My Top 10 Favourite TV Shows
Premise: Informed he has terminal cancer, an underachieving chemistry genius turned high school chemistry teacher turns to using his expertise in chemistry to provide a legacy for his family, by producing the world's highest quality crystal meth.
Breaking Bad is the king of television, and nothing will ever compete. It's excellent from a discerning critical standpoint, and it's also a riveting show that you will want to keep revisiting. It's interesting to note that at the outset, Breaking Bad wasn't as acclaimed as it was now - in fact, the first two seasons in particular are rather slow-moving, and not everybody fawned over it. However, once the show really started to pick up, people took notice, and it deservedly became an insanely popular television mainstay. It's no coincidence that after ratings steadily declined, they swung back for the third season and beyond, culminating with Season 5's ratings record.
Anchored by gripping performances from a stellar cast, Breaking Bad is notable for its dark humour, complex stories, intense arcs and deliberate storytelling, culminating with a final season that came about purely because the showrunners wanted to craft the perfect ending - not because it was cancelled. This kind of long-form storytelling is impossible to tell in a feature film, as we get to watch Walter White (the amazing Bryan Cranston) transform from a "mild-mannered" chemistry teacher into a far more hard-edged man whose morals have dried up. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime role for Cranston, who nailed it.
I watched the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad as their aired, and believe me when I tell you that it was the most heart-stopping seven weeks of my life. Indeed, the show had me hopelessly hooked, and every cliffhanger (one single cliffhanger in particular...) had me swearing at the television set. Nothing in television history will come close to the power of this show's final episodes. And whereas a number of shows stumble for their finale, the very last episode of Breaking Bad is note-perfect. Once the end credits expired and I sat there covered in gooseflesh unable to move, I couldn't quite process that it was the end, but I knew I had seen something extraordinary that changed my life. I will never forget it.
According to Wikipedia, 1.41 million people watched the premiere of Breaking Bad in 2008, while 10.28 million tuned in for the 2013 finale. What other show can boast this type of achievement?
Premise: A modern update finds the famous sleuth and his doctor partner solving crime in 21st century London.
When I first binged the initial three seasons of Sherlock in early 2015, the world was totally in love with the show and I felt privileged to have finally watched it. Now it seems that admiration for the show has gone down a notch or two after The Abominable Bride and Season 4, but my enthusiasm for the show hasn't dampened in the slightest. Sherlock is an exceptional 21st Century update for such a time-honoured property, boasting a slick and unique yet reverent take that's bolstered by witty writing and an outstanding cast. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman own their roles; I could spend all day watching them banter. And even though Season 4 has its detractors, I found it to maintain the same level of quality, particular for "The Lying Detective" which is an instant classic. It's a hard life being a Sherlock fan, with such sporadic seasons every few years, but it's such an infinitely watchable and charming program that it's almost worth all the heartache.
Premise: Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them.
Confession time: I watched Serenity on DVD before Firefly, and therefore came to the franchise without any bias and before hearing about the online hype. And I fucking love it all. Joss Whedon has created something extraordinary with Firefly, essentially constructing a western action-comedy with sci-fi overtones, and it works thanks to the witty writing and excellent performances. Every member of the ensemble cast is given a distinct voice and personality, and the show consistently tackles fascinating stories in fascinating ways. There is so much charm to this show, but it also gets deadly serious at times, as Whedon wrings as much poignancy as he can from the material. Firefly is exciting, affecting, hilarious and engaging viewing, earning its place as one of the best TV shows of all time. While I wish there was more of it, I'll take quality over quantity (but fuck Fox for cancelling it).
Premise: The Dark Knight battles crime in Gotham City, going up against a rogues gallery of villains, and often calls upon his allies - including Robin and Batgirl - for assistance.
Batman: The Animated Series (and its successor/de facto fourth season, The New Batman Adventures) is inarguably the definitive Batman. Kevin Conroy remains the best Batman/Bruce Wayne while Mark Hamill truly earns his status as the definitive Joker. (Any time I read a comic book, I read lines in my head in Conroy and Hamill's voices.) The serialised nature of the show is one of the reasons why it works so well, because it plays with format (some episodes are played in flashback, other episodes are from the perspectives of others), and brings in recurring characters like Robin and Barbara Gordon. The stories are compressed into enjoyable bite-sized episodes at 20 minutes apiece (aside from the two-parters), making the show an easy watch. The animation may have dated in terms of detail and fluidity, but a sense of style is readily apparent throughout, with creative framing and use of shadows and colours. It's groundbreaking animation. And best of all, you can easily look upon various animated movies - particularly Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Under the Red Hood - as extensions of the show. This really is an exceptional series, and its legacy speaks for itself. You have got to watch it.
Premise: This parody series is an unearthed 80s horror/drama, complete with poor production values, awful dialogue and hilarious violence. The series is set in a Hospital in Romford, which is situated over the gates of Hell.
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is an elaborate and brilliantly executed hoax that lampoons low-budget '80s television, horror, science fiction and the wild arrogance of authors who genuinely believe themselves to be geniuses. Written by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, Darkplace is instantly addictive and uproariously hilarious on top of being devilishly creative and witty. It's one of the most refreshing and original shows in years, as well, so it's a shame that the series was so overlooked during its original run. Laughs extend from the (deliberately) hilariously wooden acting, the (deliberately) shoddy production values and special effects, as well as plenty of non-sequiturs, in-jokes and visual gags that take multiple viewings to absorb. Just as funny are the (deliberately pretentious) attempts at subtext, spoken with a straight face by the pitch-perfect selection of cast members. Perhaps it's for the best that only six episodes were produced, as the show never got the opportunity to turn bad. But deary me, what I would do for another few seasons of brilliance.
I love Darkplace with a fiery passion. I have to revisit it constantly.
Premise: Hotel owner Basil Fawlty's incompetence, short fuse, and arrogance form a combination that ensures accidents and trouble are never far away.
Twelve episodes. That is all the Fawlty Towers that the world ever received. Yet, this is a case of that old adage of "quality over quantity." Indeed, as much as I wish we had a hundred perfect episodes, I would rather we have twelve perfect episodes as opposed to a larger pool of episodes of mixed quality. This is the pinnacle of British comedy; it's endlessly side-splitting and witty, performed by an able cast who never hold back. The situations may be increasingly ridiculous and awkward, but the show is always a joy to watch. Everybody owes it to themselves to check out Fawlty Towers.
Premise: Dr. Frasier Crane moves back to his hometown of Seattle where he lives with his father and works as a radio psychiatrist.
In terms of American sitcoms, Frasier is simply the king - smarter and more cultured than Friends, and funnier than most of the sitcom trash that has polluted television screens before and since (the "worst" episodes of Frasier are better than the "best" episodes of Big Bang Theory). Consistently witty, the writers of this show are simply the best at what they do, with amusing character quirks and running jokes that never get old (Niles' wife Maris is never seen but consistently discussed). It's also delightfully performed by a superbly game cast. Naturally, not all episodes are a home run, but there are far more hits than misses, and you can always rely upon the show to remain enjoyable. It's a pleasure to see each episode being set up, and it's a riot to see Frasier get with women time and time again...only to stuff it up in a new and inventive way. (Though it is annoying when a woman disappears in the next episode without any explanation.) Eleven seasons and over 250 episodes seemed daunting at first. Now it seems too short. I could sit through another eleven seasons of Frasier brilliance.