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!
5. Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger (2018-Present)
Favorite Episode: Back Breaker (1×09)
The newest show on this list, the first, 10-episode season of Cloak & Dagger was still airing when I began this list… but still, I knew it belonged in my top 5. Arguably the best MCU TV show, and certainly the most consistently good, Cloak & Dagger succeeds by adapting a less-developed comic book property, expanding on the preexisting mythos while preserving- and improving on- the source material.
Unlike the comic, and Marvel’s Netflix shows, C&D chooses to relocate to New Orleans, but this change is far more than cosmetic– New Orleans, its culture, and its history form the backbone of this visually and narratively stunning series. Weaving an insanely compelling standalone story which follows up on Marvel’s Agent Carter, Cloak & Dagger handles mature themes without drowning in darkness, presents compelling teen drama without becoming a corny cliche, and creates morally complex, not always good protagonists who are still insanely likable.
When I first drafted this list, the show came in at 4th, but after the finale aired I had to knock it down a peg. Unfortunately, Cloak & Dagger‘s season finale was the worst episode of the series, its climax ignoring the rules laid out by the rest of the season, rushing to the finish with an unsatisfying, poorly animated deus ax machina with zero explanation.
However, despite how weak 1×10 was, 1×01-1×09 were the single most solid run of episodes Marvel has ever produced, and certainly its best looking. I have high hopes for Season 2, and hope Cloak & Dagger continues to delve into its mythology instead of resisting it last minute.
4. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-Present)
Favorite Episode: Self Control (4×15)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. holds a special place in my heart, as it was the very first show I began watching on a week to week basis… but even if it didn’t, I have no doubt that AoS would make the Top 5, due to its astonishing ability to grow and reinvent itself through the years.
AoS, referred to colloquially by the less-educated as “Agents of S**t”, has an unfair reputation among most Marvel fans. Launching immediately after the wildly successful (and overrated) Avengers film in 2012, S.H.I.E.L.D. was hindered by the unreasonable expectations of fans, and by Marvel forcing it to spin its wheels while it waited for the S.H.I.E.L.D.-related twist from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to hit. Consequently, AoS starts slow, and it starts small… focusing on a small group of seemingly irrelevant agents under Phil Coulson, investigating small, one-off mysteries and developing its characters for the first several months.
And then CA: TWS hit, and everything changed- the well-developed characters we’d grown to know and love over the past few months were outgunned and on the run as S.H.I.E.L.D. as we knew it collapsed and a traitor was revealed against all odds. Resisting expectations, AoS barreled forward, laying on twist after twist and upping the stakes as our characters got more complicated, and the menaces they faced… more paranormal.
After the somewhat procedural first season, AoS gave us a phenomenal, fascinating second season introducing a superhero, a slew of comic book characters and elements, and a pitch perfect plot that ended in a shocking cliffhanger. Season Three gave us some more traditional superhero antics, falling slightly short of its predecessor but paving the way for the best thing the MCU has ever produced… AoS Season 4.
A tense, clever exploration of identity, Season 4 divided itself into three seemingly unrelated “pods” (or mini-seasons)… Ghost Rider, bringing in the magic of Doctor Strange in a phenomenal way, L.M.D., a truly terrifying arc which included the show’s best episode, “Self Control”, and Agents of Hydra, a trippy storyline which tied the first four seasons of the show, and all three pods, together into a fantastic conclusion. Season 5 of AoS didn’t quite match up to S4 in terms of quality, but it went even bigger, putting the agents in a near-impossible situation that kept the viewer on edge week after week.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has featured glorious cameos, shocking twists, and beautiful storylines (Season 4), but at its core, the show’s biggest strength is its dedication to characters and their growth. Season 1 might be hard to slog through, but I promise… the character development is worth it, and makes the good things to come that much more fun to watch.
3. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016-Present)
Favorite Episode: Phone Home (3×04)
Speaking of underrated shows…
DC Comics fans were in for a pleasant surprise a few years ago when The CW launched an interconnected universe of superhero shows, spinning out of Arrow. The first spinoff, The Flash, was met with universal acclaim, and was soon followed by Supergirl at CBS (though it later migrated to the CW) and Legends of Tomorrow, an original concept bringing together heroes and villains from both Flash and Arrow. Unfortunately, much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Legends didn’t get off to the best start… but it learned quickly, cutting dead weight from the cast at the end of Season 1 and embracing the wild, wacky Silver Age comic book tone that its darker siblings ignored and taking a deep dive into comic book mythos.
As soon as Season 2 premiered, it became clear that Legends was destined to be the best of the Arrowverse shows. Unlike Arrow, dedicated to rehashing the same angsty civil war-esque storylines year after year, or the Flash, which ironically refused to move forward by preserving the main characters and status quo year after year while also steadily shaving away anything not related to STAR Labs, or even Supergirl, an uneven show which frequently contradicted itself and became mired in romantic drama… Legends was unwilling to stay in one place.
Cycling through a wild and woolly cast of characters who quickly became like family to the viewers and characters alike, Legends allowed its heroes to grow, change, fail… and die. It also embraced the absurd nature of the show, becoming a swashbuckling ride through history without compromising its sense of drama. Its season 3 finale was somehow ridiculous yet perfect at the same time, funny, but with real stakes and sacrifice.
Legends isn’t a perfect show, but it’s the closest thing the CW has and a joy to watch every week. I eagerly look forward to watching the show continue to reinvent itself and blaze a trail for the rest of superhero television.
2. A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017-2019)
Favorite Episode: The Austere Academy: Part Two (2×02)
This one is hard to explain.
I never read the Series of Unfortunate Events books when I was younger (my parents thought they would be too dark), but as soon as I watched the first episode of the Netflix adaptation, I was hooked. An absurdist, dark dramedy taking place in an anachronistic and gothic reality, ASoUE follows three orphans as they go through trauma after trauma, again and again, at the hands of a frightening and malevolent man who never once faces justice for his actions. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are immensely likable and their story is riveting, hilarious, and inspiring.
I’m fairly certain as a child I would’ve found the dark and endless nature of the Baudelaires’ misfortune depressing and tedious, but as a teenager, I find it cathartic. We live in a cynical and messy world, and so do Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The show resists the temptation to give any sort of resolution and happy ending, forcing the protagonists to experience an unending struggle reminiscent of real life, but never once do the children falter.
ASoUE is pretty to look at, whimsical to experience, and darkly funny, but also honest. The Baudelaires forge forward through darkness with no end in sight, but they persist, not because they believe in a happy ending… but because they love each other and will never, ever give up on the slim chance of a better future.
1. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017)
Favorite Episode: Nice Jacket (2×10)
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, loosely based on two novels by Douglas Adams, aired for two glorious seasons on BBC America before being tragically cut short. Any chance of a revival was killed when it turned out that its showrunner was one of those predatory Weinstein-types, a revelation that certainly casts a dark shadow on the show. But despite the inexcusable actions of Landis, Dirk Gently was populated by an insanely talented and passionate cast and crew who deserve to be recognized for this wonderful show.
Dirk Gently’s two seasons, though wildly different and mind-blowingly creative, follow the same basic format– a strange mystery is unveiled, the only clues being a series of random, bizarre, seemingly unrelated events… yet as the season progresses, and the protagonists stumble blindly for answers, the strangest thing happens– it turns out everything is connected. Every little clue matters, and it all wraps up neatly into an insanely fun solution that makes the season of confusion worthwhile.
A wonderful exploration of purpose and identity, family and outcasts, Dirk Gently deserves a third season (and a new showrunner) to let this insanely talented cast and crew continue to pump out the best show on TV.