This is tough. I don’t watch TV any more, not in the traditional sense anyway. Like the rest of humanity, my watching habits no longer revolve around the wait for a new show each week. I dip in and out of a remarkable amount of genre TV without ever having ‘favourites’ and the last time I binge watched was in the early days of the Box Set. Having said all that, there are some things for which time is always made for. There are a couple of shows which define me.
However, nothing is addictive any more.
NCIS [2003 – Present]
This is the show that got me through arm injury, drug allergies and various mental traumas earlier this year. I’m currently using Amazon to fill in the gaps (middle of Season Two) but will always take time if the Universal Channel is showing a few episodes of a weekend afternoon to just drop everything and watch. The pedigree of the production staff (Donald P. Bellisario and Don McGill) was the hook (having been a huge Quantum Leap fan back in the day), and it helps that procedurals are a personal favourite, especially CSI. NCIS may occasionally get hung up on a slightly 1990’s approach to the genre, but in the main it’s a joy both to watch and get immersed in. I particularly recommend the Season 7 opener, Truth or Consequences.
Ripper Street [2012-2016]
Oh look, it’s a procedural made by the BBC, so that’s already ticking the boxes, but then when you see who’s in it? Matthew Macfadyen really has done no wrong since Spooks. This is a perfect vehicle for him and indeed everybody else, who lay the groundwork for shows such as Penny Dreadful by mixing historical accuracy with modern sensibilities, bringing the notion of Victorian squalor and neophyte forensic investigation very much into the future. Sadly, however, nobody got the memo about upgrading women’s roles away from prostitutes or dutiful wives. It takes a few years for the genre to catch up, but we’re already seeing greater female visibility in such productions, so no harm done. Worth it for set pieces and attention to detail.
If you wanted one show which defined not only my twenties, but the sense of humour that’s still possessed after all these years, it would be Richard Curtis’ History of the Blackadders. Though most people would argue it’s the Elizabethan generation which gets the best laughs and most impressive scripts, the World War One version of our titular hero is by far the best, because from the outset you already know his fate. This is where the line stops, and when it did an entire generation burst into tears at the realisation that sometimes, heroes don’t get the happy ending they deserve. It is very much a product of its age, however, which sometimes weighs against the humour, but history allows a measure of sympathy to the material as a result.
The West Wing [1996-2006]
It was the backdrop to my thirties, made politics on TV cool again and largely redefined production values across all versions of drama for the next two decades. What Aaron Sorkin managed to do with Josiah Bartlet over his tenure as a fictional President was make being smart an aspiration. Being a Republican didn’t open you to potential abuse (see Ainsley Hayes above) but rather ended up getting you employed if you were capable of doing your job well: being a woman wasn’t a handicap, and anybody could run for President, literally ANYBODY. Some might argue that without shows like this everybody would have been poorer intellectually regardless of political affiliation and they would be 100% correct. Why are you not watching this already?
The Simpsons [1989-Present]
This should be on everybody’s top ten list. Yes, there are far more worthy choices (Spongebob, Amazing World of Gumball) or edgier (Regular Show, Family Guy) but this animation remains the foundation for pretty much every cartoon series created since the early 1990’s. Like it or not (and increasingly its detractors outweigh the support) there are moments of totally unabashed comic genius buried within each season. I’d argue the first decade is where the show was at its best, because of the means by which it so utterly reflected back America at itself at the end of the 21st century. This song above, and the episode it is lifted from (written by some bloke called Conan O’Brien) is the show at it’s utter apex.
Doctor Who [1963-Present]
My first Doctor was Pertwee. I had a crush on Davison. Then, I had a bigger one on Tennant. I still have. Honestly people, you don’t need to know why I’m here, it’s been my life since 1972, for fuck’s sake, and I’m not missing a woman in this role for all the Daleks on Skaro because my crush on the upcoming Doctor beats all her predecessors. This summer I’ll be watching Tennant’s tenure again because it’s the best thing that’s happened since the reboot, but likely start with Donna Noble because BEST COMPANION EU. For now I am reminded that Matt Smith wore really lovely waistcoats…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer [1997-2003]
This, as well as Charmed, was something of a guilty pleasure, in the days before Strong Female Role Models [TM] were the norm. Sadly, having learnt that the man behind the show wasn’t as awesome as was initially the case, some of the lustre comes off from a concept that redefined vampires for the 21st Century, and has offered elements of the supernatural to countless shown that sprang from the ashes of Sunnydale. It’s also chock full of metaphors not only for American teenage life but growing up in general, plus the consequences of those pesky life moments that sometimes we get no control in defining. I was an Oz fan, but honestly would still sleep with Alyson Hannigan at the drop of a wand.
The X Files [1993-2016]
I have a video of me on BBC2, explaining how the First Season episode of X Files [Beyond the Sea] was my favourite. It all got a bit rubbish after Scully left, and I’ve not watched any of the reboot stuff. My Golden Age was 1993-1996, and that’s all I’m willing to talk about. Don’t @ me, and if you don’t get why this was a show I paid cash to willing Americans to send me from the US via video tape, you really haven’t been paying enough attention.
Ripping Yarns [1976-1979]
Too young to really appreciate Python, not a fan of John Cleese’s physical comedy, Jones and Palin gave me this show which still remains as a bright, lasting reminder that comedy was adult, brilliant and funny all at once. The nine shows that make up the two series are all total classics. Remind me to try and find somewhere to watch these again… that’s what You Tube is for, right?
Sapphire and Steel [1979-1982]
With David McCallum as a regular in NCIS, this show brings everything rather conveniently back full circle. There’s no way I can describe this show in a paragraph, but it is bonkers brilliance of the highest order. Go seek it out, and marvel at how dated it looks, but how awesome the contents are regardless.
There is SO MUCH I could have added, and right now I’m fighting my way through The Expanse, the reboot of The Prisoner and dipping toes into classic CSI episodes.
Mostly, if you wanna talk genre TV? I’m there.