While many tv shows love to recycle everything from one episode to another unchanged, Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't afraid to let its characters grow. Every season they would be one year older and more experienced, graduating from high school and moving to university, facing adulthood. Their fears and uncertainities about growing up were intertwined to fighting supernatural threats, which brought aboard themes such as duty vs. will to live one's own life.
To boot, it offers magnificent spins on many tropes about supernatural beings, it's incredibly funny, and also it's pure continuity porn - there is so much different kind of things going on at the same time that it offers something to everyone both character- and audience-wise.
Doctor Who is my favourite tv show of all time - not the best one I've seen, but the most enjoyable. I started watching it as a fun romp, and three seasons later I found myself really caring about characters and plotlines. The funny thing is, I can't really say where the change happened. It can seamlessly blend these two elements, and the longer it lasts, the better it comes (at least so far).
Doctor Who is an interesting tv show, because its core theme is change. It's a scifi show that can use of elements of adventure, horror, comedy and drama with ease, so two following stories are rarely alike. Sometimes all these genres can be fitted into one episode. Also, it has managed to survive for nearly 50 years by changing the main actor via character's regeneration which almost obliges the writers to explore new parts of his personality.
In the midst of pop-culture relying on violence, sex and shock value, Doctor Who's main character likes to defeat his foes with his wits. It's a breath of fresh air, and offers many satisfying possibilities for screenwriters to shine by using their imagination, delivering cracking dialogue and of course offering fist-pumpingly awesome hero moments. For me, Doctor Who is the last line of defense against cynicism and idiotic worship of mindless pop culture machismo.
Also, the actors are awesome and the theme song is impossible to get out of your head.
Buffy's spin-off show Angel is not as good as its big sister - which quite frankly, would have been pretty much impossible a feat to pull off - mainly because it requires a sweet time to get going, with nothing particularly interesting at sight save for some foreshadowing and ground work. However, the mix between humor and angsty drama balanced perfectly, the LA setting gives the show even some noir elements, and most of all it's remarkable that the show can pick all the most annoying and / or least interesting characters from Buffy and mold their fates into something relatable, with an addition of memorable new side characters.
Probably more formulaic than it has any need to be, but magnificent Hugh Laurie sells the hell out of the main role. His portryal as the arrogant, cocky and clever Dr. House is pretty much the only reason to watch the show, and once the structure of episodes starts to repeat itself so it becomes unbearable, it's time to let the show go.
Even though there are many similarities in the basic concepts, I'm hesitant to call Torchwood as Angel to Doctor Who's Buffy, because that would mean insulting a good show like Angel. Torchwood is one of those shows, for which "dark and gritty" means introducing plenty of sex, violence and shock value without any thought or actual impact. It wanted to be so much important than it actually was, but the hollow shell found some meaning during only one season (number three, for those of you wondering). Beyond that one moment of glory, it was a mess of a show for hardcore Whovians only. The two first seasons were mostly bad with some shining beacons of hope, and the fourth season so painfully awful that it finally terminated the show's future. Even if it somehow managed to crawl back to existence, I wouldn't give it another shot - expect between the eyes.
Episodes: 27 (inculding the two unaired episodes: the pilot and the first season finale)
The step-child of Joss Whedon tv shows. Dollhouse attemped to be the most "adult" show Whedon put together, and I think it suffered from it.
Dollhouse follows a group of people whose memories have been erased and replaced, and who can be programmed in any desirable way again and again, while one of the them might or might not be forming a new type of self-consciousness. It starts slow with irrevelant stand-alone episodes, but once the show's cancellation seemed inevitable, the pace becomes more and more relentless, with fascinating ideas, concepts and people whizzing by. All twists and turns are not satisfying, but it's pretty neat that the show still manages to tell its intended storyline which has consequences even in decades to come. However, no matter how good some individual episodes manage to be, the show's legacy comes down to being forgettabale, because - partly due to time constraints and "adult"-oriented core concept - the characters aren't as relatable, memorable or funny as in Whedon's previous shows.
Episodes: 25 (including the two specials)
Cracker is brilliant, and propably the best police drama ever put together. It's not about a cop but a psychologist helping the police, and the question surrounding the cases isn't who commited the crimes, but why they did them. It's a refreshing spin for crime dramas and allows the show to examine many psychological, mental, economical, and social factors behind criminal activity. Also the sense of continuity is wonderful. All the cases are individual ones, but amongst them the show is not afraid not examine their impact on police officers solving the cases and people around them. Plus Robbie Coltrane is phenomal in the main role.
The first three series, which form the main body of the show are fantastic through the line, and even though the two special episodes made later aren't as good - the first one, which takes place in Hong Kong, is definetly show's weak link - Cracker is thoughtful and thought-provoking crime drama. Highly recommended.
There's a lot of good buzz surrounding BBC's crime drama Luther, even with comparisons being made to Prime Suspect and Cracker (the latter of which, of course, is still one of my favourite tv series). "Well, it is by BBC so it can't be shit, and hey, Idris Elba is in it, so maybe it's not unbearable", I thought. Except it kinda is. Everything - characters, their relationships, dialogue, criminals, stories - is over-the-top dark and grim, and far from well written. Thanks to Elba, some nifty ideas here and there and a few interesting character dynamics I managed to slog through season one but found no reason whatsoever to continue watching or to recommend the show.
The idea comes from Wendel's list. I'll be listing the TV shows I've watched, but only the ones I come properly remember (that means no awesome memories of Saturady morning cartoons, I'm afraid). Updating only full seasons.