Tag Archives: 16 great shows

16 great shows: lost (2004)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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Lost was one of the first serialized mainstream hits of the internet age. The internet had long been home for television forums filled with theories, debates, mutual admiration societies. But Lost was one of the most popular shows of its time to spur this amount of web traffic.

I saw an interview once, perhaps in the series retrospective that aired before the series finale, where the person being interviewed said something along the lines of “It was something so unexpectedly special and it will never happen again.”

And that’s true. Lost brought mainstream viewers unwittingly into high concept science fiction television. In the process, the show became one of the most diverse shows then and even now. It was a show that was just as much about the characters as it was about the concept. It was complicated and nuanced and it changed the television landscape forever.

No matter how you feel about the finale, the series as a whole was a spectacular showcase of what television can do. It opened so many doors while still remaining grounded in its most important element: its characters.

There’s really no way I can go into the specifics of this show because there would be no end. If you’ve watched the show, you probably know everything I could tell you about how seminal this show was.

If you haven’t watched the show, please drop everything and go watch it now. Binge that ish Portlandia style.

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16 great shows: the o.c. (2003)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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“Do you ever feel like something just burrows inside you and becomes a part of your very soul?”

This is something I actually said to my roommate about five years ago as the opening credits of The O.C. played on my nth rewatch of the series. (Approximate and paraphrased, of course. Though I do remember gesticulated with my hands as if the music was actually burrowing inside of me as it played.)

I may have been the slightest bit hyperbolic in that moment, but the core of my statement remains true. There’s something about this show that awakens nostalgia within me. And here’s the thing–I have virtually nothing in common with any of these characters.

Unlike Dawson’s Creek or My So-Called Life, this show was not the epitome of the normal teenage experience. And I don’t think it was trying to be.

It was a glamorization of the normal teenage experience. It was a soap opera wrapped up in glitz and glamor and a mix tape of Alexi Murdoch, Jem, and Phantom Planet. It was nostalgia in its most common form–idealized nostalgia.

We don’t want to remember high school as it was, we want to remember high school as we wished it had been.

And yeah, most of us related to Seth Cohen to an unhealthy degree, but by and large the show was not relatable. It wasn’t even all that realistic. And it wasn’t supposed to be.

It was fun. It was comforting. It had a great soundtrack.

Like, a fucking great soundtrack.

And that is probably what has affected me the most in my writing. In my most recent pilot, I just went ahead and put the music in to the script. I knew what songs I wanted and I knew they’d help me convey tone, so I did it.

The O.C. was a major stepping stone to where we are now with shows like The Leftovers and The Good Wife and The Handmaid’s Tale that use music, particularly popular music, to tell their story in the most evocative way possible.

Sure, The O.C. will always hold a special place in my heart for Sandy Cohen and Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts and Ryan Atwood and Taylor Townsend and on and on and on.

For its wit and its optimism and its youth.

For its ability to stay with me for nearly 15 years and counting.

But the music and how it complemented the show will always be the thing that sticks with me the most.

If you’re still reading this, let’s make this interactive. What are some of your favorite musical moments in any television show or movie? What stood out to you about it?

I’ll share one, something simple.

I’ve been watching Playing House (highly recommend) and their opening credits song is “Back Before We Were Brittle” by Say Hi. I was stoked to hear it because I’ve been a Say Hit fan since they were Say Hi To Your Mom.

Speaking of, it’s a perfect song to evoke nostalgia. Mixed with the home video style of the opening credit visuals, it’s absolutely perfect and invites you in to be best friends with Maggie and Emma. Which is really the charm of the show and the reason everyone should watch.

So in summation, The O.C. has great music, Playing House is charming, and what are your favorite musical moments?

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16 great shows: gilmore girls (2000)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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Oh, Gilmore Girls. Where to begin?

This is my desert island show.

This is my rainy day show.

And my sick day show.

And my just because show.

I remember seeing trailers for Gilmore Girls and counting down the days for the first episode to air.

I’m an original Gilmore girl and damn proud of it.

I never missed an episode, never stopped watching.

There are really no words.

But I’ll try.

Gilmore Girls is a show that feels like a big bear hug but at the same time can disarm you in a second.

Amy Sherman-Palladino took my love of everything pop culture to insane heights and I’m certain I got my wit from growing up on this show.

This show introduced me to the gloriousness that is Lauren Graham.

I will never not watch this show.

I will never not want to live in this strange little world ASP created.

I will never not think of Stars Hallow whenever I see the WB backlot.

Of course I loved the mother-daughter relationship. I have an Emily Gilmore mother and I loved seeing someone else go through what I go through. How it’s always one step forward, ten steps backward. But I loved seeing Lorelai and Rory together. It was such a special relationship and one that is so unique to this show.

But mostly I loved the characters. They became like family to me. Sookie with her consummate cheerfulness, Lane and her obsession with music, Jackson and his obsession with produce, even Emily and Richard with their #RelationshipGoals and their small moments of willingness to open themselves up to Lorelai and Rory’s world.

And of course Luke.

Love me some Luke. With his steadfastness and pet peeves (most of which match mine) and his low key living. Despite his lack of communication skills, he’s a damn good man and no matter how fictional is, it’s so good to see a good man in this world.

These characters will stick with me throughout my life.

Every time my mother asks about my love life I’ll think of Emily’s classic zinger, “At least she had a husband to kill.”

Any time I’m just plain fed up with something I’ll exclaim, “Oy, with the poodles already!”

If I’m trying to get someone to hurry up I’ll yell “Copper boom!”, effectively perplexing them.

And whenever I get frustrated with my parents I’ll think of how much more baggage Lorelai and her parents had between them and I’ll remember that moment in the final episode when Richard says, “I think this party’s a testament to you, Lorelai, and the home you’ve created here.”

And as fictional as this show is, it had so much Truth in it. It was so honest and genuine. I will forever be grateful for that.

As a writer, I can only hope to one day create a world that is like home to its viewers. A show that can still get people excited to see new episodes 10 years after it last aired. A show that has such a unique tone and warmth to it that people will come back to it again and again and again.

Let’s face it, I’m a Gilmore girl through and through.

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16 great shows: dawson’s creek (1998)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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It’s difficult to place when and where I first saw Dawson’s Creek. I know it was sometime in the third season, sometime around the time Joey and Pacey first get together. Cinderella Story, perhaps. I don’t know why I started watching or whether it was a re-run or during its original airing. I do know I eventually did watch it live, so it couldn’t have been too far into the original run.

Anyway, the point is it feels as if Dawson’s Creek has always been a part of my life, even as someone who was a bit of a latecomer to the series.

Despite their voracious vocabulary, the teens on Dawson’s Creek seemed perfectly normal. They dressed like me, they spent their time worrying about the same things as me. They weren’t overly made up or overly sexed (despite what Mr. Stratford thought in 10 Things I Hate About You).

I spent so much time with Joey, Pacey, Jen, and Dawson growing up that I feel as though they’re old friends. And any time I put an episode on, I feel at home.

Dawson’s Creek certainly wasn’t a perfect show. It was great, even a revolution, for its time. But it’s slower paced and it doesn’t have a twist. It’s a pure teen show meant to mirror the lives of actual teenagers. It was a rarity for that to survive back then and I honestly can’t think of a successful show on a major network that could compare since.

Gossip Girl was about “Manhattan’s elite”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had monsters. Even 13 Reasons Why had a specific framing that set it apart from the rest.

Dawson’s Creek was just a show about teens. And that’s all it needed to be.

Dawson, the presumed “good guy” that was so used to being thought of as good he found it difficult to notice when he wasn’t living up to his reputation.

Joey, the small town girl that never presumed to have big dreams, but found herself with them anyway.

Pacey, the consummate screw up who mostly filled the vacuum left by his siblings and Dawson. But when given the chance he could really impress you.

Jen, the mysterious new girl, the “Manhattan elite” who wanted a fresh start and constantly found herself going back to old habits.

I grew up with these characters. I learned a lot of five dollar words from them. Mostly I learned what not to do.

Most importantly, I learned empathy.

A couple of years ago my sister and I were having lunch together and she asked me a question that was surprisingly revealing.

You see, we grew up in a conservative Christian household. My sister was always the rebel (smoking, drinking, breaking curfew, that sort of thing.)

I was quieter about it. I didn’t break the rules because I didn’t really want to. I didn’t see any allure to smoking or drinking underage. And I certainly didn’t see the allure of rebelling just for the sake of rebelling.

But now as adults, my sister is an open-minded person who just doesn’t really care what other people do as long as it doesn’t affect her. I went slightly further than that.

So my sister’s question to me? How did I go from a conservative Christian household to being someone who cares about social justice for not just myself, but others? (I’m paraphrasing here–it was two years ago.)

I thought about it for a moment. It was something I’d never really thought about. She clarified. She doesn’t care if gay people want to get married, she’s just not going to do anything to help them get the right to do so. But I will. I’ll vote, I’ll tweet, I’ll march, I’ll try to persuade people. I’m not gay, but I still want gay people to have that right. My sister didn’t understand being outside of myself and my own interests to that extent.

So my answer eventually boiled down to Jack McPhee.

Yep. Jack McPhee. A fictional character. One I never really thought too much about during the initial run of Dawson’s Creek. But he was the first continuous, grounded, sympathetic gay character I had been exposed to on television. Sure, Ricky fell into that category to some extent, but his story wasn’t really featured.

Jack McPhee had the first on-screen same sex kiss on network television. Jack McPhee came out to his father. Jack McPhee cried on his kitchen floor when his father couldn’t accept him.

Jack McPhee wasn’t especially flamboyant, which I think was also a revelation for that time. This is when we first started seeing nuanced gay characters on screen. I’m not going to presume that Jack was the first (I don’t have that kind of time to do the research), but he was certainly a forerunner.

As much as I love Dawson’s Creek and its stories and characters, that’s not why the show made it on this list.

Dawson’s Creek is on this list because Jack McPhee is why I want to watch television. I want to be able to reach that kid living in a small town bubble and show them that there’s more to the world than the few square miles that surrounds them.

I want to teach people empathy and the best path to empathy is to be exposed to the emotional lives of people different from you and the people around you.

That’s what’s so important about this show and that’s why it’s on this list.

That, and #TeamPacey all the way.

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16 great shows: buffy the vampire slayer (1997)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2000, during its fourth season, widely regarded as one of its worst. But it still hooked me. I spent the summer catching up on episodes and started fresh with Season Five, which in my mind is one of the best seasons.

Since then, Buffy has been the epitome of good television to me. 17 years later, I’m still finding new things to love about this show. I’m still picking up on references I didn’t get the first 42 times I watched it.

Anyone who knows me knows I regard Buffy as the foremother of today’s peak TV. Without Buffy, would we have the complex female characters we have today? Probably, but would they be as nuanced? Would it have taken a little longer to get here? I think so.

And it’s not just about Buffy as a character. As a show, it paved the way for complex storylines and mixing of genres. That’s not to say no other show had complex female characters, complex storylines, genre mixing, but Buffy did it so beautifully and so consistently well. And against all odds, it survived seven seasons. In a time where shows weren’t allowed to be risky. In a time when Firefly was canceled. In a time when any science fiction or supernatural or fantasy show was immediately deemed as “weird” and “nerdy”. This was pre-Lost, pre-Game of Thrones, pre-Harry Potter. Somehow it survived and became a part of the zeitgeist.

The way Joss Whedon blended humor, action, and fantasy is something that had never been done on such a large scale and so successfully. Not to mention his use of allegory. High school as both a figurative and literal Hellmouth. Bigotry and racism through the lens of demons and monsters. Addiction to magic is addiction to drugs.

Along those same lines, I’ve always been fascinated with the character development in Buffy. In particular, the character of Spike. Spike is a character that has never been fully evil. He has his demons (both literally and figuratively), but so many of his actions are driven by either a fear of abandonment or a fear of inadequacy. His fear of abandonment also goes hand in hand with his own brand of love. He’s not as selfish as Angelus or Dru or Darla. He does evil things, but not always for evil reasons.

When he was human, he was a shell of a man. He had no confidence, he couldn’t stand up for himself, and he had no friends or real identity outside of his mother. Then he is transformed into a powerful monster and in that transformation, he begins to find himself. By the time the series ends, he’s become the man he’s always wanted to be.

In order to become a man, Spike had to become a monster.

And if that’s not engaging television, I don’t know what is.

Buffy herself is the most inspiring of all, though. She was one of our first lipstick feminists. I liken her to Cher Horowitz. She kicked ass, took names, and then went to go fix her lipstick. Buffy made it okay to be an independent woman and also care about how you look. She mastered the balance of encompassing elements of both traditional gender roles.

Again, she paved the way for modern day feminist heroes.

And this is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the most influential show in my life, and I believe one of the most influential shows in television history. It’s worth watching, even if some of it doesn’t hold up, if only to know where we came from and how we got here.

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16 great shows: my so-called life (1994)

(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)

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I first watched My So-Called Life in re-runs, but shortly after its first run. Probably 1997 or 1998. When I look back, I can track my love of TV and teen drama back to this show.

My So-Called Life is one of those shows that’s venerated to such a degree that you think it must be over-hyped. It can’t possibly be everything everyone says it is, everything you remember.

In some ways, that’s true. In others, it’s not. 23 years later, much of My So-Called Life doesn’t hold up. Its slow pacing, its dull coloring. Angela’s so-called problems mean little in terms of modern day issues that teens face. The time Angela spends contemplating a simple kiss is nothing compared to how many teen characters have already had sex by the time their teen show starts.

In Episode 103, Angela wishes for a major world event for which she can remember exactly where she was when it happened, much like the Assassination of JFK was for her parents. In seven years, she’ll get her wish on 9/11.

This is the same episode in which there is a school shooting–of a soda can. School shootings were so new, so few and far between in 1994 that I’m sure this was one of the first shows to discuss guns in schools. The final scene in which Angela, Rayanne, and Ricky stand in shock at seeing the metal detectors at the entrance of their school is something that is so commonplace, at the very least in media, that it just doesn’t hold up.

But that’s not why I loved the show. Its edginess at the time wasn’t what stuck with me.

In rewatching the first few episodes of My So-Called Life this week, it struck me how genuine and relatable it still is. And that’s why it’s still seen by many as one of the best teen shows in television history.

It’s why the show is on my list. This was my first teen show and it may be the best.

The way I could feel what Angela felt when Jordan Catalano saw her getting into that police car and called out her name from across the parking lot. It doesn’t matter that as an adult I can now recognize how terrible a choice Jordan Catalano is. In that moment, I wanted Jordan Catalano to call out my name from across a parking lot. I wanted to know that Jordan Catalano knows my name and cares enough to utter it.

What holds up is Angela’s inner dialogue. Because so much of it captures what it is to be a teen in any decade.

For those of us who do remember 9/11, her wish may seem callous. But it’s understandable, and that’s the charm of this show. As a teen, we want important things to happen to us. We want to feel like we’re a part of something. And Angela gets to the core of this over and over again.

If we’re being honest, the show captures what it is to be a person in any decade. Because I still want to be a part of something bigger.

Because I still get those butterflies. When I’m in close quarters with a cute boy, I’m hyper aware of my elbow and how it’s so casually grazing against his sleeve. My elbow is suddenly a separate part of myself in an out of body sort of way. A part of myself that is touching a part of him, however tangential.

And that’s how Angela Chase made me feel. Like we were a part of the same world. All the things I worried about, she worried about too. I wasn’t the only one. Someone out there understood. Looking back as an adult, it’s even bigger than that, but there was a real person, a writer, and other writers, that made this show that knew too. They knew what it was like to be a teenager. They knew what it was like to be a teenage girl. And it wasn’t so different from how I felt at that time.

And let’s not get started on how they integrated music into the series. In my experience, Queer as Folk (2000) is regarded as one of the first shows to introduce popular music into their soundtrack. But as we know, My So-Called Life did this just as well, if not to the same extent, six years prior. Everybody HurtsBlister in the Sun, I Wanna Be Sedated, all popular songs that supported the narrative. This, of course, is a precursor to The O.C. which took this technique to the next level (more about that later).

I can’t forget to talk a bit about Ricky. This was one of the ways the show was edgy that nowadays doesn’t seem as big a deal when watching the show. But early on, in the second or third episode, Angela just comes out and says it, “He’s bisexual.” I forget exactly how this plays out and whether he ever shows an interest in girls or whether this was an assumption on Angela’s part or a ret con on the show’s part, but he’s usually considered to be gay in the larger pop culture landscape.

Regardless, he was the first confirmed LGBTQ character on network television and that had a huge impact on the trajectory of my life and my capacity for empathy. More on that a few posts from now when we talk about the LGBTQ character that had the most influence on my life.

In retrospect, My So-Called Life set me up for a lifelong (so far) love of teen dramas, among other things. There will be plenty other teen dramas on this list, but this was the first and therefore holds a special place in my narrative.

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