We had so much fun assembling and arguing about our top five genre novel picks last week that we've decided to make Top Five a weekly feature.
This week: genre tv!
The X-Files: My first real appointment television. Although individual episodes could be weak, the character work and overall structure of the show (that which fans speak of in sepulchral tones as "the mytharc") was so good and so strong for so long that the show's eventual dimunition in quality couldn't destroy my very real affection for it. The show's mix of high seriousness and heady humor served it well, even at the very end. The X-Files gets bonus points for Scully in particular - a smart, educated, prickly skeptic who, very unusually for television, actually dressed like an professional adult woman. Also for introducing my thirteen-year-old self to crushably smart male leads.
Firefly. The only thing that's conspicuously missing from my list is Buffy - which, don't get me wrong, I loved with a disturbing passion about a decade ago - but I've chosen the Joss Whedon show I think is legitmately better and ultimately more interesting. Despite being Whedon's most mature and compelling work, Firefly met with a tragically early death. Now, on the one hand, this denied the audience any real sense of closure (though the later film helped a bit). On the other hand, however, this denied Whedon the opportunity to run the show into the ground. Fans were left with a handful of superlative episodes ("Out of Gas" and "Objects in Space") of a really weird, really ambitious sci-fi/western-thingie (with a terrible theme song).
Batman: The Animated Series. Everyone was all about Batman in the early 90s, thanks in no small part to Tim Burton's wildly successful, wildly bizarre Batman movies. The animated tie-in could have been a cheapo disaster but someone, somewhere, had the brilliant idea to bring in animator Bruce Timm. Timm's production design for the series featured slinky, dark, 40s-inspired animation - a major evolution from the hypercolored explodypants sugar-addled cartoons of the era. Add in a dollop of mature story-telling and some truly inspired voice-casting (Mark Hamill as the Joker!) and boom! Awesome show.
Twin Peaks. Despite a notorious, precipitous drop in quality in its second season, Twin Peaks remains some of the most jaw-droppingly audacious television I've ever seen. The show's great strength was its commitment to its own mythology. Despite serving up great, heaping piles of steaming weird on an episode-by-episode basis, audience surrogate Dale Cooper faced every situation with an sweet kind of equanimity, making it safe for the audience to invest as much and as deeply in the story as he did. Yeah, David Lynch ended the series in what amounted to a giant "fuck you" to the viewers - but you've got to admit, it's a hell of a cliff-hanger.
Life on Mars (UK). Like all the shows I've chosen, there are a lot of problems with Life on Mars: the mysteries can be obvious and the dialogue often has the light touch of a steroidal blacksmith. But, like Twin Peaks and The X-Files, Life on Mars is not only saved but redeemed and, indeed, made transcendent by a combination of mythology-building and brilliant acting. The creators famously had a hard time selling their accidental-time-travel/coma-induced-psychopathy police procedural to the BBC, but man am I ever glad they prevailed.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Honestly, I don't even know if this is the best of the Star Trek series. However, I've got the most attachment to this one. A recent re-watch of the first four seasons had us yelling at the actors like they were family members, which, to some degree, they are.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: MST3K is like watching terrible movies with great friends, except that your friends are three robot-puppets and a dry-voiced comedian. Initially, I found their banter distracting. Then I realized I was paying attention to the wrong part.
Firefly: There's a lot wrong with Firefly: Inara, River, the stupid swearing, the opening sequence (that song is looped on the elevators in hell). But... there's much more that's right. Joss Whedon writing adults for adults turned out to be make great viewing and his heist-pulp approach to space opera is a lot of fun.
TMNT: Every day after school, I'd anxiously wait for my mom to pick me up. If she was the slightest bit late, I'd do an awkward little pee-pee dance all the way home in order to get her to floor the accelerator. The Turtles were on at 4.30, dammit, and I didn't want to miss them. After school extracurriculars eventually made Turtle-watching impossible, but that didn't prevent those friends that had seen the episodes from dramatically regaling the rest of us at recess the next day. Oral storytelling tradition? Homer got nothin' on Jeff Stone.
Bex: This is even tougher than last week! I’ve had to leave out a lot of shows I love, and
both Lost and the new Battlestar Galactica would be strong contenders, but I haven’t
quite finished either yet and a lot is going to depend on their endings. And then
there’s an entire ‘cancelled before their time’ list…Anyway, here we go:
You never forget your first love, and Blake’s 7 was mine. For bonus points, it also
starred my first crush. The special effects are shocking and some of the stories are
awful, but if you can look past that and the camp performances it’s perhaps the
bleakest SF show ever made. The heroes are little better than the villains, nothing they
do actually makes a difference, and anyone who’s seen that final episode will never
The X-Files conspiracy plot was a vast pile of pants, but who cares? The show made
geek chic again, it had two fantastic leads and when it was on form, it was unbeatable.
Buffy is a better show in many ways, but much of what it did, Xena: The Warrior
Princess did first. There’s something truly joyous about Xena, and its stars are
genuinely empowered women in a way Buffy only wishes she was.
SF is often mocked, but seldom by people who know it as well or love it as much as
the makers of Futurama. And the Everybody Loves Hypnotoad DVD extra made me
cry with laughter.
Doctor Who. That is all.