Now that the traditional TV season has come to an end, people are already talking about The Emmys and what shows should be nominated as the best of the best. I find that discussion a bit premature since most of us aren’t Emmy voters, but these “best of” lists have inspired me to compile my own list of favorite shows currently on television … or currently on hiatus.
Anyone can make a list of the highest quality shows currently airing, but I’m focusing on my personal best list. These are the shows I can’t miss. The ones I have to watch as soon as they air. Sure, there are many quality shows here, but that’s not the criteria for this list. What really matters is how “must see” they are to me.
10. Grey’s Anatomy I almost gave up on Grey’s Anatomy during the whole George and Izzie affair, but I stuck it out and am glad I did. The show has had a creative resurgence in the past couple years providing some of the best performances on television. And, yes, I’m even talking about the musical episode. But I love a good musical episode … or even a bad musical episode. Sometimes you just have to have some fun. The season finale plane crash was so perfectly over the top, that I’m hoping the next season opens with the stranded characters discussing which one of them they will eat first if their situation turns truly desperate. I’m voting for a McDreamy McMuffin.
9. Smash / Glee Okay, I’m cheating, but I’ve got to double up here or else I’ll never complete this list for being plagued with indecision.
Smash is the hit and miss show of the season. When it worked, it sang. When it didn’t, it put the bomb in Bombshell. With a new showrunner and several cast departures for next season I have a lot of hope for the show to soar… so long as Julia’s upset stomach from the finale is attributed to nerves and never ever mentioned again.
Why do I still watch Glee? The answer is simple: The moments of brilliance are worth slogging through whatever it takes to get to them.
8. Pretty Little Liars This show is the perfect example of how to produce a mystery that never solves the mystery. It has so many twists and turns, questions, answers, and red herrings that it doesn’t matter (to me) that the main questions the pilot haven’t been fully answered even with the (pseudo) reveal of A. I know this annoys some people, but the fact that the show transcends the mystery at its core is something a certain other mystery show could learn a thing or two from. The mystery is important, but it’s the character relationships and personal dramas that make the show.
7. Downton Abbey It may have gotten a little soapier this season but it’s still one of the most fascinating shows on television. Historical shows seem to be popping up on TV more and more these days with varying degrees of success. This one works for me because it is so steeped in the era in which it takes place. The time period is as important a character as the Dowager—to say nothing of how the setting introduced the mainstream public to the word “Dowager.” The more restrictive, oh-so-proper age leaves the audience wanting for a lingering glance, a clandestine kiss, or even a rare, scandalous coupling that ends in death. These are the benefits of a world that can turn a character like Mr. Bates into a sex symbol.
6. Hart of Dixie It was the surprise gem of the season for me. And not just for shirtless Wade. Or dripping wet Wade either. The quirky residents of this little wannabe Southern Star’s Hollow know how to be engaging without annoying. All the people that dismiss the idea of Rachel Bilson playing a doctor in her little short shorts completely misunderstand the audience for this show. And, quite frankly, are a little ignorant of the fact that a person’s appearance and how they present themselves have nothing to do with their abilities. Unless we’re talking about a wet, shirtless Wade.
5. Once Upon a Time: There be dragons on Sunday night. And not just the ones born to Daenerys on that other epic series. I love a good mythology and Once Upon a Time has a great fairy tale universe to build off. The modern world elements of the show can be uneven—and I am concerned about its message on adoption—but many of the fairy tale moments make me giggle in a manner not unlike Rumpelstiltskin. I’m very much looking forward to where the story goes from here with the major shift in the final moments of the season finale. But of all the questions that still remain open on this show, none bother me more than wondering why in the world they named the extra dwarf Stealthy instead of Sneaky.
4. Nikita / Fringe Cheating again, but this pairing of series is fitting since these two audience-challenged Friday night shows are accustomed to fighting for attention.
Nikita It’s the kind of kickass female-lead television show that falls nicely in line with my love of Buffy and Alias. The premise is simple, yet has so many deeper layers that new secret twists and turns are constantly being revealed. Also loving how literal it is with a division called Division, an oversight organization called Oversight, and Black Boxes that are literally … well, you get the picture.
Fringe Say what you will about Fox’s treatment of genre shows and the Friday Night Death Slot, but the network has redeemed itself considerably in my eyes by sticking with this show when common sense would tell others not to. This is another series that hinges on the spectacular performances of the cast in which an actor like John Noble can turn a simple announcement of a pee break into a great character moment full of humor and pathos.
3. Parenthood It’s the only show on the list that I can’t watch live. I need to work myself up emotionally to cope with this hour of television. It is not the light, easy viewing that you’ll notice in much of the rest of the list. It is the kind of show that fills the void left by Friday Night Lights, which is fitting since it’s produced by Jason Katims (Roswell shout out!). For me, the Braverman clan claims a spot the pantheon of all the great TV families alongside the Cosbys, Keatons, Bradys and even the Bundys.
2. Revenge You just know the producers wanted the word “revengenda” to go viral like “va-jay-jay” did for Grey’s Anatomy or Chrismukkah for The O.C., Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. That’s okay though since so many other elements of the show have taken off in popular culture. Revenge is juicy, twisty, gossipy fun. The show does not shy away from morally bankrupt heroes or sexually ambiguous villains … and heroes. Speaking of: Nolan, as superbly portrayed by Gabriel Mann, is the breakout character of the season out of all television shows currently on the air.
1. Scandal On the topic of juicy shows, the one at the top of my list is the juiciest. A lot of people were calling this a “surprise hit” but for me, the success is all perfectly encapsulated in the title. Just like Revenge, I don’t need to know anything more than that to get me watching. But it’s all the other components that have me hooked: written by the creator of Grey’s Anatomy; set in Washington; starring Kerry Washington; and it moves. Much like Vampire Diaries (another one that almost made the top ten) things happen. The story doesn’t drag. It races. The shortened season works for serialized stories as opposed to stretching it out for 22 episodes. Save that for shows like CSI or NCIS or any other acronym. For this kind of drama I want 13 episodes or less. Not since The West Wing (in which Liza Weil guest starred in an episode as another character embroiled in a Washington scandal) has a show set in the seat of the government captured my attention like this.
.5 Mad Men Okay, major cheat here, but I couldn’t do this list without including what I consider to be the highest quality show on television. But enough people are already writing about how great it is so it doesn’t need me pumping up its ego any further.
Honorable Mention: I left two of my other favorites –The Walking Dead and Bones–off this list because I’ve written books about these shows and I feel like my bias for them has already been clearly established.
So there you have it. My own, personal Top 10 … or 13 … or 13.5 with a couple extra tagged on.