Now, I’m not going to claim that I’ve watched everything, but I’ve binged on my fair share of Netflix and feel I’ve become a bit of an expert of TV recommendations. Obviously there are going to be some people who think the complete opposite of me; not everyone likes the same shows, and I’m going to be talking about a certain type of TV show that I think is better than the rest.
That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching a bit of Don’t Tell the Bride and The Graham Norton Show, because they’re just hilarious. But I guess that’s only one factor of the shows I think are better, they are also hilarious but are so much more at the same time.
For me, television has become the new cinema, and TV shows the new films. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of films that I believe you should only see on the big screen, but I personally feel more vested in TV shows and find them more fascinating. The complexity of not only the story, but the characters and the worlds built around them, are what keep me gripped. The first TV show I got fully immersed into was Dexter. By first I mean first as someone who can fully understand what I’m watching, I loved watching things like Pokémon, Charmed and Stargate SG-1 when I was younger but I don’t think I could fully appreciate them. Anyway, Dexter! I fell a little bit in love with Dexter; it was intelligent, it was funny, it was unpredictable, it was well made and acted. It was the perfect first binge watch. The ending completely let it down for me though, not many other shows I watch have fully ended for me to compare ending skills. The only one I can think of is Breaking Bad and that was pretty satisfying. I’m trying super hard to not give any spoilers in this post!
I see my favourite television programmes as split into two different categories. The ones with the dependable, escapism qualities, and the ones with uncertainty and gut-wrenching moments. The key feature that unites the two is intelligence. They’re the kind of shows that don’t offer everything on a plate and dumb down for a mass audience. THIS is what makes television great. For me, anyway.
Starting with the first category, some shows that fit under this little dependable banner are Doctor Who, Sherlock and Heroes. I enjoy these because even though you know who isn’t going to die (hint: The Doctor and Sherlock don’t die) this certainty doesn’t diminish any of the winding, confusing twists and turns going on in the plot. They leave you questioning HOW things happened and what will happen as a consequence rather than making everything hunky dory straight away. Like, yes, Sherlock believes he is doing what is right and he solved the crime yay, but is he really doing what is truly moral? What other irrational actions will he take in the future? They’re always on that slippery slope and the TV producers allow audiences the opportunity to question that and talk about it, rather than it being resolved half an hour later like in a film.
Now the TV shows with uncertainty are my ultimate favs. Whilst I can depend on the Doctor to save me when the world ends, and have a little girl crush on Claire Bennet from Heroes, these other shows are the shows where I’m a little bit too scared to have feelings for a character but just can’t help myself and root for them anyway. A few of these being Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Hannibal, House of Cards, Dare Devil, Breaking Bad, and True Detective. I love these shows because they respect the viewers’s intelligence, and rely on that intelligence for their own success. Without passionate viewers these shows wouldn’t be what they are. People who have never even watched them seem to know the names of characters (Hannibal, obs), famous story-lines (the Red wedding), and classic quotes (“Yeah, science!”). I think this shows the power of viewership and fan-bases.
Another great thing about these TV shows is that they use the current technology developments to their advantage. The producers know that people will be watching whole seasons in one go, will be re-watching episodes, getting online to explore theories with other fans. In knowing this they aren’t scared to throw us for a loop every so often because no doubt it will become clear through one of these outlets. I know I’ve spent a long time reading reviews of episodes, looking at different theories, re-watching my favourite scenes. Scenes that could be game-changers for the shows, scenes that have poignancy that make me sit back, scenes that have me laughing in either a full on belly laugh or in a wry, calculating way. By using this knowledge TV shows can become more and more intricate, morally questionable, and well, enjoyable.
Ultimately, what I think makes a great TV series is it’s ability to allow a viewer to fully immerse themselves. Whether emotionally or critically, more often than not both, for me it’s an experience on a whole other level. Films end too quickly, books end too quickly, but TV carries on until everything has been fully developed, explored, understood, and resolved. I don’t think I could ever properly express my love of TV shows, and the great thing is you don’t have to, because there is always a fan base ready to back you up. And if there isn’t you could probably make one easily enough.
Long live TV shows! It’s certainly an amazing era for television that I don’t want to end any time soon.
What do you think makes a great TV show? Do you have any recommendations to add to my ‘to-watch’ list?