If you asked me what my favorite TV shows of all time were, I hate to say I’d probably give you a lot of typical answers. It’s no fun to write a list where everyone probably knows what you’re going to say. There are just certain TV shows that are so incredible and widely loved that you almost can’t not have them on your all-time favorite list if you’ve seen them.
So yes, normally I’d list shows like The Wire, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Firefly, Seinfeld and so on, but in an effort to just go a little bit outside the box, I’m going to share an alternate top five list with you.
I’m not pretending these are like small indie shows no one’s ever heard of, but many won’t find themselves into many “greatest of all time lists,” even though they maybe should be there.
Friday Night Lights
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like Friday Night Lights if they’ve seen it. Young or old, guy or girl, there’s just something about this show that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Listen to that intro. If you’ve seen the show, you might practically be in tears already.
FNL was the story of a Texas football team, but it was so much more than that. The dialogue and performances from its cast were so fantastic, that often, the show didn’t feel like a show at all. It was simply life, and these were your friends.
It wasn’t perfect (see season 2’s Landry murder plot and anything Julie Taylor ever did), but when it was great, it was the best, and it sort of just drifted away quietly rather than being some epic television finale event. And really, that’s okay.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
If this were a top ten list which did include the likes of The Wire, Arrested, Breaking Bad and so on, I’d still put Avatar: The Last Airbender near the top. Despite the fact that I’m a big nerd, I never really got into anime. And really, The Last Airbender isn’t quite anime, it’s something that doesn’t really exist, an animated drama.
Over three seasons, Nickelodeon created a fantastic fantasy world where people controlled the four elements, and one Avatar could control them all. The Last Airbender was funny, gripping, and heartbreaking at times, and it was incredible how the show kept upping the stakes from each season to the next.
It was a perfectly crafted three season arc, with the show telling exactly the story it wanted to tell. No more, no less. It’s spin-off The Legend of Korra might not live up to its predecessor, but it’s still one of the best shows currently on right now all the same. Watch the original series if you haven’t, please.
It fascinates me that for how impactful college is in many of our lives, and for how crazy, funny, and memorable the experience can be, there are few, if any, shows that capture that. Most shows start in high school, and when they go off to college, they fall apart (Boy Meets World, Saved by the Bell, Degrassi), but Undeclared was comedic masterpiece that showed a hilarious college experience infused with a bit of actual drama at times. And since it was a network show, it didn’t even have to rely on overtly crude humor at every turn like most R-rated college based movies. It was just…funny.
Undeclared is often overshadowed by Judd Apatow’s other famous canceled too soon show, Freaks and Geeks, but that’s a more typical pick for lists like these. Undeclared had a fantastic cast with Jay Baruchel as the lead, supported by young (and still English) Charlie Hunnam, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel.
Perhaps I like Undeclared so much because I simply related to it more than most other comedies, first watching it as a gawky college freshman with a crush on an unavailable girl. But I honestly think it’s just objectively hilarious, and its own fault is how it ends abruptly and weirdly at the hands of Fox.
The show so nerdy, just the name itself is a punchline on Battlestar Galactica. But you know, not really. Battlestar Galactica is a fascinating piece of drama that just happens to be sci-fi, and it’s a show I’ve managed to convert people into loving even if it’s not normally their genre.
Again, Battlestar is far from flawless, but there is just so much quality packed into four seasons, and the two running mysteries of the show, what is Earth, and who are the secret Cylons, were more compelling than Lost’s 85,000 mysteries, as both shows were airing at the same time.
Give season one a try, even if you think you could never like a sci-fi show. I almost guarantee you won’t regret it.
Alright, I know I’m going way outside the norm now to a show that was most popular in a completely different country when I was about six years old.
That said, I’ve watched all 14 episodes of the series many, many times, and there’s never been a show or movie that has made me laughed quite as much. It was funny when I was six, and it’s still funny today. Rowan Atkinson is nothing short of a comedic genius, and I would argue the best physical comic of all time.
Again, a strange show to make the list perhaps, but when all 14 episodes were nothing but gold, I think it deserves a place in countdowns like these.