Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Series I finished watching

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 the I finished it and didn't stop in the middle. 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. I'm using the following formula: 

The title of the show
Seasons: How many seasons there are at the point of writing.
Watched: How often did I watch the complete series? Yes, I watched some series several times.
Elevator pitch: What is the show about, in two or three sentences.
Main draws: What is good about the show. A few high points, as they appealed to me. This needs to be graded on a curve; bad shows obviously have very minor points here.
Main problems: What is bad about the show. This needs to be graded on a curve; good shows obviously have very minor points here.
Would watch again: Would I rewatch the entire series? And if not, why?
Rating: I'm giving a rating between 1 and 5, with half-points in between. 1 is absolute garbage, 5 is absolutely stellar. 3 is basically watchable without pain, but nothing special.


It's a crime story in America. Truly.

American Crime Story (2016-present)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This show goes into famous American crime stories and recreates them as drama, trying to highlight several viewpoints. Season 1 is about OJ Simpson, season 2 about Gianni Versace, season 3 about Monica Lewinsky.
Main draws: The cast is absolutely stellar. They manage to complicate the picture and don't give you clear villains or heroes. The attention to period detail is incredible.
Main problems: Character arcs can warp history, and history stand in the way of character arcs. At times, it drags a bit.
Would watch again: No, because there's nothing to discover on rewatch.
Rating: 4
 
Who could've imagined that not structuring your show around fan service would work?
Andor (2022-2023)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This limited series works as a prequel to "Rogue One", following Cassian Andor's career in the Rebellion and how he became the grizzled veteran we met in Rogue One.
Main draws: Great production design. Lived-in feel of the world. Actual character arcs. Actual themes. Exciting story arcs. Stands on its own feet.
Main problems: It's still Star Wars, in case you don't dig that.
Would watch again: YES!
Rating: 5
  

Saving 13 privates.

Band of Brothers (2001)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Three times
Elevator pitch: The series follows the true story of Easy Company from their training in the US and England in 1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It is very realistic, with every episode highlighting different characters from the company and different aspects of the war experience.
Main draws: The production values are still incredible. It conveys a sense of realism. Every episode is about something, not just recreating events.
Main problems: The ensemble cast is big, and the soldiers oftentimes don't make for good characters. There's no one to get emotionally attached to.
Would watch again: Yes, the experience is worth it.
Rating: 4
 
This promotional picture will not be the last religious analogy of this particular series. 
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Seasons: 4, plus some movies and the miniseries kicking it off.
Watched: Four times, once with audio commentary
Elevator pitch: Humanity created sentient robots, and these turned against them and tried to wipe them out. The survivors are now fleeing through space towards Earth. The Battlestar Galactica is essentially an aircraft carrier in space protecting the civilian fleet, and most of our characters are military personell.
Main draws: Very well written characters. Mostly good plotting covering a lot of different bases. Incredibly interesting and well done philosophical and political plots. The asthetic of the 2000s American military and polity in space.
Main problems: Some real missteps in plotting. Low budget. The mysticism can be a bit much. The finale doesn't really hold up.
Would watch again: Yes. I only need to find the time.
 Rating: 4,5 
 
Better than Breaking Bad. Seriously. 
Better Call Saul (2015-2022)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Twice.
Elevator pitch: This show is a prequel of sorts to "Breaking Bad" (see below) and follows the descent of attorney at law Jimmy McGill into becoming the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman. It also chronicles the descent of Michael Ehrmantraut from retires ex-cop to fingerman and the feud between Gus Fring and the Salamanca family. The emphasis lies on the characters and their decisions, their motivations and relationships.
Main draws: Fantastic actors. Great camerawork. Incredible coloring. It's just high art in everything it does. Compelling characters. Great pacing and plot.
Main problems: Practically nothing. You could argue that in seasons 2-4, the Mike and Jimmy storylines are running parallel and have little connection, but I don't care.
Would watch again: Fuck yeah. 
Rating: 5

Very dark sails indeed.
Black Sails (2014-2017)
Seasons: 4
Watched: Once. 
Elevator pitch: This is very loosely based on "Treasure Island", serving as a prequel of sorts. The show is comprised of a lot of plots and intrigue as pirates betray each other and fight for their ideals, friends, allies and ideally of that at the same time.
Main draws: The pirate factions and their intrigues are usually very well plotted. The main characters are different from each other and remarkable. The plot is usually interesting enough to keep you invested. There's a lot of boobs if you're into that thing.
Main problems: The plot often dictates character actions. For a pirate series, there's remarkable little ships involved. The back and forth drags at times when the plot doesn't seem to go anywhere and just mark time. There's a tendency to reset all character relationships.
Would watch again: No, because of the weaknesses of the plot mentioned above.
Rating: 3,5
 
Quoting Ozymandias at you because why not.
Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Seasons: 5
Watched: One-and-a-half times
Elevator pitch: A highschool chemistry teacher is unhappy with his mediocre station in life and discovers he has cancer. To provide for his family when he is gone, he starts dabbling in the crystal meht business. Soon he discovers that he likes it and escalates for his own pleasure. The showrunners described it as everyman "becoming Scarface".
Main draws: Incredible acting and characters. Strong and exciting plots. Fantastic camerawork and  lighting. Sharp dialogue.
Main problems: The showrunners sometimes get high on their own supply and frame Walter White as a badass hero where really he should been treated as the villain. This was recognized as a mistake by the showrunners and corrected in the prequel, "Better Call Saul" (see above).
Would watch again: In a heartbeat.
Rating: 5
 
In a parallel world, this thing killed Game of Thrones after one season.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)
Seasons: 5
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In 1920s Atlantic City, several famous gangsters make their way in the prohibition. We follow their rise and fall through the eyes of one of them and several lower level gangsters and hangers-on. There's a strong emphasis on character and style.
Main draws: The 1920s setting is realized with great care and attention to detail. The acting and character development is outstanding. The moral dilemmas are well set up.
Main problems: At times, the plot moves almost glacially. Sometimes, the ensemble of characters loses focus to the detriment of the experience.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5

"Totally worthy of its roots" seems damning with feint praise.
Caprica (2010)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This prequel to "Battlestar Galactica" (see above) follows the development of the sentient robots that will destroy humanity a few decades down the road. The main character is the daughter of the inventor and dies in a  terrorist attack, her mind merging with the first such robot. The religious extremists responsible play a major role in the storyline.
Main draws: It's the BSG universe.
Main problems: The plot shows all the worst instincts of Ronald D. Moore, mainly the "making shit up as we go along" approach. Nothing adds up to really much. The plot seems random at points.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2,5

Not quite the Last Supper, but you're feeling the vibes.
Carnivale (2003-2005)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once.
Elevator pitch: During the Great Depression, a troupe of a travelling carnival gets involved in magical phenomena and devilish incarnations and needs to try to survive all this as well as the downfall of capitalism all around them.
Main draws: The Dustbowl setting is done with great attention to detail. There are a lot of interesting ideas, mysticisms etc. going on. It's got a really unique story, set of characters and style. 
Main problems: Since it was cancelled, it lacks a proper resolution. The pace could be crisper at times. The gender dynamics aren't always ideal.
Would watch again: No, I have too many other things to rewatch first.
Rating: 3,5
 
 
After episode 3, this is more or less your facial expression.
Catch-22 (2019)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once.
Elevator pitch: An adaptation of the novel of the same name, this miniseries follows the misadventures of a group of bomber pilots in World War II who try to survive the war and face the titular Catch-22, which is essentially an extended exploration of the madness of military bureaucracy.
Main draws: The general premise is strong. The humor really lands hard at times. The blackness of the humor works well. 
Main problems: The series is too long, which leads to a marked hang-up in its middle run. The characters, like in the novel, aren't very interesting or deep. In the end, the story doesn't amount to much.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3
Haunting your nightmares and living rent-free in your head for quite some time to come.
Chernobyl (2018)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Four times.
Elevator pitch: This miniseries follows the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 through the perspective of the involved people, mostly two nuclear phycists and a politburo apparatchik. It depicts the disaster as a horror story.
Main draws: Great acting. Fantastic attention to historical detail. Almost cathartic viewing experience. Stays with you for a long time. Highly relevant topic. 
Main problems: The last two episodes are a tad weaker than the first three. 
Would watch again: Absolutely.
Rating: 5
Good TV from Germany! Lighting in a bottle if there ever was one.
Dark (2017-2020)
Seasons: 3
Watched: One-and-a-half times.
Elevator pitch: A portal opens in a small town in Germany, allowing time travel. All sorts of paradoxes are explored, as the characters try to find out how to salvage the situation.
Main draws: The characters are phenomenal. It's the rare example of a time travel story working and making sense right up to the resolution. Very tight plotting. A lot of different times are explored.
Main problems: Very hard to follow at times. The teenage drama aspect could be toned down a bit. The post-apocalypse setting is very generic.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5
One of the two shows HBO today wished it hadn't cancelled.
Deadwood (2004-2006)
Seasons: 3, and one movie
Watched: Once.
Elevator pitch: At the tail-end of the Western era, we follow civilization slowly coming to the Frontier, exemplified by the little town of Deadwood. Over the course of three seasons, the conflicts shift from managing anarchic conditions to try fending off people thriving by exploiting their government connections and capitalist power.
Main draws: Incredible acting. Shakesparean writing style. Great attention to periodic detail. Highly relevant, high-concept themes and leitmotifs. 
Main problems: The writing style is not for everybody. The characters are not always as deep and likeable as one would wish to form attachments.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5
 
The looks of the actors after reading the script.
Defending Jacob
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A teenage boy is accused of murder. His parents try to keep him out of prison, struggling with the question of whether or not he actually did it.
Main draws: Chris Evans. Occasionally suspenseful.
Main problems: Bad writing leaves the actor little room. Obnoxious plot developments. Contrived plot developments.  Stupid ending.
Would watch again: Certainly not.
Rating: 2
Passable TV from Germany.
Deutschland 83 (2015), Deutschland 86 (2018), Deutschland 89 (2020)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: An East-German young adult is recruited into the secret service to infiltrate West Germany. After an initial culture shock, he adapts well and discovers that nothing is as clear as he thought. His superiors are convinced the US wants to start World War III, and he needs to show them proof that this isn't so.
Main draws: Passable spy-thriller fare. Interesting setting reminiscent of "The Americans" (see below). Inclusion of contemporary events into the plot.
Main problems: Prone to cliches in its depiction of the era. Overreliance on an all characters being related somehow. Nonsensical plotting at times. Characters mostly driven by plot. Third season is really bad.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5 (Season 1), 2,5 (Season 2), 1,5 (Season 3)
I guess they didn't think the title through, given the later seasons.
Fargo (2014-2020)
Seasons: 4
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Imitating the style of the original Coen brothers movie, the series tells stories of criminals in different states of haplessness ans absurdity, usually ending badly for almost everyone involved. Each season tells a different story with different characters in different locations and periods.
Main draws: The black humor. Great performances. Good imitation of the Coen style. Interesting ideas in the settings. Strong themes.
Main problems: Not all the settings and characters come together quite as intended. Not all ideas stick.
Would watch again: Yes, but there's a lot of stuff I'd rewatch before this one.
Rating: 4
It's not as good as you remember it.
Firefly (2002)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A ragtag group of outcasts tries to make their way in the outer rim of a star system by getting involved in some adventuring and good old fashioned plunder.
Main draws: A young Joss Whedon at work. Nathan Fillon. Very distinct asthetic. Foundational series.
Main problems: "Adventure of the week"-style. A lot of the writing and presentation aged poorly. The whole Joss Whedon thing.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3
This wants desperately to be "The Martian", and yet it's decidedly not.
For All Mankind (2019-present)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: What if the Space Race never ended? Starting from the Soviets beating the US to the moon, the series develops an alternate history in which a base is erected on the moon and the race goes on to Mars.
Main draws: The optimism and enthusiasm for space travel. 
Main problems: The writing is heavily reliant on the characters being related to each other. The plot created its drama mainly by stupid decisions of the main characters. The roster of characters is way too small and doesn't change, creating logic problems galore. Season 3 is really dumb.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5 (seasons 1 and 2), 2,5 (season 3)
 
Apple, out to prove that "unfilmable" doesn't apply to prestige television.
Foundation
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: An adaptation of Isaac Asimovs famous novels, this series tries to tell a story spanning centuries in a high-concept science fiction world. An empire is breaking down, and the titular Foundation is trying to preserve civilization for a millenium in order to rebuild after the chaos subsides.
Main draws: Grandiose effects and asthetics. Lee Pace. Interesting philosophical and political dilemmas. The idea of the genetic dynasty and all it entails.
Main problems: Many characters fall flat. The plot has a very deterministic feel to it (fittingly, but still depressingly). 
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4
Yeah, Jon, I feel you. This sucks.
Gunpowder (2017)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This miniseries of only three episodes tells the story of Guy Fawkes and the other plotters of the famous "gunpowder plot", in which oppressed Catholics tries to blow up the parliament.
Main draws: Kit Harrington is in it. You can say "Remember, remember, the fifth of November" watching it.
Main problems: Uninteresting characters. Guy Fakwes is an absolute cipher. Almost no suspense due to the fact that we know how it ends yet the show pretends we don't. Generally unremarkable and boring. Trying to use bouts of extreme violence to garner attention by the audience. 
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2
Fodder for the content mill.
Hawkeye (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Hawkeye is trying to reach his family for christmas but gets involved in a plot by some super-villains. He gets to know a girl that's really into archery, reluctantly forms a bond with her and trains her to become the new Hawkeye.
Main draws: It's a MCU show.
Main problems: Bad characters. Bad plotting. At best passable acting. Nothing interesting going on.  Stupid plots.
Would watch again: Hell no.
Rating: 1,5

Exhibit A of how a global pandemic can force very weird editing choices.
His Dark Materials (2019-present)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: An adaption of the famous trilogy by Philipp Pullman, this series adapts one book per season. In a steampunk universe in which every person has her soul as a manifestation of a talking animal (called daemons), the oppressive church is trying to find out how to sever people from their daemons, whereas the other side tries to literally kill god. Our main character, Lyra, is getting tangled up in everything and becomes increasingly important as the center of a prophecy.
Main draws: Solid source material. Good casting and actors. Occasionally outstanding set design. Interesting plot.
Main problems: The first season is a bit slow and incoherent. The themes are not everyone's cup of tea. 
Would watch again: Yes, but not high on my priority list.
Rating: 3 (season 1), 4 (season 2)
Da-da-dada-da-da-dada-daaaaaaaaaa...
Game of Thrones
Seasons: 8
Watched: One-and-a-half times
Elevator pitch: An adaptation of the famous novels by George R. R. Martin, this series follows noble houses in a medieval fantasy world plotting against each other. Unbeknownst to them, the apocalypse is brewing in the North, in the form of an army of ice zombies.
Main draws: Great source material. Impeccable casting and acting. Great set design, costumes, CGI, lighting and camera work. Mostly great adaptional choices. Sprawling cast and world. Epic feeling.
Main problems: Some weak storylines (Dorne season 5 stands out).
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5

Come for the jingoism, stay for the homophobia.
Generation Kill (2008)
Seasons: 1
Watched Once
Elevator pitch: This miniseries adopts the book of the same name in which an embedded journalist follows a scouting unit in the Iraq War. The series depicts the nature of modern warfare and the absurdity of it all.
Main draws: A neutral depiction of the conflict and the soldiers involved, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. Great attention to detail and a high level of versimilitude.
Main problems: Tons of homophobic and racist slurs. Lack of a character arc of discernable plot.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5
 
Not Obi Wan Kenobi, but also a limited series about a guru.
Halston (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This miniseries depicts the live of fashion designer Halston. It follows the usual biopic formula of small beginnings, first success, setbacks, comebacks and finally a descent into irrelevance, combined with a lot of trippy imagery.
Main draws: Ewan McGregor, definitely. Strong sense of the period. Great production design.
Main problems: Generally unremarkable (I can't remember anything particular). Drags a bit at times.
Would watch again: No. 
Rating: 3,5

The best show you never heard of.
Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017)
Seasons: 4
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: Chronicling the development of the computer industry from the early 80s to the mid-90s, this series follows a cast of five fictional characters who try various start-ups and never really manage healthy relationships with each other.
Main draws: The characters are absolutely incredible. The acting is almost beyond good. The camera-work, lighting and production design is great. It's the most emotional thing you can think of. Presents real dilemmas rooted in the characters' personalities with no clear answers.
Main problems: Season 1 is just mediocre. You need to suffer through it.
Would watch again: In a heartbeat.
Rating: 3 (season 1), 5 (season 2-4)

A subtle gag on their T-shirts, I'm sure you didn't notice.
Harley Quinn (2019-present)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: What if Suicide Squad, but as a sitcom? This cartoon series revolves around Harley getting into all kinds of whacky situations, but most of them involve comic-book stuff and are incredibly bloody.
Main draws: Occasionally sharp humor. Very woke. Refreshing disrespect of everything.
Main problems: Very woke. Not all gags land. The violence quickly wears itself out.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3
 
Your favorite presidential candidate from 2016!
Hillary (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: During the campaign of 2016, a camera team followed Hillary Clinton around. The project was intended to be made into a documentary after her tenure, but reality intervened. Now it serves as a biography of Hillary and her career, viewed from a vantage point of the late 2010s.
Main draws: Really good structure, intercutting her past with her present. Showing a lot of (curated) behind the scenes footage. Good interview partners. Good cutting. Great energy. Surprisingly concentrated on the time before Trump, mixing Hillary's life contemporary events.
Main problems: This presents Hillary Clinton more or less the way she wants to be seen, which I almost see as a plus, but if you don't like her, this isn't going to convince you otherwise.
Would watch again: Yes, it's a really good show. 
Rating:4,5
 
Not a house in sight. I feel cheated!
House of the Dragon (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: 180 years before "Game of Thrones" (see above), house Targaryen (the titular house of the dragon) is at the height of its power. The only thing that can bring it down is itself, which is exactly what transpires when an indecisive king allows a succession crisis to brew.
Main draws: Structurally interesting. Really good characters and writing. Great production values. More progressive than GOT, avoiding some of its pitfalls.
Main problems: The time jumps and the huge cast can be overwhelming.
Would watch again: It's guaranteed at this point.
Rating: 5
  
The goggles are ridiculous, sorry.
Incinvible (2021-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: What if Superman was evil, but had a family? We follow the young "Invincible" as he need to comes to grips with the fact that his father is not the hero he thought he was. The problem is that his father really is invincible, so what to do?
Main draws: Almost ridiculous levels of violence in a show drawn like a kid's cartoon. Sometimes good depictions of teenage live.
Main problems: Worn-out premise. Sometimes drawn-out plots. Characters often do stupid shit to drive the plot.
Would watch again: No. 
Rating: 3,5

This must be the worst photoshop filter I've ever seen on a poster.
Interview with the Vampire (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A journalist interviews a Vampire, who tells him his life story. Said life story is intertwined with the racist history of the American south and existential ruminations about life and death, broken up by snarky comments and marriage dramedy.
Main draws: Great acting. Great casting. Great visuals. Incredibly well-written dialogue. Just the right juxtaposition of humor and drama.
Main problems: It has all the prententiousness of the source material, which might grate you.
Would watch again: Maaaaaybe...?
Rating: 5
Actors and network united in their quest for Emmys. 
John Adams (2008)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: This miniseries tells the life of John Adams, second president of the US, from the Boston Massacre to his death.
Main draws: Great cast. Great attention to period setting and historical detail (including bad teeth, for once!). CGI still holds up.
Main problems: The later episodes especially suffer from the relative disinterest of most viewers in the period; whereas the revolutionary era has a lot of famous players and garners attention as the event, Adams' time as a diplomat is unremarkable. Too hagiographic in many points.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5
 
British magicians. Look how British they are!
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2022)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In an alternate European history of the Napoleonic wars, two magicians get themselves involved in war and politics on the mundane as well as the astral plane. Matters are not helped by their competition with each other, as a dark faerie tries to gain influence in the world.
Main draws: Unique setting. Interesting ideas. Strong central duo. 
Main problems: Often mediocre side characters. Motivations are not always clear. The resolution is a bit of a letdown.
Would watch again: No. 
Rating: 3,5
 
Weird that despite the abundance of katanas in zombie fiction, no one did this before. 
Kingdom (2019-present)
Seasons: 2, and one movie
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In medieval Korea, a pandemic breaks out. Victims become zombies, infecting others in the process. The reaction of the government is haphazard at best while it's mired in a succession crisis. It's up to reightful heir not only to escape his murderous pursuers but to also fight the zombies and overcome class barriers.
Main draws: Unique setting. Rad hats. Interesting zombie mechanics. Realistic depiction of how politics would get in the way of a sensible response to a greater thread.
Main problems: Zombies aren't exactly the most interesting antagonist. Plots become more arbitrary in season 2. Characters' decision are plot driven.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3
 
Har har har so much money for Disney har har.
Loki (2021-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: The Loki that escaped in "Avengers Endgame" is caught by the timekeepers who want to kill him, but he talks them into letting them help him solve a difficult problem. In the process, Loki teams up with an alternate, female version of him and tries to learn what's important in life.
Main draws: Tom Hiddleston. An attempt at giving their protagonist a character arc for once. Sassy banter with female Loki.
Main problems: Arbitrary plotting. Mediocre setting. Low stakes. Hokey CGI. Less than the sum of its parts.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2,5
 
The great precursor. Don't mention the Mystery Box.
Lost (2004-2010)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: The survivors of a plane crash on a tropical island need to band together to survive, but their secret pasts and animosities work against them. The island itself is full of mysteries that need to be solved, ranging from a mysterious smoke monster to interdimensional travel and apocalyptical devices.
Main draws: The mysteries drive you to consume more and more episodes. Strong sense of "what happens next?"
Main problems: Completely plot driven. The mystery supercedes everything. The plot dictates characters' actions that become more and more arbitrary. Introduction of ever escalating stakes and mysteries without ever resolving the old ones. Catastrophic finale. 
Would watch again: Certainly not.
Rating: 2,5
 
Topical topic and Horror evergreen, what could go wrong?
Lovecraft Country (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In 1950s America, a young African American couple tries to make a place for themselves while battling mages and their attempts to exert control via summoned monsters. The horrors of a Lovecraftian universe reinforce the horrors of segregation and racism.
Main draws: The general premise of the show. The setting. Michael K. Williams.
Main problems: The dialogues are pretty bad. It's largely plot-driven and character decisions often make no sense. The segregation America isn't coherently pictured. It's ending is highly problematic in what it implies. The Tulsa episode is a gross misstep.
Would watch again: No!
Rating: 2,5
 
He's the most inconspicious thief ever encountered.
Lupin (2021-present)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Inspired by the Lupin novels, a black French gentleman master thief engages in a series of complicated heists that follow their own purpose.
Main draws: Update of the source material for the 21st century. Omar Sy is incredible as the main character since it makes no sense yet it works. A lot of charm.
Main problems: The plot quickly starts to make little sense. The idea of tying everything together via a conspiracy plot is incredibly ill-adviced. The character arcs aren't able to carry the series at all. Character relations become arbitrary.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5 (season 1), 2,5 (season 2)

The seminal text, to be studied in class and absolutely pretentious. 
Mad Men (2007-2015)
Seasons: 7
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In 1960s America, we follow the ups and downs of an ad agency and its employees and owners. Complicated character relationships abound. One of the major questions the show asks is whether people can actually change; the answer, in many cases, is no.
Main draws: Stellar cast and great acting. Really deep characters. Great sense of place and period detail. Occasional, but always stellar bouts of humor.
Main problems: Don isn't exactly the most relatable main character and can start to annoy, but that's only rarely an issue
Would watch again: Definitely. 
Rating: 5
 
Close-ups of middle-aged people, the show.
Mare of Easttown (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In rural Pennsylvania, an aging female cop needs to solve a murder case. Everyone involved in the small town knows each other, and she herself is also tangled up in the relationships of the people.
Main draws: Great sense of place. Magnetic performance by Kate Winslet.
Main problems: Contrived plot. The accents and local colorit is a bit much at times. Ultimately doesn't amound to much.
Would watch again: No. 
Rating: 3
 
It's better than The Witcher, that's for sure. 
Marco Polo (2014-2016)
Seasons: 2, plus one special episode
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A reimagening of Marco Polo's time at Kublai Khan's court, ein the asthetic of a Kung Fu flick with little regard for historic accuracy.
Main draws: Competently executed story. Interesting setting. The mongol characters.
Main problems: Bland main character. At times ridiculous martial arts cliches. The story becomes more ludicrous as the seasons progress. The season 2 cliffhanger introduces crusaders as new baddies, which is dumb. Series was cancelled and is incomplete. 
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3
 
Galadriel finally gave in to temptation.
Mrs. America (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This series tells the story of the ratification failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. The main character is right-wing activist Phylls Schlaeffly, with prominent feminists of the era getting highlighted in different episodes.
Main draws:  Cate Blanchett. Period detail. Relevant historic period and relevant main topic. Balanced take on the topic, giving each side its due.
Main problems: Problematic message (I wrote about it).
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 4
 
Darth Vader is at the heart of Obi-Wan, at least in this poster.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: About eight years before "A New Hope", Obi-Wan gets sucked into the Imperial attempt of flushing him out when young Leia is abducted. He needs to fight the Inquisitors, rescue her, recommit to the world and forge a bond with Leia.
Main draws: Ewan McGregor.
Main problems: The writing is bad and falls apart in the second half of the season. Lots of retcon problems. Cliched villains. Overreliance on Darth Vader without a lot to show for it.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2,5
 
Being shamelessly meta while profiting off it.
Only Murders In The Building
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once. 
Elevator pitch: True-crime affectionados are trying to solve a murder in their apartment building while doing a podcast about it. Everyone is suspicious, including the main cast, and lots of black humor and hilarity ensue. 
Main draws: Great cast, good humor, sharp dialogue. 
Main problems: Sometimes plot elements and character beats don't quite click as they should. The plot doesn't make much sense.
Would watch again: Nope, it's not that good.
Rating: 4
 
Diverse, female cast. Taylor-made for our times. Surely, Amazon's above such considerations.
Paper Girls
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once. 
Elevator pitch: The titular Paper Girls accidentally time travel from 1988 to 2019 and learn about a time travelling agency that wants them dead and the resistance against it. There's also giant mechs and dinosaurs.
Main draws: Like Stranger Things, but with a better take on the nostalgia. Great protagonists. Good pacing.
Main problems: The bad guys fall completely flat; over-acted and flat.
Would watch again: Nope, there's nothing to discover on a second run.
Rating: 4
If you think this looks creepy, wait until you see the show proper.
Raised by wolves (2019-2021)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Earth is gripped in a devestating war between Atheists and Mithraists (a montheistic christianity-stand-in) and on the verge of collapse. The Mithraists send a colony ship to a far-away planet to rescue Mithraic culture and humanity. The Atheists send two sentient robots and a few foetuses to get there first.
Main draws: Great philosophical questions are raised and give you much to think about. Deep themes. Great production design. Awe-inspiring visuals. Surprising but intelligent plot developments.
Main problems: Very difficult to watch at times. It surely isn't everyone's cup of tea. Was cancelled, so not really complete.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5

Worst business decision HBO ever took.
Rome (2005-2007)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Three times
Elevator pitch: The series roughly follows the Julius Caesar from the wrap-up of the Gallic campaign  to his murder in season 1 and Augustus' rise to power in season 2 through the eyes of two soldiers and a lot of Roman aristocrats.
Main draws: Great versimilitude. Lots of swearing, sex and violence, first establishing that particular HBO formula. The morals and mentalities of the characters are alien to our modern sensibilities. Good plotting. Great casting and acting.
Main problems: Many historical inaccuracies. Problematic female roles. Lots of sex, swearing and violence that's gratuitous. .
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5
 
Ben Stiller seems to be an important guy, but I have no clue why.
Severance (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: What if you could sever your work self so that you don't have to experience the drudgery from work? How does your work-self experience a life that only consists of office drudgery? And are these two the same persons? And what on earth happens in this company?
Main draws: Very interesting premise. Great characters. Great acting. Engaging philosophical questions.
Main problems: The plot concerning itself with the conspiracy stuff going on in the company is weak compared to the character stuff. 
Would watch again: No, too much relies on the mystery of what's going on.
Rating: 4

I mean, he's Poe Dameron, what else could you want?
Show me a hero (2015)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Dramatization of a communal politician who has to enact a court ruling for new public housing in a wealthy neighborhood he originally ran against. We see the fallout and underlying conditions from the perspective of the residents as well as the downtrodden.
Main draws: Relevant topic. Great empathy for both sides of the conflict. Very good depiction of the dynamics of communal politics.
Main problems: Characters remain a bit flat and hard to attach yourself to. The plot follows the real world events, which makes it hard to really pick up any dramatic steam.
Would watch again: No, too much other things to rewatch.
Rating: 4

It's a show for children. Not that the presentation leaves any doubt, but some people need to be told.
Star Wars Rebels (2014-2018)
Seasons: 4
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Filling in the gap between Episode III and Episode IV, this series shows the beginnings of the rebellion (at least in part) following a young audience stand-in with force powers, ruthlessly hunted by the Imperial Inquisitors, his mentor and a ragtag band of rebels that functions as an extended family.
Main draws: Charming characters. Good plotting where it comes to the actual rebellion. Tons of cameos and crossovers for the so-inclined.
Main problems: The mystery sections of the show concerning the Force feel tonally off. Thrawn has the usual problems of all evil geniuses.
Would watch again: No. It's a kids show, after all, it's not like there are layers.
Rating: 3,5
Not even the man-children could pretend this one wasn't for kids.
Star Wars Resistance (2018-2020)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Aiming at a younger audience than "Rebels" (see above), this show concerns itself with the creation of the Resistance, at least peripherally. The main cast is a set of teenagers flying racing ships at a giant station on a water planet that will later flee from the First Order and serve as a kid's version of "Battlestar Galactica" (also see above).
Main draws: A lot of dogfights. Charming characters (mostly). Some cameos.
Main problems: Overreliant on slapstick humor. Really dumb plots, including risking everyone to organize a birthday party. Very tenuous connection to the sequels without adding much.
Would watch again: Certainly not.
Rating: 2,5
There is not station 12, before you ask. 
Station Eleven (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once, but the pilot three times
Elevator pitch: A worldwide pandemic plunges the world into chaos, killing close to 99% of the population. A young girl tries to survive by attaching herself to a chance meeting at the theater. 20 years later, said girl is grown-up and part of a travelling theater group that preserves art and culture in a newly rebuilding civilization.
Main draws: The rarest of things: an optimistic post-apocalypse. Incredible performances. Deep themes. Intriguing structure, cutting back and forth through timelines and highlighting different characters and there worldviews.
Main problems: If you like neat resolutions, you're out of luck.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 5
 
One of the most overhyped shows I know.
Succession (2018-present)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Rich assholes fight over the titular succession over their fathers media empire which is clearly modelled on FOX News. They're all in various stages of incompetency and generally unlikeable, but the degree to which you hate them shifts with the plot.
Main draws: Biting humor that can at times land hard. Great performances and production design. Witty writing.
Main problems: Trying to have its cake and eat it too with  a lot of the storylines and themes. Constant resetting of the status quo without anything changing. Cheapening of all dramatic impact by undercutting itself. Cowardice in its messaging.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5

A show based on a series of paintings? Why not?
Tales from the Loop (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Mostly stand-alone episodes depict weird things happening in an American small town. Time travel, mechs, strange tech and much more gives grounds to explore philosophical questions and to explore humanity and how our society functions.
Main draws: Fascinating premises. Unique asthetic. Melancholic tone that's coherent and really gets at you.
Main problems: Shallow characters. Can drag at times.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 4
I'll take one helping of corn and two side-dishes of joy, please.
Ted Lasso (2020-present)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Season 1 twice, season 2 once.
Elevator pitch: An American Football trainer gets a gig at coaching a London soccer club. Lots of hilarity and cultural misunderstanding ensue. Said trainer is also the most honestly corny and optimistic person you'll ever meet.
Main draws: The relentless optimism makes this show like a cookie - incredibly sweet and sparkling joy. The characters are charming. Witty writing.
Main problems: The plot is hamfisted at times, forcing characters together to move along. Season 2 especially is tonally incredibly incoherent. Some episodes are essentially misfires.
Would watch again: Season 1, maybe. Season 2, I'll pass.
Rating: 4,5 (Season 1), 3,5 (Season 2)

One of these series that really should have been a movie.
Tehran (2021-present)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A female Israeli agent infiltrated Iranian capital Teheran trying to fulfill a mission. Things go sideways, a high-ranking Iranian secret service official is on the hund and she needs to evacuate asap. Of course, she decides to fulfill the mission despite the circumstances. The families of everyone get involved.
Main draws: High level of suspense. Unique setting. Murky morality.
Main problems: Almost entirely plot driven. Reliant on very strange or even dumb decisions in order to generate drama. Throwing increasingly unlikely problems at the main character to keep the plot going.
Would watch again: No. 
Rating: 3

The title is a bit ironic since they're not really Americans, you see.
The Americans (2013-2018)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Twice.
Elevator pitch: Two Soviet agents pose as an All-American couple and spie for the motherland. The spying takes an increasing mental toll on them. Things become even more complicated as they are ordered to recruit and train their teenage daughter for the cause, all the while they're best friends with their neighbor working for FBI counter-intelligence.
Main draws: Incredible, understated performances. Fascinating characters. Questions of morality abound. A slow pace that takes its time and allows for a different but intriguing kind of television. Almost perfect procedural TV.
Main problems: Season 1 is only good entertaintment.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 3,5 (Season 1), 5 (Season 2-6)
 
 
The bear is a metaphor, in case you were wondering.
The Bear (2022)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A master cook tries to rescue the ailing family business of his diseased brother, which is basically one level above junk food. Will his methods and standards help him in the fight against a colorful mix of side characters or will he go down?
Main draws: An almost manic energy flowing from the actors. Extremely fast-paced dialogue. Contained episodes not overstaying their welcome. Real emotional stakes. A good look at the diner business. 
Main problems: It's not really about all that much. The adversial relationships can be exhausting. Delves into clichee territory sometimes. Celebrates a very unhealthy work-culture.
Would watch again: I don't see why. 
Rating: 4
The worst Star Wars content created so far! Will they go even deeper? Let's hope not!
The Book of Boba Fett (2022)

Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Showing the journey of Boba Fett from his fall into the Sarlacc to present day, the show attempts to give this character some depth and establish him as a kind of warlord on Tatooine. In the past plotline, he joins a tribe of Tusken, whereas in the present he fights off various crime syndicates.
Main draws: It's Star Wars, I guess. Boba Fett if you like him. The two episodes without Boba Fett that continue the story from "The Mandalorian" (see below).
Main problems: Really bad acting. Really bad writing. Ridiculous production design at times. No coeherence whatsoever.
Would watch again: Not in a thousand cold winters.
Rating: 1,5

Did CGI really replace Henson's studio? This series dares to ask the question.
The Dark Crystal - Age of Resistance (2019)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Serving as a prequel to the 1982 movie, this series shows how the Gelflings began their rebellion against the Skeksis that would ultimately destroy them. The titular Dark Crystal is the magic McGuffin that they need to try and wrest from Skeksis control. We follow three different Gelflings from different tribes and with different characteristics.
Main draws: A well-functioning mix of pupeteering and CGI. Charming characters. Good expansion on the 1982 movie. A lot of really cool ideas.
Main problems: The Skeksis verge too often into the yucky territory. The plot takes too long to get to the point. The known resolution of the story, ending in Gelfling genocide, reduces a lot of the investment in the proceedings. Many characters are badly explained and act in ways not understandable.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5

If you ask the fans, y'all didn't go far enough. There's three books left to adapt.
The Expanse (2015-2022)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In the future, humanity settled the solar system. Beyond Mars, the Belters are oppressed by the UN (controlling Earth) and the MCR (controlling Mars) and trying to get a better life. Our ragtag band of characters gets involved in a conspiracy concerning an alien life form that will radically change humanity's fate. As the story progresses, the main characters become important player in solar politics.
Main draws: Great storyline. Fascinating ideas. Great versimilitude concerning space travel, gravity and the reality of living in space. Deep themes and food for thought. Great improvement over the source material.
Main problems: The characters are a bit shallow, especially main character James Holden. The story gets cut short by the decision to end the series after season 6.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5
 
It briefly held the title of worst Marvel show, but then "Hawkeye" came around.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: After the events of "Avengers Endgame", Falcon and the Winter Soldier try to find a place for themselves and work out personal issues - the crippling guilt over having murdered a lot of people over the last decades for the Winter Soldier and a crippling veneration of Captain America for Falcon - which is best done by fighting a common enemy.
Main draws: Marvel action. Two characters you know teaming up. A continuation of the story of the movies. An interesting premise.
Main problems: An interesting premise failed to follow. Bad writing. Astonishingly bad production values given the price tag of the series. Infuriating politics. Always hewing the middle of the road in everything it does. An insulting finale.
Would watch again: Did I give you that impression?
Rating: 1,5
Official seal of approval of FPOTUS Obama.
The G-Word (2022)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Comedian Adam Connoway continues the theme of his YouTube-series "Adam ruins everything" trying to explain how the government does (or doesn't) work in America. From the weather service to GPS, he covers a lot of unknown government institutions, shows what good they do and balances it out with a lot of criticisms and jokes.
Main draws: An earnest appretiation of government functions. Unearthing real human stories that are interesting. Great cuts and production design.
Main problems: Not really all that funny, the best parts are the serious ones. The serious parts are way too short and under-explained.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5

Don't be fooled by the weird presentation and title. It's even weirder.
The Good Lord Bird (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This miniseries tells the story of the raid on Harper's Ferry as a grotesque. The main character is a slave boy who gets "rescued" by John Brown who thinks he's a girl and insists on treating him as such. Brown is waging a bloody war against the slavers, but the whole thing is an utter farce.
Main draws: The total weirdness of the thing. A very interesting critique of the "white gaze" on the subject. A magnetic performance by Ethan Hawke.
Main problems: It can drag a bit.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 4

Haunted by mediocrity, maybe.
The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This adaptation of "The Loosening of the Screw" updates the source material for our modern times and into the classic Netflix format. A family moves into a haunted house and needs to find out how to escape the curse.
Main draws: Some eerie design choices. A likeable main character.
Main problems: Overall very bland. The story drags way too long for what is actually being told. The writing, acting and production values are very bland.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3

This show had no budget for makeup or more than one set of costumes.
The Last Kingdom (2015-2022)
Seasons: 5
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This adaptation of the novel series of the same name concerns itself with the foundation of England under Alfred the Great and his son Edward in a time where Vikings and Christians battle for the soul of the land. Our main character is a Christian who grew up among Vikings, wandering both worlds and trying to stay independent as a new order is born.
Main draws: Swords. Beards. A lot of battles. Male camraderie. Reasonably suspenseful plots and twists. Some good characters and performances.
Main problems: Some bad characters and performances. Low budget. Repetetive story structure.
Would watch again: No. It was fun while it lasted, but don't think too hard about it or you break something.
Rating: 3,5

I'm totally not crying, why do you ask?
The Leftovers (2014-2017)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: 2% of the world population vanish from one instant to the other. No one knows why, and the show isn't interested in the reason in the slightest. Instead, it explores the grief and trauma of those left behind.
Main draws: Incredible melancholy. Really makes you sad. Tremendous performances. Great characters. The story takes you places you wouldn't expect. Really weird.
Main problems: Can be tough to cope with. Not for everybody.
Would watch again: Not sure. It is a handfull.
Rating: 5
 
Classic understatement of the wealthy rich kid.
The Lord of the Rings - The Rings of Power (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: After defeating Morgoth and his minion, Sauron, most elves believe evil defeated and a time of peace at hand. Galadriel doesn't think so and tries to find Sauron, who schemes to entrap humans, dwarves and elves into a scheme by goading them into forging powerful artifacts, the titular Rings of Power, which he can control via a master ring, making him, you guessed it, the Lord of the Rings.
Main draws: The huge budget really shows, this show is magnificent to behold. Great set design. Really selling the lore and Middle Earth.
Main problems: The lack of character arcs. Mediocre writing. Structural problems.
Would watch again: No, doesn't seem worth it.
Rating: 3,5

If you had told me this existed 20 years ago, I would have gone crazy. Now I'm "meh".
The Mandalorian (2019-present)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Do you remember Boba Fett? He had a cool armor. This is the story of a person who also wears cool armor, but this time, he has a background story and is an actual character.
Main draws: Pedro Pascal. Some cool scenes in the Star Wars universe. It's the first non-animated Star Wars show. That infiltration episode in season 2.
Main problems: The overarching story makes much less sense than the stand-alone episodes. Giancarlo Esposito is absolutely wasted on an underwritten role. Season 2 gets in the unfortunate habit of just referencing stuff instead of standing on its own legs.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3

Undeniably an old man. Another series that should've been a movie.
The Old Man (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: An Ex-CIA-agent is haunted by his past deeds in Afghanistan. An old acquitance is out for revenge, and the whole thing is tied up with his family and his old best friend. They did mess with the wrong old man, though, as this one has a lot of juice left.
Main draws: The relationship between the old man and the slightly younger woman. Alia Shawkat's breakout performance. The two dogs. Great suspense especially in the first half.
Main problems: The two dogs just fall out the narrative completely. The characters are incredibly inconsistent. The story simply doesn't support the running time. The conspiracy stuff already gets batshit crazy in the first season.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3

The one about the more unpopular war. I guess it reminds people too much of Vietnam.
The Pacific (2010)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: Following "Band of Brothers" (see above), this series chronicles the war in the Pacific. We follow three soldiers with very different fates. Each episode has its own thematic throughline.
Main draws: Actual characters and character arcs. A setting that's much less common in cinema and TV. Great versimilitude.
Main problems: The relative unknowness of the details of the conflict makes following the action and being invested much harder as the show cannot rely on as much preconceptions as in "Band of Brothers". In parts it drags.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4


Also plotting against keeping audience interest.
The Plot Against America (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In an alternate history, Roosevelt loses the election of 1940 to Charles Lindbergh and his "America First" platform. Lindbergh starts to discriminate against Jews and to align the US more closely with Nazi Germany. The series follows the travails of a Jewish family for the following two years.
Main draws: Interesting premise. Very timely premise.
Main problems: Uninspired characters and mediocre performances. The story never really takes off. The ending comes abruptly and is unsatisfying in a narrative sense.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2,5
 
The titular queen is Netflix, banking on a lot of hype.
The Queen's Gambit (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In the 1950s and 1960s, a young woman is discovered as a chess prodigy and makes her way into a male-dominated world until she faces the world's best chess players in a tournament in the Soviet Union. It's Rocky IV, but with chess. 
Main draws: Competent execution that leads to a lot of suspense given that we're watching people playing chess. Generally charming characters.
Main problems: An extremely problematic depiction of substance abuse. Doesn't add up to much. Generic and cliched storytelling, especially in the finale.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5
 
I'm not quite sure if it's an intended metaphor that Nancy has a muzzle.
The Reagans (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Put together from interviews with contempary witnesses and archival material, this documentary aims at showing the life of the Reagans between Ronald's rise in Hollywood to the aftermath of his presidency.
Main draws: Good balance between criticism and praise. Touching all important topics of Reagan's life.
Main problems: Structurally not functioning well; without foreknowledge of the events, it's very hard to follow. All over the place and muddled, never really giving you a sense of who the titular Reagans are.
Would watch again: No, it's not good enough. This show might have been better off to eschue the biographical approach and try to be more about the times.
Rating: 3
 
An unadaptable graphic novel, adapted. Netflix competes with Apple and Amazon on a shoestring budget.
The Sandman (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This adaptation of the famous graphic novels by Neil Gaiman revolves around Dream, the titular Sandman, as he is captured by mortals and subsequently freed. Weird and magical adventures ensue. The overriding question is whether he, one of the Endless, can change.
Main draws: Good performances all around. The mysteriousness and magic of the graphic novels is overall well captured. Great imagery. The show manages to get all the smaller yet important moments right.
Main problems: At times the CGI is a bit hokey, especially in hell. John Dee doesn't really work as a villain and is watered down too much.
Would watch again: Yes
Rating: 4,5
 
It's the OG. Without this show, we wouldn't have prestige TV. 
The Sopranos (1999-2006)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: We follow a mob family in New Jersey. The main character is the family head, Tony Soprano, who sees a shrink to overcome his anxiety attacks. The inner life of all the mobsters is revealed and revelled in in great detail - and exposed as not especially deep nor commendable.
Main draws: Great performances. Great characters. Good morals, since it doesn't show the mobsters as cool guys to be admired.
Main problems: The first two seasons are a bit too much on the "cool mobster" side of things.
Would watch again: Yes
Rating: 5
I would bet she was pretty before, but point taken.
The Summer I Turned Pretty (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A family has been visiting the same friendly family in their summer house every summer for over a decade, so the kids basically grew up together. This is the first summer in which puberty makes the youngest child attractive for the first time. Lots of teenage drama ensues.
Main draws: Authentic recreation of the teenage love experience. Overall good characters. Some unexpected yet well executed plot developments.
Main problems: Especially in the latter half of season 1 the plot zig-zags and runs wildly in place. The premise is quickly wearing itself out, so this might have been better served being a movie.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3,5

Seldom was a second season more ill-adviced.
The Terror (2018-2019)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Season 1 covers an Arctic expedition in the 19th century going bad, adding in some fantasy-horror elements in the mix. Season 2 covers the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, doing the same thing.
Main draws: Season 1 has a great cast and great performances. Interesting settings and horror elements.
Main problems: Season 2 doesn't make much sense in its plot and character development most of the time and has incredibly problematic conclusions from the setup of its mystery.
Would watch again: Maybe season 1.
Rating: 4,5 (Season 1), 2 (Season 2)

Test
A show like a trip, and not one of the pleasant ones.
The Third Day (2020)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In this miniseries, a man visits a small island without cell phone network to clear his head. It's the day of an ancient, paganistic ritual the quirky islanders are performing. It all goes downhill from there. Later, his family tries to find him and discovers more than they anticipated.
Main draws: Magnetic performances. Trippy overall feeling. Completey surprising and innovative. The show is more of an experience than entertaintment.
Main problems: It's not terribly coherent and very artsy, which might be a problem for some. There's also not much plot.
Would watch again: No, not my cup of tea.
Rating: 4
 
Yeah, we know it was a metaphor, why do you ask?
The Underground Railroad (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: What if the Underground Railroad was, you know, an underground railroad? This setting is a bit bizarre, and the series fully exploits this by making some small changes as to how the antebellum South was. This allows it to blend contemporary topics and asthetics with the historical stuff and do an in-depth look at the different faces of slavery and its consequences for slavers and enslaved both.
Main draws: Interesting, innovative premise. A lot of suspense. Much food for thought. Provocative.  
Main problems: The main characters is pretty detached from a lot of what's going on, and so it's hard for viewers to immers themselves (an intended effect, yet noteworthy). Very hard to watch at times.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 4,5

So many good memories. From a time when politics could make you feel good and hopeful.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
Seasons: 6
Watched: Three times
Elevator pitch: What if a Democrat president with strong hawkish instincts and a deep religiosity was in the White House instead of Bill Clinton? This show is basically liberal wish-fulfillment of the early aughts.
Main draws: Great writing. Great performances. Clever production design, lighting and camera-work. Basically a civil service by showing the inner workings of the government. A show that's optimistic about politics. 
Main problems: The extremely condescending Sorkin-tone. The later seasons, especially season 5, have a lot of problems. Much of the politics is outdated. A lot of cringe from today's point of view. Bartlett would have been a mediocre president.  
Would watch again: I'm really unsure. Lots of good memories, but I feel they better stay where they are instead of being disappointed.
Rating: 4 (Season 1-4 and 5-6), 3 (Season 5)
 
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckitifuck. Fuuuuuck. Fuck. You'll get the reference.
The Wire (2002-2008)
Seasons: 5
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Baltimore is a city full of crime with a police unable to get it under control. This series explores why by giving unprecedented space to procedural work, the bureacracy and institutional failings. With every season, the scope is broadened to encompass other aspects of a failing metropolis.
Main draws: The critical view on systemic failures instead of single actors. Very strong performances. Diverse cast. Very authentic. Great structure. Very memorable characters.
Main problems: At times very problematic in its glorification of extralegal violence. Propulgating the myth of the good cop. Season 5.
Would watch again: Maybe? I fear the same rule as for "West Wing" (see above) applies.
Rating: 4 (Season 1 and 3), 4,5 (Season 2 and 4), 2,5 (Season 5)
 
One of the weirdest things on TV being about the Pope makes a lot of sense, actually.
The Young Pope (2016), The New Pope (2020)
Seasons: 2
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: A very good-looking, young pope is elected. He turns out to be a radical conservative. (Season 1) After the events of season 1, a new pope is elected; he has to face challenges, among them his predecessor. (Season 2) Catholicism is taken very serious in its beauty and flaws.
Main draws: The imagery. The weirdness of it all. The camerawork. Stunning close-ups of ugly people presented as the most beautiful thing in the world. A sense of catharsis. Emotional depth almost unparalleled in TV.
Main problems: Season 1, Episode 8 is a huge misstep.
Would watch again: Yes, in a heartbeat. This show is really speaking to me. I talked to Sean T. Collins about it.
Rating: 5
 
Come for Michael Mann, stay for a competent crime series.
Tokyo Vice (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: The first foreign-born journalist to join a prestigious Japanse newspaper in the 1990s gets involved into the Yakuza. The same is true about an American escort. Both of them serve as windows into Japanese culture and the Yakuza underworld.
Main draws: The setting of Japan in the late 1990s is an interesting one and meticulously created. The suspense is generally enough to keep the story going.
Main problems: The characters are only of mild interest and their decisions seem arbitrary and plot-driven at times. The focus on white characters leaves the Japanese othered and pushed to the sidelines.
Would watch again: No
Rating:  3

Ugliest title card and most boring intro of all time. 
Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017)
Seasons: 3
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Laura Palmer is dead, and an FBI agent is sent to find out who did it. In the small town of Twin Peaks, it soon becomes clear that a mysterious killer named BOB, who seems to be a demon from another dimension, is responsible.
Main draws: Special Agent Dale Cooper as played by Kyle McLaughlan is pure joy whenever he's in a scene. Generally strong performances. The weirdness of it all surprises you constantly. Deep themes to think about. Tackling real problems. (Season 1 and 2) The weirdness is cranked up to eleven with stunning imagery that will not leave your head for years. (Season 3)
Main problems: The demands of the network led to some incoherence in season 2 especially, which has an abolutely pointless subplot and ends very abruptly. Season 3 is definitely not for everyone.
Would watch again: Maybe?
Rating: 4,5 (Season 1), 3,5 (Season 2), 5 (Season 3)
 
Like Making a Murderer, but not as ethically problematic.
Unbelievable (2019)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This True Crime series follows the rape of a young woman. The police doesn't believe her and instead ruins her life. Years later, the rapist strikes again, but a different police officer is much more sympathetic and rolls up the entire case.
Main draws: Great performance by Kaitlyn Dever. Very topical. Narratively satisfying structure and resolution.
Main problems: The messages are a bit on the nose at times. It's questionable if the subject justifies a whole season worth of television. 
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3,5
 
Revisionist history for the Eastern Front.
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (2013)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Twice
Elevator pitch: The story follows five friends from 1941 to 1945. Two of them are drafted to the Ostfront to fight the Soviets, one becomes a major music star, one joins the paramedics and one is a Jew trying to hide and survive the holocaust. The experiences depicted are supposed to encompass the German experience of the war (hence the title).
Main draws: The Ostfront usually gets shafted by television and cinema plots, so that's welcome. The production values are good. The plot is reasonably well constructed and moves at a pleasurable pace.
Main problems: Stiff dialogues and acting with a moralistic bent. Extremely problematic politics. Extremely problematic depiction of the Polish Home Army and Poles in general.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 2,5
 
Very clever design with "Savin Private Ryan"-vibes.
The Vietnam War (2017)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: After the success of his Civil War series, Ken Burns interviews survivors of both sides of the war - Vietnamese of both states as well as US soldiers and politicians - and lets them speak. There's little narration as the interviews tell the story of the war.
Main draws: Both sides are presented, which works much better for the Vietnam War than it does for the Civil War. The stories told are genuinely insightful and interesting and offer a lot of different perspectives on the war and its effects on people.
Main problems: Some prior knowledge about the war, the politics and the bit players really is required. It's incredibly subjective by necessity. Useful more as a supplement than to learn about the topic.
Would watch again: No, I think I've got it covered.
Rating: 4
 
The height of Disney's artistic daring.
Wandavision (2021)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: Wanda has created her own little dimension in which she lives a happy house-life with Vision. However, for some reason, this is working as a sitcom progressing through the ages. In the real world, the successors of SHIELD try to take her down.
Main draws: The sitcom parts are done in the style of the decades, starting in the 1950s and progressing to the 2000s, including changes in layout and costuming, which is really great. The emotional relationship between Wanda and Vision works really well. Fun cameo by Evan Peters.
Main problems: The real world parts don't work at all. The plot falls apart towards the end. The finale is a CGI fest beyond boring.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3

This shouldn't work. And yet, it does. Mostly.
Watchmen (2019)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: This serves as a sequel to the Watchmen graphic novel, depicting the world in 2019. Robert Redford is the president of a United States in which the police is essentially OccupyWallstreet, reparations were made for black victims of racial violence (practically everyone) and technology made some detours from our world. Then, Dr. Manhattan comes back and Ozymandias tries to return from a prison he's in and the plot kicks in.
Main draws: A great incorporation of black history (Tulsa massacre!) in the Watchmen alternate history. Very thoughtful ideas about a more liberal version of America and the backlash it would inspire. A correct take on Rorschach and who would support him for what reasons. Great casting and very solid acting. Some really good ideas about where the Watchmen universe goes.
Main problems: The latter half of the season starts to forget all the good points and to concentrate on a plot to kill Dr. Manhattan, which is not nearly as interesting and leaves all the thematic stuff established in the first half in the dust. It also manages to end on the message that giving the one good cop superpowers is a good idea.
Would watch again: No.
Rating: 3,5

Watchmen The Complete Motion Comic (2009)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Three times
Elevator pitch: Instead of adapting the graphic novel, what about just animating it frame by frame?
Main draws: A great fidelity to the original. At times enhances the source material by showing connections.
Main problems: At times falling short of the source material by missing connections. Only one speaker for all the roles who doesn't exactly nail the female voices.
Would watch again: Yes.
Rating: 4,5
Like "Better Call Saul", a showrunner tries to repair some mistakes that were made.
We Own This City (2022)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: 15 years after "The Wire" and especially after "Black Lives Matter", David Simon returns to Baltimore. In this series, we follow a corrupt special unit of the police learning how they are corrupted, how they're enforcing their rule and how they eventually fall. 
Main draws: Much better politics than "The Wire". Gut-churning portrayal of the different layers of police brutality and their corruption. Stellar performance by Joe Bernthal.
Main problems: A lot of expositionary dialogue and accompanying bad character work. In the end, the message is very muddled.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3,5

You will never guess the color of their jackets.
Yellowjackets (2022-present)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: A plane full of female soccer athletes goes down in the Canadian woods and the girls need to survive for over a year on their own. Most die in the process. 20 years later, the survivors are haunted by their past.
Main draws: The slowly increasing tension and dread of the "Lord of the Flies" situation in the woods. Good casting juxtaposing the younger and older actresses against each other.
Main problems: Very mixed quality of performances especially by the younger actresses. The plot begins to seriously delve into the ludicrous to justify the running time and especially the second season. Characters start to act weirder in order to create conflict.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3

Come for the Danish army, stay for the cow-fucking.
1864 (2014)
Seasons: 1
Watched: Once
Elevator pitch: In the war of 1864, Denmark stood against Prussia and Austria. We follow a few Danish and one German soldier as the fighting progresses. The main focus is on the character relations, but there is also some mystic stuff going on.
Main draws: In one scene, one of the main characters fucks a cow. Unique setting. Workable characters. Interesting mysticism aspect.
Main problems: In one scene, one of the main characters fucks a cow. Not really suspenseful. Low budget standing in the way of a lot of scenes. The love triangle is a worn-out trope.
Would watch again: No
Rating: 3


11 comments:

  1. Thx a lot for this overview, Stefan. I've seen a few of this series too (e. g. GoT, BE, HoC, Deadwood, Rome and Lost (only until the middle of the third season, lucky me it seems ;-))) and will give Firefly, The Wire and BG a try in the nearer future 'cause of your recommandation. Greetings from Quedlinburg, Hardy.

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  2. Heartsbane of HornhillMarch 19, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    Stefan, have you seen any of the war miniseries HBO aired. Band of Brothers, The Pacific, & Generation Kill.

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  3. Hi Stefan, I have also completed most of the series on the list and agree with alomst all of your views. I am surprised to see that you have not watched The Sopranos. One show I would strongly recommend to you is Fringe, it was an underrated show that was both interesting and enjoyable. One of my favorite shows of all time.

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    1. I did watch the first season some time ago. Have to pick it up again at some point, but never quite got around to it.

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  4. Is Galactica worth it really?

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    1. If you are in the genre, definitely. Just watch the pilot. If it appeals to you, the rest will, too.

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  5. The final season of BG had one major plot thread I really disliked, but it was an excellent show even with that bit. The weekly airings developed into big viewing parties at our place. I probably wouldn't have hosted the GoT viewings without our great experiences with BG.

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    1. Unfortunately, I seldom manage larger viewing sessions, so it's me and my wife or me alone.

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  6. I like your list and your comments, and I mostly concur.
    For me, West Wing is still one of the best series ever, and I can't say how often I watched the sixth and seventh seasons about the Santos campaign from start to finish - truly great and entertaining stuff.
    I am happy to see you praise "The Americans" so much, this is imho one of the best series ever, period (my love of it may be influenced by my growing up in the eighties).
    To mention one series where I disagree with your appraisal: Breaking Bad. Whereas it's definitely worth watching, I found it slow and almost boring at times, despite some truly great episodes (my girlfriend loves the show, so I watched it with her). And don't get me started on Skyler ...
    A tip for you that you may like: for me, the better Sherlock is in Elementary - check it out!
    Greetings, Tudeh

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