Warning: Contains very mild spoilers for all series mentioned.
I have watched quite a bit of series. Many of them I finished or don't see myself stopping to watch soon, and since I made this marvelous post about Series I Stopped Watching, I feel that a counterweight is in order. Not of all of it is good, but at least I finished it and didn't stop in the middle. The order in which they come doesn't say anything about preference, only my memory. Some of the shows are still running, so in fact, the jury is out whether I'll finish them. If not, I'll move them. I noted how many seasons constitutes "finished" at the time of this writing. So, there comes the stuff I did finish, and now I will take the time to tell you why, and you may stop reading anytime and consider what you've read up to this point as wasted time. Let's go.
|Saving 13 privates.|
|This promotional picture will not be the last religious analogy of this particular series.|
Battlestar Galactica. Four seasons. The one SiFi-show you need to watch, Battlestar Galactica combines great (although short) space battles with much politicking and, unfortunately, mystery seeking on board a space aircraft carrier. The show consciously parallels many features and developments of early 21st century American politics, including the invasion of Iraq and the influence of religious extremism, avoiding to take a too clear-cut position on the issues and resolving them firmly set in the BSG universe, therefore giving food for thought without patronizing the viewer, a feat Aaron Sorkin seems incapable of.
Better Call Saul. Five seasons. This prequel to Breaking Bad surely didn't start with high expectations, as everyone just asked "Is this really necessary?" And while the answer is still "Probably not", I'm glad that it exists because the series is a blast. Seriously, what they did is amazing. While not without flaws, they avoided the obvious mistakes of making this Breaking Bad fanservice and opted for a different tone and storyline than for what you'd expect, which is just about right.
|Better than Breaking Bad. Seriously.|
|Quoting Ozymandias at you because why not.|
Breaking Bad. Five seasons. Breaking Bad is one of the best series ever, period. It has a great cast of characters with real and credible development, the most cohesive storylines ever, going through the logical conclusions with incredible determination. It's filming style is impressive, providing unique perspectives and interesting compositions. If you haven't watched it yet, go out today and start to do it. I mean it.
|In a parallel world, this thing killed Game of Thrones after one season.|
Boardwalk Empire. Five seasons. Boardwalk Empire is a period piece, revelling in the costumes and set design. What suffers from it are obviously the characters, who are more functions than real persons, as well as the suspense. Like so many mafia stories, Boardwalk Empire has a rather slow pace in telling its stories, but it's worth it. Again, we have a multitude of characters interwoven with each other and going on their business, creating a really good feeling of a connected, existing and breathing world that is not only there for the characters to inhabit.
|Unfortunately, this didn't work out.|
Caprica. One season. The prequel to Battlestar Galactica only made it to one season of running time after being cancelled, and it's easy to understand why. The story is all over the place, the characters are very moody and broody and difficult to sympathize with, the style is bleak and some of it looks like from a 90s MTV video. On the other hand, the show explores some great questions and themes and commands interesting characters, although their arcs are sometimes a bit mishandled.
Carnivale. Two Seasons. I really, really liked the setting of the series in the
30s dustbowle, although the mundane parts always connected more with
them me than the mystic stuff about prophecies and special powers. The
sets are great, the characters interesting, and the mood and ambience
almost unparalleled. From today's standpoint, the series - which was cancelled after the second season - is a clear forerunner of things to come later, but like Rome or Deadwood, HBO wasn't really sure about the market back in the day.
Catch-22. One Season. George Clooney's mini-series is a pretty straight adaption of the famous novel. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, to be honest. It's funny at times, depressing at others, and simply maddening in yet other parts, which I guess is exactly what it should be. However, as is so often the case with series, I'm unclear about whether or not this warranted a whole series or if something like a very long movie wouldn't have sufficed. I'm glad I watched it, nonetheless, being a incoherent, beautiful mess notwithstanding.
Chernobyl. One Season. This HBO miniseries is astounding. The sheer horror of radioactive fallout, something you can't actually see, was brought onto the screen in a way that gives you the creeps for weeks. The imagery is still with me now, months after the thing aired, and I watched it twice already. In my eyes, episodes 4 and 5 lose a bit of momentum and impact compared to the first three, but still, it's a harrowing experience. One last recommendation: Watch this thing as close together as you can, at best in one sitting. It's even stronger than in my feeling.
Dark. Two seasons. Great series from Germany, of all places (usually TV goes there to die). Intricate plotting, deep and compelling characters, and a great sense of time and place in more ways than one. Three different time levels are interwoven, collapsing into themselves with rapid pace towards the end of the series, never losing a step. The second season even expands on it and makes it better. The central quality of the series is that it uses the whole time-travel business to explore characters, not the other way around.
|If this looks strange, wait for what's within.|
|Looking as baffled as I am that this got made.|
|For your nightmares.|
|Good television coming from Germany. The impossible happened.|
|Fuck if this cocksucker wasn't one for your mother's tit, as Al would say.|
Deadwood. Three Seasons. The Western series mirrors the historical development of the small town Deadwood in today's South Dakota, where the pioneeres build up their own fortunes or dig their own graves outside US jurisdiction in the closing days of what is today known as the Wild West. Far from simply idealizing "ye olden times", the show grapples with difficult themes such as prostitution, violence and local politics in this unique setting. There are many characters whose attitudes (and language) are difficult to undertand, but many of them command a charisma that make it compelling to watch even if you lost track of who wants to achieve what before they catch a bullet in the belly.
Defending Jacob. One Season. This high-profile Apple-TV production is an adaption of a succesful novel that I haven't read, so I can only judge the show. The central conceit is a whodunnit about a murder where parents have to defend their 14-year old son who's the prime suspect but we as the audience don't know if he did it or not. Unfortunately, the series ends without telling us whodunnit, and the ambivalence is entirely empty and meaningless. There's no "there" there, nothing it tells us or makes us think, just a few really forced twists in the final episode that upend the good work of actors and crew that came before. What a waste.
Deutschland 83. Two seasons. This homegrown product of a country that is traditionally unable to make things that even resemble good series is kind of a surprise. While in no ways perfect and extremely flawed in regards to plot holes, structure and pacing, the show manages to deliver on great suspense and to capture the flavor of the 80s in divided Germany. Watching it is interesting for Germans and Non-Germans alike because it offers you a view into a world that you most likely didn't know about before, in the German case provided you're about 35 or younger.
Fargo. Three seasons. Really great series with a weird and surreal edge, true to the spirit of the Coen brother's original. I found the first season to be better than the second, but both of them really are worth the watch. In both, you have criminals entering the everyday lives of everyday people in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The series has great acting and is stunning in its portrayal of stupid people, which is harder than it sounds.
|What if Captain America, but as a lawyer|
|Another good series from Germany! That makes TWO!|
|This shouldn't work, yet it does.|
|This probably needs no introduction, though I fear if you'd return to it now it wouldn't live up to the hype.|
Firefly. 14 episodes. Joss Whedon's classic SiFi series was unfortunately cancelled after only 14 episodes. It's not that it was perfect and really great material; the show has many flaws, such as the very low budget, the lack of development over more than one episode, the only superficial worldbuilding and others. But it's teeming with fresh ideas and a swaggering bravado that has no equal in the genre. Firefly is a fun ride, nothing like the serious dramas mentioned above, and it excels at just being fun. Not every episode reaches this goal, but enough to make it great.
Gunpowder. One Season. This BBC production is utterly forgettable, I'm afraid to say. I feel sorry for Kit Harrington, that's two misfires trying to get a career going away from Game of Thrones. But what can you do? I have a longer review on the Patreon.
His Dark Materials. One Season. Yet another try of adapting a novel that's legendary for being hard to adapt, HBO is trying its hand. They're succeeding in so far as one can succeed with this material; despite the novels being incredibly succesful, they're not actually that good, and their over-reliance on inner monologues and outright descriptions of motivations and inner workings of characters isn't doing the visual medium any favors. Lots of elements and plots don't really fit together, but the cast and the production team make the best of it, and it's still HBO, so it can't really be bad.
|Jon Snow, terrorist as well as oath breaker.|
|There might be a reason this is considered to be unfilmable.|
|The eighth season is actually good, don't mind the haters.|
Game of Thrones. Eight seasons. The adaptation of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series has its problems (especially the handling of Catelyn and Jon comes to mind) and can only be really enjoyed as one really, really large movie rather than a series of episodes, but the sprawling cast of great characters, really good actors, good production design and genuinely clever ideas in deviating from the original plot make this series highly recommendable. For more information I advise to read into Blue Buddha Press' "It Is Known" series, to which I contributed one book myself.
Generation Kill. One Season. This HBO mini-series concerns itself with the first 21 days of the invasion or Iraq in 2003, following an elite squad of Marine recons into the country. It's a weird experiment, since the people are so insufferable, there is no attempt to cut through the underbrush of military lingo and logic and given that it's based on real persons and events, dramatizing it is rather difficult. It has a lot to say about the nature of modern war, the state of modern masculinity and the inner workings of the military, and it's weirdly engrossing, but to call it a great series would be pushing it.
and Catch Fire. Four Seasons. After recommendation by my podcast
colleague Sean T. Collins, I watched this. The first season is a chore,
but the quality picks up rapidly in the second one, goes over to
greatness in season 3, and reaches transcendent quality in season 4. You
need to absolutely watch this. Underrated and unknown, this one
provides some of the best character work I've ever seen and touches you
in emotional places you didn't even know you had.
Men. Seven seasons. The series covers the 1960s as kind of a bourgeois panorama shot,
following the fortunes and misfortunes of a group of ad men (the titular
"Mad Men") through the social upheaval of the decade. The show is
fascinating for its multi-layered focus on themes, carefully
constructing set, costumes, character and plot to fit it, elevating it
to literature levels. It is also interesting for the lack of change in
the characters who are stuck in a changing world and utterly fail to
cope with it - getting overrun by the changes of the 1960s is no fun
experience for these 1950s-style wannabe-patriarchs growing old.
Making a Murderer. One season. This Netflix documentary covers the disturbing story of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were accused of murder and convicted in a trial that is thoroughly critisized in the series. The immersive qualities and the suspense are laudable, but not for no reason it came under criticism for distorting the facts for a strong pro-Avery bias, so enjoy with caution.
Marco Polo. Two seasons. This Netflix series really, really wants to be Game of Thrones. If you thought that its great model had its fair share of moments of gratuitous nudity and violence, wait until you see those whorehouse- and harem-scenes in Marco Polo and witness everyone and their brother be really proficient in martial arts. It's pretty entertaining and gives you a vivid picture of the era, though, so it's tepidly recommended.
Mrs America. One Season. Cate Blanchett plays Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who single-handedly brought down the Equal Rights Amendment. In what is surely also a topical mini-series, she is pitted against the women's rights movement (meticulously cast) on the hand and patriarchy on the other. The series is telling the story of the ERA and the women's rights movement well, but despite getting a lot of screen time, Schlafly herself isn't well served, not for the depiction per se but for the repetiveness of her story, which makes her not a very good choice of main character. I get what they were trying to, fleshing her out as a person rather than a one-dimensional antagonist, but it doesn't always work. The series is still very good, don't mistake me, but the conceptional flaw keeps it from greatness.
|Come for the jingoism, stay for the homophobia.|
|The best show you never heard of.|
|Actors and network united in their quest for Emmys.|
John Adams. One season. It's not a big accomplishment to finish a series that has only seven episodes, of course, but they feel like at least fourteen. That's not to say that they are bad, but I think it wasn't the best call of HBO to really depict all of John Adam's political life. The sequences in Europe are dragging on endlessly, especially since Adams is sick a very long time, and dignified people talking only rescues so much, no matter what great actors portray them. I really love the first two episodes that concern themselves with the Boston Massacre and the Declaration of Independence, but it's somewhat downhill from there.
|The great precursor. Don't mention the Mystery Box.|
Lost. Six seasons. Lost is surely the one show that I regret finishing. My wife and I really did want to know how it ended, despairing more and more about the new and totally unmotivated characters (the Japanese guy, the demigods, etc.) and especially the deranged plotlines that the creators were starting to heap onto each other in a desperate attempt to avoid resolving the old ones. Look, a hatch with numbers! Look, a camp of the Others! Look, time travel! Look, another dimension! Look, the afterlife! Eh, what? And still we don't know anything. It doesn't help that the show has some really sucking characters that will strain your nerves by repeating themselves over and over and over and over and over again. Looking at you, Shepard and Kat.
|The seminal text, to be studied in class and absolutely pretentious.|
|Very uneasy with the ethical implications of this series to be honest.|
|It's better than The Witcher, that's for sure.|
|Galadriel finally gave in to temptation.|
|This was Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones, and HBO is still biting their asses for cancelling it.|
Rome. Two seasons. Like Deadwood, Rome mirrors historical developments, in this case the rises of Caesar and Augustus. Unlike Deadwood, however, the plot is faster paced and easier to understand, in large parts thanks to an almost ridiculous amount of gratious violence and nudity. Historians agree that the show is not as faithful as it tries to be by far, but it is certainly one that comes closest to actual Classical Rome. It helps that it has interesting and in the case of Pullo even likeable characters, another thing that Deadwood lacked (which made it difficult, not bad, mind you). There's no reason at all not to check out Rome. It is a great series, and it's unfortunate that it was shelved by HBO after only two seasons due to the unparalleled production cost of about 100 million dollar per series.
Show me a hero. One season. This is another great HBO miniseries, consisting of six episodes, concerning itself with urban planning and constructing public housing. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? It's been co-produced by David Simon of "The Wire"-fan, and if anyone can make this material gripping, he is it. And boy, is it gripping. Check this out!
Star Wars Rebels. Four seasons. This is a surprisingly great series. Despite being made for kids, which shows in the episodic structure and the generally low stakes for the characters, it grows astonishingly dark and complex and offers great characters with even greater voice-acting. I don't care much about the episodes that deal with the Force and all the mystery stuff, but whenever they're actually doing rebel things, it's just great.
Star Wars Resistance. Two Seasons. It's not like this one would be so much different from Star Wars Rebels, but it's geared to an even younger audience and relying a lot on slapstick. I'm a bit of a Star Wars completionist, though, so...
Tales from the Loop. One Season. This Amazon Original was adapted from a series of paintings, like the one above. Seriously. The strange imagery of the robotic vision of the 1980s has its own beauty, and while Amazon sure would like some part of the Stranger Things audience to migrate, this couldn't be further distant. This is an extremely moody, slow series, beautifully shot, ruminating on regret, death, the nature of time, friendship, loneliness and a lot of other things. It's very deep, but not in a pretentious way. It leaves you with a lot of questions without trying to give answers. If I told you many of the stories are very circular and self-contained, you wouldn't be too surprised, given the nature of the title, right? Give it a try. It's worth it.
The Americans. Six seasons. This one was a pleasant surprise. The first season was good, suspenseful and entertaining, but it wasn't until halfway into the second season that the show actually became GREAT. And I mean that in capitals. The show is astonishingly good, taking its time to tell stories and delving deep into characters and procedurals with a very understated yet intense acting style. You need to check this out.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. One Season. Without having seen the 1982 original movie, I went into this not knowing what to expect. As many critics have noted, it's off to a bit of a slow start and needs some getting used to - puppeteering isn't exactly a widely used craft - but I found myself captured by the charm of the series very quickly. It's worldbuilding is exquisite, and the characterwork steps up the plate after the rather mediocre first two episodes as well. It's captivating and really atmospheric, but you need to go with the flow and the experience of the world of Thraa, else you'll quickly be bored.
The Expanse. Four seasons. This is a surprisingly great series. It doesn't quite reach the level of Battlestar Galactica, but its actors are great and able to do something with the piss-poor dialogue they are sometimes given. More importantly, the production design is very solid, with a distinct and atmospheric aesthetic, the plot is complex and rewarding, and the moral choices the characters have to make are compelling. I also have to give kudos to the character of Amos; you really believe that he is unpredictable and dangerous despite not looking like the type.
The Last Kingdom. Four seasons. This series is actually quite good, albeit a good deal from a great series. It's very entertaining and, with noticable hiccup around season 1, episode 5, very well paced. There is a manageable slew of characters that are relatable, and I adore the sheer stupidity of our main character. He's an incredible dork, but good with a sword, so he survives the bullshit he gets himself in. Watch for good entertainment.
The Mandalorian. One Season. The first Star Wars live-action series is surely entertaining enough, but I can't really get over how much I'm not the target audience, which makes it difficult to give it a fair assessment. It's a bit like Star Wars Rebels, or Star Wars Resistance, in that it's a show made for kids. In this case, it's a show made for 13-year-olds, and while I don't have anything particular against this age-group, stuff made for them is decidedly not for me. The almost forced bad-assery and emptiness of the titular character is something for people who consider Boba Fett a great character, and I'm really not that.
Pacific. One season. The successor to Band of Brothers fixes the main problem by
squarely focussing on three characters on the Pacific theatre; however,
the decision to use historic characters rather than simply create some
proves troublesome. Oftentimes, we watch more living monuments than
people, and it is even harder than in Band of Brothers to get a feeling
of time and place. However, there are some really gruesome details in
there, and the depiction of the daily war routine is, as in Band of
Brothers, really intriguing.
The Plot Against America. One Season. Another HBO mini-series, "The Plot Against America" tells the story of what would have been if Charles Lindbergh had won the election of 1940 and established a Nazi-friendly, Jew-hating US government. The first four episodes work very well, ever so slowly ratcheting up the tension for our relatable protagonists, but in the latter two episodes, the story lost its bite for me and started to feel a bit unreal. In that, it reminds me of Tschernobyl. I can't place the finger on why. Still, it's well made, suspenseful and intriguing.
The Sopranos. Six Seasons. The classic that started it all remains inherently watchable to this day, giving you a portrait of mobster life that really doesn't glamourize it too much. At times it's more a series about mental health that happens to include mobsters - those parts are weakest, I feel, because they feel VERY unscientific and made-up - but the study in violence that in my mind penetrates every second of this show is mesmerizing.
The Terror. Two seasons. The first season is an incredible series. Eerie, well acted, gorgeously shot, meticulously crafted, suspenseful - I am running out of words, but the tale of the lost polar expidition of 1845, despite its obvious (bad) outcome, is gripping down to the last second. You absolutely need to watch this if you haven't already. The second one is...not so great. Still watchable for the production design, I guess, but it fails rather badly on its own premises.
|This is how Poe Dameron should've looked like.|
|A kid's cartoon that's watchable for adults and that produces a lot of Star Wars canon.|
|There's a curse hanging over this era of Star Wars.|
|A series adapted from a series of paintings sure is something new.|
|It's a weird praise, but this really gets the boring chore of spywork across really well.|
|I still don't get why it isn't "The Purple Crystal".|
|Nah, keep those seasons coming!|
|Trashy, but a whole lot better than The Witcher.|
|I'm not the target audience, but then, I never understood why people loved Boba Fett.|
|The weird cousin of "Band of Brothers".|
|Relatable next-door neighbors in front of a metaphor.|
|In black and white, classic style, to remind you of the good old days.|
|Ciaran Hinds when he heard there would be a second season.|
|So many good memories. From a time when politics could make you feel good and hopeful.|
The West Wing. Seven seasons. While The West Wing suffers from much of the problems that many Sorkin productions have: a tendency of underdeveloping characters, a serious incapability of creating female characters and an overzealous celebration of workaholicism and elitism. But on the other hand it offers well researched and realistically feeling political machinations, clever plots, grand dialogue and a genuine idealism. And that makes up for a lot.
|Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckitifuck. Fuuuuuck. Fuck. You'll get the reference.|
The Wire. Five seasons. Another HBO classic, The Wire takes you into urban Baltimore and deep into the bowels of the city, to the real bad neighbourhoods where gangs sling drugs and the police is unable to get in control. So far, it's your average crime-and-police-show, but you'll quickly notice that in reality, it's far more than that. It's a sociological study, taking you deep into the subcultures it explores, widening the scope with every season and refraining from easy black-and-white-patterns that make so many of these shows so primitive. The Wire is also difficult, but rewarding, at least if you discount the fifth season which is kind of stupid.
The Young Pope. Two seasons. This series was more than a little odd, I have to say. Oftentimes it feels like a LSD trip, and many of its images and storylines have a dreamlike quality. Combine this with extremely strong performances by all persons involved and usually good writing and you get an interesting picture. To learn more about this, listen to the double-feature Sean and I did on our podcast. Its second season, titles "The New Pope", is equally great.
Unbelievable. One Season. This is a very topical (2019) show, centering around the case of a serial rapist. Luckily, it's not a documentary taking a clear stand while pretending to be objective, like "Making a Murderer", but rather a well-acted drama using the source material for dramatic effect. The first episode especially is really hard to bear, and you will get angry at times, while the series provides a "go get them"-catharsis in the end. Powerful stuff, but from a cinematic point of view, there's not much to it, I'm afraid.
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (Our Mothers, Our Fathers). One season. This German miniseries about five friends being ripped up by World War II 1941-1945 was one of the major German TV events. Two brothers go to the Eastern Front, always underrepresented anyway, their female friends go into nursery and propaganda, respectively, and the Jewish friend tries to escape the Holocaust. The series received quite a bit of justified criticism for its depiction of the Polish resistance and the whitewashing of German war crimes and can be seen, as all of the German history productions of these last 20 years, as part of a troubling trend in relativism.
Watchmen. One Season. Shit, if this isn't the biggest surprise of the season. Watchmen is incredibly gutsy, taking risks left and right, throwing curve balls and getting into really troubled waters. It's a demanding show, that's for sure, and while the jury's still out whether or not it really succeeds in what it's trying to say, Lindelof and his team made something that challenges its viewers, and given the standard Netflix fare these days, that's rare enough to come by.
Watchmen Motion Comic. One Season. I don't know if this necessarily qualifies as a series, but it has 12 episodes, and so I chalk it up under "miniseries". It's a great experiment, simply using the graphic novel and animating all the frames (sparingly, I might add) and voicing all the dialogue (with the same actor, which is kind of annyoing with the female roles). Yet, it's the best moving pictures you'll get to approximate the Watchmen experience, so...there's that.
1864. One season. This is the first time I have engaged in a Scandi-drama (yes, I know, Borgen. It's still on my list). As a historian, I have of course a personal interest in its unusual subject matter, the war of 1864 between the German Federation and Denmark. And yes, it's not overly correct on the details, but it captures the general topics. Visually, the eight-part-miniseries is gorgeous, but structurally it's a bit over the place and overly reliant on stereotypes. It also shares some similarities with the typical Irish history movies like "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" in that the sun is always a bit brighter in Denmark, if you get my meaning. Nonetheless, the show is uncompromising and high-aiming, and while falling short of its mark well worth a try.
Also check out "Series I stopped watching".
|One of the weirdest things on TV being about the Pope makes a lot of sense, actually.|
|Like Making a Murderer, but not as ethically problematic.|
|Revisionist history for the Eastern Front.|
|This shouldn't work. And yet, it does.|
|Alan Moore is despairing, but I actually like this one.|
|No, it's not about the Civil War, there is other history happening in that period.|
Also check out "Series I stopped watching".