Though books hold a special place in my heart, over the past few years I’ve come to realize that my absolute favorite storytelling medium has to be television. Because of this, I decided to share the 25 TV shows which hold special places in my heart, and why!
15. The Good Place (2016-Present)
Favorite Episode: Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent (2×11)
I’m not 100% sure how well known the Good Place is… it seems to exist in a limbo of being extremely critically acclaimed but also rarely as talked about as its sibling series, Brooklyn 99 and Parks & Rec. The Good Place is an extremely ambitious sitcom taking place in the afterlife, and following a woman who doesn’t belong in heaven trapped there. Somehow both hilarious and thoughtful, the Good Place’s M.O. tends to be analyzing and explaining classical philosophy, but it also finds plenty of time to subtly and inoffensively criticize religion and our ideas of heaven and Hell.
The one negative TGP has going for it is that so much happens in such a short amount of time, it can be hard to remain attached to the characters. The protagonists in Season Two are so drastically different then they were in Season One that the viewer may experience a form of emotional whiplash… it took me until midway through the season to become attached to them once more. However, this kind of risky storytelling is what makes the show so special.
14. The Gifted (2017-Present)
Favorite Episode: eXploited (1×10)
How is the best X-Men story on screen a television series without the actual X-Men or any recognizable mutants?
I don’t hate the X-Men movies (well, most of them anyway) but they’ve always been hindered by their obsession with the same three characters (Wolverine, Magneto, Mystique)… not to mention their ability to butcher villains such as Dark Phoenix, Juggernaut, the Hellfire Club, and Apocalypse, and decision to overemphasize the Scott/Logan/Jean love triangle… not to mention the complete bastardization of Mystique through the last few films.
Totally free from expectation or demanding stars, The Gifted succeeds in crafting an amazing, relevant exploration of family, identity, and politics. From the believably complicated Strucker family to the hardened veterans of the Mutant Underground, the show succeeds in painting a more whole and deeply complex conflict without good answers. The show also benefits from smaller seasons, cutting filler down to zero. My only complaint for the Gifted is that the ending of the second Season was somewhat predictable.
13. Jessica Jones (2015-Present)
Favorite Episode: 1,000 Cuts (1×10)
I feel like a lot of people will be surprised by my rankings for the Netflix MCU shows… Jessica Jones‘ first season was extremely rather well, but its second season, along with Jessica’s appearance in Defenders, were unpopular enough to leave a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. I don’t get it. I loved Jessica Jones Season 1, loved Defenders (as you’ll see later) and actually really enjoyed JJ Season 2.
The first season of Jessica Jones was almost unbearably tense, disturbing, and had one of the strongest starts of a Netflix season. It deftly explored the trauma Jessica experienced at the hands of the unforgettable Kilgrave, the deep emotional impact this left on her and those around her, and, perhaps most importantly, her ability to do the right thing and discover a makeshift family despite everything. Season Two, however, took an incredible risk, turning almost everything about the first season on its head.
Season Two was a slow, perhaps uncomfortably so, experience, its mystery bordering on mundane on some occasions… it reached even deeper into Jessica’s dark past, and painted shocking revelations with a dull stroke that might’ve surprised viewers. Unlike the first season, where Jessica was guided and ultimately saved by her love for others, Season Two succeeded by steadily isolating her from those she loved, forcing her to come to terms with herself and find a way to be comfortable with Jessica the individual rather than Jessica the sister, friend, or boss. It was an exercise in drifting away from things you loved, and growing for it, and for me, it was just as emotional as the first season.
12. Legion (2017-Present)
Favorite Episode: Chapter 14 (2×06)
Legion is a strange, artsy take on the superhero genre that- most of the time- works. Featuring extremely talented actors such as Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, the prettiest cinematography on TV, and a willingness to take insane risks in their storytelling, Legion follows a mentally ill man named David coming to terms with his mutant powers. Featuring an eclectic cast of characters, a truly terrifying villain, and a story that never goes where you think, Legion is, like The Gifted, a far better X-Men story than any of the X-Men movies.
Legion isn’t rated as highly as it might’ve been because, well, its gutsy risks don’t always pay off, and when they don’t– it’s ugly. After a pitch perfect first season, Legion returned and vowed to go even crazier, which produced a frighteningly uneven year of stories. While 2×06 remains one of the best stories I’ve seen on television, the second half of the season became extremely rushed and near incomprehensible, killing off (brutally) their only dark-skinned lead, making more than one main character a rapist, and completely switching directions without rhyme or reason.
Nevertheless, when Legion hits, it hits hard… and even when the story is ugly, the visuals are so gorgeous one can’t help but remain engaged.
11. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Favorite Episode: The Gift (5×22)
I feel like there’s not a lot I need to say about Buffy because, come on… it’s Buffy. The show is a cult classic for a reason. It certainly hasn’t aged perfectly (the show originated the controversial Bury Your Gays trope and Joss Whedon is not quite as feminist as he would have you believe) but it’s aged pretty well.
An unbelievably fun, character driven story, BtVS follows up on the lesser-known feature film in telling the story of Buffy Summers, a formerly vacuous popular girl named as the next vampire slayer. Moving to Sunnydale, a small town home to a hidden entrance to Hell, she finds herself recruiting an alliance of underdogs and misfits to help her do her duty… but then again, maybe not, as she begins to question the organization which has controlled the slayers for centuries and chooses to forge her own path.
A wonderfully satisfying coming of age tale with memorable silent, musical, and score-less episodes, Buffy is a much watch for anyone who loves TV.
10. The Defenders (2017)
Favorite Episode: Royal Dragon (1×04)
I really don’t get the hate for the Defenders. God knows it wasn’t perfect, but neither was 2012’s The Avengers and literally everybody loves that film.
Defenders was tasked with taking leftover plot threads from the not-as-popular Season 2 of the well-received Daredevil, combining them with the dangling threads of the universally reviled Iron Fist, while bringing in four different characters from four drastically different shows in aesthetic and tone, all the while creating a cohesive narrative. In my opinion? It succeeded.
The producers made the controversial choice to keep the titular characters apart for the first two episodes, invoking a visually enticing slow burn as the four Defenders approach the same mystery from their own respective worlds, each defined by a color: red, blue, yellow, or green. While these first two stories are admittedly a bit sluggish, they make the story that much more satisfying and believable when the characters do finally unite; And once that happens, everything falls into place.
The cast- even the supporting characters hitching a ride with their respective heroes- gels wonderfully, giving us compelling character beats, relationships, and a genuinely moving finale.
Ignore the haters and watch Defenders. Maybe you won’t love it, but maybe you will, and I deserve a Season 2.
9. Doctor Who / Class (2005-Present) / (2016)
Favorite Episode: The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar (9×01 & 9×02)
Unpopular opinion: popular culture has romanticized David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor and slept on Peter Capaldi’s time as the Twelfth Doctor. There, I said it.
Doctor Who is an insanely popular show for many reasons, one being its longevity, but the other being its ability to reinvent itself every few seasons with a new cast and crew but the same character and story. This kind of forward movement is really special to me (although doctors could stand to reference each others’ adventures more). The time and space travel gimmick is enough to justify a slew of unique, fun, and moving stories, with an impressive range of moods and plots.
Unlike most, I feel like the show has only gotten better over time, retaining its sense of humour and wonder while also becoming a much deeper, more aesthetically pleasing show. I thoroughly enjoyed the controversial era of the Twelfth Doctor and all his companions (yes, especially Clara) and resent the fandom’s inability to accept change and stop comparing every doctor to Tennant and every companion to Piper, who were good but not-THAT-much-better in their roles.
Also mentioned here is the short-lived spinoff Class, which I loved and might’ve even surpassed the original show had it lasted more than 8 episodes. An impressive plot, diverse characters, and a cameo from the Doctor… what more can you ask for?
8. Angel (1999-2004)
Favorite Episode: You’re Welcome (5×12)
Yes, I ranked Angel higher than Buffy. Sue me.
The thing is that while Buffy was undoubtedly a more reliable show for its seven year run, the five seasons of Angel had much higher highs and lower lows. My central problem with Buffy was that it quickly fell into a status quo- I’m not saying it wasn’t fun to watch, but you always knew watching it that Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles were safe and that they’d somehow be back the next season to guard the Sunnydale hellmouth. Even after graduating high school, the central cast remained near-unchanged, robbing the show of a lot of sense of forward momentum and stakes in my opinion. But in Angel? Nothing was sacred.
To start, Angel had the best character progression of the Whedon shows I’ve seen… compare the frivolous, selfish Cordelia from season 1 of Buffy to the brave, kind warrior who departed in Season 5, or the cowardly, clean cut Wesley of Buffy’s third season to the grizzled, broken man who fell in love with Fred. The characters grew, the premise grew… Angel Investigations grew from their small office to the haunting Hyperion Hotel and finally to the grim offices of Wolfram & Hart. Characters and plot elements came and went, leaving the show better for their being there.
But, like I said- high highs, low lows. Case in point: Season 4, the ugly season where Whedon punished actress Charisma Carpenter for her pregnancy by turning her character into a pedophilic villain. The less said about that the better.
7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019)
Favorite Episode: Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy (3×04)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a peculiar television show in that it is both exactly what it sounds like and nothing like it sounds like. The title conjures the image of a kooky yet cliche comedy about a crazy girl pursuing the love of a hapless boy. It is exactly that and nothing like that. Meet Rebecca Bunch- a fiercely intelligent yet depressed lawyer who gives up the job of a lifetime to fly across the world and attempt to win back a dude she dated for a summer when she was maybe sixteen.
The first clue that CXGF isn’t your typical romantic comedy is the theme song: or, more accurately, the theme songs. (Every season has a different, hilariously meta, one). Immediately, in the Season 1 theme, Rebecca points out that crazy ex-girlfriend is “a sexist term” and “the situation is a lot more nuanced then that”… in Season 2, she happily assures the viewer that “she has no underlying issues to address”. But she does. Because while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tackles sexism, gender roles, coming out, love, and friendship, it is first and foremost the best show on television about mental illness.
Moving at breakneck speed from Season 1’s denial to the artfully done breakdown in Season 3 that forces Rebecca to acknowledge her issues and begin the road to help, CXGF is methodical but thorough in getting the viewer to root for Rebecca without excusing her for her actions. It provides one of the best supporting casts on TV (right up there with iZombie) and provides at least two hilarious original musical numbers every week.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is simply impossible to describe, but it is so important and so much fun to watch.
6. iZombie (2015-2019)
Favorite Episode: Salivation Army (2×19)
I never expected to watch iZombie, primarily because I hate horror and I hate zombies. Surprise, surprise… on a school trip to Orlando, Florida, I gave it a try via Hulu and discovered it to be one of the most unique, creative, emotional, funny shows on television.
I don’t know how many of you’ve seen Buffy, but there’s an episode where one of the protagonists gets possessed and eats their principal and there is absolutely zero emotional fallout. This always struck me as weird– I’d be pretty disturbed knowing I’d consumed the flesh of an administrator. Horror tropes rarely leave room to explore the emotional fallout of being a monster (besides Frankenstein riffs) but iZombie turns all of that on its head by giving us the story of a Type A, RHHS-esque perfectionist doctor who dies and loses everything.
Liv Moore was going to be a big shot doctor before she “died”, and now she finds herself working as an assistant at the police morgue so she can consume brains on a weekly basis to prevent decaying and going “Full-Romero”. However, when she eats a brain she gains bits of their personality and flashes of memory, and soon finds herself working with a detective to solve the murders of the victims she’s eaten all the while constantly trying to prevent a zombie apocalypse. The story is constantly engaging, giving us genuinely brain-teasing crimes episode to episode while weaving well-paced, tight conspiracies to run in the background of every episode.
The viewer is treated to astonishingly fully-fleshed characters, many likable, some you love-to-hate, and get the privilege of following Liv as many of the brains teach her to live a much fuller life than she did when she was alive. Truly a unique and fun series, I will be disappointed when the final season concludes this year.