We asked our writers a simple question- ‘What’s your all time favourite TV series?’ the results are a great mixture of drama and comedy, sci-fi and more.
Orange is the New Black- Anna Whealing
Known essentially as a T.V drama about lesbians in prison Orange is the New Black peaked in popularity pretty quickly after release. The series is intense, funny and gripping: the type of T.V you can watch as an all-in-one binge. But Orange is the New Black is something more than just bold entertainment, its first season won 12 Primetime Emmy Awards, and it is officially Netflix’s most watched series. The story follows the lives and backstories of women in Litchfield Penitentiary, each character is uncovered as a woman who has made mistakes, been unlucky or been treated unfairly by the system: women who are not simply criminals.
Based on Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir Orange is the New Black: My Time in a Woman’s Prison the series is shockingly realistic. Some would call is gritty, but honest is a better word. It asks questions about individuality, social expectations and stereotypes, family and relationships. This unpredictable, unexpected and captivating drama is also refreshing in its unique setting and female-central outlook. It is perhaps the only T.V series to cast predominantly female parts and it is definitely the only T.V series which doesn’t portray men as the core interest of the feminine world. Aside from the series being an achievement for the female voice in television this is a fantastically original show. Well-told, witty and only occasionally Americanised, there cannot be any type of audience to dislike Orange is the New Black.
The Sopranos- Oliver Rowe
Game of Thrones. Band of Brothers. The Thick of It. Fargo. Sherlock. Black Mirror. Doctor Who. Both versions of The Office. Father Ted. The I.T. Crowd. Boardwalk Empire. These were just some of the choices I rejected in favour of The Sopranos. Why? Well, name any issue within the public consciousness – be this mental illness, sexuality, national identity, race relations, politics, education, gender relations, and of course, family life and crime, and at some point during, if not throughout its eight-year runtime, the show would have explored it.
This is because The Sopranos was always, for better or for worse (though obviously far more consistently for the better), about family life. The crime stories were the over-arching plot points of course, and were brilliant in their own right – deceit, extortion, murder, gang wars, informants and more drove the drama with peaking tension and a complexity and depth that hadn’t been seen in shows before it. But The Sopranos really succeeded in taking things further – it wasn’t just a standard run-of-the-mill organised crime drama – such a show would get dull and predictable after a while. Instead the show looked at these in an authentic way – how these affected those involved, those born into it, and much much more. The writing was phenomenal, often poetic at times, but remained genuine, especially in its darkest and most sombre moments, and the acting was superb, and only got better as the characters developed. The Sopranos was engaging, human drama at its core, and thus its brilliance. Take a bow David Chase, and rest in peace James Gandolfini.
Luther – Arran Byers
D.C.I. John Luther has been a headline programme on BBC since 2010 and in that time it has not failed to deliver original content with heart stopping moments that induce both fear and marvel.
Luther could be described as a cocktail of the intelligent, intricate criminals seen on Sherlock, the brooding nature of Ian Flemings’s James Bond and the exploration of London’s seedy side seen in Guy Ritchie-esque Cockney gangster flicks. Luther is one of the greatest serials of the 21st century.
Idris Elba, an imposing and charismatic man at the best of times, gives the role of Luther such presence that all the criminals he combats are entranced by the mystery surrounding him. Hanging criminals from balconies, roaming London with an illegal firearm and using the help of a former suspect, Alice Morgan (played by Ruth Wilson), are examples of how far Luther will go to cleanse the streets of London.
The atmosphere is always tense, no character is safe from the uncompromising, (and in some episodes, mentally ill,) criminals of London or indeed, from Luther himself. Every episode reaches a nail biting conclusion that lets you question if Luther is just in his actions… or out of control.
Neil Cross has written something more than your usual police drama, Luther is an epic that explores the good, evil and so called ‘norms’ of human nature.
Luther is currently available on BBC iplayer.
Star Trek The Next Generation- Gareth Wood
The thinking man’s Star Trek. The Next Generation showed a world where true heroes thought their way out of a problem, even when they were Klingon. This was a show that was part science fiction, part philosophical introspection. What makes a man? Does he have to be Human? Does he even have to be alive? Its episodes dealt with such questions on a routine basis.
In The Measure of a Man, Picard must prove Data is a person and stop him being taken apart. Worse, in what was a brilliant angle for the writers, Riker must prove he isn’t. Pitted against his friend Riker feels shame and not just because Picard wipes the floor with his arguments. This episode and many more, including the show’s seminal episode, Best of Both Worlds; in which Picard is assimilated by the Borg and his Humanity suppressed and subverted in the form of Locutus, these gripping stories centred around big questions show a very intelligent way of examining the semi-philosophical arguments that really made this show great.
Peep Show- Joel Durston
We’re all a bit weird really, in our heads, aren’t we? Nothing has convinced me more of this than the brilliant, enduring success of Peep Show, the once cult, now mainstream sitcom following the lives of two perennial misfits. Military-history-loving, straight-laced neurotic Mark and waster pin-up-boy Jez, who tries to make an existential statement about eating cereal and watching Storage Hunters at 1pm on a Wednesday.
The show has made such an established art of the point-of-view camera and internal monologue concept that it’s easy to forget how innovative it was at the time; just how clever a twist on the sitcom it was. It’s this that gives us the true insight in Mark and to some extent Jez’s neuroses, which have tapped into something pretty fundamental about the British character, a sense of outward reserve but inner, raging discomfort and anger. Peep Show intelligently captures the gap, in one sense minor and another sense massive- between the said and the unsaid.
Perhaps because of its supremely British style of wit, the show just doesn’t work in America (see the comments too). They have now tried to remake it three times, but America is just too happy and too plain-speaking. They don’t have the same, as David Bennun put it in the Guardian “sly mix of naturalism and exaggeration; the squirming social horror; the self-loathing insecurity masked by desperate delusion; the hideous moments when self-defences buckle and awareness finally defeats cluelessness.” It makes you proud to be a Brit.
Peep Show is currently available on 4od, Channel 4’s free on demand service.
Breaking Bad- Jeremie Sabourin
HBO had The Sopranos. AMC had Breaking Bad. Both shows have really changed the way that a television show is received by an audience and now expectations have soared for original ideas in TV. You no longer have people talking about sitcoms and wholesome family programming. People today love the antihero or even, dare I say, the villain.
Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White in Breaking Bad has got to be one of the greatest roles of all time. Whereas Tony Soprano can be considered an inherently bad guy, Walt is fuelled by desperation and the will to succeed for reasons that are not necessarily his own. As a man with terminal cancer, he is out to ensure that his family is provided for when he’s gone which is something nearly everyone can relate to. As a viewer, you want Walt to succeed even as he slowly ascends to his throne as a drug kingpin because of his plight. Breaking Bad is a show that you can easily power watch through because nearly every episode keeps you on the edge of your seat and the twists and turns keep coming non-stop. Breaking Bad is the gold standard for what a basic cable television show can be and it’s going to be a long time before someone comes along and is able to come close to matching its ratings, awards, and rabid fanbase.
House MD- Phil Gorski
House, MD, is one of the best television shows ever made. It was a pioneering show at the time of release, blending humor and drama in a medical procedural show in ways that hadn’t really been seen before this. (Scrubs, while both humorous and dramatic, handles this type of show with less balance.)
Hugh Laurie’s performance as Dr. Gregory House is one of his most memorable roles yet. House, as a character, undergoes so much growth from season one through the finale in season eight, and it happens in a way that plays out as believable human growth as opposed to forced changes in a character over time. The supporting cast works around House, but they are also integral parts of the story. When things started to become stale, Dr. House’s team gets shaken up with new people. When the show started running out of ways to present rare or unusual diseases while fitting in interpersonal drama between the characters, the creators accepted that all good things must come to an end instead of limping on indefinitely towards progressively lower ratings (looking at you, Scrubs).
Through its special wit and charm, House, MD, made itself into one of the best, most memorable television shows of its time and well beyond.
Star Trek: The Original Series- Delilah Niel
Adventure. Romance. Ripped shirts. As lovers of Star Trek:TOS will know it is impossible to escape the inherent cheesiness which permeates every scene and line. The screen glossing of every attractive face and orchestral soundtrack following every movement. But this naff, campy style is what makes the show an absolute laugh.
Carried by its cast the original Star Trek can also have a lot of emotional punch. Especially brilliant are the performances of Deforest Kelly (Bones) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock). Both bring a depth and warmth to their characters as their headstrong and logical personalities play tug of war. Kirk, of course, is the main attraction. Shatner’s comic timing, as well as his melodramatic tendencies make for hilarious watching as well as plenty of quotable moments.
Furthermore, the show is a fantastic example of budget film making. In some memorable episodes the aliens are not even visible, are made of jelly or are played by kittens. Its ability to create an immersive, though fragile illusion, of the future we might have is admirable. And what a future they see, one with no boundaries for exploration and no racism. May the brilliance of Star Trek live long and prosper.
Life on Mars- George Storr
Life on Mars is a fantastically well written police drama that tells an immensely immersive story full of camaraderie, tension and, for the viewer, satisfaction. Sam Tyler (John Simm,) is run over, comatosed and sent back in time to 1973 where he eventually resumes his position as a detective serving under the remarkable, series defining and infinitely quotable Gene Hunt, who is portrayed flawlessly by Phillip Glenister.
Glenister’s Gene Hunt is an un-compromising, macho Detective Chief Inspector, absolutely hell bent on keeping the streets of Manchester clean. His outdated, hard-nosed views intertwine with his essentially good nature and make for one of the most memorable characters in television history. John Simm’s performance as Sam Tyler is also massively commendable and the characters’ interactions as a pair are well written, building a relationship that is consistently believable.
The multi-layered nature of Life on Mars’s story makes it unique as a series. On one side Sam is trying to get home and the plot essentially takes on a supernatural nature, whereas in its crime drama guise, Life on Mars could not be any more down to earth. Gene Hunt is a fantastic people’s hero.
Life on Mars’ success has been demonstrated clearly in the success of the sequel it definitely merited- Ashes to Ashes told a similar story in the 80’s and without Sam while the US version of Life on Mars, in which Phillip Glenister is notably replaced by Harvey Keitel, has also been a success.
I can’t recommend this series highly enough, it’s a series with drama, tension, superb acting and lots and lots of heart.
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