Modern Golden Age of TV – Dana’s Recommendations

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Often times when I hear people say they “Don’t watch TV”, I have to ask… well, why?  And nearly 100% of the time, the answer I get is, “There’s just nothing good on television anymore.”  And to that I have to stare awe-stricken at them for a moment.  Nothing good on TV?  Are you joking?  Now, admittedly, I am biased, being that I’ve worked predominantly in the TV side of the entertainment industry for 10 years now, but still, there’s been a lot of really great programming in the last several years.   Let’s not be hasty and blame the writers and programmers here.  If you don’t watch TV, usually, there’s a better reason.  Maybe you’re just too busy, or have other interests, and that’s a fine and acceptable excuse, but please, how can you judge modern TV programming if you’re not watching it?

Having gone on my little rant, I’ll digress a little.  I actually believe that we are in the middle of a modern golden age of television.  Don’t believe me?  I’ll prove it and recommend a good or great TV show in every genre I can think of that I watch.  If I don’t mention your favorite show, I apologize.  Also, before you judge me on all the TV I watch (and there is a lot), remember, I work in TV, therefore it’s part of my job to keep up with it.   And let’s face it, you can marathon an entire season of Entourage on a sick day.  Also, I don’t have kids yet, so in the evenings, before I pick up my Kindle to read, we knock down a couple TV shows before bed.

Drama

Homeland – Hands down my favorite show on television right now, and as you see, I watch a lot of TV, so that’s really saying something!  Every week I think I know where it’s going, and every week, the show ends with my jaw on the floor.  The writing is brilliant, and the acting is top notch.

Breaking Bad – Another one of the best shows on television.  Complex and amazingly written.  It’s a travesty if you’re not watching this show.  Every episode I watch feels like a masters class in writing.

Downton Abbey – I’m a huge fan of British Costume Dramas, so there was no way I wasn’t going to love this show.  But the surprising thing is, my husband, who HATES this genre, loves this show, too.  That’s a testament to how good the storytelling is.

Boardwalk Empire – Again, I love period pieces, but add the brilliance of Steve Buscemi and amazing writing and production value this show has, and it’s must-watch television.

Mad Men – This show is slower paced that most of the shows on television right now, but so much happens in the quiet moments, that you can’t help but be intrigued by the characters.  The time period and the social commentary are also played for maximum interest.

Deadwood (series has ended) – This is the grittiest drama in recent history.  But, to me, the biggest standout of this show is Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen.  You should hate this bad guy, but he’s so charismatic, you can’t help but root for him.

Sopranos (series has ended) – Speaking of bad guys you can’t help but root for, Tony Soprano is perhaps the character that did it best.  The whole run of this show is utterly absorbing.  Don’t watch the cut down episodes airing on cable.  Rent the box sets.  I promise it’s worth your time.

Rome (series has ended) – This is perhaps my favorite Drama.  It’s raw and gritty and makes you feel like you know exactly what it might have been like to be living during the height of the Roman Empire.

Rescue Me (series has ended) – I’d always liked Dennis Leery, but this show made me love him.  The drama between him, his wife and the other women in his life was always great, but it was the camaraderie between the guys in the firehouse that made this show stellar.

Fantasy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (series has ended) –  Several episodes are re-run on a few different channels every day, but the whole series is available for free on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, so really, there’s no reason to miss this brilliant series by my writing idol, Joss Whedon (you know… that guy who did The Avengers).   This is probably my favorite show of all time.

A Game of Thrones – The penultimate of currently running fantasy shows.  It’s on HBO, and it’s VERY adult, so don’t watch with your kids.  I love this series because it brings my favorite book series of all time to life, and does a good job of adapting all the major story elements from the series.

Vampire Diaries – I absolutely love this show.  The world stakes and brilliant twists will make this appointment TV, and they’ve got some pretty people to look at as you while your time away.

True Blood – I think the show peeked mid-season two, but some of the actors are so good, that I can’t not watch.  Please note, this show is DEFINITELY not for kids.

Merlin – For a fantasy show that you can watch with the whole family, I recommend Merlin.  I adore this show.   It’s a modern day spin on the King Arthur legend.

American Horror Story – If you were to think of every horror troupe you’ve ever seen, and threw them all into one big pot and swirled it around, then threw in some incredibly strong actors, you have this show.

Once Upon A Time – Another fantasy show you can watch with the whole family.  This show is adorable.  It’s premise is that all the fairytale characters you grew up hearing about are alive and well and living in Storybrooke, Maine.

The Walking Dead – This show feels a lot like “Lost” to me, but my husband loves it.  I go in and out of love with it, but it’s good enough to make my list because, even on its worst episode, it’s still fun to watch.

SciFi

This is such a niche category, and so hard to do well, that most of my picks have actually completed their runs.  For my money, there are two all time great sci-fi shows that air on a daily basis in re-runs.  “The X-Files” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”   Both shows are modern classics for a reason and inspired films that are worth picking up after you’ve completed their runs, though you might skip the second X-Files movie.

Battlestar Galactica (not currently airing) – I was absolutely obsessed with this show for years, and actually sought out their writing offices while working on the Universal Lot on a different show… but that’s a different post.

Doctor Who – My favorite currently running Scifi show, hands down.  I will admit to having re-watched the David Tennant era shows at least 3 or 4 times by now.  Though, the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, is also fantastic.  If you like Scifi, head to Netflix and catch this show from the beginning, because, like the others on this list, it’s heavily serialized and makes constant internal references.  Warning though, the first season of the modern Doctor Who (with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor) is a bit rough-looking.  They got a lot more money to put into the subsequent seasons.  So, what I’d do is watch an episode called “Blink” in Season 3, just to see how good the show is going to get.  Then go back to Season 1, get through it (not that it’s horrible, just not as high quality) and you’re golden from there.  Be careful not to confuse the reboot of Doctor Who with the older versions from the 70s.

Defiance – I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shameless plug to Jessica’s husband’s show, “Defiance.”  It’s not out yet, but will be airing on SyFy soon, and has a video game tie-in component that’s getting amazing press.

Soaps

Friday Night Lights (series has ended) – This is my favorite modern soap, and it just finished its run a couple years ago.  It’s available on Netflix and Amazon.  The acting is out of this world, as well as the writing.  You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy this show.  That’s just the thing that holds this town together.  The show itself is about the people in Dillon, TX and how they move through their lives.  I cannot recommend this show any higher.  Watch it!

Smash – I’m a musical theater nut.  Every time I go to NYC, I have to see at least three shows, so it’s no wonder that I get sucked up into this show.  It has its ups and downs, but you can’t beat it for the songs and stage performances.  Also, the first episode was one of my all time favorite pilots.

Dallas – I grew up watching the original show with my parents.  The opening credits that hearken back to the original instantly transport me to my parents’ living room in Birmingham, AL.  But after the opening credits, it’s still pulpy fun.  Several of the actors are from the show I used to work on, so it’s great seeing them on screen, and I’m glad younger audiences will get to see the late great, Larry Hagman in his iconic role of J.R. Ewing.

Nashville – I picked this show up because I adore Connie Britton.  But as the show goes on, I have to say the young singing duo (who remind me of The Civil Wars) has become my favorite element of the show.

Crime

Sherlock – Words cannot express how much I love the BBC version of Sherlock.  Doctor Who scribe, Steven Moffat, is at his best.  He’s taken the classic novels that we’ve all read and updated them to exist in modern-day London.  Benedict Cumberbatch  and Martin Freeman are a delight as Sherlock and Dr. Watson.  My only complaint is that each season only has three episodes and often times, it’s more than a year between seasons.  Give me more, Moffat!

Justified – I love tough guy dramas.  What can I say?  There’s something magical about this show; its backwoods setting of Harlan, KY, and the swagger of Raylan Givens, that just gets me.  I’m also fascinated with the most eloquent bad guy TV has ever seen, Boyd Crowder.

Dexter – The serial killer who only kills bad guys is a consistently entertaining show, however the first two seasons and the season with John Lithgow (season 4?), are exceptional.

Comedy

The Big Bang Theory – This show speaks to the geek in me more than any of the others.  When I saw the pilot, I thought to myself, “Well, I get all the jokes, but I’m one of the geekiest people I know.  Will anyone else other than me and my friends like this?” The answer is, of course, yes.  It took a few years, but this is now the number one comedy on TV, and with good reason.  If you’ve ever been into Scifi, Fantasy, Gaming (of any kind), comics, physics, etc… you will enjoy this show.

Modern Family – This is the most insightful comedy on TV.  The social commentary is brilliant and the acting is spot on.  I quite literally laugh out loud during almost every episode.

Episodes – Sharp and funny.  And who knew Matt LeBlanc was this brilliant?!  I’d already been a fan of the British couple, and I loved Joey from Friends.  But, seriously, it’s Matt LeBlanc that makes this show.

Cougar Town – I like to think of this as the drunken little show that could.  Jules and her friends drink wine as if it were water and yet the cul-de-sac crew couldn’t be more endearing if they tried.  Brilliant cast and consistently funny.

Entourage (series has ended) – I feel like the secret was let out of how great this show was in its second season, so I won’t go on a rant, but I will say, the tongue and cheek way that they show behind the scenes Hollywood isn’t as far off the mark as we’d like it be.

Nurse Jackie – This is always listed as a comedy, and yes, there are funny moments.  But this show is one that toes the line for me, with some episodes that will break your heart and others that leave you in stitches.

The Office – It was the early seasons that did it for me.  I still watch occasionally, and my husband consistently.  I thought the Jim and Pam romance was one of the best on screen romances of all time, and handled beautifully by the writers and actors.  And… come on… it has the world’s best boss, Michael Scott!

How I Met Your Mother – Le-Gen… wait for it… Dary! So smart.  So funny.  And brilliantly weaving years of character histories through each season.

Weeds (series has ended) – The first season, I loved Nancy Botwin… but in the subsequent seasons, it was the supporting cast that kept me laughing.

Girls – There’s something about this show that I just, “get.”  It’s not for everyone, but for me, it’s must watch television.  I love Lena Dunham, and I won’t describe her as “brave” to keep from sounding like everyone else, but dang, that girl isn’t afraid of anything, and good on her!

Friends (series has ended) – My all time favorite sitcom.  Jessica and I still quote this show on a regular basis.  I grew up with Friends, and Jessica and I both had “The Rachel” haircut at some point.  And in college, it was an unspoken rule that no one called anyone during Friends, unless it was a quick question and during the commercial break.  It recently started airing in high def on TV Land (really!?  TV Land!?  Am I that old!?) and it’s been like rediscovering an old friend (pardon the pun) every time I watch an episode.

Frasier (series has ended) – My second all time favorite sitcom, that is also re-run every day on at least one network if not more.  I know it makes me supremely uncool, if Friends didn’t do that for me, but that doesn’t bother me a bit.  My father and I watched this show together for years.  I loved the sharp wit this show offered and still re-watch episodes to this day.

Reality

The Amazing Race – Nothing gets my heart racing more than seeing who will be the last to check in on Phil’s mat.  The brilliance of this show is that it takes fairly well-adjusted people and puts them in pressure situations, and over the course of the season, you see how well, or in some cases, how poorly the couples react.  The second bonus is getting to see the amazing places they visit.

Top Chef (and Top Chef Masters) – I love cooking and watching people cook, so seeing the best of the best compete is a big draw for me.  And an added bonus is when I see a guest judge who owns a restaurant I’ve eaten at.

Masterchef – Same thing as above, except that I get to imagine myself in the role of all these amateurs competing to be a Master Chef.  Granted, most of the competitors are leagues above my skill, but it’s still fun to imagine what dish I’d make for each challenge.

Deadliest Catch – My husband had been watching this show for years, and one season, I started seeing more and more episodes.  Over time, it completely sucked me in, and I’ve been watching every since.  Seeing the conditions that these men work in and the lives they lead is mesmerizing.

Talk Shows

The Graham Norton Show – It airs on BBCA, and it’s by far my favorite talk show.  His format is a little different than the American ones, in that his guests spend the whole hour together chatting on his couch.

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson – Perhaps an odd choice, I know.  But I tivoed a few episodes a couple years ago, waiting to see an actor from Buffy to appear.  His show kept getting bumped, so I kept recording it, waiting to see the interview, and in that time, I grew to enjoy the show, especially when they took the show on the road to Paris and Scotland.

Game Shows

Jeopardy – The only game show I watch.  It’s a tradition in our house that we watch Jeopardy while eating dinner.  We’ve done it for years, and in that time, I still suck every time there’s an Opera category.

Guilty Pleasures

We all have our guilty pleasure shows, and I probably shouldn’t admit to mine in such a public forum, but it just feels wrong to leave them out since I’m talking about every other show on TV that I watch these days.  So here we go.

Pawn Stars – This show is like The Antique Road Show meets American Choppers.  And weirdly, the format works.  I’m a big history buff, so I love the historical items that are brought into the pawn store.  The only thing I hate is the obviously written subplots.

Food Network Challenge – I admit it, I love watching decorators make amazing cakes.  I’ve been watching this show for years, and my favorite decorators are Mike McCarey, Mary Maher, Bronwin Weber, Joshua John Russel and Karen Portaleo.

The Jersey Shore – I had never heard of this show during its infamous first season.  Then a friend came over with a big bottle of champagne and we watched every episode. I’ve never laughed harder.  I wish I could say that I quit watching after that, but alas… it would be a lie.

Ninja Warrior – I used to hate this show.  My husband would watch it, and I would get annoyed.  Then… something happened, and I started recognizing the different runners, and rooting for the All-Stars, and now, I get nervous every time Nagano or Shingo Yamamoto run and laugh at the way the announcers say Levi Meeuwenburg’s last name.

Hell’s Kitchen – Oh, Gordon Ramsey, I want to hate you for yelling at people… but I just can’t.

The Sing Off – Having grown up in competitive choir, I totally get this show.  So much so, that dear, sweet, long-suffering Jessica did her best friend duty and accompanied me to a taping of one of the episodes so I wouldn’t have to go alone.

Dual Survival – This is a show I wouldn’t have found on my own, but the husband loves it.  And over time, so did I.  Cody Lundin has some of the best one liners of all time… and some pretty impressive “mitochondria.”

Top Shot – Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit of a gamer, but I love watching real marksmen show off their stuff.  And seeing these guys use archaic weapons (such as canons and gatling guns) entertains me to no end.

And there you have it.  Every one of these shows is airing in some capacity, be it first run or re-run.  So don’t tell me there’s nothing good on TV.

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Cheers!

Dana Melton
½ of Kirby Howell

11 Comments

  1. ZG says:

    You need to start watching “Scandal”!

  2. You convinced me! I don’t watch a whole lot of TV because I’ve been trying to do this new gig, this writing thing…and it is a freaking time absorber! But I do love to watch shows, so when I sit down to watch, I want it to be something good.
    I need to book mark this page!

  3. What a great list. I don’t watch a whole lot of television because I have following the writing dream and it doesn’t leave much time for TV. But when I do have time, I want to watch something good. I will have to book mark this page!

  4. Um. sorry for the double comment. It said the first failed…go figure!

  5. All my favourite shows are up there, and then some! How do you possibly get to watch all those??? Actually I would add ‘Death in Paradise’ as a gorgeous comedy/crime series but I don’t want to push you into anything new 😉

    • Dana Melton says:

      Hi Charmaine!
      I know, it’s a lot of TV. I rationalize a good bit of my TV watching by telling myself (and others) I need to see it to stay current with the industry, and it’s true. But honestly, I’d watch a lot of this even if I weren’t working in TV. This list is from the last 10-15 years of viewership though, so it’s not quite as bad as it seems. Also, I caught several of the shows after they began their run and marathoned them on DVD or Netflix. Additionally, a good portion of them are pay cable shows, so they have shorter seasons, which makes it a lot easier to keep up with. And with year round programming now, usually as two or three shows have their season finale, another few shows start up, so it’s not too many piled on at once.

      Okay, I have never heard of ‘Death in Paradise,’ so I’m already intrigued. I thought I had at least heard the name of just about every show out there. Is it a British show, perhaps? Tell me more! :)

  6. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However
    I am experiencing troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I
    am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone else getting similar RSS issues?
    Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

    • Dana Melton says:

      Oh no! I’m not sure what’s going on with the RSS Feed! Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention. We’ll see if we can fix it. :)

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