After watching the genius-yet-unaired series pilot of “Dollhouse” the other night, H and I got into a lively discussion about well-written TV shows. A lot of them struggle to survive a single season, few of them are lucky enough to last several years.
So in this run-up to the fall season, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to the shows I think are (or were) extraordinarily well-written.
In no particular order, 10 TV series you must see.
EDIT, 2014: This post was first written in 2009, and I have amended my thoughts on the series that have wrapped up in the interim. Some of them wouldn’t make my cut today, but I think it’s fun to leave my original thoughts as a reminder that writing can go south quicker than you can say “Lost.” Look for my edits in bold.
Alpha: We’re not just humans anymore. We’re not multiple personalities. We’re many personalities. And one of my personalities happens to be a multiple personality.
Why? I Netflixed this fledgling series on the suggestion of a good friend with impeccable taste, and I was not disappointed. It’s smart subject matter that raises a lot of questions while still being entertaining.
Scrubs (Seasons 1-5)
Turk: Who are these guys?
J.D.: These are the last eight guys in the hospital that don’t realize I suck at basketball. So here’s what gonna happen: I finally mastered my running hook shot so when we go to pick teams I’m gonna hit that shot. Then you say I’ll pick that guy at which point Carla is gonna page me and I’ll say “*Crap*, I’ve gotta go.” And you’ll go “*Damn*, we just lost the best player out here.” And then there will be eight guys in the hospital who think I’m good at sports and word will spread.
Turk: When do you find time to see your patients?
J.D.: Between these thoughts.
Why? Witty, hilarious, quirky and fast-paced, with all kinds of man-love between J.D. and Turk. Jumped the shark after J.D. became a baby-daddy, in my humble opinion.
Anthony ‘Tony’ Soprano Sr.: Log off, that “cookies” shit makes me nervous!
Why? Suspenseful, outlandish yet completely realistic, I was on the edge of my seat to find out what would happen with Tony and Co. season to season. Who’s getting whacked? Will Tony get busted? This series was good down to the final second.
Nate: You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.
Why? Another suggestion by a good friend that I lapped up like a thirsty camel, continually amazed at how intrigued I was by the quiet, serious and sinister writing. Also good till the end. The final scene is a masterpiece.
Kate: Do you see that?
Sawyer: If you mean the big-ass horse standing in the jungle… then, uh, yeah.
Why? OMG! Did you see “Lost” last night? Really, any writing that makes people freak out in anticipation of the next episode is good writing. And they’re really tying those clues together, you notice? No joke! See how easily they explained the polar bears last season? Flawless. Edit, 2014: The final season killed this show, so it’s not quite as impeccable as I thought it was in 2009, but I’ll leave it on the list for the simple fact that it might’ve been the last true water-cooler drama.
George Costanza: It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat — it’s all been wrong.
Why? I’ve seen every episode several times. It never gets tiresome. That’s amazing.
Weeds (Seasons 1-3)
Nancy Botwin: You listen, you stay away from my customer base, you don’t deal to kids.
Josh Wilson: They’re too young to bleed, they’re too young for weed, no grass on the field no grass will they yield.
Nancy Botwin: You’re a poet.
Josh Wilson: You know it.
Why? Brusquely hilarious, the writers somehow made me love Nancy Botwin, suburbanite mom turned drug dealer, who always got herself in impossible (and I mean IMPOSSIBLE) situations yet always came out on top. Then I started to hate her, which incidentally is when the show changed locations from Agrestic to Ren Mar. Edit, 2014: The show redeems itself in the last few seasons, kind of.
Angela: People are always saying you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster. Like you know what it is even. But every so often I’ll have, like, a moment, where just being myself in my life right where I am is, like, enough.
Why? I was a sophomore (same as Angela Chase) when this series aired, and it is still the truest thing I have ever seen.
Casey: This is how this is gonna work. I’m gonna go over there, rescue Sarah, capture Dr. Zarnow, shoot anybody who gets in my way. You, you’re gonna stay in the car.
Chuck: So in this plan I basically do nothing?
Chuck: [dramatically] … Let’s do this.
Why? Off-beat, fast-paced, the only adventure formula TV show I’ve ever tuned into because the writing is Just. That. Awesome. This show was on the brink of extinction, but it got renewed and will be back early next year. DVR it, TiVo it, whatever you have to do to remember to watch it. Edit, 2014: I loved this show through the very last episode.
The X-Files (Seasons 1-7)
Mulder: I have a theory. Do you want to hear it?
Scully: Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor and walked out the door, leaving no one the wiser?
Mulder: Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?
Why? I used to have bad dreams after watching “Unsolved Mysteries” as a preteen, but this was before “The X-Files” came and gave me full-fledged nightmares. Creepy, noir, campy. It’s all there, and it was great till Mulder left.
There are so many other shows that didn’t make it into this post, some that were just barely left behind, some I haven’t seen yet but I’m sure would probably make the cut. So, friends, answer me this: Which shows would you add to your list of 10 TV Series You Must See and what is it about the writing that gets you all verklempt?