Dee Discusses: Top 10 Influential TV Shows (For Me)

Posted: June 5, 2014 by Dee in Dee, General Media, Specials, Television, Top 10
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

I don’t need much of an intro here. These are not the list of my ten favorite shows, although I’ll have to say that if I made a list of those, a lot of these would still be on it. That being said, I was thinking about influence when it comes to media, and I can line up the stories that stuck with me over the years and changed my way of looking at prose and narratives. So I thought I’d make a list of the TV shows that opened up my mind to story telling and what I want out of entertainment.

10. The Daily Show 

The only reason this is at the bottom of the list is because I was mostly aiming for fiction here, but there’s an exception to every rule. I didn’t tie in Colbert Report because while I have a lot of affection for it, I don’t watch the show regularly. With that show I tend to watch clips people put up and don’t bother with full episodes. The Daily Show I watch every single ep and have for years, dating back in college. When I wrote for a college newspaper, I did a column about how much I loved TDS and what it meant to me. So I’ve been a long term fangirl. I went to the March for Sanity in DC with my friends, I own Stewart/Colbert for President stickers, and a scattering of fan-made items like mugs and buttons. I grew up in a political household, my parents were always open about political discussion so I knew a little more than the average teenager. But TDS has managed to summarize complicated situations in a very clear cut way, and there’s a reason why it’s a hugely popular show. Now people are saying that they learn a lot of their political information from TDS, and there’s a reason for that: it’s smart, concise, funny, and fair. I know there are a lot of people who argue it’s left leaning so it can’t be fair, but I’ve seen them do plenty of stories where they openly criticize both parties. No one is safe from their satirical edge. There was a survey that proved TDS audience was more accurate in their political knowledge than most of the major news network. Is anyone shocked? I’m not. I love the show. I hope it never ends.

9. Avatar: The Last Airbender

I was hugely skeptical of this show. I love anime. I love animated shows. I’m not sure why I resisted it so long, outside of the fact I saw the first few eps and felt ‘eh’ about it. I thought the first season was decent but I wasn’t in love with it. I still wanted to see where it would go, and I enjoyed the concept of the world. As it continued, I grew more and more invested, and by the end I was a rabid fan. First of all, I think this show is incredible in terms of world building. As a writer, world building can sometimes be the hardest part. You have to create this vast landscape with extended history and nuances and then find a way to make it feel like a living, breathing entity. Not only was the overall world great, but they had to go to each of the tribes and types of bending and have cultural, political, and historical aspects. Between each other, with their allies, with their enemies. It was a lot of work and very elaborate, so I have to say I’m ultimately the most impressed with that. I do like that Legend of Korra added in another twist with the non-bender sect, and how class warfare became a serious situation. But this isn’t about LoK, which only existed because of the wide success of Avatar. I love it for a lot of reasons; the characters grew on me, I was the least interested in Aang, but by the end I found his journey fascinating. He refused to kill, despite all the reasons he needed to, and he found a way, and that’s a great story arc. All of them developed in believable ways. I loved the style of the show too, how each group had its own cultural impact and roots. That’s probably why the movie pissed so many people off, whitewashing bastards. Anyway, the only complaint I have about Avatar is the filler. Like all shows it had a few eps that were only filler, and I hate filler. I’d much rather have shorter seasons with a tighter storyline. I started off disliking how much of a kid show it seemed like, but I feel with time it got more serious and managed to balance adult and child audiences well. I highly recommend this show to people.

8. Firefly

I love Joss Whedon. Everyone knows that. I’ll be talking about him later again in this. Firefly is still considered one of the biggest tragedies in television history, and the fans and critics alike were endlessly frustrated with what happened to it. Here’s a show that was unique, strong, snappy, fascinating, and unlike anything on air at the time. The thing was, Fox didn’t give it a chance to find its legs. It axed it so fast after only airing a few episodes. I could rant about Fox here, but we’ve all heard it. The end result is that Firefly was killed too soon and people often wonder why this show in particular causes so much vehemence. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do immediately. Firefly is a space odyssey, but it’s like if Star Wars was solely about Han Solo or the side characters that didn’t really want to be part of the rebellion and got sucked in. These are the outcasts, the every man characters, they are struggling to survive in an increasingly oppressive galaxy. Each character is complex and fascinating in their own way. I remember when I fell in love with this show. I already enjoyed the hell out of it, but when they captured this merc who tried to kill him, and Mal said he had one more chance to walk away. The guy started a villain monologue about how he’d come back, and Mal simply kicked him into the engine. Dead. End of story. No hesitation. Or when River was taken briefly capture on the ship in the pilot, and again, he shot him between the eyes without hesitation and moved on. It was like Han shooting Greedo all over again. This was a group willing to do the hard decisions because they were survivors and this wasn’t a nice world. They were good people and a mismatched family, they had honor and loyalty, but it was so much more complex than that. I could go on forever about Firefly. I think every episode they had was excellent. It’s influential for me because it was such perfectly crafted entertainment, and then it was bitterly taken away from me. You bastards. We will never get over Firefly.

7. Battlestar Galactica

I have an interesting experience with BSG, because I didn’t like it at first. I saw the miniseries and didn’t like it. I tried the first few episodes and didn’t like it. So I put it to the side. I tried it again, didn’t like it, put it away. I usually know that some shows for me are all about the mood/place I’m in at the time. BSG was just too depressing, and I was in a negative mindset already at the time. I knew how much my friends loved it, so I wanted to give it a real chance. Finally when I felt like I was in a good place, I put it in. And then I marathoned for a few seasons straight. I talked about world building in Avatar, and I’m not sure I’d call this quite as good, but it does do character building to an incredible level. I say not as good mostly because a lot of the history in the show isn’t well known by anyone. It’s confusing and when it does start to unravel, it’s not always in a satisfying way. But I don’t mind that, because I enjoy the journey, and I can go along with pretty much anything that has excellent writing. Confusing or not. But the characters are what won me over. Starbuck, one of my favorite female characters of all time, she is flawed and complicated and fascinating. I even love straight laced but intense Lee. Athena! Helo! Adama! Roslin! I love all of them. Baltar? Also I love. I feel like I could write a blog for every one of these shows. But while the show had weak episodes and plotlines, the general story was intense and bittersweet. I loved the cylons too, and sympathized with most of them too. This show is influential in terms of how I see modern science fiction, but also because it taught me not to give up on too quickly. So say we all. Also I haven’t seen opening credits I love more than this. That music! The spoiler clips! Ahhh!

6. Game of Thrones

It was around fourteen years ago that I found A Game of Thrones, written by George R. R. Martin. I think fans of the show forget that this series has been around since 1996. I was sixteen when I picked it up, I loved the fantasy genre, and I was instantly in love. To this day I haven’t found a book that made me react so viscerally to the things I was reading. I have thrown the book, yelled at it, ruminated on it when I was out and about, I can write essays of meta on the characters. It’s made me love villains, hate heroes, want to shake fictional characters, and I tried for years to get other people to read them. I read every book as soon as it was published, but I had a hard time getting people to read them because of how thick and complicated they were. Online was my only real refuge to chatter with other fans. So when they declared it was being made into a TV show, I screamed. On the whole, I am extremely pleased with what they’ve done with the show. It’s extraordinary, really. I do have plenty of criticisms and I don’t like some of the choices they’ve made, but they took on this gigantic project and did a lot of great things with it. The casting, the costuming, the settings, they’re all meticulously planned and perfectly done. While the books are still far better in my opinion, for a variety of reasons, it doesn’t keep Game of Thrones from being one of my favorite shows on television. It’s the show that’s must-watch for me, I have to see it the night it airs, I can’t wait. I was waiting and laughing during all the major scenes of the season, gleefully staring at Twitter and Facebook for the screams.  If you ever get me started on a meta rant about Game of Thrones, I feel sorry for you. Unless you want to hear me delve into why I love the Lannisters despite them being f’ed up beyond all reason, and which House I’d want to belong to, and why Lyanna’s story hasn’t truly been told yet because of Reasons. Anyway. It’s Game of Thrones. Everyone loves it. It’s proven that audiences are smart if writers trust them to be. Plus dragons. And zombies.

5. Friends

As you might’ve noticed from my re-watch of Friends, I love that show. I did when I was a teenager, and I love it even more as an adult now that I get more of the jokes.  There’s a reason that Friends exists in pop culture despite finishing a decade ago, and it’s heavily influenced a lot of modern sitcoms. If I wanted to do a list of older sitcoms that influence Friends, I could do that, but Friends was a major part of my teen years. It’s actually the first show I remember writing about when I was thinking of blogging, although at the time it was called ‘typing thoughts about things into a word file on my computer.’ There was no blogging at the time. I think the mark of a good sitcom is the lasting power. I’ve heard people say they don’t find it funny as much now, and that surprises me, because I genuinely find it funnier now than I did then. I still laugh at all the jokes. I can hear some of the lines in my head and smile. So good sitcoms need lasting power, comedy, good characters, and situations that everyone can relate to. All six of the leads in that show had well defined characters, they had separate relationships with the others that varied, and they all had satisfying arcs by the end of the show. It’s both smart and dumb humor, which I appreciate it. They have clever moments, but also slapstick and silliness. And while at times the characters seem a little too much, I felt like they were real to me. Plus they weren’t bad role models, if you think about it. They were six smart, driven people who wanted to have good and satisfying careers, and cared about having serious lasting relationships. I did get sick of Ross and Rachel by the end, some plotlines made me go whaaaat, but so many things were done well that it barely mattered. I love seeing the bloopers and behind the scenes stuff too. I love this show and I’ll admit I compare all modern sitcoms to it. Sometimes unfavorably.

4. Star Trek

My love for Star Trek is unparalleled. I love Star Trek. I’ve watched all the TV shows. I’ve seen all the movies. I grew up with the show and have had more than a few intense conversations about who the best captain is. One of these days I might talk about each show and why it was great/not so great, but not right now. I’m putting everything under Star Trek, it’s easier. I think the franchise is amazing. It put science fiction on the map. It came around in a time where the genre wasn’t popular, and it should have been a failure. It was, in a way, although it got new life with movies and eventual sequels. It had the first interracial kiss on TV. I think people miss that most of the time the Enterprise chooses peace and compromise over war too. It’s something that made me think a lot as a kid. Sometimes they ended up in violent situations, but on the whole they were about exploration and learning new cultures. I still enjoy the hell out of watching the old shows. They have layered characters with long story arcs. They have an in-depth history, with alien races that are treated the same way, thank you excellent world building. I watched it when I was a kid, but I still can remember all of the characters well. Spock was one of my first TV crushes. He still is. I think Star Trek has a lot of value as a piece of TV history, and its lasting power over decades. I highly recommend seeing Trek Nation, a documentary about the franchise.

3. Daria

I’ve written a lot about Daria on this blog, so that should probably tell you how much I love the show. Daria got me through my teen years. She and I are so much alike I still get compared to her. And I think that’s a great thing. This show was brilliant, biting, witty, sarcastic, and sincere in a punch-to-the-gut way. It influenced my generation in a big way. It was a show my family liked to watch too, my parents were howling with laughter in the episode where they’re stuck out in the woods, high on wild berries. I watched MTV almost exclusively for this show. I guess you could say it made me feel less lonely. I was awkward, I liked reading and being anti-social, and often would snark at people who tried to engage. The critical acclaim for this show speaks for itself I think. I still find it funny years later. In fact I want to watch an episode right now.

2. LOST

LOST was an obsession. It was a worldwide obsession, honestly. I saw this show after it was already on for two seasons. I was in London when it was on the air, and I was so confused about this show everyone was going wild for. Heroes was on around the same time and I didn’t like it, so I assumed this was another of those. I was spending some time with my sister in New York City, trying to get my life together post-grad, and we decided to get the first disk on Netflix and check it out. And we marathoned two seasons in an extremely short amount of time. We could not get enough of it. I’ve done marathons before, but I’ve never seen my sister do it that way. We got our parents into it. They also obsessively watched it. This show has been written about to death, but years later, I still love the hell out of it. It was extremely flawed, don’t get me wrong, but the way they handled characters on LOST was unparalleled in my opinion. The flashbacks, the twists, the development over the years, the relationships, they were addictive. I know a lot of people hated the ending, but I loved it, because the mysteries were not what I cared about. I cared about the characters and it’s very emotional to watch the ending sequences for me, even now. It was a cultural phenomenon and they’ve tried desperately to duplicate it. But there is only one LOST. It was brilliant, it was innovative, it was unique, and it will always be unforgettable.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is also a show I’ve written about many times, and I honestly can’t describe how important it is to me. Or how important it was for my development as a person and a writer. I know it sounds ridiculous to some people that a show can have that type of impact, but it seriously did to me. I watched Buffy during my teen years. I loved it. I wanted to be like her. She was my role model. Here’s a character who started out shallow and changed. She grew up, and I grew up with her. She fought against impossible odds, she found the best friends she could ever ask for, she fell in love and lost it, she died, and I was with her for every one of those things. I saw every episode I could live, or taped the ones I couldn’t. I own all the seasons on DVD. She’s a feminist icon, and it’s not because she kicks ass, although she does. It’s that she was still just a normal girl on top of it. She could be vulnerable and make bad decisions, she hurt and bled, and she rose through the ashes to be stronger each time she fell down. This was my first intro to Joss Whedon and it spawned my deep love of him to this day. Like all things there are flaws to the show, but it was important. Not just to me, but to the fantasy genre, and to the idea that women as lead characters can’t sell (lies!). It was funny too, I love dark comedy, and this show introduced me to it. “Yes this is awful, we can laugh about it.” Basically, this will always be my favorite show I’ve ever seen. As a viewer, writer, and person.

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