For a show that began expensive and extravagant, and only survived the chop when its creators (including Ben Elton and Richard Curtis) agreed to turn it into a studio-bound production, Blackadder quickly entered the national consciousness for its well-constructed gags and some consummate acting from the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInnerny and a revolving-door troupe of guests. For all its formulaic nature, the show was consistently sharp and funny, and even, with its fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forthshowed off a beating heart of compassion.
Long before Orange Is The New Black blended humour and pain behind bars, Oz took a much darker look at prison life, set in the Oswald State Correctional Facility. Bleak but brilliant, it gathered a group of characters from different walks of life and then subjected them to terrifying traumas on a weekly basis. If anyone you know shudders when they see the perfectly charming (and not at all psychopathic) J.K. Simmons in other roles, Oz is to blame. We highly recommend watching it if you’ve never caught the show, but a word of advice if you go bingeing: have something lighthearted and fun to watch in between seasons. Trust us.
TV – and the lesser restrictions/bigger budget allowed by HBO – really was the only place Thrones would have worked outside of George R.R. Martin’s books. And even then, it’s a juggling act given the sedate pace of the author’s output. While it makes some significant changes from the pages, much of what people enjoyed about Martin’s mixture of fantasy and grimy medieval politics remains intact. With a cast led by the likes of Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, it’s full to the brim of all the death, betrayal, laughter and dragons that you might wish for.
As Hollywood continues to indulge in self-consumption through a never-ending supply of reimaginings and reboots, there is one example that demonstrates what happens when it’s done right: Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. Created in the shadow of 9/11, this new take on the 1978-79 series (great concept, poor follow-through) brought relevancy, riveting character arcs and a newfound grit to television science fiction as what’s left of humanity fights for survival against the cybernetic Cylons as they seek the supposed lost colony, Earth.
How is it that a certain digital TV channel can show this quintessential ’90s sitcom on a virtual loop and it doesn’t get old? It’s becauseFriends, at its best, is as perfect a sitcom as you will find. In its earliest days, the adventures of six beautiful pals who apparently earned money by drinking coffee featured writing much sharper than the cuddly exterior suggested. Even when the quality dipped a little mid-run, the ensemble remained perfectly matched and the best comedy collective on TV.
Any show that runs for 27 seasons (and counting – 28 will be with us later this year) is bound to come in for some stick about not living up to former glory. But be honest: what could compete with The Simpsons at its height (around season 4-6, according to most people)? Still, the continuing misadventures of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the multitudes surrounding them still find plenty of scope for laughs, commentary and pop culture nonsense. It’s already in the telly hall of fame, and continues to bring out great episodes at a higher ratio than some of its long-running brethren (looking at you, Family Guy).
For a long time a walk-on part in The West Wing was the pinnacle to which all jobbing TV actors aspired. Smart and funny, Aaron Sorkin’s political drama showcased the writer’s gift for rapid-fire dialogue and layered, politically resonant storylines, proving that television can be funny and insightful all at the same time. The series took a temporary downturn after Sorkin’s departure at the end of season four but rallied soon after with a number of surprising changes to both character roles and format. It all came to a natural close at the end of President Bartlet’s second term in office but The West Wing remained one of the most intelligent shows on television throughout its run and a comforting image of what a more benevolent White House could look like.
“It doesn’t get really good until Season 2,” people said. “Stick with it.” The first season was not without its moments, and it laid key groundwork for Bryan Cranston’s Walter White to later descend from family man to soul-shucked demon, but season two was when Vince Gilligan’s astonishing, gripping, often plain harrowing show really took off. There followed murders, plane crashes, betrayals, ferocious set pieces, indelible dialogue (“I am the one who knocks!”) and meth – enormous quantities of meth. At the beginning of the bingeing era, here was some Class A, serious addictive television.
“You come at the king, you best not miss…” There have been plenty of challengers for The Wire’s crown as Greatest TV Show Of All Time™, but nearly a decade after we left Baltimore, nothing has come close. The incredible achievements of David Simon’s landmark crime drama have been repeated ad nauseum but heck, they bear repeating. The way it stubbornly avoids all procedural tropes; the flawless ensemble cast, a mix of veteran actors and authentic Baltimoreans; the vast, book-like world-building, spanning corruptible institutions and hundreds of characters, each with their own unique and surprising arc; the ambiguous moral ground all those characters occupy – no heroes or villains here; and the intelligent, angry way it evaluates modern America, highlighting the devastating impact of neoliberal policies on the country’s underclass. All that – and it still manages to be a dependably riveting drama, with emotional stakes and gallows humour in equal doses? All in the game.