favourite television | testimony
I couldn't keep it to a top ten, so what you get is a top thirteen and a bit. One show thats not on the list is Demigods & Semi-Devils which is a very high production value Hong Kong wuxia style kung-fu television show, however at this point I have only seen one episode of that show (and it was indeed very good) so its one to watch out for in the future - very epic in scope. Another show I have been paying attention to recently is the new Battlestar Galactica. So far its been very good, but its early days yet. I'll reserve judgement until I see an entire series worth of episodes.
Babylon 5: Science Fiction
Okay, we can excuse the wayward fifth series since J. Michael Strazynski didn't think he was getting a fifth series and so condensed the planned fourth and fifth into simply a fourth. But aside from that hiccup, B5 was extra special. In many ways the tone reminiscent of Blakes Seven, presenting a harsh, dystopian future, with the sort of strong coherant narrative running throughout that Star Trek seems to miss. A unique slant (for television anyway) saw Chaos vs. Law rather than the atypical Good vs. Evil. With some very mysterious and frightening aliens, although Walter Koenig's Psi-Cop Bester perhaps showed the most evil race was perhaps mankind itself. One of the key successes (for me at least) was in putting humanity in its rightful (insignificant) place in the cosmos, to an almost Lovecraftian degree, contrasted with Star Trek where humanity always (rather optimistically) seems to be at the forefront of everything.
Blake's Seven: Science Fiction
In British sci-fi the pessimism of Blake's Seven represents the perfect foil for Dr Who's eternal optimism. Sci-fi for adults, its also notable that the entire 52 episodes are virtually alien free. The central core dynamic between the main actors/characters is unsurpassed. All the best shows have great bad guys (or indeed bad girls) and this one had two fantastic recurring villains in Servalan and Travis. All the main characters were themselves villainous anti-heroes (ironically with the exception of the main character Blake). Much like Doctor Who, Blake's Seven seems poised for revival at some point in the near future, so fingers crossed they find the budgeting and that happens.
Dragonball Z (animated): Martial Arts
A fairly recent addition to the list, its very easy to dismiss this show until you have seen a decent number of the episodes. Initially starting with elements of the Monkey (Hanuman/Songoku) myth it later transcends any mere earthly origins to create its own cosmic mythology of aliens and robots. Never a show to undersell anything, it can spend multiple series building to single encounters with the resultant battles lasting a series in themselves!
Dr Who: Science Fiction
DR WHO IS COMING BACK! WOOHOO! Okay, I had to get that out of the way. The secret of Doctor Who (if indeed there is one) is that anything can happen; its simultaneously contemporary, futuristic and retro. He can, and does, travel to any place and time, acting as a sort of cosmic Sherlock Holmes with the myriad erstwhile companions grounding the show in some reality.
Dungeons & Dragons (animated): Fantasy
Very shortly about to find its way into my DVD collection. The show of my early teens, the one that really brought D&D to life for me. The characters were brilliantly anachronistic; the boy barbarian, the cowardly cavalier, or perfectly suitable; the shy thief who could become invisible, the nerd magician. All fantastically voice acted, including the memorable main villain of the peice Venger. Action, humour and poignant drama accompanied each episode, all ground in the milieu of Dungeons & Dragons. For those of us who played the game, each new week brought the chance to see the heroes tackling iconic monsters.
Farscape: Science Fiction
Underrated (except by its true fans), Farscape really has pushed the boundaries of Sci-fi to a new level. Re-inventing the genre in many ways, always prepared to take risks, it makes virtually all other sci-fi look bland by comparison. Successfully integrated a contemporary character from the 'real world' into a science fiction setting and the performance delivered was wholly convincing. As with all great shows, the heroes are only as strong as the villains they battle against and Farscape created a number of memorable villains (who could forget Scorpio - certainly not John Crichton) and races like the Skarren. The sweeping drama that unfolded was a joy to behold, never had space been this colourful, both literally and metaphorically.
Hellsing (anime): Action-Horror
The first thing that really stands out is the amazing piano soundtrack which adds an incredible pace to proceedings. Ostensibly another reworking of the Dracula myth, the twist this time being that Dracula (called Alucard) is the hero of sorts, working for the modern day Van Helsing Institute to kill other vampires.The exact nature of Alucards relationship with Integral Van Hellsing is hinted at but never fully explained. The action is heavily stylised and wondrously over the top however the success of the show probably lies in the depth of the main characters and the religious subtext where theres no black and white, only shades of grey. Unfortunately the single series only lasted 13 episodes, though the finish was suitably climactic with the main protagonists powering up to godlike levels.
Red Dwarf: Comedy
Probably my favourite comedy, even if I recognise the superiority of Seinfeld in terms of comedic structure. More genuinely side-splitting moments than I care to remember, probably some of the most memorable characters ever and even tackling some serious sci-fi topics. Unfortunately lost some of its impetus in the 7th series when it lost one of the main writers, one of the main cast and changed its look from video to film (and in so doing lost part of its grittiness). Though it regained much of its lost glory in the 8th and final series.
The greatest comedy show of all time, in my humble opinion, although if it does have one achilles heel its that many of the jokes are self-referential and you do need to watch the shows in continuity to get the full benefit. The characters are perfect, each one of them could carry a show on their own but together they are priceless (which was only slightly above their actual salaries to be fair).
Sharpe: Historical Drama
The moniker of historical drama definately doesn't do this series justice, each feature length episode was a like a grim and gritty treatment of classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler movies. Impeccably cast, starring Sean Bean (whom many of you will know as Bond's nemesis 006 Alex Trevalyen from Goldeneye or as Boromir in Fellowship of the Ring), it follows the tale of a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars who saves the life of Duke Wellington and is given a promotion as a result. Ever rising through the ranks with equal parts skill and luck.
Has probably inherited the mantle of Buffy as the top fantasy programme on television. Ostensibly a teen drama at heart, its the integration of the core Superman elements that really elevates it for the fanboys (ie. me). The casting is, in a word, perfect - its as simple as that. Kudos in particular goes to Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor who probably has the choice role, but they are brilliant right across the board. It also doesn't hurt the show that all the girls are very easy on the eye (Alison Mack can bat her eyelashes at me anytime).
Space Above & Beyond: Science Fiction
Criminally only lasting one series, this show successfully married sci-fi and war to a degree we had previously never seen. It had a great feature length first episode, a superb cast, a suitably mysterious alien enemy, convincing performances and some great action set peices; both on alien planets and in space. Incidental touches like the sound effects for the A.I.s, derogatory nickname for the alien enemy, use of nukes in space battles and so forth really added to the atmosphere. The ending was almost Blakes Seven like in its audacity with most of the cast going out in a blaze of glory. Well worth watching.
Stargate: SG1: Science Fiction
Probably my favourite currently running television show. Its dramatic, its funny, intense action, great characters who really compliment each other, fantastic premise: its mythological, contemporary and futuristic all at the same time! In fact the only thing I hate about it is that I didn't write it.
Others that missed the cut...
Why no Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel? If I was going to have a top fourteen then Buffy might be my next pick. So why isn't it up there. To be honest I don't exactly know. I really enjoyed the series (I've seen all the episodes) but unlike all the above shows I can never see myself wanting to watch Buffy again, or own it on DVD. I can't really put my finger on it, maybe its just a bit too cheesy in places. I sort of lost pace with Angel around the second series and never managed to get back into it after that, though by all reports its a great show too.
Why no Hercules or Xena? Although I have seen a few episodes of both (and been impressed, they are definately both my type of show) I have never been in a position to watch either shows from the beginning. As a result I have never really tried to get into either show, so they have just passed me by.
Why no Star Trek? I must confess to being a fan of the various incarnations of Trek, but the show is so hit and miss that its difficult to love unconditionally. Also its inherantly idiotic in so many areas, while trying to purport some pseudo-realism (perhaps designed with the d20 Future rules in mind) that you sometimes wince while watching it. Thats not to say there aren't some complete gems amidst its 800+ episodes and I may at some point pick up the original series on DVD which was overall far superior to the later incarnations, but for every great episode there are a handful of lacklustre efforts which really dampen your enthusiasm for it all. With any luck the rumours of J. Michael Strazynski being co-writer for the next incarnation of trek will be true, and he can breathe some new life into an incredibly stale franchise that has so much potential in the right hands.
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