We live in the golden era of independent TV serial shows that tell far-arc tales. (Not network television, which contains a desert of reality shows and stale sitcoms.) Hollywood movies are mostly save-the-cat predictable," explosion-heavy, teenage vampire-oriented or cartoon-based, and sequels on sequels. Occasionally (5/year?) interrupted by good movies.
The smart audience has wandered off to long-story season-long shows, usually produced by "indie" or "alternative" outlets, such as PBS, ITV, HBO, AMC, etc. Here are some of the best.
Absolutely Unassailably Great
- Band of Brothers (HBO 2001. Serious Violence Warning). Avoid followup "The Pacific"
- Battlestar Galactica Remake (BSkyB, Eick+, 2004-, but omit the last season). Intro
- Downton Abbey (ITV 2010; First season = great. Second season = mediocre. Beyond = yuck.soap.)
- Foyle's War (ITV 2002-): Bleak Midwinter = OK. Casualties of War = OK. Invasion = Good. Bad Blood = Good. French Drop = Very Good. Enemy Fire = Good.
- Game of Thrones (HBO 2011-): First season = Great. Second season = good. Third season = so-so. Then I stopped.
- North and South (2004).
- The Forsyte Saga (ITV 2002-)
- The Wire (HBO, 2002-). Simply the best of the best, ever. No show will ever beat this.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979, Alec Guiness). [The (2011) shorter movie is also good.] Smiley's People.
- Narcos (HBO 2015), Season 1
- Making a Murderer (2015) — even if Steven Avery is actually guilty, his nephew almost surely is not. Not as accurate and more polemic than Sarah Koenig's Serial.
Very Good to Great
- Black Mirror -- think modern Twilight Zone.
- Generation Kill (HBO)
- Generation War (only #1 and #2 of the 3 two-hour shows)
- House of Cards (both 1990 UK show and first season of US show)
- Rome (XXX rated).
- Sons of Anarchy (only first three seasons)
- Spiral (Engrenages, French show)
- The Sopranos
- The Assets (about Aldritch Ames), because of its authenticity.
- Vikings, because of its generic (not specific) authenticity of the Middle Ages. Incidentally, the Vikings were run-and-hit ambush predators, not the feared invincible types. The Last Kingdom is ok, too. I am fascinated by history and Viking Sagas...
- Black Mirror
- Peaky Blinders. Took a while to grow on me, though.
Maybe the Man in the High Castle (Amazon), but more for cinematography and atmosphere than sensible story.
Some episodes of Homicide, Law and Order, ST:TNG and other ST serials (and of Babylon 5) have held up and are quite good; but overall, these older series just can't compare to how good the newer series have become.
Sitcoms: Curb your enthusiasm, old Cheers (Jumping Jerks), and some other episodes of old shows (Driving Exam) are ok. But the gags have been recycled so often that it is difficult to enjoy many of them.
Some people like "Breaking Bad." Too unbelievable for me.