1 The Americans
I have never had as strong an emotional reaction as I did while watching The Americans, the show finale most of all. It left me so desolated, hollow, empty. I think I needed two days to cope with the end of the show. And it wasn’t just mopping and looking at the window. I missed the characters, I needed to know how the rest of their lives had shaken up. And then I joined Reddit and discovered that this feeling is something that the average viewer of the show experienced. I poured my heart and soul into my first post on R/TheAmericans and I was welcomed with open arms and warm embraces. I even wrote my first fan fiction epilogue, purely emotional. I had to have closure with Philip/Misha and Elizabeth/Nadežda.
If you are curious, you can read my The Americans epilogue here.
That is not to say that the ending was bad. On the contrary, it was a brave, stunning, powerful ending, a perfect ending, the only one that made sense.
If you are watching a good show you start to feel for the characters, but I lived with the characters of the Americans. I think part of that was the way I watched the show. Unlike most shows that I watch an episode a day or more during the weekend, I saw the Americans while it was airing on tv. And it aired for 4 episodes a week, and that’s it. So all in all, I spent close to 4 months with these characters (and it feels wrong when I write that word, because they feel so alive, very much like real people to me). I finally broke when I had two episodes left and watched it online. Happy I did, because I don’t know how I could handle watching the finale during the middle of a workweek. It cratered my being, like no work of art ever did before.
I think I rewatched the first episode a bunch of times and even studied the pilot script for hours.
At the heart of the show are two dynamics, one about a family life that is lost between what is real and what is fiction. Philip and Elizabeth are soviet undercover spies, posing as Americans, and have been living in the States for 2 decades. And then, an FBI agent becomes their next-door neighbor. Chaos ensues right away and shows the differences between the married couple. But the show also works brilliantly as a spy thriller. The use of music is Hall of Fame worthy as well, very consistent from the Phil Collins in the pilot to U2 in the finale.
2 The Daredevil
I’m not particularly a big comics fan. I was familiar with daredevil the character but not too into it. I knew Kevin Smith wrote a few stories for Daredevil, so in my mind, I was ready for everything. But the show was absolutely amazing. Everything about it was done perfectly. The fight scenes are breathtaking. I have not seen such good choreography since I saw The Raid movies. Charlie Cox, who plays the titular character of Matt Murdock/Daredevil keeps hitting home runs scene after scene.
One thing that I really enjoyed about the show is the shift in focus from the main character to everyone else around him and him being who he is influencing the lives of those around them. These people go through hell again and again, more mentally than physically. These people are of course Foggy Nelson, Matt’s college roommate and co-Avocado in their up-and-coming law firm, and Karen Page, their first client who becomes their secretary later on.
Any other year, a show like Daredevil would be my number 1, but The Americans are a cosmic event of a show.
3 Mr. Robot
I was really pessimistic about my chances of liking this show. On paper it really sounded interesting and a lot of people whose opinion I trust raved about the show. But that name, Mr. Robot, very 90s early Saturday morning cartoons. So one night, me and the show, one on one. And the show won. In fact, it was a one-punch KO in the first few seconds of the first scene.
The show follows a young socially awkward, hacker who works in a cybersecurity firm with his childhood friend Angela. The hacker’s name is Eliot, and he isn’t the most reliable person. His life of catching and exposing evil people takes a huge turn when he encounters a person who is simply named Mr. Robot.
One thing I will never get tired of is works of art criticism consumer culture. And Mr. Robot does this brilliantly, even if in not the most subtle of ways. There is a great rant by Eliott in one of the early seasons when he is having a session with his therapist that is always great to rewatch and dissect.
There is so much going on in this show and the creator does an amazing job at juggling it all together. Secrets, violence, tragedy, repression, consumerism, the darkest elements of our minds and souls, dealing with scars that we didn’t even know that we had. The show finished at the beginning of 2020 and it sure feels like now, looking back, that it was just the foreshadowing of the darkness to come.
All in all a very thematically rich and thrilling conspiracy thriller.
4 Star Trek The Next Generation
The best Star Trek series by far, with the best and most memorable characters. The best Sci-Fi TV show of all time when it comes to the quality and originality of the Explored Ideas. There are a lot of episodes that I loved and it would be too much work to write about them all so I’ll just list a few in the odd chance that someone would like to dabble a bit in the show before fully immersing themselves in it.
- The Inner Light – where Picard inherits the memories of a whole Alien species
- I Borg – Borgs can be people too, even before 7/9 made it cool.
- The measure of a Man – great discussion and exploration of what it means to be a person or being
- Darmok – In my opinion, the most alien aliens ever created
- First Contact – What wisdom one must possess to approach an alien civilization and tell them they are not alone. This episode alone shows how shallow Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is.
- Who Watches the Watchers – Picard becomes a god by accident but shows how dangerous religion could be.
- The Nth Degree – Lt. Barclay wants to be the Alpha in everything and his wish comes true
- The Outsider – a good episode that gets push higher because of an amazing speech that perfectly describes what it must be like to be “the Other”
5 The Walking Series’ with Levison Wood
Absolutely fascinating documentary series. The premise is simple yet very ambitious, what if you crossed more than 1000 miles by foot. And it works, when you edit the 4000, 5000 hours of footage. Your journey guide, Levison Wood is really likable and you can tell he has been through some stuff. It is not like your Bear Grylls stuff where you are left in the jungle and fetch for yourself. The walks from place to place. There are multiple series and all of them are also available as books. But I find it all much more appealing as a documentary series.
My favorites out of the bunch were Walking the Nile and Walking the Himalayas. Walking the Nile because it’s the first one and you realize, “He really is going to walk for 4, 5 months across the whole valley of the river Nile. He’s quite brave or stubborn, hard to decide which. He was mobbed a couple of times, once with guns. He was also close to the border of South Sudan and wanted to travel through it, even when he could sleep at night as the surrounding cities were shelled with rockets and grenades. And the tribe that uses cow piss to color their hair is was also very weird and memorable, also a guy died from sunstroke.
Walking the Himalayas was absolutely breathtaking. Not only are the vistas stunning, but it also had the only real danger that happened to our hero, but that would be too much of a spoiler I think. Walking the Americans is also great as is From Russia to Iran (The first guide especially).
6 The Boys
Probably your best bet if you want to have some fun while watching endless gory violence performed by half-gods. I wrote about this show earlier and you can read my in depth take here.
7 Not the Nine O’Clock News
You might know the comedic genius of Rowan Atkinson, but did you know he had three friends who were equally as brilliant and funny? Well, neither did I. I have no idea how I stumbled upon this show, but it’s the funniest thing I saw in the last few years. It is a half-hour comedy sketch show, featuring, Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith, and Griff Rhys Jones. Everyone one of them brings something incredibly funny to the show and as a combination, they are all absolutely gut splitting.
I think this show is what SNL thinks it is. It’s a brilliant satire and comedy. But there are also a lot more fun and edgy songs in this show than they are in SNL. And this show ran for 27 episodes in total while SNL has been on the air as long as Larry King, and their health statuses probably match as well.
So many brilliant sketches and songs, but I’ll limit myself to just a few
- Gerald the Gorilla
- Rowan Walks into a thing
- Does God exist
- Monthy Phyton worshippers
- Mosley Song
- Bounce Song
- Ayatollah Song
- American Presidential Candidate
- I like Trucking
8 Chihayafuru S3
The third season of Chihayafuru was one of the biggest surprises. It had been more than six years after season 2. And the show didn’t really have a large following back then. But I’m really happy it came back. It was fun being around Chihaya, Taichi Nikuman-kun, Desktomu, and Ooe. Even if this is an anime about a card game it is far more a sports anime with everyone giving it their all to get better and accomplish their personal and team goal.
I was surprised how much they turned towards the teen romance angle, and that is an additional reason that separates this show from others, the amount of romance. Arata finally decided what he is and what he wants. The dude went out and told Taichi that he will fight to the bitter end until he makes Chihaya his.
Chihaya on the other hand is an airhead on a Goku/Luffy level and doesn’t really get any of that. It is really amazing that they made a show where kids play a traditional Japanese card game interlaced with poetry, and they spend playing it for 80-90% of an average episode and still, the anime is a must-watch. Let the spring come and let the flowers bloom!
9 The Last Dance
It is hard to find something that could be potentially really inspirational, encouraging, and motivational in a year like 2020. Nonetheless, the 8 part ESPN documentary The Last Dance manages just that.
I was always fascinated with Michael Jordan. Both because I was a basketball fan growing up, with Kukoc as my then-favorite player, mostly because he was Croatian, but also versatile. For some reason, I still really like players who can do almost everything. But that’s another subject. The hard-working, determined side of Michael Jordan is something that a lot of people try to emulate. Except for Kobe, I don’t really think anyone managed to come close. The series is a great example of what it takes to be the best. How much of a strain it is daily, how much you suffer while you try to climb the top. Jordan’s will really seem something outwardly. There is a joke in the book Michael Jordan; The life by Roland Lazenby, I remember which family member makes the joke, but they say that Michael willed even his height. There are no members of his family taller than 5’8” I think. So for him to become 6’5”, almost a whole foot taller than others in his family is quite something. So, take that, eugenics!
The show did sparkle the GOAT discussion once again, but a lot of people failed to mention something that is I think really important. There has to be a mythos surrounding the greatest of all time. There have to be people, something like Apostoles of his greatness, who was part of an inner circle that witnessed so much more extraordinary, in everyday situations. If you want to spend some time with a determined person, almost to a psychotic level, you have to watch this series.
10 Deca Dense
Natsume is really an inspirational person. Natsume is also the protagonist of the last series on my list. Deca-dense is a dystopian anime, where people have to live in a movable fortress and fight huge monsters to survive. They are separated into strict classes, and it is really hard to accomplish upwards mobility. Natsume is one such person, an orphan who struggles to succeed and make her dream of becoming a Gear. Gears are monster hunters. But at a very young age, she lost both her father and her right arm. She gets a job as a cleaner, cleaning the walls of their home/mobile fortress Deca-Dense There she meets a disgruntled, lifeless piece of human meat named Kaburagi.
After that magic happens. There’s a lot of twists, mysteries, and discoveries to be made in the show. There are a lot of memorable characters and it is quite an emotional rollercoaster. I don’t want to spoil any of that, so just go and watch this anime.