In this era of binge-watching Netflix, you might be in a place where you need to find a new show to watch. So let me help you by narrowing down some that I’ve seen and may or may not recommend. I’ve already covered television comedies, so check that out if that’s more the mood you’re in.
2013-Present, Series in Progress
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, including films such as Iron Man, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, expanded to include television with the launch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the story of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) who supposedly died in The Avengers. Spoiler: He did but was brought back to life. Somehow. So this show is connected to all of that, including guest stars such as Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and more.
The show begins on a rocky note, I have to warn you. The first season is a bit hit-or-miss. It’s a very standard “monster of the week” formula, where each week the group of agents has to stop some sort of villain. But since the agents are all normal people, these villains are relatively tame. And often uninteresting. But then something happens midway through season one, when the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out. In that movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. as we know it is essentially destroyed, so the TV show obviously had to react to that. And after that moment, the show became something so much more interesting.
Season two is pretty awesome, even introducing superpowered people known as “inhumans.” This means we now have heroes with superpowers facing villians with superpowers. That’s what we wanted this whole time! So the showrunners listened to fans and reacted and the show is really entertaining now. The highlights include Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and Ming-Na Wen (Joy Luck Club, Stargate: Universe) as Agent May. Unfortunately you do kind of need a basic understanding of the Marvel movies to appreciate most of what’s happening.
Pros: Season two is awesome, really cool connections to Marvel movies. Cons: Season one starts rough, hard for casual viewers to get engaged if they don’t know the films, a lot of filler episodes.
2011-2013, Series Completed
In the wake of hit feature films like Iron Man, Syfy countered with an original television series about a team of superheroes who try to tackle extraordinary problems. These heroes (called Alphas) aren’t so spectacular as the likes of the Hulk or Iron Man, but rather have more human-like abilities. For instance, Rachel has extreme senses so she can hear and see further than others. Autistic savant Gary can see wireless signals like others would read a map. In most episodes, they are tangling with either a rogue Alpha or some sort of group that is endangering the lives of innocents and they must work together to take them out. It was a cool idea but definitely felt like a Syfy show and that might deter some viewers. It’s much more accessible to mainstream audiences but its production value wasn’t always spot-on.
The show only lasted two seasons and it ended without much closure. Standouts included Ryan Cartwright as Gary and Azita Ghanizada as Rachel.
Pros: Cool and accessible premise, a few standout actors. Cons: Low production quality, no closure, pretty standard superhero storytelling.
1999-2004, Series Completed
Angel is a spinoff of the hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and should probably be viewed after/concurrently with that show, to get the full effect. We follow Angel (David Boreanaz) who is a vampire who has been cursed with a soul. He works alongside a crew of ragtag heroes to stop monsters in the city of Los Angeles, eventually working as a sort of freelance Ghostbusters. The show is starting to show its age, so the effects are not great and some of the fight choreography is a little embarrassing.
Let me just get this out there. Angel is not as strong as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While both had lows, Angel struggled at a few different points and the final season is especially strange and is a weird way to go out. The clear standout is Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, the wise Watcher who helps Angel navigate the supernatural. There are some darker storylines for Denisof and he was probably the most captivating character on the series for me.
If you haven’t seen either, I’d start with Buffy. You might then appreciate Angel.
Pros: Dark tone, interesting characters. Cons: Some seasons were overall weak.
2012-Current, Series In Progress
The didn’t quite know what to expect from Arrow. I was expecting something campy along the lines of Smallville. I was pleasantly surprised when the show ramped up the production quality, gave us some incredible fight choreography, and gave us storylines that balanced the fine line of action and drama. Stephen Amell is a perfect choice for our lead Oliver Queen and carries this show.
The first two seasons are especially good, while the third goes a little off-track, especially with lackluster flashback portions that don’t pay off. If the show doesn’t recover, my overall rating might dip, but for now… The third season doesn’t ruin the positive things that the first two seasons pulled off.
Let me add this. I know nothing about the Green Arrow comic books so maybe that helps me to enjoy this. I don’t have anything to compare it to. They could completely revamp the characters and I’d have no idea. So ignorance might be bliss in this case. But even without knowing anything, there were a lot of cool things to enjoy here if you want something a little lighter but with enough punch to entertain you.
Pros: Don’t need to know source material, cool fight sequences, chance to showcase unknown villains of the DC universe. Cons: Balance of drama and action might not please people looking for more of either, season three is lackluster.
2004-2009, Series Completed
This show somehow managed to gain mainstream attention and is semi-responsible for bringing science fiction to a new audience. The show was accessible because it was based on realistic characters without too much science fiction. There weren’t aliens really, so you didn’t have to worry about that. It was humans and their creation. Easy to wrap your mind around.
The series follows Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), his son Lee (Jamie Bamber), and a crew of technicians, pilots, and military personnel. Things get complicated when an ancient enemy of robots called the Cylons reemerges as a threat and decimates most of the human planets. The only hope is the ship called the Battlestar Galactica and its crew, including the new President (Mary McDonnell). Among the survivors also includes renowned scientist Gaius Baltar (James Callis) who has deceived by a Cylon hallucination (Tricia Helfer) into allowing the Cylons to get past planetary security. They all end up on the Galactica after the planet’s destruction and now travel through space, seeking a new homeworld.
The show is only four seasons, plus a few miniseries and made-for-television movies, so it’s not a huge time commitment. The story is relatively straight-forward but includes plenty of OMG twists at the end of episodes and big reveals that will keep you guessing. The space action looks incredible but it’s really the human performances that carry this show (the standout for me being James Callis as tortured scientist Gaius Baltar). To see just how addictive this show is, check out this amazing tribute via the show Portlandia here.
Pros: Beautifully shot, amazing characters, science fiction but still accessible to mainstream audiences. Cons: I don’t know if all the content is available on Netflix.
2008-Current, Series In Progress
Imagine three roommates. Two of them (who happen to be a werewolf and a vampire) move into a house that is occupied by a recently deceased ghost. You’d think this would be the setup to a sitcom but Being Human is definitely not that. This show is dark, gritty, and generally awesome. It spawned an American reboot, which I haven’t seen, but the original is really cool.
We follow vampire Mitchell (Aidan Turner, The Hobbit) and werewolf George (Russell Tovey) as they encounter ghost Annie (Lenora Crichlow) in their new apartment. These two supernatural beings are somehow able to see and communicate with Annie, while the rest of the world can’t. We watch these three try to manage day-to-day tasks, occasionally breaking off to stop other supernatural evil (such as the larger vampire government or rogue werewolves or malicious poltergeists). The show is fairly dramatic, not afraid to kill off major characters, and throws us a few major curveballs through the series. They do start to rotate our main characters out, so the crew in the last season is a little different than what we begin with. And being a BBC series, it runs on a different schedule. I think the series is still in progress because the latest one is not available on Netflix yet and may or may not end there.
Pros: Stellar cast at the beginning, dark and intriguing stories, a new way to approach current supernatural trends. Cons: They swap out characters, series’ airing dates are unpredictable.
1997-2003, Series Completed
For a lot of people, Buffy the Vampire Slayer defines their youth. It was because of this huge cult following that I only recently watched through Buffy. It follows Sarah Michelle Gellar as the title character, a high school student and killer of vampires (and other supernatural baddies). It follows the formula made popular by The X-Files of featuring stand-alone episodes (called “Monster of the Week” episodes) and then mixing in the occasional “mythology” episodes which focus on the larger story. To fight these baddies, Gellar is joined by Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, James Marsters, David Boreanaz, Nicholas Brendon, and Emma Caulfield. It was the first big hit from Joss Whedon and launched him into nerd famedom.
If you haven’t seen Buffy yet and you’re curious if you want to invest in 7 seasons, let me give you some insight. The show is a tad dated, as the effects and fight sequences are especially horrible during the early seasons. It takes a few seasons for the show to really take off but it escalates to one of the shows that deserves the sort of following that it has. While Gellar is the star, it’s her supporting cast that give continuing life to the show. In later seasons, Alyson Hannigan and James Marsters deliver especially powerful performances. If you get past the dated production quality, there are some incredible performances here, after the first few seasons set the foundation.
Pros: Incredible supporting cast, many emotionally satisfying episodes, deep storylines eventually, opened up doors for other mainstream science-fiction series. Cons: Starts off relatively tame, production quality is dated.
2015-Present, Series in Progress
Like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil exists in what’s called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our heroes here exist in the same world as the Avengers. But unlike that other show, Daredevil doesn’t expect you to know all those films. This show exists completely on its own but provides cool little connections if you’re savvy enough to see them.
We join Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer, as he and his friend Foggy (Elden Henson) start up their own firm. What we quickly learn is that Murdock also spends his nights as a vigilante, keeping the area of New York known as “Hell’s Kitchen” safe from crime. The superhero aspect comes into play when you learn how Murdock is able to do this, as we learn he’s able to sense those around him and somehow see using heightened senses.
This show might be the best thing (including movies) to come out of Marvel. Cox is perfect as Matt Murdock and the villain Wilson Fisk is played perfectly by Vincent D’Onofrio. This is an origin story for both of them and it’s extremely compelling. The action scenes are incredible, the writing is tight and witty, and the casting is perfect. It’s a 13-episode arc so you’re able to binge it in a weekend if you focus. It’s also great to see a superhero who doesn’t always win. Murdock leaves most fights with bruises and cuts and you wonder how he’ll make it through one more fight. It’s that determination and drive that makes Daredevil as a character stand out.
Pros: Excellent casting, incredible fight choreography, tight and succinct story arc that is immensely engaging. Cons: The wait for season two.
2005-Current, Series In Progress
Now, I’ve only watched the “new” series of Doctor Who, which began in 2005 with the introduction of Christopher Eccleston. The series available on Netflix follows Eccleston, followed by David Tennant, and then finally Matt Smith. The show is still in progress and currently stars Peter Capaldi. The basic gist is that the last survivor of an ancient race now travels the universe and stops tragedies. When our hero is killed, he regenerates into a new version of himself, which is why the hero can be recast so many times. He has various companions throughout the series who assist him on his adventures.
In terms of science-fiction, this is one of the more outlandish entries on this list and one that might (excuse my pun) more alienating than some of the others. You’ll have exotic locations, strange makeup, and a lot of technical jargon that shows like Battlestar Galactica managed to mostly avoid. Doctor Who is a little more high-concept and less mainstream. That being said, there’s also a strange sense of cult following that almost makes this show critic-proof. Its fans are so diehard that it can daunting just to bring up valid criticisms.
But here we go. Doctor Who, at the core, is a really cool show. Tennant’s run was probably my favorite and there are so absolute fantastic episodes. In between these episodes, however, we are treated to bland and uninteresting filler episodes. This show almost lost me because it tends to lose momentum in the mythology and spends too long on these “monster of the week” episodes that have zero consequences on the overarching story. If you’re interested in giving it a look, start with the 2005 series. Even though Eccleston isn’t the most stellar Doctor, the show’s tone is very much the same, and it should give you a solid indicator if this is a show you’d even enjoy. It’s not for everyone though, so don’t feel the peer pressure from the internet world that says you have to enjoy it.
Pros: Some great characters, fun mechanism to make sure show can re-energize itself with new actors, and some episodes rank among the best television has to offer. Cons: In between great episodes there are bad ones, mythology takes awhile to make progress, high-concept science fiction might be inaccessible to mainstream audiences.
1999-2003, Series Completed
If there’s one show on here that epitomizes science-fiction, it’s Farscape. It’s as high-concept as it gets, which means most people will not even have a rudimentary knowledge or familiarity with it. The niche that made Farscape stand out was that they teamed up with Jim Henson Productions and created elaborate alien beings that were essentially puppets but gave the show a weight and sense of realism. While only lasting about four seasons, plus a miniseries, it tells an engaging and interesting story and goes to some dark places that other series never delved into. This show is likely compared to the other main science-fiction story of this time, Stargate SG-1, and they cover a lot of similar ground. I would say that Farscape told a darker story, had better special effects, and in general made a better impact on the larger world of science-fiction. (Note that Stargate SG-1 is not available on Netflix anymore, so it is not included in this list.)
In Farscape, we follow astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) as he sucked through a wormhole and ends up in a far away place. He ends up on a prison ship, where he lets the prisoners go and this group of ragtag heroes end up traveling the universe and saving the day. This actually kind of sounds like Guardians of the Galaxy to me… Hmm. Anyways, the only other recognizable human in the main story is Claudia Black, while everyone else is covered in makeup and prosthetics, or the character is entirely puppeteered.
So is the show good? Yes. It manages to take the content of shows like Stargate and Firefly but gives these scenarios intense ramifications. Even in what would be considered filler episodes of Farscape, events may happen to have permanent consequences to our characters. The storyline that begins in season 2 and goes through the last three seasons is incredible and creates a villain that is unique and terrifying. And I want to stress the Jim Hensons Production aspect because the physical effects and creatures in this show are breathtaking. To create characters that are reoccurring and central to the story, meaning they are able to emote and act alongside other actors, is a tremendous feat. If nothing else, this show should be watched as an homage to a forgotten art and a reminder that physical effects still have a place in today’s media landscape.
Pros: Deep and smart storylines that don’t dumb it down for the viewers, tremendous physical effects including fantastic creature models, dark storyline involving one of the best villains in science-fiction history (in my opinion). Cons: High-concept science fiction might be too much for mainstream viewers, not every puppeteered creature looks flawless.
2002-2003, Series Completed
Firefly is unique in that it only lasted one season and later spawned a movie (Serenity). Like Doctor Who, it’s one of those shows that has such a rabid cult following that it is very unpopular to criticize the show. Created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Marvel’s The Avengers), we follow a group of outer space bandits as they try to get by. It’s essentially a western set in outer space, following a charismatic and rebellious lead (Nathan Fillion) and his crew of mysterious and dangerous people. It introduced us to science-fiction staple Summer Glau, who has since made appearances on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Alphas, Dollhouse, and now Arrow.
The world is seemingly split into two types of people. Those who haven’t seen Firefly and those that will try to convince you to watch it. Let me offer a third perspective. It’s good, yes, but there’s likely a few reasons it maybe didn’t resonate with viewers. The idea of a western in space can be a little hard to digest. And with only one season done, there are quite a few episodes in its initial launch that didn’t contribute to the larger story (aka, “filler”). Now, to be fair, this is true in a lot of these shows. There has to be filler in most cases but Firefly was unlucky enough to be cancelled before maybe getting some of its meatier moments. Luckily, the movie Serenity was able to happen, reuniting these characters and closing some of the gaps in the larger story.
So, when it’s Saturday night and you’re on Netflix wondering what to watch… should you choose Firefly? Maybe. It’s not the best show on this list. But it’s interesting. And it’s good to know about Firefly if you want to talk intelligently about the state of science fiction on mainstream television. So I’d watch it, if I were you. It’s only a season + a movie and then you can move onto one of the more long-lasting and deeper science fiction shows on this list.
Pros: Interesting concept, fun and witty dialogue, short watch. Cons: Filler episodes, cancelled early, western style might bore some viewers.
2014-Present, Series in Progress
After Arrow was such a success for DC television, they launched a spinoff for the hero The Flash, featuring Grant Gustin as our lead. This series follows Barry Allen as he gains the ability to travel ridiculously fast and has to deal with a city that is full of new villains with extraordinary powers. In addition the “monster of the week” formula, there’s a larger arc of Barry trying to find out who murdered his mother when he was a child, so that he can free his falsely imprisoned father. Barry does this with the help of a ragtag group of scientists, including head honcho Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), who knows more than he’s letting on.
The Flash is getting acclaim from fans for how quickly they’re diving into the comic book mythos, including episodes on time travel, alternate dimensions, and all sorts of crazy villains. Arrow is still relatively grounded in reality, where The Flash isn’t afraid to dive in (and is doing so in spectacular fashion). They even pull off legendary villain, Gorilla Grodd, a telepathic ape. That has to say something.
For non-fans, is this show something you’d be interested in? It’s a funny and witty show, mixed in with incredible and suspenseful action sequences. Among comic book television shows, I’d only rank Daredevil above this one. You don’t need to know the comics to appreciate the whacky nature of some of these storylines, so definitely consider it.
Pros: Funny and charming characters, faithful to comic book roots, stellar visuals for a CW show. Cons: Might be a little alienating to non-comic fans.
2014-Present, Series in Progress
Gotham imagines Gotham City from the Batman mythology, before Batman existed. So we meet a young Bruce Wayne just as his parents are killed in the pilot for the show. We see the city slowly crumble into the state that we’ve seen in it, in the various other shows and movies. Instead of following Bruce though, we follow Detective James Gordan (Ben McKenzie) and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). The lure of the show is to see origins for Batman’s eventual enemies, but the constant downfall is that we’ll never see Batman actually get to face off against them, since Batman is like 13 years old.
The enemies make up the best and worst parts of the show. The standout character is the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), who starts his career as a henchman but slowly manipulates his way into power. The worst include horrible foreshadowing for youngsters like Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) and Poison Ivy, while invented characters for the show don’t do any better, most notably a horribly written villain in the form of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney. Other characters like Scarecrow and Two Face get small nods and episodes about them, but it doesn’t always pay off.
Gotham is destined to fail, as long as it continues playing this game of ‘Look who we’re alluding to now!’ because we will never see these villains come to fruition, nonetheless face off against Batman. If the show wants to become compelling, it needs to make McKenzie’s Gordan more likeable and able to tackle these villains on his own, making this a new interpretation of the Batman world (one without Batman) instead of a prequel to what we already know. Season one was just a series of easter eggs and allusions that are destined to disappoint. Season two and beyond need to shake up the formula in order to save the show and really let Gordan be a hero instead of foreshadowing one that we’ll never see. I’ll update this bit as the seasons progress, to see if it’s improved.
Pros: Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin, cool easter eggs though disappointing. Cons: The show will never live up to its potential unless they make Gordan a hero, too many nods and easter eggs can become burdensome, lackluster writing and character development.
2006-2010, Series Completed (with a miniseries on the way)
Let me begin with this. The first season of Heroes is incredible. It gave us everything we wanted right off the bat. I also think that’s part of the problem though, as the following seasons had nowhere to go. In my Finally Caught Up review of Heroes, I theorize that the show might’ve been more successful if the seasons had been rearranged, culminating with Sylar, who was a brilliant villain but underutilized after season one. They also had to depower a lot of their heroes because they made them too powerful for the weak villains they introduced later in the show. The show changed writers very often, giving the show a schizophrenic-like feeling as it could never decide what it wanted to be.
The highlights of the show were likely Japanese time traveler Hiro (Masi Oka) who gave us a loveable hero to root for and then Zachary Quinto as Sylar, who was a sympathetic and yet downright evil villain (season one anyways).
So, if you haven’t seen Heroes, why should you? To start, there’s a miniseries coming back to NBC, so if you’ve been looking for a reason, this is it. I also think you’ll just enjoy the show. It’s not stellar, as there’s a lot wrong with it, but it’s consistently entertaining. Who doesn’t love watching superheroes clash with epic supervillains? You’ll watch it, you’ll laugh, you’ll enjoy yourself… and then you’ll move on to another show. In some aspects, it’s forgettable. Season one is incredible but the following three seasons make some mighty missteps.
Pros: Fun to watch, season one is incredible, Sylar is a great villain. Cons: Show turns into a mess after season one, too many characters eventually, heroes become too powerful.
2015-Present, Series in Progress
In another Marvel Netflix-exclusive, we meet Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) who is a private investigator that happens to have a few special abilities. She’s trying to live her life when a dangerous man from her past returns. Kilgrave (Doctor Who‘s David Tennant) is a man with the ability to control others with his words and he kept Jessica as a slave and traumatized her in the worst of ways. Now that Kilgrave is back in New York City, Jessica tries to find a way to stop him once and for all, with the help of her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) and potential love interest and fellow superhero Luke Cage (Mike Colter).
While this is branded as a “Marvel” product, it’s distinctly different from their movie outings, which are very family-friendly. Jessica Jones is much darker, tackling issues head-on that many shows wouldn’t. There’s also a fair bit of sex and profanity, though it does it with a sense of tact. This feels like the most grounded Marvel project yet and Ritter does a great job embodying this tortured heroine. The real star though is David Tennant as the villain Kilgrave. Tennant is chilling here, stealing every scene he’s in and just oozing with disgust. Brilliant yet disturbing performance.
The biggest fault that some of you might see in this show is that it’s quite a “slow burn,” meaning it takes a few episodes to really gain some momentum. It’s very dialogue heavy, as opposed to the action-driven Daredevil, but its compelling characters manage to really draw you in. For a superhero though, Jessica does very little fighting, so don’t go in with the expectations that this will be an action series.
Pros: Incredible performances by both Ritter and Tennant, dark and mature tone really stands out from other Marvel properties. Cons: A bit slow for some viewers, relatively little action.
2004-2010, Series Completed
A plane crashes on an island in the Pacific, on its way from Sydney to Los Angeles. 48 people survive and must find a way to stay alive on this island. Lost redefined television, as shows (even now, 10 years after it began airing) are still trying to market themselves as the “next Lost.” It was a simple premise for a television show but it quickly escalated into something else entirely. If you’ve seen Lost, I wrote an article on my top 10 episodes here.
This show can be divisive for a few reasons. Some people will be too confused to keep track of what’s going on and it will eventually wear them down. And those that make it to the end, will likely find themselves on one of two sides: Those that loved the ending and those that absolutely hated it. Me, I loved it. Above all else, I watched the show because of its incredible characters and I felt like the ending gave our characters a great finale. If you’re focused on the “whys” of the island and looking for answers, the ending may disappoint.
So, if you haven’t seen it, should you? I would say yes. But with this caveat: You need to be patient. It’s a six-season mystery and some of the mysteries don’t even get solved. But through this, you meet some incredible characters (both good ones and bad ones) and you have a hell of a ride with them. But not everyone will enjoy this. If you watch each episode with the intent of finding out what’s happening, it’s going to be rough going for you. Some of you though, will find some cool stuff here.
In terms of changing the landscape of television, Lost taught us that the audience is ready to think. They’re ready for mysteries. They don’t need to be spoonfed. And because of that, shows are still trying to recapture that magic.
Pros: Incredible characters, breathtaking cinematography, mystery that makes you think and puzzle things together. Cons: Impatient viewers might hate this show, some mysteries aren’t answered.
2011-Current, Series in Progress
I was a big fan of Once Upon a Time as it began, writing quite a few posts about it and comparisons to NBC’s Grimm. Both of those shows have survived their first few years, which was actually surprising to me. Anyways, I’m going to be honest. I only watched seasons 1 and 2 of Once Upon a Time. There are some things it did right but quite a handful of things that hindered my ability to enjoy it.
If you don’t know the basic premise… There exists a town called Storybrooke where characters from famous children’s stories exist in real life. However, they don’t remember their old selves, so they kind of wander around with amnesia, not really knowing who they really are. So the first season covers how they come to learn about their past lives. But that was the first big problem. This huge issue (and the crux of the entire show) is essentially solved in the first season. Season two was a different problem but one that was less threatening and frankly less interesting (which is why I didn’t continue past season two).
In terms of standout characters, the villains here are much more interesting than our heroes. Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen and Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold / Rumpelstiltskin both bring a sense of weight to the show, which is refreshing. Most of the heroes are generally uninteresting, especially our leads in Snow White and Prince Charming. The plot is interesting at the beginning, sure, but they are relatively uninteresting as people. And the biggest problem with the show is that it continues to throw new characters into the mix and forgetting storylines that it has already started. Two standout episodes in season one include one focused on Jiminy Cricket and one focused on the dwarf Grumpy. These are excellent, almost reminding me of Lost‘s flashback episodes. But then we never really hear from these characters again and instead, the show goes on to introduce entire new slates of characters. Is there a reason to introduce Mulan, other than the fact that they can? The recent marketing has been about the introduction of the Wicked Witch from the Oz series. We have an entire cast of villains already. Disney feels like it’s shoehorning every franchise it owns into the mix, without really thinking about the characters it has already established.
So, should you watch it? If you’re a sucker for Disney and you don’t mind that characters get left along the way, sure. I know plenty of people that like the show. But for me, it felt bloated and the best thing about the show (its unique story/concept) was essentially resolved after a season.
Pros: Good villains, cool and interesting concept, lots of Disney references. Cons: Amazing characters get lost amidst the huge cast, Disney keeps bringing in new characters, main problem is resolved after only a season.
2015-Present, Show in Progress
The name “The Wachowskis” means something to fans of science fiction. This brother/sister pair brought to life The Matrix. Since then, though, they’ve stumbled to find their footing with films like Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending, and Speed Racer. They’ve always had a great style but struggled to tell a good (and cohesive) story. With the announcement that they were bringing a show to Netflix, this could be it. This could be what the world has been waiting for.
In a nutshell, imagine if one day you discovered that you were connected mentally to 7 other people. You could visit them, speak to them, and even take over their body if you wanted to. This happens to 8 individuals all over the world and they must work together to survive when a secret underground organization seeks to find them and kill them. This is a cool concept, most notably when one of the 8 needs a skill that they don’t have. A mild-mannered bus driver in Nairobi is being attacked, so a Korean badass woman takes over and fights off these thugs. It’s a fascinating idea. In tone, the show feels most reminiscent of Heroes, especially in how it travels the globe. They actually shot in all 8 countries so they managed to showcase the best and most beautiful parts of each country. Visually, the show is gorgeous. And the cuts between characters as they shift in and out of each others lives is super interesting.
Here’s where the other shoe drops. You’ve got eight distinct storylines, that’s already a lot. And now you add in the fact that they can appear in each others’ lives, so you tend to forget who’s really there and who is just appearing there. And then you have additional people, besides the 8, that can somehow appear in their lives too. There is a set of rules that you have to understood about this phenomenon and the show doesn’t explain them clearly. People just pop in and out of places and take over each other, sometimes without reason. Luckily, the Wachowskis care about telling the story of these characters but this means we spend the first 2-3 episodes without hardly any forward motion on the real plot. And some of these stories are just less interesting than others. Why would I care about the girl in India who is about to marry a man she doesn’t love, when I could be following the German thief who is about to steal millions of dollars in diamonds? So it’s a slow burn but they use these episodes to setup the eight distinct stories. The first episodes are really confusing, since they don’t get around to explaining the science of shifting bodies until episode 3 or 4.
And then there’s the bad guy, this nefarious organization who is trying to find them and kill them. We get very little time with them and don’t really understand why they’re doing this, other than they’re threatened by these “sensates.” So in the final episode, the big showdown felt unearned and somewhat anticlimactic.
It’s a hard show to recommend, since it requires your utmost attention at all times, it doesn’t explain how the rules of this science work, and it expects you to follow along with eight unique storylines that span the globe. But if you think you have the attention span and this sounds interesting, there is a fascinating idea here wrapped up in some muddled execution.
Pros: Beautiful cinematography, really interesting idea, some incredible fight and action scenes utilizing their abilities. Cons: Really slow first couple episodes, lots of people and storylines to try and remember, doesn’t clearly explain how the science of being a sensate works. Additional Con: 2 minute opening credits for each episode, which is super annoying.
2016-Present, Show in Progress
This is one of those shows that, as soon as it arrives, people are talking about. Within its first week, I saw Buzzfeed lists and friends of mine raving about, so I figured this was something I needed to look into. This 8-episode first season has a fairly simple plot yet it manages to weave in some extremely heavy sci-fi elements. At its core, it’s about a missing boy. In the first episode, a young boy goes missing, and the rest of the series is about this small town trying to find him, including his three best friends and his mom (Winona Ryder). Each episode ramps up the science fiction another notch but manages to keep things relatively grounded.
The big thing that will immediately grab you is the setting. It’s set in 1983 and the whole series is an homage to 1980s movies like ET and Monster Squad, where kids can be heroes. The hairstyles, the soundtrack, everything. It’s a fun dive into the past. Just that alone wouldn’t make this show succeed though. Luckily, the cast is pretty stellar. The four lead kids that we meet in episode one are all naturals, given some intense scenes later on but they tackle them perfectly. The emotional core of the movie belongs to our two adult leads, Winona Ryder and David Harbour, both of whom deliver incredible performances and manage to keep the focus on the people of this story.
Let’s zoom out a bit. This show is only eight episodes. This is a perfect runtime, as each episode feels essential and important. This show also manages to have plenty of “OMG WHAT NEXT?” moments that make you want to continue watching. The reveals are well-placed, the questions make you think, and overall it’s a very satisfying journey. I’m glad shows are veering towards this shorter format and cutting the filler.
Pros: Excellent pacing, full of nostalgia, great performances across the board. Cons: Special effects sometimes fall short, references may go over the heads of younger audiences.
2010-Present, Show in Progress
I was hesitant to watch The Walking Dead because I’m kind of a scaredy-cat. I don’t usually like horror movies or being scared in general but after a few reassurances that this show wasn’t about jump scares, I decided to give it a try and I’m really glad I did. We meet Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in Atlanta, after a zombie plague has caused a global catastrophe. Grimes meets up with a group of survivors and for the show’s run, we follow this group as they attempt to survive, against both human and zombie threats alike.
While this show is really about the walking dead, actual zombies have very little to do with what happens here. There might be a few encounters every episode but this show is really character-driven and focuses on human people and how they react to this world they now live in. There’s some great quiet moments as we watch people evolve in order to survive. And even when the zombies do appear, it’s rarely a jump scare, but rather a threat you see coming and that makes it much more suspenseful. And the effects are fantastic, though often pretty gruesome, as you can imagine killing a zombie would be.
The show’s still in progress, so I’ve only seen the first four seasons available on Netflix. While I do enjoy the show, I don’t think I fall into the camp that absolutely loves it without fault. It has a few faults, that keeps it from reaching greatness for me. Our heroes that we follow are relatively one-dimensional, aside from a few key players. Even fan favorites like Daryl (Norman Reedus) only gets a few solid episodes where he gets to show off his acting chops, otherwise he’s just there to occasionally save the day. With some much quiet time, they use it strangely. They’ve also created a rotating door of characters, as we’ll lose a few each season and get introduced to new ones. The new ones they bring in are often less interesting than the ones they killed, so we’ve got a cast now that’s relatively uninteresting (and some that I couldn’t even tell you their names).
So I think the show’s good. Yes. But we’ll have to see how the show ends to get a real decision here.
Pros: Great action and great effects, some interesting characters. Cons: Some really uninteresting characters get major screentime while they underuse some of the great talent they have. Some slow arcs have you constantly checking your watch.
1993-2002, Series Completed
The X-Files defined a new era of television, making science fiction popular on television in the early 90s. It features two FBI agents who disagree on a lot of things, seeking out potential solutions to some otherwordly problems. David Duchovny stars as Fox Mulder, a paranoid believer who seeks answers for his sister’s supposed alien abduction as a child. He is paired with skeptic Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who has a medical background and seeks logical and scientific answers for some of these crazy scenarios.
If you haven’t seen The X-Files, should you? Depends. It has a few flaws. It doesn’t age that well, as the visual effects are usually sloppy by today’s standard. Also, while the show’s “mythology” focusing on aliens was the cornerstone of the show initially, it gets to become a muddled and inconsistent mess. The last few seasons are especially strange, as they lose David Duchovny for a majority of it. In an ideal world, the show should have been cut a few seasons shorter, so if you’re watching for the first time, you might lose interest when there’s supposedly a lot of show left.
Pros: Revolutionized mainstream television, incredible standalone episodes. Cons: Didn’t age well technically, lots of filler episodes, loses steam in the last few seasons.
If you’ve been looking to pick up a new show, hopefully this list has helped! Again, if you’re looking for a comedy series to begin, check out that list here.