Eyes gone square yet? No? Then tuck in to our penultimate twenty TV treats…
Though Frasier was the titular hero of this series about a Seattle shrink, it was his neurotic brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) who stole the show. Niles was the sort of arrogant, socially incompetent, weedy busybody you should dislike, yet somehow his awkwardness won through over his screen brother’s more obvious charm.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-Present)
A period gangster drama based on real characters? How clichéd. Well if all clichés were this good we’d eat up all the derivative genre TV you can throw at us. Boardwalk Empire was a bit of a slow burner, but watching Machiavellian crime bosses battling it out to control the prohibition booze trade on America’s East Coast is fascinating. Chuck in some weird mother-son issues, a volatile federal agent and a charismatic turn from Michael Kenneth Williams, and you’ve got great TV.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010)
Swords, sandals and sex, Roman romp Spartacus had much of the same appeal as HBO/BBC collaboration Rome. Admittedly it wasn’t as well acted and the sets (computer generated included) seemed a bit rickety, but this bloody drama was much more impressive than the sum of its parts. Oh and John Hannah absolutely rocks as the dodgy arena owner.
Created by The Simpson’s Matt Groening, Futurama was a sci-fi alternative to Springfield, and many fans would argue the adventures of delivery boy Fry, one eyed alien Leela and alcoholic robot Bender beat anything that Homer and his family have shown us in years. In fact Futurama fans are its biggest asset; it was thanks to their campaigning that the show was revived after cancellation back in 2008.
Desperate Housewives (2004-2012)
Once religious Wednesday night viewing, Desperate Housewives veered off-course somewhat when rumours of a rift within the female cast began to surface, and creator Marc Cherry was accused of assaulting and wrongfully firing Nicolette Sheridan. However, we will always fondly remember the mysteries of Wisteria Lane, the random five-year leap forward in Season 5 and Jesse Metcalfe as the eternally shirtless John the Gardener. Before he got fat.
Babylon 5 (1994-1998)
Sci-fi purists point to this space opera as being the best ever aired. Set on the eponymous space station, it focuses on the dealings between humans and aliens as they try to coexist at a time of intergalactic upheaval. Sort of like the West Wing, but in space, it pulls together a tight main plot with enough space shoot outs to satisfy action fans. Silly costumes aside, it makes Star Trek look childish.
Dawsons Creek (1998-2004)
Holy shit these kids were full of verbal diarrhoea. In fact, trying to figure out which one of Dawson, Pacey or Joey spent the most time digesting dictionaries was a near impossible task. Still, their elongated and emotive use of English aside, the trio somehow managed to create a vaguely interesting love-triangle situation for us all to enjoy.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Sometimes television throws up something that will stand the test of time. This World War Two drama produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg is surely up there with the best of them. Based on the experiences of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, this often inspiring ultra realistic story is a real reminder of what damage conflict does to the men who fight. British acting talent galore can be spied across the series.
State of Play (2003)
British thriller State of Play was so good it even had its own lacklustre American remake for the big screen. Infinitely superior, this murder mystery soon turns into a game of cat and mouse between journalists and a member of parliament. Taught and pacey with a cracking cast (David Morrissey, James McAvoy and Kelly Macdonald) it’s one of the Beeb’s best miniseries to date.
The Walking Dead (2010-Present)
Zombies always made for good movies and now, thanks to this comic book adaptation, they’ve proven to be pretty unsettling on the small screen too. Cautious cop Rick Grimes somehow survives the initial zombie outbreak and manages to reach his family. Happily ever after? Well only if you like exploding brains, survivor feuds and the overbearing sensation that there’s no way out for anyone. It seldom as tense as this.
Sons of Anarchy (2008-Now)
This American epic about a biker gang is sort of like a sprawling crime saga with a little bit of action adventure thrown in for good measure. Smart enough to match up to the meatier HBO productions, and action orientated enough to please those in need of adrenaline. Sons of Anarchy is also famed for a its top notch supporting cast. Big names include Ron Perlman, Tommy Flanagan, Henry Rollins and Danny Trejo.
Superhero transitions to TV have almost always ended up being seriously shit. Superman series Smallville managed to prove to viewers that there was plenty of scope for reinventing comic book characters. Sexy ladies and hunky men help obviously, as does a half decent soundtrack and a couple of quality bad guys for the hero to bash into submission.
The Shield (2002-2008)
Michael Chiklis’s portrayal of Detective Vic Mackey is up there with the best from any crime drama. Amoral to the end, Vic was a tough as nails human tank who – often literally – crushed everything in his path to get what he wanted. The fact that it was a normally a criminal on the receiving end doesn’t make his behaviour any easier on the viewer. A classic anti-hero.
Breaking Bad (2008-Present)
Probably the best thing on TV right now, Breaking Bad details the transformation of a science teacher into a crystal meth dealer. Both harrowing and hilarious, this dark drama is supremely addictive (no drugs pun intended). Star Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter is exceptional. A must see.
Mad Men (2007-Present)
The HBO series about a 1960s New York advertising agency is as visually arresting as anything ever committed to screen. Every item of clothing, every set, every prop all look gloriously retro. Throw in some dark melodrama, a quirky, cool and sexy cast of characters and you’ve got a winner. Don’t believe us? Perhaps a clutch of Emmy Awards will change your mind.
Phoenix Nights (2001-2002)
Back when Peter Kay had a little imagination and wasn’t dining off his live act he could throw together some pretty unique comedy. Set in a working men’s club in Bolton (The Phoenix Club), Kay plays wheelchair bound owner Brian Potter, as well as bouncer Max. Despite a knack for finding humour in the inane, it’s the bizarre ensemble which really shine through. Janitor and DJ Ray Von (Neil Fitzmaurice) and archaic compere Jerry (Dave Spikey) steal the show.
Sugar Rush (2005-2006)
Sugar Rush was a critically acclaimed look at life as a runaway teenage lesbian … so pretty much not like anything else on TV six years ago. Mixing relatively tame encounters (fancying your best mate) with some serious incidents (erm stabbing, anyone?) Sugar Rush wasn’t perfect but it was a major precursor to the likes of Skins.
Black Books (2000-2004)
Co-created by Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd and Father Ted) and star Dylan Moran, Black Books lasted for three seasons on Channel Four. Though created and fronted by Irishmen, the Black Books series has its heart in old fashioned English comedies like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. In that legendary company it more than manages to hold its own.
True Blood (2008-Present)
Vampires have been big news in film and TV for a long time now. So it wasn’t any real surprise when Charlaine Harris’ series of supernatural novels were adapted by HBO. What was a surprise was how good this stylised American horror/drama ended up being. Much better than most of its peers, True Blood is forcefully driven along by star Anna Paquin who plays a vampire-fancying waitress.
Boy was this ahead of its time! Knightmare thrust a squad of school kids into a digitally created dungeon on a quest to erm … we forget. End result aside, it made for pretty gripping TV. While the children found it a struggle to circumnavigate the goblins and knights who stood in their way, the awesome dungeon master (played by Hugo Myatt) was always on form.
Missed last week’s small screen delights? Click here for Part Three of our ultimate TV countdown.