A List Of TV Shows That You Should Watch

tvI watch way too much TV. Anyone within earshot of me on a daily basis probably thinks that I spend all of my free time watching television shows and then recapping them with friends and co-workers. To some degree this is true. I believe we are (still) in “The Golden Age Of Television” (a term I did not make up but one that critics generally refer to as anything that’s been put on TV since The Sopranos first aired. If you ask me, it started with HBO’s Oz, but I won’t rock the boat on this one). I have nothing against non-TV watchers, I just want you to know that you are missing out on some quality programming these days.

With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go, iTunes, etc. binge watching has replaced good old fashion week-to-week anticipation. Cliffhanger ended the last episode? Don’t want to wait a week (or a year) to see who killed off your favorite character? Simply click the “Next Episode” button and binge away. Netflix even goes as far as releasing every episode of its shows seasons at once. Anticipation be damned!

Online recaps are as abundant as Starbucks and McDonald’s. Noted publications/sites from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone run endless stories, interviews, recaps, discussions, and podcasts about popular television series. The most recent season debut of The Walking Dead drew over 16 million viewers (to put that into perspective, there are around 300 million people in the US. 16+ million of them are watching a show about zombies). I am one of those 16 million viewers and I watch–and have watched–a ton of television series in my day (mostly dramas). Way too much some would say.

You might be very apprehensive when it comes to deciding which series to watch first–since there are so many good choices out there. Even if you missed the initial run of The West Wing you can easily binge through all its seasons online. But should you watch that or catch up on Mad Men? Is True Blood worth diving into? How many seasons behind am I? You hear “everyone” talking about how great these shows are and you’re kinda interested in them but don’t know where to start. I equate it with how I feel when I walk into a really good music store (yes, some do still exist!): I am overwhelmed with having to narrow down my choices in order make a selection. When I sift through 80 Zappa records trying to figure out which one to buy, how do I know which one to begin with?

So lucky for you (I think?) I am here to write you a list of what I feel are excellent television series that you should watch. This is not a list of the “best shows ever” in some arbitrary order (I mean, how could I say The Wire is better than The Sopranos or vice-versa? I can’t!).  I am purposefully not putting numbers in here because I cannot rank them in terms of greatness.

The following list contains my personal favorites when it comes to great television.  I hope that if there is a series on this list you have not watched–or have been tempted to watch–that my brief explanation(s) of the show(s) might intrigue you enough to get started. (Note: I did my best to not include any spoilers.)

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Songs I Wish I Wrote: “If I Had A Heart”

Every now and again a new artist I have never heard before comes across my musical radar. More often than not, it’s either a friend or co-worker who turns me on to something. “You need to check out [insert name here] because I really think you will like them.” Other times it might be that I have read something about them or heard one of their songs on the TV/radio/movie. I discovered Jeff Buckley via The West Wing, got turned on to The Stones “Thru and Thru” via The Sopranos, and just recently during the Season 4 episode “Open House” on Breaking Bad I discovered the artist Fever Ray and her song “If I Had A Heart”.  Just like Buckley on WW or The Stones on The Sopranos, the song was used perfectly to project a certain mood of the scene.  It had me at hello.

Fever Ray is the solo project of Karen Dreijer Andersson (from Swedish duo The Knife). Before this episode aired, I had never heard one note of The Knife or Fever Ray, though I had seen the names in various places over the past year or two. It’s hard for me to separate the song from the scene at this point. If you watch Breaking Bad then you already know what the show is all about. If you don’t watch it, let’s just say the song sounds like what one of the characters was going through during this particular moment of the show: intense dread.

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RubeFlix: “The West Wing”

Long before The Social Network, but not long after A Few Good Men and The American President, Aaron Sorkin combined the latter two movies and created the Emmy Award-winning television drama The West Wing on NBC. The show ran for seven seasons (1999-2006) and covered a plethora of political and personal topics that were both timely and overtly dramatic.

Luckily, for those of you that didn’t watch the show when it originally aired, we now have NetFlix and various other avenues by which we can view an older television series. Now, watching an entire season of any show only requires a rainy weekend and, oh, say about, 10-20 hours of free time to kill. Lucky for me (I think) I was hooked on the original running of the series before it even aired. I remember there being plenty of hype for it before the pilot episode even hit NBC.

One of the most interesting things about going back and re-watching movies or television shows (or music) is discovering if you still feel the same way about it after subsequent viewings as you did upon the initial one. Shows like The Wire or Deadwood undoubtedly grow more and more engaging with multiple viewings, once you are able to absorb more of the dialogue, character development, and plot lines. When The West Wing originally aired, there was no such thing as pausing or recording live tv, no Tivo or NetFlix. If you missed an episode, well, you were screwed (unless someone you knew taped it on their VCR). A relative once asked me what the point is in re-watching a movie you have already seen? My response was, “do you only listen to an album once?”

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