As part of the campaign to replace reality shows with more stories that we as humans so desperately need, I’m constantly on the lookout for the most well-written and best told stories on the air. From veteran programs in their tenth season, to struggling new fledglings, these are the eight best T.V. shows that story lovers should be watching.
1. The Walking Dead
“We are the walking dead.” This quote from main character Rick Grimes in a recent episode of the show’s fifth season pretty much says it all. When watching the early episodes, the title seems obviously attributed to the zombies that have destroyed civilized society—“walkers” or “roamers” as they’re known in the show and comics. The group of survivors the series follows, greatly diminished in numbers since they began their journey, has been through so much, and has been so beaten down, that they have all but lost hope in anything beyond their horrid mere existence. They have become the walking dead, trudging along sun-soaked highways with no food or water, depleted ammo, walkers on their trail, and the haunting memories of loved ones lost, and far worse dangers than walkers. You’d like to think that if the apocalypse really did come, the last remaining humans would band together and help one another survive. The Walking Dead gives us a more realistic and much sadder portrayal of human nature. As Rick says, “People measure you by what they can take from you, by how they can use you to live.” If you think the show is too far along for you to catch up, I’m telling you, the time to start watching is now. The group just found a supposed safe haven, but they’ve been burned before, and fans know by now to trust no one. The latest episode left me craving more, and the season finale in a few short episodes will be one not to be missed. The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9pm on AMC.
What’s that you say? You’ve had your fill of Batman from the Nolan trilogy and the New 52? Don’t have room in your life for a sub-par T.V. show where Bruce Wayne is just a kid? Wrong. You are so wrong. Yes, that’s what I said at first too. But then I actually watched an episode. This is a dark, and truly disturbing take on the inhabitants of Gotham while they’re still young and haven’t yet evolved into the super villains or heroes we are familiar with. It features a young Bruce, whose parents die in episode one, Alfred, Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon and the GCPD crew, as well as a host of young villains-to-be including Selina Kyle, Oswald Cobblepot, and Edward Nygma who fans will recognize as Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler. We’ve even met a young Joker, and while I’m always a little biased toward Heath Ledger, I have to say: where do they keep getting these awesomely insane, creepy actors to play the joker? But the one who really steals the show is Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney. I can’t even satisfactorily describe her character’s storyline right now; you have to see it to believe it. And if you’re worried the dark and disturbing factor won’t be on par with what we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan or the New 52, stop worrying. Gotham airs on Fox, Mondays at 8pm.
3. Better Call Saul
If you are hesitant to watch this because a spinoff of Breaking Bad could never live up to that show’s genius, then let me just remind you of one critical factor: Vince Gilligan. I’ve got enough evidence by now to know that I’ll watch anything this guy is involved with and like it. He’s just a brilliant writer and storyteller. Anything he has a hand in is going to be stellar. The way he develops his characters, examining them through a moral lens, is unique on television. I’d never before seen a character transformation like Walter White’s, and Saul’s, while different, is just as fascinating. This show follows beaten-down lawyer Jimmy McGill on his descent into dishonesty. Sure, he’s not a saint to begin with, but he does struggle to do the right thing. The audience is already seeing a common Gilliganian© theme: you can be good and suffer, or do one bad thing and live a little easier. The problem is, that easily justified one, small, bad thing inevitably snowballs down a dark path there’s no coming back from. Saul’s journey down this road is packed with humor, suspense, and drama. Don’t miss it. Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.
4. The Flash
What a glorious time we live in when there’s a comic book adaptation on various networks almost every day of the week. If the disturbing terror and corruption of Gotham isn’t your cup of tea, you might enjoy the delightfully cheesy antics of The Flash. The show, despite having its sad moments, is more upbeat, colorful, and pleasant. Besides the awesome visual effects of Flash speeding around the city in a blur, saving the day, there are really engaging stories being told that are ripped from the comics and expanded. Even more interesting are the character dynamics. The cast of characters is a numerous and complex one. Each character is well developed, has their own agenda, and has different complex relationships with some characters than others. On The Flash you’ll get a moderated dose of unrequited love, romance, action, and mystery. Check it out. The Flash airs on the CW on Tuesdays at 8pm. It’s on break now, which gives you a chance to catch up, and will return March 17th.
5. Criminal Minds
This one has been on awhile, and I’ve been a fan since almost the beginning. When new, it was described as another procedural crime drama, albeit a good procedural, but so what? Here’s what sets it apart: this show has a fandom as strong as any superhero or comic book one. The characters are all memorable and lovable individuals, and work together as a team for justice. They are heroes, sacrificing their time, personal happiness, and often safety, to bring home lost children and save innocent lives from nightmares no one should ever have to live through. In fact, they are so heroic that team leader Aaron Hotchner’s son opts out of dressing like Spiderman for Halloween and instead:
The stories are well-crafted, disturbing tales guaranteed to make you think, and keep you on the edge of your seat rooting for the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) to catch the real monsters of the world. This show is currently in its tenth season, and by now the reluctant viewer should be saying “Okay, I’ll watch it. It’s been on for ten years. Maybe it’s good.” Criminal Minds airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on CBS.
6. 12 Monkeys
This latest SyFy endeavor is a remake of the 1995 movie starring Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, and is so much better than I expected it to be. Cole comes from an apocalyptic world where a man-made virus has eradicated nearly all life on Earth. He travels back in time (“splinters”) to enlist the help of Dr. Cassandra Railly to find the source of the virus and stop it before it can be unleashed on humanity. Of course, the implications of this are already huge. If Cole is successful, won’t he disappear or at least create a different version of himself? But if you were living in Cole’s time, 2043, you would take the risk to change it too. Cole and Cassie trace the virus to a creepy conspiracy known as the Army of the 12 Monkeys, but are so far (early in season one) no closer to changing the future, though the latest episode left me hanging and biting my nails on that front. What I love most about this show is it not only attempts to preserve human life, but human art and history. What is the point of survival, if that’s all we have? You can watch 12 Monkeys on SyFy, Fridays at 9pm.
7. Agent Carter
While Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. left me underwhelmed, its Agent Carter is the antithesis. Not only do I love a female hero in a lead role independent of Captain America to carry her, and with no super powers to speak of other than physical strength, brains, and wit, but the stories are action packed and suspenseful. I suggest going to ABC.com to watch 10 must see moments from the season finale, and then hope it gets renewed.
This show is currently floating in the limbo between cancellation and renewal, the decision being made in May. To lose this show would be a travesty, and I urge you to watch the first 13 episodes online, and if you like it, to show your support using #saveconstantine. The possibility of cancellation stems more from a poor timeslot on Friday nights when its main demographic is out of the house, and less from lack of interest in the show which already has a devoted cult following including over 2 million followers on Facebook. Constantine is based on a DC comic about a smoking, drinking “antihero” exorcist trying to save his own soul from a haunting mistake in his past, and it’s one of the coolest, creepiest shows I’ve seen on T.V. since The X-Files. It’s smart, sexy, story-driven, character-driven, dark, engaging and most importantly, different from anything else on T.V. right now. If these writers are given a chance to hit their stride, this show could be big. As part of the enthusiastic fan response to save the show, they’ve been writing professional messages to NBC and signing petitions. If you do watch the show, and like it, you can join the movement here: Remember, a vote for Constantine is a vote for less reality and more stories.