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Top 20 TV Drama / Sci-Fi (as of 30/09/2018)

Previously this was just a top 10, though I'm not sure why as I found it incredibly easy to shortlist 31 great shows that could have made it into this chart. Whittling them down to 20 was quite difficult. In general I've prioritised shows that have been favourites for a while and ones that I've either watched more than once or expect that I will rewatch at some point. So whilst I'm currently loving shows like The Good Fight and Better Call Saul, they haven't made it in as they still feel too new.

20. Ally McBeal (1997 - 2002)

20th place was a really tough one to decide on. For a while I was planning to make it Hannibal, as I've watched that much more recently and I feel like it's the 'better' show. However, I've only watched it the once and I wasn't entirely taken by the 3rd season. Ally McBeal, however, I've watched multiple times, just not recently. It has dodgy later seasons too, but overall it is more of a favourite - I feel more of a connection to it. I'm sure that if I did rewatch it now, I'd find that a lot of it has become quite dated, but it was quirky, it had some great, strong female characters (okay, Ally herself wasn't always the best, but Nelle and Ling were both awesome) and it often tackled some really interesting ideas and dilemmas. Plus I'm still slightly in love with Robert Downey Jr's character.

19. Alias (2001 - 2006)

I've only watched Alias once, to date, but I'm really keen to get hold of the DVDs and watch it again. In some ways it's quite a silly show really - some of Sydney's disguises are so OTT and unnecessarily sexy, plus the plot gets a little ridiculous at times - but it's always gripping and enjoyable regardless. It has a great cast, plus I totally ship Sydney and Vaughan. Michael Vartan should be in more things. As should Jennifer Garner, actually. I didn't watch it when it was broadcast, I've only watched it in more recent years. As a fan of other J.J. Abrams shows, I felt like I needed to check it out (and I'm very pleased I did).

18. Tru Calling (2003 - 2005)

I'm still not over the cancellation of this show; particularly how it was cancelled mid-season and left with a load of cliffhangers. I was very grateful when one of the writers (Doris Egan) used LiveJournal to outline what the planned storylines had been (if you're interested they're also outlined on this Wikipedia article now), as that at least provided some degree of closure. I've watched the 1.5 seasons multiple times and always really enjoyed the show. I mean, it's Eliza Dushku and Jason Priestley in Groundhog Day type situations - what's not to love? Alas not enough people loved it for it to get those annoyingly-necessary ratings. Damn people!

17. Smallville (2001 - 2011)

Smallville's an interesting one. I watched the first 7 seasons when they aired, though have only watched the last 3 seasons within the past couple of years. I was quite obsessed with the show around season 3 - it started getting quite dark and I thought they were taking things in a really interesting direction. But then season 4 happened. Oh, season 4. Not even Jensen Ackles can save season 4. I kept watching until the end of season 7, as I said, partly out of loyalty, partly for the Clex (Clark and Lex relationship, though even that got disappointingly less homoerotic) and partly because I loved reading Omar G's recaps on the Television Without Pity site. However, the departure of Michael Rosenbaum was the departure of Chantal's interest and I stopped watching it and considering it one of my favourite shows. However, slightly randomly, a couple of years ago, I felt a slight pang of nostalgia for the show, plus wondered how it had ended. I decided to watch the whole thing (yes, including season 4). I still found season 4 to be bad, but I enjoyed seasons 5 to 7 more than I had previously - I had a greater appreciation for the introduction of the other superheroes (Aquaman aside - like, seriously, what's the point of him?). I also really enjoyed the last few seasons - especially the romance between Chloe and Oliver (which was a million times better than Clark's and Lois'!). Season 3 is still the best, by far, plus don't even get me started on Lana, but I'm really glad I watched it all. I had thought that I'd like to watch it all again some time, but I'm not so sure now, due to the recent revelations regarding Allison Mack. Chloe is the best character in the show, by far (Lex is strong competition in the early days, but sadly not as much as the show goes on, as awesome as Michael Rosenbaum is), so to find out that Allison Mack has been heavily involved in a cult and charged with sex trafficking was quite the shocking blow. I considered removing Smallville from this list altogether, but felt like that would be unfair to the majority of cast members who haven't done such things (I hope). Can you separate the actor from the show enough to still enjoy the show? And should you? This is sadly becoming a much more common problem, though for all the right reasons.

16. The West Wing (1999 - 2006)

This has dropped quite a bit in the chart as it was previously 4th. I watched it for the first time in the late 00's after having had multiple people recommend it and having read great things about it. Happily I wasn't disappointed - it's well regarded for a reason. I then started rewatching it with my Dad, though he then moved to Australia and that was cut short. A few years later I started rewatching it with my ex (albeit before he was an ex), though he was never overly keen on it - he'd often be quite critical, plus I could only get him to watch episodes of it by pretending I was advertising baked goods during the title music (don't ask). That rewatch was cut short when we split up (and when I'd long since run out of baked goods to advertise). There are therefore quite a few episodes I've only seen once, but others I've seen three times. I haven't felt the urge to watch it since then, hence it having slid down so much, but I'm sure I will at some point. For CJ if nothing else, as she is The Best.

15. The Bridge (2011 - 2018)

The only Danish and Swedish TV show on the list, which maybe isn't so surprising. Although there are only 4 series of it, they were quite spaced out, so it's spanned about 6 years. The 4th (and final) series aired recently (as of writing) and I miss it already. The murder mystery element to each series was always good, particularly in the first 2 series, but what really makes the show is the character of Saga. She's perfectly played by Sofia Helin and is just awesome. I've really loved Henrik as her partner too - as much as I liked Martin in the early series. I was slightly nervous as to how they would end it, but thankfully I was happy with the ending. I'll definitely rewatch all the episodes at some future point.

14. Black Mirror (2011 - present)

The only British show on the list (even if it has become a bit more American since moving to Netflix). It's a very different type of show to the others on here, as the episodes are more standalone, but it's definitely one of my favourites. There have been some episodes that I haven't been so keen on, but then other ones that I've totally loved. Happily more of the latter than the former. Favourites would have to be (in chronological order)... The National Anthem, White Bear, White Christmas, Shut Up And Dance (genuinely one of the most disturbing things I've ever watched), San Junipero, plus all of series 4. The only episode I've watched more than once, so far, is White Christmas, which I fittingly rewatched last Christmas! Still great. I'm planning to rewatch the first 2 series soon as it's now been ages since I saw those. I love Charlie Brooker quite a lot.

13. Supernatural (2005 - present)

Season 14 starts soon and I'm starting to wonder if this show might last forever. I can't think of any other show that I've watched a full 13 seasons of. Even if just for that reason, it has to be in my favourites, right? I've watched it since it first aired in the UK. In fact I just searched through my old LiveJournal entries to find my first mention of it, to figure out when that was. On 16/01/2006, I said the following:

"Also at some point during the weekend, there was a trailer on for some TV show, which I wasn’t really paying much attention to. I did glance at the screen at one point though and went 'that looked like Jensen Ackles!'. The trailer then finished and revealed it was for Supernatural, which is starting next Saturday (I think)! I then went 'oh, it *was* Jensen Ackles!’ Ha ha. So yay, another cool TV show to add to the already-pretty-damn-good line-up."
It's had its ups and downs, as is unsurprising for a show that's been running so long now. A couple of years ago I'd started getting a little bored of it and felt like it might have had its day, but I kept with it and have really enjoyed the last couple of seasons. Sometimes it's ridiculous, but quite often that's deliberate. I love how it can pull off some genuinely scary episodes but also more silly, comedic type episodes. It's quite like The X-Files in that respect, though that's unsurprising as it's always owed a lot to that show (the early seasons were pretty much 'hey, that's like the monster that was in that X-Files episode'). It's also pulled off some insanely meta episodes, which I'm always a fan of. If they keep making it, I'll keep watching it.

12. Bones (2005 - 2017)

I knew this had started at a similar time to Supernatural, though didn't realise it was the exact same day (in America, at least). Specifically my 25th birthday, which is a nice added connection to the two shows. In the UK they must have started close together too, as I posted the following on LiveJournal on 10/01/2006 (less than a week before my post about Supernatural):

"I also had a text from Dad yesterday, telling me that Bones is starting on Sky One on Thursday! :-D Yay, David Boreanaz!"
Like Supernatural, it's another show that owes a lot to The X-Files - the influence of which is most obvious early on. In the case of Bones, there's the FBI connection, but most notably it's the genders and dynamic of the two lead characters that's similar - the woman being the scientist and the more rational, skeptical one, plus the drawn out will-they-won't-they sexual tension thing. I'm fairly sure they even name-check Mulder and Scully early on. They're still very different shows though, plus very different characters. One of my favourite things about Bones has always been the character of Brennan. She's actually quite similar to Saga, from The Bridge, which isn't a connection I'd made before but now seems really obvious. Like Supernatural, it had its ups and downs over the years, but it ran for 12 seasons so that's hardly surprising. I've not yet felt the urge to rewatch it all, but imagine I will at some point.

11. Fringe (2008 - 2013)

I feel like Fringe was a really underrated and underappreciated show. Yet again it's a show that was clearly influenced by The X-Files. This is seemingly quite a common thread in the shows I love. Early on, particularly, the similarities are quite obvious - most shows are Monster Of The Week type paranormal occurences investigated by the FBI. As the show progresses, however, it develops more of an overall story arc. The final season, particularly, is almost like one long episode. Character-wise, Olivia takes some warming to, which is a little frustrating early on, but thankfully you've got other more instantly-enjoyable characters to lure you in. Walter, particularly, is brilliant and fascinating and perfectly played by John Noble. Plus Joshua Jackson as Peter is just eminently likeable and charming - particularly in the early seasons (it gets a bit darker later on). I just finished rewatching it, having not seen it since it finished airing, and it stood up well to a second viewing. There are some very funny lines in the early seasons, plus some really interesting and scary concepts. You also get what's now a novelty of having Meghan Markle in a couple of episodes, plus I'd forgotten about the episode with the blatant Twin Peaks references (Walter's wearing a pair of glasses like Dr Jacoby's and then name-checks his friend Dr Jacoby from Washington State!). That episode also includes elements of time travel and features Christopher Lloyd! It's meta-tastic. I'd also forgotten just how much they play around with different realities and timelines. Mostly in a positive way, though I found the first part of season 4 quite frustrating at times. As mentioned, season 5 (the final season) is quite a different beast altogether. Things suddenly get very dystopian. I think I actually enjoyed this more on the second viewing, plus I'd forgotten how well things are tied together. The ending's great, which was a huge relief after the disappointment of Lost's ending. It's also interesting, in hindsight, that they chose 2016 as the year the Earth's taken over and turned into a 1984-esque nightmare. In some ways they were almost psychic! Except reality's somehow been even more bonkers.

10. Breaking Bad (2008 - 2013)

When I previously did this chart, I mentioned how I hadn't yet watched Breaking Bad. This is obviously no longer the case. In fact, I just finished watching it for the second time. On first viewing, it took me a couple of seasons to get into it, but once I was gripped, I was gripped. Some of the episodes are so insanely tense! But in a good way. Watching it for a second time has been really interesting, as my perception of Walt was very different. On first viewing, I found myself rooting for Walt a lot of the time, plus sympathising with him a decent amount. Less so in the later seasons, granted, but still, my memory of the show was that he'd started off as a pretty decent bloke. Rewatching it, however, I was surprised at how awful he is from the start. There are times you feel bad for him and want him to succeed, but mostly he's incredibly manipulative, egotistical and arrogant. He treats Skylar and Jesse terribly, right from the start. I found myself being Team Hank on a second viewing, which really wasn't my experience when watching it the first time. I consistently like Mike, though, plus Jesse, of course. How can you not feel bad for Jesse? Poor Jesse. He has a pretty awful time of it. Walt, as a character, is fascinating though. It's a brilliant portrayal of toxic masculinity; feeling that he needs to 'be a man' and provide for his family, above all else. Even when it actively destroys his family. All the props to Vince Gilligan (who was always one of my fave X-Files writers), plus Bryan Cranston, of course.

9. Orange Is The New Black (2013 - present)

I became aware of Orange Is The New Black whilst travelling in 2013. My ex and I used the Couchsurfing site to stay with a guy in Seoul (though we actually got our own room, which was cool). One evening we got back from a day of exploring and the guy we were staying with was watching TV in the living room. We overheard something that one of the characters said and it made us laugh out loud, so we asked what he was watching. He explained and we then joined him for a couple more episodes. That evening we downloaded all of season 1 so that we could watch it from the beginning. It's been a must-watch ever since. Some seasons have been better than others - they often seem to take a while to get into their stride - but it's always enjoyable. It's a brilliant mixture of drama (often quite intense drama) and comedy (often pretty dark comedy!). Plus you get a theme song by Regina Spektor! Definite bonus.

8. Firefly (2002 - 2003)

The first of 4 Joss Whedon shows in the top 10. Joss has become a problematic fave, for reasons, but he has created some brilliant TV shows. I got into Firefly quite late on - it was some time after the film had come out. For some reason I don't generally tend to be drawn towards series set in space (Red Dwarf aside!), plus I'm not really a fan of Westerns, so the thought of space cowboys wasn't a compelling notion. However, I'd heard so many good things about it, plus there's only the one season (sadly), so watching it didn't seem like too much of a crazy time investment. On first viewing, it took me a few episodes to get into it, as most shows tend to, but round about Shindig, I was hooked. I've watched the film, Serenity, a lot more than I've watched the TV show, as there's something weirdly addictive about it, but I'll do a rewatch of the TV show every now and then too.

7. Dollhouse (2009 - 2010)

From Firefly straight to Dollhouse. I feel like this is the most underappreciated of Joss Whedon's shows. It's not an easy watch, in a lot of ways, but that's what makes it really interesting and rewarding. This Den of Geek article explains everything I'd want to say about it, but better than I'd be able to say it. It takes a while to get going and to get really interesting, but once it does, it really does. If you like a show with frequent twists and shock reveals, this is the show for you! There's one twist towards the end that I'm really not a fan of, as it just didn't seem believable (If you've watched it, you'll likely know the one I mean), but that aside, it's got some really interesting ideas around ethics and technology. It's kinda like Black Mirror meets Alias. There's only the two seasons, but they happily work well as a self-contained show - you're not left with some huge cliffhanger or anything.

6. Veronica Mars (2004 - 2007 - for now)

Veronica Mars is a show that I became aware of via LiveJournal - possibly through the Smallville fandom, as Chloe would sometimes get compared to Veronica. It sounded like my kinda show, but I just never got around to watching it at the time it aired. I then pretty much forgot about it until the crowdfunding for the film kicked off. The show clearly had such devoted fans that I felt like I must have missed out, so I finally downloaded and watched the show in early 2015. I then rewatched it all in 2017, which shows how much I enjoyed it. I'm tempted to rewatch it again soon too - there's something really compulsive about it. Probably Kristen Bell. I love a strong, sassy, female protaganist. What can I say? I'm also very excited that there are going to be new episodes soon too! Season 3 was weaker than the first two, but the plans for season 4 sound really promising. The film's well worth watching too. The scene where Veronica's getting hit on in the club and just frankly tells the guy to 'fuck off' is one of my favourite things ever.

5. Angel (1999 - 2004)

It's a shame that Angel gets overlooked in comparison to Buffy. I mean, Buffy is the better show and far more iconic and influential, but Angel was great too! It was generally a bit darker than Buffy, at least initially, though Buffy had some decidedly dark moments and Angel had a lot of fun and lightness. The initial notion of putting Angel and Cordelia together in a spin-off sounded bonkers, plus then adding Wesley too? But it totally works. I love the development of Wesley's character particularly - he becomes unrecognisable from the Buffy days. The whole arc with Conor in season 4 isn't great, but I love the addition of Spike in season 5. The ending's really strong too and feels fitting for the show.

4. Lost (2004 - 2010)

This was such an iconic show at the time. Even if you never watched it, you've probably heard something about a mysterious island and polar bears and numbers and a hatch. The majority of episodes would end with some kind of shock cliffhanger reveal, but every answer would also give a load of new questions. I'm a sucker for shows like that, where you're not entirely sure what's going on a lot of the time. Unsurpisingly though, it's never going to be easy to give satisfactory endings to shows like that, and I was really disappointed by the last episode of Lost. It put me off rewatching it for a long time (about 5 years), but when I did rewatch it, I really enjoyed seeing it all going (well, still not the last episode - I don't think I'll ever enjoy that). I'll probably watch it again in the not too distant future.

3. Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)

My first experience of Buffy was the 1992 film, which I totally loved at the time. I was actually sceptical when I found out there was going to be a TV show version, as I felt like it wouldn't live up to the film, especially with different actors. This, of course, seems hilarious now. Despite refusing to watch the first couple of episodes, I quickly caved and watched it and loved it. It's fun and witty, but also gets increasingly dark. I'm not even sure what my favourite season of it is... Season 3's a contender, as I loved the Mayor as the big bad, plus you get lots of Faith, though there are a few episodes I'm not so fussed on. Season 4 has some awesome episodes, including Hush, but it also has Riley, sooooo, probably not. Season 5's a contender, as although it takes a while to get used to the appearance of Dawn, plus you still have to put up with Riley for a while, you get The Body, which is just brilliant, plus the finale with Glory is easily one of my favourites and makes me cry every time. Season 6 is a difficult one as it's really up and down. You get Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rasa, but also Doublemeat Palace and the unwanted brief return of Riley (why????). Also, Warren makes me want to punch someone. Mostly Warren. Season 7's pretty mixed too, as the potential slayers get quite annoying (and not just for the array of dodgy accents), but you do get Conversations With Dead People and the return of Faith. Plus I was happy enough with the finale. Favourite characters are Oz, Faith and Spike, possibly predictably. Plus Tara. And sometimes Willow. And Giles. Xander I used to like, but similar to Ross from friends, I now mostly find him whiny and entitled and annoying. A new Buffy show has recently been announced, which initially sounded like it was going to be a remake/reboot, but now is seemingly going to be more of a sequel, set in the same universe, but with different characters. I'm cautiously intrigued and excited as to what this might involve.

2. Twin Peaks (1990 - 2017)

Since I originally did this chart in 2013, my two favourite TV shows have returned with new episodes, which has been somewhat surreal. Twin Peaks particularly, as it was much more surprising, plus it's pretty surreal anyway!! I first discovered Twin Peaks quite fortuitously. It was about 1995, so I was about 14, and I was watching TV with my Mum and Step-Dad one evening. My Step-Dad, Nick, started flicking through the channels to see what was on, and the continuity announcer on Bravo said that they were going to be showing Twin Peaks from the start and that the first episode was coming up after the adverts. Nick had watched some of it when it first aired, but not all of it, and my Mum had never seen it, but had heard good things, so they decided to watch it. I knew nothing about it, but I didn't want to go to bed, so figured I'd check it out. I also got to stay up slightly late, as the pilot's an hour and a half. It wasn't just a ruse to stay up late though, I was hooked pretty quickly. As the weeks went by, my Mum and Nick started missing episodes and going to bed early, so I'd often end up watching it on my own. This wasn't always a great plan - especially when it got to the reveal as to who Bob's inhabiting. As a 14 year old, I found that pretty disturbing. Hell, I still find it pretty disturbing (though I am at least less paranoid about Bob's face appearing at my bedroom window). The final episode (or what used to be the final episode!) was also well up there in the disturbing stakes. That's still probably my favourite episode though. It's definitely the one I've watched the most. Who else but David Lynch could give me an unending fear and suspicion of ceiling fans and traffic lights? But also an equally unending love of Kyle MacLachlan. Thank you David! The Return has been something new altogether, which I'm still getting my head around and adjusting to. I started rewatching it recently, but it's quite a different experience to watching the original show. I need to be in the mood for it, in a way that wasn't as necessary with the original show. I don't mean that as criticism or compliment, just an acknowledgement that they're very different. Not that you don't get flashes of the old show sensibilities in the new one, as happily you do, but overall it's a different viewing experience, and deliberately so. If anything, it's more similar to Fire Walk With Me, which I also love but need to be in the right mood to watch. As for the ending and whether there could be any more episodes? I'm undecided on both counts. I love that the ending's so open to interpretation and somehow even more frustrating than the original ending. They both play on your desire for Cooper to be Cooper. But was he ever really Cooper? Who is the dreamer? What is the dream? Would new episodes even answer any of these questions or just create more questions? Probably the latter. But I'd still happily take any new episodes that were offered.

1. The X-Files (1993-2018)

This has been my favourite TV show for almost 25 years now, so I don't see it changing any time soon. I caught the pilot on Sky One accidentally and that was that. It basically was my teenage years - it started airing (in the UK) when I was 13 and finished (originally) when I'd just turned 22. Ok, that's slightly beyond teenage years, but I'd just graduated Uni at that point, so it very much fit a defined period of time in my life. For me, it just has everything - of course there's the monsters, mystery, conspiracy and Sci-Fi, but there's also the non-gender-stereotype-conforming at-least-not-entirely dynamic of Mulder and Scully. Yes, I'm a shipper and they're my OTP - hell, X-Philes invented the 'shipping' term - I totally admit to this. Not that it played any part in my initial interest or love of the show. I mean, the dynamic and friendship between Mulder and Scully did, but the desire for them to get together only came later - maybe around season 3? It's hard to remember. Definitely before Small Potatoes in season 4. I dread to think how many times I rewatched that episode after it aired. Yes, I used to tape all the episodes from TV, prior to the boxsets coming out. And that took way more effort in those days - you needed actual tapes. Anyway... One of the biggest draws of the show for me has always been Scully. In the same way that The X-Files will almost definitely always be my favourite TV show, I can't imagine any other character becoming my favourite over Scully. Her strength, intelligence and independence have always been paramount. In the earlier seasons she struggles with showing any vulnerability, which I really related to. She knows she'll be judged more critically as a woman in her role for being 'emotional'. Yet, as the seasons go on, she does open up more and lets herself become more vulnerable, but without it ever distracting from her strength of character or ability to do her job. She's a total feminist icon, as is Gillian Anderson herself, who only seems to become more and more awesome (how does she do that?). I think it's apt/unsurprising that a lot of my friendships since my teenage years have involved some degree of mutual X-Files love. I think pretty much all of my friends at school were fellow fans - not that that's hugely surprising, I guess, as the show was massive at the time. Plus, since then, it's probably unsurprising that meeting people via a shared love of Catatonia has resulted in meeting other fellow X-Philes. I mean, they had a song called Mulder and Scully - that crossover's just going to happen. As of writing this, I'm currently booked to see David Duchovny play a music gig in February, then see Gillian Anderson in a play the following evening. Of the two people I'm going with - one I met via Catatonia, though the other I met through work, which is a much more rare occurence! But she does also like Catatonia. Because of course! One thing I haven't yet mentioned is the more recent seasons. To be honest, I'm still not sure how I feel about them. They were very up and down. Some episodes and some specific moments I really liked - especially in season 11 - but I could very happily live without all of the My Struggle episodes. And Babylon. Whenever I next do a full rewatch of the show (because of course I do that every few years), I might try missing out the My Struggle episodes and seeing whether it still makes enough sense and works without them. Nothing Lasts Forever is definitely the better ending. Though that's assuming that this will actually now be the end. I worry that Chris Carter might still want to make more, even without Gillian, plus potentially without David. Unlike Twin Peaks, where I'd happily take more episodes, I feel like The X-Files has run its course. I'd maybe take another movie, albeit only with both Gillian and David, plus written by someone other than Chris Carter (sorry Chris) - maybe James Wong and/or Glen Morgan, though the dream team of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban would obviously be awesome, seeing as this is pure fantasy anyway. Still, regardless of what does or doesn't happen to the show in the future, it will always be my fave. For better or worse! Like a weird geeky marriage.

 
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