop drinking it – ew!
More sci-fi animation: the Star-Wars-esque tale of teenagers Mahad (the pilot) and Lena (the telekinetic) who escape the totalitarian Sphere to join a band of rebels on a future Earth that has been fragmented into floating pieces.
29. Stargate: SG-1
The longest running sci-fi show in North America deserves to be on this list, and I do like SG-1 a lot. I discovered the series for the first time last summer. It’s got a lot of fun episodes and a good cast. It’s about time I revisited the world-spanning adventures again now that the series has ended.
28. Star Trek: Enterprise
Probably the least-popular of the Star Trek family, I still really enjoyed this prequel series, especially season 4 when they did episodes that tied directly into Trek history. My favourite among these is the alternate-universe episode “In a Mirror Darkly” (ep.4-18)
27. Coupling (UK)
Ostensibly a British version of Friends with more sex-talk. A great example of its innovative sitcom storytelling was “The Girl With Two Breasts” (ep.1-05), where goofball Jeff tried to start up with a beautiful Israeli woman who didn’t understand a word he said (then we got the whole episode again from her perspective).
26. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
At first I wasn’t crazy about a Star Trek series where characters didn’t get along, but it really grew on me and there are some really awesome story arcs. Faves include an incredible point-counterpoint episode between Kira and a Cardassian war criminal called “Duet” (ep.1-19); Sisko in a head-to-head against a traitor among his own men (“For the Uniform”, ep.5-13); and a heart-breaking episode where Dr. Bashir awakens and falls for a catatonic woman (“Chrysalis”, ep.7-05)
25. Ally McBeal
I still don’t know whether this humourous lawyer show should be a drama or comedy, but it’s had its moments of both. My favourite season was 4 where Robert Downey Jr. played an excellent match for the neurotic Ally, and the most touching episode was “Blue Christmas” (ep.3-08) where office bimbo Elaine found an abandoned baby in a Nativity scene.
24. Stargate: Atlantis
The spin-off surpasses the original primarily because I find the characters more interesting and the stories less burdened by the weight of so many seasons. That being said, this series deals mostly with the Earth team sent to a faraway galaxy to explore, while defending themselves from the rampaging Wraith, who’d like nothing better than to suck the life out of them all. Season 2 is the best as it comes off of a great confrontation with the Wraith and explores that relationship throughout the season.
23. The Office
I just discovered the Emmy-winning comedy this summer and I love it. Not only are the office-y aspects humourous and relatable, I adore these characters and their relationships. The best (and I’m no hopeless romantic) has got to be the touching romance between Jim and Pam. Season 2 was the best season for all the characters (season 3 was a bit more over-the-top) but it’s all really good.
22. Invader Zim
I know that not many people know this show. It’s pure geek, but this tale of a runty alien coming to Earth bent on conquest is extremely weird and funny. If you like off-beat humour and sci-fi, you cannot miss this show. I especially enjoyed “Parent-Teacher Night” (ep.1-02) where Zim needed to pass off a couple of robots as real human parents to keep his cover; and “NanoZim” (ep.1-05) where Zim and his human nemesis Dib squared off via virtual reality and nano-technology.
21. Doctor Who (new series)
I was never a fan of the original Who (creeped me out as a kid) but the new series is excellent. I especially enjoy it with the new Doctor (played by David Tennant). While I liked new companion Martha Jones, series 2 with Rose Tyler was a better season. The best episode is the scarey “Blink” (ep.3-10) – you will never look at a stone angel the same way again.
I was not a big Cheers fan, either, but Frasier is a whole different story. I think he’s a great character, but even more so Niles, Daphne and Martin are wonderful. (Even my grandmother appreciates this show!) Season 4 had the highest concentration of good episodes, but one of my favourites is “Perspectives on Christmas” (ep.5-09) where the events of one Christmas are told from each character’s point of view (you can see that I like that kind of thing, eh?)
19. The X-Files
It took me a while to get into X-Files because I was afraid to watch a horror series, but once I learned what the show was really about, I became an instant x-phile. “Home” (ep.4-02) with its mutant family scared the bejesus out of me (and grossed me out as well). I preferred the standalone shows – such as “Agua Mala” (ep.6-13) where there’s something in the water and “Je Souhaite” (ep.7-21) about a djinn granting wishes – over the convoluted mythology stuff.
This show is as enjoyable as it is confounding. I am amazed at how interesting the creators could make a show about a bunch of castaways. Season 1 was the best because the story, drama, and tension was all so tight. That season’s finale, “Exodus” (ep. 1-23), was the ultimate high point, back when The Others were still an ominous threat, the hatch was still an intriguing mystery, and the recent death of a character was a shocking tragedy.
17. Star Trek: Voyager
My 2nd favourite of the Treks, I thought that Janeway was a good captain, and I really enjoyed all the Borg storylines. “Scorpion” (ep.3-26) where Voyager faced the Borg and rescued Seven of Nine was such a great lead-in to Season 4, which had a lot of good stories, especially “The Year of Hell” (ep.4-08) where the crew went through a very bad year at the hands of a time-manipulating enemy; and “Living Witness” where we see how history can be distorted (it is much cooler than it sounds).
16. The Simpsons
So many episodes to choose from! This long running cartoon about a goofy-but-lovable American family has tipped so many sacred cows in its quest to point a humourous finger at society, where do I begin? I love the fun episodes, such as all the Sideshow Bob ones, or the Halloween anthologies, but there’s also the classic ones like “I Love Lisa” (ep.4-15) when Lisa “dates” lovable idiot Ralph Wiggum, or “And Maggie Makes Three” (ep.6-13), about what happened when baby Maggie was born. There are spoof episodes such as “Dumbbell Indemnity” where Homer helped Moe pull off an insurance scam for love, and “New Kids on the Blecch” (ep.12-14) when Bart joined a boy-band.
This show has had its good days (i.e. seasons) and bad days. The story of anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer and his CTU cohorts is generally very edge-of-the-seat compelling, but it really needs to get the formula right and give us twists without losing credibility. Season 5 was amazing: from surprises with President Logan and tense scenes with his wife Martha to all the tragic nerve-gas-related incidents, including the death of Edgar. Jack was in rare form as well, fighting on airplanes and interrogating his own girlfriend. There’s nothing he won’t do for the good of America!
14. Babylon 5
When it first started, people didn’t know what to think of B5. Was it just a cheap knock-off of Deep Space Nine? Love it or not, this tale of inter-galactic conflict and the little space station caught in the middle had the kind of long-term story arc that has not been replicated since. It may seem hard to keep all the details straight with the Minbari, Vorlon, Narn and Centauri races all having their own cultures and political agendas, but the story really picked up in season 3 when they all came together to fight the evil Shadows. There were some clunker episodes, but overall, the writing on this show was excellent and the story was archetypal yet unique and compelling.
13. Jackie Chan Adventures
Did you know that the kung-fu screen legend was involved in making a kids cartoon show? Well it’s awesome. It’s a very fun show that is a real departure from Chan’s on-screen persona. His cartoon self is an archaeologist who searches the world for artifacts of mystic power (with a little help from his mad martial arts skills). Alongside him are his precocious trouble-finding niece Jade, his crotchety Uncle (a Chinese wizard himself) and a handful of recurring enemies.
12. The Practice
I enjoy lawyer shows, but of the many many variants, this one is the cream of the crop. The writing and dialogue is top notch. The cases ranged from the headline-ripping to the humourously bizarre, but they all ended up somehow tugging at the meaning-strings. Season 3 was one of the best, culminating in the stabbing of one of the lawyers by someone dressed as a nun. One of the most memorable episodes was “The Candidate” (ep.6-01) about the twisty circumstances surrounding a politician accused of murder. It proved a rule with episodes of The Practice: Do not miss the ending.
Another show that is kinda overlooked, the story of Allison Dubois, a psychic working with the Phoenix DA’s office, is one of my favourites because it takes something that could be formulaic and gimmicky and runs with it. Even though crimes are solved each week by Allison’s ability, the stories never unfold the same way. The creativity of the writers is what makes this show so great to watch (not to mention one of the most realistically lovable families on TV). “Dead Aim” (ep.2-05) where Allison repeatedly tries to prevent her vision of an office massacre from taking place, is a great example.
10. Battlestar Galactica (new series)
Again, not a fan of the original, but the re-imagining of the campy 80s sci-fi series seems far superior. When the human population is decimated by Cylon (robot) forces, and the remaining 40,000 humans must look for a new home, there is so much opportunity for great drama. Add to that the constant threat of the Cylons and the fact that they can appear human, and the drama goes up a few more notches. The acting on this show is excellent, and the writing is intelligent and realistic. The first season was an awesome build-up to “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” (ep.1-16), the season finale, where all the plot threads came together culminating in the attempted assassination of the head of the fleet, Captain Adama.
9. Star Trek: The Next Generation
This show cemented my love for sci-fi television. Shows like the original Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers were fun, but Star Trek: TNG not only dialed down the campiness, it added some intelligence to the mix. I have so many favourite episodes, and many of them are in Season 5, including “Darmok”, “I, Borg”, “The Inner Light”, “Power Play”, “First Duty”, and “Cause and Effect”, but I also cannot argue with general consensus that the best TNG episode is “The Best of Both Worlds” (ep.3-27) where Captain Picard is abducted by the Borg. ‘Nuff said.
8. Avatar, The Last Airbender
It’s one of the best kids shows ever. I grew up listening to many Chinese folk stories and this is like a manifestation of those elements. The animation is great, and the styling (Asian-inspired) is really creative. Avatar Aang is a powerful little boy who has the destiny of saving the world from the flame-hurling Fire Nation. He and his companions travel around the world trying to help Aang learn about his powers and prepare for that conflict. In the process, they meet many fantastical characters in a world full of its own magic and mythology.
Another spin-off that could, the story of Buffy’s ex-lover, the vampire with a soul, really shaped up to be an excellent series in its own right. Like Buffy, Angel surrounded himself with a team of interesting cohorts to fight evil in their shared universe. Season 4 really had me hooked for the season-long story that a beast and its evil master was coming to cause another apocalypse. It also brought back Angelus, Angel’s evil side, and a possessed evil Cordelia. The show would not rock so hard again until the series finale, which is one of the best finales I’ve ever seen. “Not Fade Away” (ep,5-22) was an incredible story full of mission-impossible-style plotting as well as very emotional farewell scenes (Wesley’s death scene is heart-rending).
The freshman success (let’s hope that future seasons live up) is exactly the kind of show that I’ve always wanted to see. I love shows about people with powers, and tie that all together with interesting plot threads and intriguing characters and I am totally on board. Episode standouts include “Homecoming” (ep.1-09) where Peter and Sylar first throw down; “Company Man” (ep.1-17) that not only explored the mysterious backstory of Mr. Bennett, but also capped it off with an explosive finale; and “Five Years Gone” (ep.1-20) – you know I love alternate futures.
5. The Cosby Show
Of all the 80s shows that I watched and loved, this one stands the test of time like no other. The Cosby Show was so well-written and the humour so true, that even today I could watch it as if it were a new series. I loved the way the family interaction was warm but never saccharin, how the jokes were funny but never sarcastic or dated. This is the gold-standard of family shows, and there are many episodes that prove it, but I tended to enjoy the ones that were a little out-of-the-ordinary. My favourite is probably “Theo’s Holiday” (ep.2-22) where son Theo is taught a lesson by his parents when they turn their home into a version of the “real world”. Seeing little Rudy dressed up as the stern landlady was hilarious!
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
What started off as a kind of teen satire with a horror overtone became an amazing, geek-friendly series. Not only was Buffy and her “Scooby gang” slaying vampires and all manner of creepies, but they were facing the struggles of growing up as well. The writing and dialogue on this show is not only bang-on, but witty to boot. My favourite season was the third season where evil slayer Faith squared off against Buffy. I love the character of Faith, and her slipping to the dark side was incredibly fun to watch. However, the best episodes have got to be “Hush” (ep.4-10), the award-winning wordless episode, and “Once More With Feeling” (ep.6-07) the musical episode. Both were innovative and fun.
Firefly is the little series that was killed before its time – and the geeks are not happy about it. We love this show for its really well-written stories and dialogue, its well-conceived sci-fi universe, and its very well-acted characters. Nathan Fillion played Captain Mal Reynolds as a Han Solo the way he should have been played, and the rest of the crew were just as awesome. Even with only a dozen or so episodes, almost every one is my favourite, but when I spun the bottle it told me that my favourite favourite is “Ariel” (ep.1-08) where young doctor Simon led the crew to break into a core-planet hospital and steal high-value medical supplies. Meanwhile he took his sister to diagnose what was secretly done to her brain by the government. The long-simmering understory surfaced when creepy men with blue hands came after the duo.
Yes, sometimes the Rambaldi mythology got a bit crazy, and there was that third season misstep with the blonde chick and the rubber masks, but this is still one of my favourite shows ever. Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow was truly a star-turn. She was tough, sensitive and amazing as the near-superhuman CIA double-agent. I especially loved season 2 when the show took the concept of family to new levels by bringing in the sexy-awesome Lena Olin to play Sydney’s mother Irina. That season not only came with some excellent twists, but also my favourite episode of the series, “Phase One”, which not only had Sydney modeling lingerie on an airplane, but also led to the downfall of terrorist organization SD-6, the long-awaited kiss between Sydney and CIA handler Michael Vaughn, and a surprise ending about the plans of the diabolical Arvin Sloane. This episode had it all.
No duh! I laughed, I cried, it was so much better than Cats. Over the 10 years this show was on, I kind of grew up with Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross and Phoebe (though maybe not ending up as well as they did) and this show’s humour and characters are actually a part of me (Is that too much to say about a television show?). All the seasons were great from beginning to end, but season 6 had a lot of great moments, including Ross’s attempt to hone his martial arts skills (“unagi”), the Gellers’ hilarious New Year’s Rockin’ Eve dance routine, the “one that could have been” episode (a.k.a. alternate reality), and Monica’s proposal to Chandler (which had me in tears). My favourite episodes are mostly the ones where the Friends compete with each other, including “The One With All the Poker” (ep.1-18) which exemplified the Friends formula of seamlessly blending the humourous with the poignant when Rachel found out during a raucous poker game that she didn’t get the job she wanted; and “The One with the Embryos” (ep.4-12) where Monica and Rachel competed against Joey and Chandler in a hilarious home-made quiz show to prove who knows the other team better. Cap off the fun with a touching scene between Phoebe and the embryos that she’s going to have implanted as a surrogate for her brother – again with the poignant. I can’t think of any sitcom that got it more right than Friends.
That’s it. Hat’s off if you made it all the way. Don’t let anyone say that you watch too much TV — there’s no such thing!