What do you think makes the best TV series? Good acting, a great storyline, lots of twists in the plot?
The television has undoubtedly provided information to the uninformed. It has allowed families to bond over massive world events like the moon landing and made entertainment available in the comfort of our living rooms. So when you think about the best TV series, do you automatically associate them with good literature, or has TV dumbed down our society?
Many people blame TV for giving young people an easy alternative to reading. Whereas literature made us think and encouraged discovery, TV, on the other hand, fed us lowest common denominator junk. Some think this is to purposely keep us from independent thinking.
For a long time, these complaints were justified. Even actors saw TV as a poor excuse for art, with profound stage and theatre performances being the be-all and end-all. However, today television series are pushing the boundaries more than ever before. Writers and directors have more control over the format. Now some of the best actors in the world are choosing it as their ideal medium.
There are series that actually compete with some of the best classic literature. Here are six of the best TV series that not only tell profound stories but leave you with a lot to think about.
1. Big Little Lies
This series not only has two of its leading ladies listed as executive producers but focuses on the lives of women in a tranquil seaside town. The story revolves around a murder, but we do not know who has been killed or who the murderer is.
We then get a personal look into the lives of those surrounding the murder. From the sophisticated ex-lawyer Celeste, who seemingly has a perfect life, to the alpha-female of the group, Madeline. The new girl in town Jane has problems with her son Ziggy supposedly bullying another kid. We start to wonder why she came to the town in the first place.
There are many identifiable characters with Big Little Lies. There’s the popular girl from High School, the outsider, the cold, brittle upper-class older woman, and of course, the battered wife. The show was such a success because the murder was a backdrop to these women’s lives and how they all connected in the end. This is one of those kinds of TV series that appeals to both women and men.
Sundance TV’s most successful drama to date, and one of my personal best TV series of all time. Rectify spanned four seasons before the story came to an end. It focuses on Daniel Holden, a man who has been on death row for twenty years for raping and murdering his girlfriend at the age of eighteen. At the start of the series, he is released after DNA evidence proves other men committed the rape.
The show follows Daniel as he tries to adapt to a life that has left him behind. His relationships have been torn to pieces. In the meantime, his family is broken and a town still believes he’s guilty. He isn’t entirely sure he is innocent, either.
Rectify is one of the best character studies I have seen carried out in any form of media – TV, movies or even books. It is well worth the watch – nothing is gratuitous and you’ll want to add it to your Goodreads bookshelves afterwards.
3. Bojack Horseman
If you’ve ever asked the question, “Could an animated comedy about a talking horse be more spot on about mental illness than most great writers?” Bojack Horseman is for you. The premise might sound ridiculous. A horse who used to star in a ‘90s sitcom is now a washed up old actor. Trying to drift through life on what remains of his fame while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
But Bojack is a sympathetic character. Especially for those of us who have experienced depression and searched for meaning anywhere, we could find it. It is heartbreaking to watch him destroy relationships and self-sabotage, but the humour lets you laugh at life’s absurdity. And in many ways, the series is actually quite uplifting.
The first season takes a few episodes to get going, but once it does, you’ll never regret bringing this horseman into your life.
4. Tabula Rasa
This has to be the best TV series I have seen for about 20 years. Described as a ‘Scandi-Noir’ drama, Tabula Rasa is spread over 9 episodes and subtitled, but don’t let that put you off. If you like trying to guess the twists in a plot I promise you, you won’t see any coming.
This is a missing person drama. The main character, Mie, is currently locked up in a psychiatric hospital suffering from amnesia. She is suspected of being connected to the disappearance of a man called Thomas Spectre. She was the last person to see him alive. Police are called in to question her.
We learn that Mie was in a car accident which accounts for her memory loss. She is keeping a book to write and draw in as her memory comes back. But will she want to learn the truth, as it becomes apparent that her family have been keeping secrets from her? And how is Thomas Spectre connected to her?
If you’ve been anywhere near the internet recently, you’ll have seen Donald Glover’s (AKA Childish Gambino) ‘This Is America‘ music video. The production has layers upon layers, portraying subtle critiques on American society. It particularly explores matters of race, gun control, and pop culture.
Donald Glover’s TV series, Atlanta, currently in its sophomore season, examines many of these themes and more. More than most other artists, Glover pushes convention out of the window. There are bubble episodes, surreal nightmares, and plain old relationship dramas. They all ask questions that we all need to ask ourselves. It’s a show about rappers in Atlanta, but that’s really only the top layer – and there are many more.
It is available on BBC iPlayer if you use the medium. Read more about how to access it with a VPN if you are interested.
Finally, for those of us old enough to remember the original film, where Yul Brynner goes bonkers with a gun, this series is so much more. The music, the staging, the characters and the plot twists will hook you in and keep you captivated. Westworld starts off as a drama about a park with life-like robotic hosts, engineered to serve human interests. Then it whips you around at so many 360 degrees you can’t keep pace.
We learn that old friends we trusted in are, in fact, robots and that the story we were following is not chronologically laid out, as we thought. Characters we thought we knew have aged in seconds and, in doing so, have become as mindless as the hosts.
Do you have any recommendations for insightful TV series? What are the best TV series according to your opinion? Please let us know, we’d love to hear from you!