My Top Ten

Disclaimer: The serial dramas considered for this list were lengthy but not exhaustive. (As long as serial dramas are being produced and there are only 24 hours in a day, I will not be caught up on everything ever.) Additionally, factors such as genre, structure, language, and years active also limited the sample size. Please, before writing me an indignant email about True Detective* not making the cut (or even being considered), note the preliminary criteria used prior to ranking:

  1. I have watched it
  2. Primary Genre: Drama (i.e. Gilmore Girls, yes. Sex and the City*, no.)
  3. Primary Structure: Serial (i.e. The Good Wife, yes. House*, no.)
  4. Premiered on basic/cable/premium television or streaming
  5. Aired for a minimum of three seasons (i.e. Felicity, yes. Firefly*, no.)
  6. Filmed in English (regardless of country of origin)

[*Trust me, I love these shows!]

All things considered, there were 33 series which qualified. The ranking in which I then placed the top 10 of those 33, on the other hand, had a looser set of criteria and was based on my personal biases as a television scholar, screenwriter, and filmmaker, the strongest of which are: narrative arc, character arc, and thematic originality.

In other words, this list would more fittingly be called: The Top Ten Best English Language, Primarily Dramatic, Primarily Serialized Television or Streaming Series of A Three Season Minimum That Ximena Has Seen… So Far. Without further ado.

BTVS1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Consistently invented and reinvented the wheel for a universal drama with a female lead, as well as teenage angst, without ever taking itself seriously. Oh the writers born in that writer’s room.

LOST

2. Lost: A groundbreaking smorgasbord of narrative misdirection, musical scoring, ensemble casting, and poignant melodramatic effect like never before on television.

BSG

3. Battlestar Galactica: Braved deeply into the essence of being human, human beings, spirituality and philosophy with and without pointing blame at all of the above.

The Wire

4. The Wire: A narrative so complex and grounded in reality that it told the same story five times and, like reality, could find no answer. Not only defines an era but stands the test of time in an uncanny way.

Sopranos5. The Sopranos: The first series to accurately depict the repulsive yet alluring dark side of masculinity and the New American Dream (see #6 and #7)

Mad Men

6. Mad Men**: A sophisticated and unprecedented glance into the secrets and silences hidden within an era and a man; ultimately a mirror of our own pasts (see #5 and #7).

Breaking Bad7. Breaking Bad: Walter White was the Michael Corleone of television. His metamorphosis is the ultimate, and most devastating, of all character arcs (see #5 and #6)

Twin Peaks8. Twin Peaks: Bended and blended genres and possibilities as to what television could be long before it was. It mystified audiences by experimenting with the mind the possibilities of visual serial narrative.

Friday Night Lights9. Friday Night Lights: A rarely optimistic and somehow realistic gem which glimpsed into an America where hard work and doing the right thing could (and can?) result in success.

The Good Wife10. The Good Wife**: The first series to approach what #5-7 did for masculinity, for women: create a character arc defined by the special and devious price a woman pays to “make it”.

Very Honorable Mention:

oz_castOz: The OG and Grandfather of the Golden Age of Television. The deep dark themes of today are there because Oz went there first.