I’ve occasionally told people that Friday Night Lights is in my top 3 favorite TV shows. And as I watched Kyle Chandler in Super 8 today, I realized, I’m not entirely sure what those other shows would be.
It shouldn’t surprise you that when I sat down to think about it, I came up with a bunch of sci-fi shows. I could think of a few different ones… some that are more dramatic (Parenthood, Sherlock, some comedy (Raising Hope)… and I know people will be shocked to see some of the best shows on television missing (Breaking Bad, Community, Big Bang, Game of Thrones, etc), but I’ve got to be true to myself, right? Every show on this list made a lasting impression and I’d be glad to revisit them time and time again.
So number 5 on the list is…
5. Farscape (1999-2003)
Created by: Rockne S. O’Bannon, Starring: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Lani Tupu, Virginia Hey, and Jonathan Hardy
Synopsis: Thrown into a distant part of the universe, an Earth astronaut finds himself part of a fugitive alien starship crew.
Part of the reason TV is on my mind is because Farscape celebrated the 15th anniversary of its premiere on the Syfy channel on March 19th. I’ve recently started re-watching it with Nick, who tragically never had the pleasure, and none of my fervor has faded. It’s goofy, fun, dark, and deep. It’s a different shade of sci-fi/fantasy that I don’t often see and I’m awfully glad it exists.
There’s something visceral in the Henson puppetry and heartwarmingly real in the lesser known character actors used on the show. You might start watching it and think, “What kind of mediocre goofiness am I in for?” But I promise, by the time you’ve watched a few episodes, you’ll realize there’s more to the colorful aliens and Crichton’s clueless astronaut. As they fight to survive, they learn that they’re a pretty good team.
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
Created by: Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, Starring: Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, Dante Basco, and Mako
Synopsis: In a war-torn world of elemental magic, a young boy reawakens to undertake a dangerous mystic quest to fulfill his destiny as the Avatar.
I almost put Justice League down for Spot #4. But I didn’t think I could lose any other shows I’ve listed and when I realized I hadn’t put Avatar: The Last Airbender on the list… well, I had to rectify the situation immediately. So this is my plug for The Justice League… some of the best writing I think the DC Universe has ever experienced.
Now! Back to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I can’t remember exactly how I got introduced to this show. I’m sure it was recommended by one of my friends. But I can say categorically… I never expected to be this blown away by the story and character arcs of an animated show. Oh I’ve had my love affairs with toons in the past. Batman Beyond. Batman: The Animated Series. (Noticing a trend…) But Airbender has a sort of nuance that balances the fun innocence of cartoons for kids and the real life changes that happen to people through tragedy, loss, and spiritual journey. And on top of that, the world is rich, consistent, and easy to imagine yourself in, even as an American with few links to Eastern culture.
Check it out. Laugh. Cry. And laugh again with Team Avatar.
3. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Created by: Peter Berg and Jason Katims, Starring: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Zach Gilford, and Aimee Teegarden (among many others)
Synopsis: The trials and tribulations of small town Texas football players, their friends, family, and coaching staff.
On a list full of sci-fi/fantasy shows, Friday Night Lights sort of sticks out, doesn’t it? That’s why I tell so many people about it. It shocks them that I’d rank a nighttime network drama so high on my favorites list. But I give credit where credit is due. And boy did this small Texas town strike a chord.
I suppose the highlight of the show is the Taylors, a family at the center of the football/school drama that unfolds. The first time I watched the show, I felt like I was going through a marital seminar. And I’d watch it again for parental advice when I trek down that road. In this day and age, it’s hard to use the word “integrity” about anything, much less television characters. But Coach and Tammy Taylor show amazing strength and cling to their values no matter what’s thrown at them. I mean, yes, they’re flawed, but that makes them real. And the same goes for every character and story on FNL.
Darn it if it’s not a real and yet, hopeful show. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!
2. Firefly (2002-2003)
Created by: Joss Whedon, Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Ron Glass, Jewl Staite, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau
Synopsis: Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the known parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them.
And the second space ship crew on the list is… the crew of Serenity! I debated about this spot too. Whedon has put together some amazing television. So Buffy the Vampire Slayer almost got this spot due to sheer volume (7 seasons of great episodes). But when I thought about it, I realized Firefly didn’t need 7 seasons to give me some of the best television I’d ever seen. They only needed 13 episodes.
That’s right. One of my favorite television series is actually more of a mini-series. It got cancelled early and still inspired a huge following of fans. How? Amazing characters, a complete world, and a feeling… there’s a family out there for misfits. It’s surprisingly similar to Farscape in its set-up and world. But it’s inclusivity and spirit has cemented it as one of the most beloved sci-fi shows in history. (I can make that sort of hyperbolic, sweeping statement, right? Well, I’m going to anyway.)
Most will find the space western mash-up irresistibly charming, noble, and gritty. And because there’s such a diverse crew, there’s a little something for everyone.
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Created by: Gene Rodenberry, Starring: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, and Gates McFadden
Synopsis: Set decades after Captain James T. Kirk’s 5-year mission, a new generation of Starfleet officers in a new Enterprise set off on their own mission to go where no one has gone before.
I’m noticing a “team” trend. Space ship crews, football family’s or the “small town” team, mystical Team Avatar (yes, they call themselves that)… and now a third space ship crew.
I watched Star Trek: TNG when I was a kid as it originally aired. And when I recently re-watched the entire series on Netflix (hint, hint nudge, nudge), I was shocked. It holds up well and does far more than I thought it did as a kid. I just remember the great Picard speeches, Riker and the ladies, the Holodeck, and some fun moments between the crew and the odd aliens they encountered. But what I didn’t remember was the insightful look into the human condition, the moral quandaries, and the philosophical spine of the show.
Star Trek: TNG embodies great science fiction. It uses fantasy and real world science to draw parallels and previously unseen conclusions about some of the most mysterious facets of human existence. And ultimately, the crew becomes your friends. They’re real. You know them. You watch them endure hardship, learn lessons, love, and come back together again for the next adventure. And they invite you on the journey.
Go boldly where no one has gone before…
Thanks for hanging in there for my 5 favorite TV shows. Now I hope you dedicate countless hours of you life to watching them… and then re-watching them over and over again.