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If a movie is a one-night stand, a TV show is a long-term relationship. It could go on for years. That’s why I’m much pickier about which TV shows I watch than I am about movies. If I’m going to invest 10+ hours of my life each season, which is longer than it takes to read many books, it better be good.
The following are my top ten favorite TV series on the air. I have a number of old favorites that I return to frequently, but these are still in progress, and I can’t wait for the next season of each and every show on this list. These are the only shows I will drop everything to binge-watch. And, as it just so happens, eight out of the ten are book adaptations!
I accidentally stumbled upon Outlander a few weeks after the first half of season one aired when iTunes was offering the first episode as a free download. It was so good I bought the second episode and then the third, and finally, I just bought the whole of volume one, which is not something I do very often. (iTunes is, after all, criminally expensive.)
Two years later, my love for this show has only grown. It retains all the strengths of the book without any of the literary weaknesses. Most of all, what keeps me coming back are the characters and the actors who do such a magnificent job bringing them to life. Claire is such an amazing, fully-realized character who beautifully balances the strength and sensitivity of real women.
I don’t have STARZ, so I’m eagerly awaiting the release of season three on iTunes.
I don’t often go for horror/sci-fi shows, so I was kind of going out on a limb when I gave Stranger Things a chance one night when I was bored out of my mind. Obviously, that was a
very bad superlative decision because I stayed up all night glued to my computer screen.
There are two things that make Stranger Things such an outstanding show. The first, of course, is the endearing cast of characters and the incredibly talented child actors who make up the core of the cast. The second is the delightful 1980s camp that recalls the wonderful feeling of watching the early seasons of The X-Files for the first time.
Right now, I’m counting down the days until season two is released and looking forward to round two of this good old-fashioned thrill ride.
I started watching Good Behavior last winter because I heard that Michelle Dockery was starring and that it was a radical departure from her former work as a buttoned-up Edwardian heiress in Downton Abbey. If she was good in Downton Abbey, she is amazing in Good Behavior, in which she plays a charming junkie and thief named Lettie, a character originally created by Blake Crouch in a novella series.
The show centers around Lettie’s relationship with a hitman named Javier, who is really a sweetheart underneath his murderous exterior, and her efforts to win back custody of her son. This tangled love story/family drama is one of the most heartfelt and heart-pounding shows I’ve ever seen, with a cast of characters that are both deeply flawed and totally lovable.
Season two premieres on October 15th on TNT, but if, like me, you don’t have cable, it’s definitely worth the extravagant price to buy on iTunes after it airs. Or you can try streaming it on the TNT website.
The Handmaid’s Tale aired to great fanfare this spring and I was hooked from the first episode. The outstanding set and costume design, cinematography, and acting earned it eight well-deserved Emmys and raised its profile to one of the best television adaptations of all time.
Aside from the fine production values, I love this series for the same reason I love the book–it makes palpable and urgent the women’s rights abuses that happen every single day. It is both a warning about what could happen if ultraconservative factions gain power in the U.S. and an allegory for what is already happening to women in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Also, like Outlander, it is told from the perspective of a fully fleshed-out woman–someone who is saint and sinner, mother and warrior.
Season one was perfectly faithful to the book and left off where the book concludes, which means that season two will have the opportunity to forge a new path forward in Offred’s story. I’m excited to see what comes next!
I started watching Longmire during its second season on A&E and was hooked after just a few episodes. It was always a great show, but when it was canceled and picked up by Netflix, I think it became much more politically and socially aware. It grapples with the complexity of the relationship between Native American tribal police and adjacent U.S. law enforcement, and relations between indigenous peoples and their white neighbors in general.
The cast of characters on this show is fantastic, but I think it ultimately succeeds because of the tension between Sheriff Longmire and Native American casino owner Jacob Nighthorse, a compelling and multi-faceted character who, interestingly enough, does not exist in the Walt Longmire books. Though his role in the series was more limited in the early seasons, I think in later seasons he became the linchpin that holds the whole thing together.
No word yet on when the sixth and final season will be released on Netflix, but if the timing of season five is anything to go by, it should be announced any day now!The 10 TV series you NEED to be watching right now.Click To Tweet
Prison dramas really aren’t my thing, but an all-female prison drama with a clear feminist slant and a powerful human rights message? Count me in! Granted, I was a little late to the party but better late than never.
What started as a story told from the perspective of one middle-class woman in over her head morphed into an amazing multi-faceted story told from a number of diverse viewpoints. I love the complexity of the characters on this show and the fact that it’s not afraid to get political about the very real abuses that happen in U.S. prisons.
I’m ready for a break after the chaotic violence of season five but I also look forward to seeing where this will go next year when season six is released.
I’ve been watching The Americans since the very beginning in 2013. It’s one of the smartest dramas on television and it plays with the history of Soviet spies in America in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
The thing that really holds this series together is the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth and the incredibly strong performances given by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell. Every moment one or both of them are on screen is filled with a kind of tension that pulls you in.
The final season will air next spring and I am both looking forward to it and dreading the end of such an amazing show.
The Man in the High Castle first caught my attention because of its unusually compelling premise–an alternate history wherein the Allies lost World War II and the United States was divided into Nazi and Japanese territory. There’s a subtle fantasy/sci-fi element to it that has to do with these mysterious films that everyone is trying to get their hands on that document other alternate endings to the war.
Aside from the premise and the excellent production values, the thing that keeps me watching is the character of John Smith, a high-ranking Nazi commander who starts out as the series’ arch-villain, then later morphs into a more complex figure when his son is diagnosed with a terminal illness. In this Nazi society, the sick are condemned to forced euthanasia, putting John in a moral and emotional quandary that challenges his views in interesting ways.
No word yet on when season three will be released but based on previous seasons, I’m guessing it will be sometime this fall.
I love Marvel movies but I don’t generally like superhero television series, so I was a bit skeptical about giving Jessica Jones a try. Ultimately, I watched the first episode during a TV lull and I’m so glad I did!
As you can tell from the other shows on this list, I love a complex, strong (in this case literally!) female character, and Jessica fits the bill perfectly. She’s flawed, messy, and traumatized, which makes her relationships with her best friend and would-be lover Luke Cage all the more interesting. The show has a strong message for women who have been abused and stalked as well, which I think is great.
The first season aired in 2015 but unfortunately, we have to wait until 2018 for season two.
Dysfunctional family dramas aren’t my thing at all, so I confess that when The Durrells in Corfu first aired last year, I only watched it because the gorgeous Greek scenery looked so enticing. (I don’t get the Travel Channel, so I have to make do.)
The reason I don’t typically like dysfunctional family narratives is that they’re so often depressing and cynical. The Durrells is not. It’s actually a very hopeful and uplifting story about a messy family coming together under trying circumstances with some hilarious results.
Season two premieres October 15th on PBS.
What are your favorite TV shows?