I grew up glued to the TV. Test signals when nothing was on and a morning salute with the flag and the national anthem, Howdy Doody, Romper Room, Bozo, three whole broadcast stations and some random fuzzy UHF ones, rabbit-ear antennae that you had to hold jussssst right, prime time cartoons including The Flintstones and The Jetsons, the first time seeing that Gilligan’s shirt was red, the technicolor of Star Trek, the first step on the moon and the first broadcasts of Batman, The Monkeys, All in the Family and Saturday Night Live, and MTV (when it showed only music videos and was hosted by VJs).
The appearance of video recorders changed everything. And not only did the technology keep on changing, but the concept of what a “TV series” was has grown, also. Story-telling evolved, with the new norm becoming shows with overarching mythos on which an episodic series was pinned, providing a strong and compelling rationale to “stay tuned.”
My love for multipart anythings is perhaps why only these types of shows appear on my recommendation list, not only for what is currently on, in the “NOW WATCHING” section, but also in the “GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN” section. I was the same way with science-fiction book series, too, with all-time faves being the 15-book co-joined Foundation/Robot/Empire series by Isaac Asimov, and the 10-book Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny.
Mr. Robot (2015-)
As tempting as it is to read the compelling Mr. Robot as a post-Snowden, anarcho-cyber-info-terror drama (which it is), I am recommending Season One of this show because of a strong combination of the writing of, directing of, and particularly actor Rami Malek’s skill in the portraying of, Elliot, the main and non-titular character.
Elliot is an unapologetic, drug-addled, anti-social misanthrope; he talks directly to us and we share the delusions of his untrustworthy perceptions, as we view the world through his eyes (oh, those eyes!), peering out from the shadow of his drawn hoodie. And we are squarely on his side because, I think, we fear that his paranoia is fully justified every time the results from a random Internet search end up being the advertisement on the next web site we visit (“people who bought this…”). In Elliot, we see ourselves in someone who might otherwise be described as a despicable character.
Season two was also good, but different in a more gimmicky way. Season One of this show was definitely a tough act to follow.
The Magicians (2015-)
The Man in the High Castle (2015-)
Black Mirror (2011-)
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The Prisoner (1967-68)
My So-Called Life (1994-99)
Alias (2001-05) S01 and S02
LOST (2004-2010) S01, S02, and S03
Orphan Black (2013-17)
12 Monkeys (2015-18)
The Expanse (2015-18)
It is as easy to describe Fringe as it is impossible; a science fiction-fantasy drama built on the love between a father and a son. Along the way, we have to live through the first episodes of the first season, driven by their monsters-of-the-week, as we learn about these characters at exactly the same pace that they learn about one another. It is one of many bold moves made by these writers over the run of this series.
By the end of the first season, we see that a much (much) larger context is operating, where decisions made by scientists and decisions made by fathers have collided to create a reality that history (perhaps) or its observers (perhaps) need to correct.
The plotting on Fringe was remarkably coherent, and nearly all the seeds laid down early on end up germinating. And right up until the last moments of the last episode, the story makes internal sense.
The character of Walter Bishop, played by John Noble, is nothing short of an amazing delight. Hallucinogenic drugs, as it turns out, actually give you a glimpse of other realities, and this quirky scientist drives himself, and everyone (everyone!) else, along on the consequences ride that this discovery implies. He changes history, and in doing so, opens up the question of what others would do, knowing that history can be changed.
“The time we had together we stole.” Walter ultimately says to his son, Peter, played by Joshua Jackson. “I cheated fate to be with you. We shouldn’t have had that time together, but we did.” He regrets nothing and he regrets everything. He wants forgiveness and wants to bestow it.
Parallel universes, alternate timelines, and changes both irreversible and reversible are all trumped, time and again, by terrifically written characters whose stories we care about. The series tells a whole and wholly satisfying story.
Person Of Interest (2011-17)
“You are being watched,” intones Michael Emerson’s character, Mr. Finch, at the start of each episode of Person of Interest. You see, in the post-9/11 world, the government wanted a machine that could synthesize the bazillions of bits of information gathered by everything, everywhere, and to predict where the next big bad thing was going to happen. In order to do this, it needed an artificial intelligence, and so they got it. Mr. Finch built the machine.
The series starts with this premise and runs with it along two parallel lines of unexpected consequences. First, the machine works, but it cannot sort out the difference between a terror attack and a mugging. The government deemed these minor acts of violence irrelevant. Mr. Finch, a mysterious figure with near limitless resources, does not. And so the series started as a fairly traditional procedural, where each week Mr. Finch and his associate, Mr. Reese, take on the bad guys who are threatening to do harm to the ordinary people. The cast grew, as did the procedural plot lines, leading to a compelling drama about crooked cops, administrative corruption, nasty Russians, some of the best written characters in all of television history, deep and intersecting character histories, a terrific dog, and a hugely emotional story about camaraderie, trust, and redemption.
At the same time, the AI emerges as an independent intelligence, and it is gearing up for… something we are led to believe is pretty nasty, world-shattering, or both. It is a great series with a beginning, a middle and a slightly rushed end.