I've watched at least some portion of all of the shows posted in this list. Some of them are cheesy and light; others are high-quality television. All of them, however, are enjoyable in my opinion and come with my recommendation.
Before I get to the actual list, I'd like to quickly explain a couple of things about it.
First of all, Netflix Streaming recommendations have red text next to them, Hulu recommendations have green, and theWB recommendations have blue. Secondly I've put parentheses next to each suggestion with the available seasons and the total number of seasons. For example, if it says (2/5), that means that season 2 is available and that there are five total seasons. That does not mean that the first two seasons are available. Lastly, the second set of parentheses is either (sc) for series complete or (ca) for currently airing.
Now, without further ado, here's my list:
These were a little hard to categorize, but they all deal with a world similar to our own but where something out of the ordinary exists.
- Lost (1-6/6) (sc) Lost is a show about a group of plane crash survivors who arrive on a mysterious island. It's a show that a lot of people hate and a lot of people love. I fall into the second camp. The characters are interesting, the mysteries are intriguing, and the plot twists are exciting. I'll admit the last season was slightly lackluster and the mysteries aren't all solved, but overall, it's a great show that's well-worth watching.
- Dollhouse (1-2/2) (sc) Dollhouse is a Joss Whedon show about a company that programs humans with different personalities, loans them out, and then erases those memories. One of these humans ("dolls"), Echo, starts to retain memory of the various personalities she's been given. Dollhouse poses some really interesting questions about identity and is fascinating to watch. I don't think it ever lived up to its full potential (I wish it had been quicker to move beyond the "case of the week" format into the overarching story), but it's still a really good show with moments of greatness.
- Heroes season one (1-4/4) (sc) Heroes is a show about ordinary people who deal with having superpowers, or at least, the first season was. It got somewhat convoluted as the story went along, and although I watched the first three seasons, I can only wholeheartedly recommend the first. There's something really fun about watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary circumstances, and the first season of Heroes deals with this masterfully. There's a lot of characters, but it manages them well. The main villain, Syler, is scary and mysterious (sadly, he loses both of these qualities in later seasons), and the "heroes" are fun to root for.
I'm an absolute sucker for teen dramas. If you are too (and honestly for the first two, even if you're not), watch my following recommendations.
- Friday Night Lights (1-5/5) (sc) Friday Night Lights is about Dillon, a small town in Texas where high school football and family play a central role in many of the residents' lives. After my last sentence this is going to sound kind of funny, but you really don't have to be a huge sports fan to enjoy this show. While I can enjoy watching a football game from time to time, I'm not a supremely sporty person, but I adored Friday Night Lights. It's really easy to get invested in Friday Night Lights' characters, and, as a viewer, you begin to feel like a resident of Dillon. Outside of season two (which contained some ridiculous plots), there's really a realistic feel to show. It's definitely one of the highest quality teen dramas I've seen.
- Veronica Mars (1-2/3) (sc) Veronica Mars is about a outcast teenage girl (Veronica) who investigates mysteries, including the death of her best friend. It may sound like a cheesy Nancy Drew knock-off, but it's absolutely fantastic. In fact, it was the first show I can remember marathoning, and it very well may be my favorite show on this list. Veronica is a witty, likable heroine but has enough flaws that she's far from being a Mary Sue. Each episode typically contains a self-contained mystery, but there's also overarching mysteries each season. Do yourself a favor, and watch this show. I doubt you'll regret it.
- The O.C. (3/4) (sc) To be completely honest, The OC is a little out of place on a list with a Veronica Mars and Friday Night Lights. It's my guilty pleasure pick for this list. If you like teen dramas, definitely give it try, but if you don't, you should probably skip it. The show begins with Ryan, a kid who's taken in by the Cohen family (including dorky Seth) when he ends up without a place to live. It's got plenty of silly drama, but it's also really sweet at times. Adam Brody is pretty hilarious as Seth, and Benjamin McKenzie is so likable as Ryan that it's hard not to root for him. TheWB cycles through the seasons, so you may want to wait until the first (and best) season of the OC is available.
Coincidentally (although if you refer to my description for teen dramas, not all that coincidentally), three of the following shows can also, for at least some of their seasons, be classified as teen dramas. If you aren't a fan of the follow shows, you might side-eye me for these choices. You might, however, be surprised at how entertaining they are if you give them a shot.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1-7/7) (sc) This marks my second Joss Whedon show on this list. Buffy is hard to sum up into a short synopsis because it sounds like kind of a dumb idea for show. A young girl, chosen as the slayer, fights vampires and other monsters with the help of her librarian and friends. She also falls in love with a vampire. You probably just did some of that side-eyeing that I mentioned above. Maybe you drew some kind of Twilight comparison, but Buffy really is a show that's better than it sounds. It's surprisingly relatable for a show about monsters. In fact, a lot of the monsters, particularly those in the earlier seasons, are metaphors for real-life issues. The first season is super-campy (and while still enjoyable, probably my least favorite), but the show turns it down and gets infinitely better after that. It's typically divided into two segments: the first three seasons are the lighter, campier high school years, and the last four a somewhat more serious and span college and beyond. One thing that always impressed me about Buffy is its characterizations. Most of the main characters are well developed, and for better or for worse, they do evolve throughout the seasons. While it may not be the show for you if you aren't into the whole vampire thing, do trust me that it's infinitely better than Twilight.
- Angel (1-5/5) (sc) If you weren't aware, Angel is actually a spin-off from Buffy (and thus is my third Joss Whedon pick). It centers around the aforementioned vampire that she falls in love with and his attempts to "help to helpless." It's a bit darker in tone than Buffy (although not overly so) and has some pretty tragic moments. It's also surprisingly good for a spin-off. I don't think it's quite as consistently good as Buffy, but when it's good, it's very good. Some people recommend watching it alongside Buffy (season one matches up with Buffy season four) because there are some crossover episodes. Outside of watching maybe one crossover while I was watching Buffy, I just watched it afterwards to save myself confusion.
- Roswell (1-3/3) (sc) Roswell opens with these lines: "September 23rd. Journal entry one. I'm Liz Parker, and five days ago, I died. After that, things got really weird..." The show is about a teenage girl who discovers three teenage aliens in the town of Roswell. This is kind of my O.C. pick of the supernatural category; it's the cheesiest out of the shows listed here. In fact, and don't let this turn you off, it's probably more like Twilight than Buffy is. That is if Edward were an alien, Twilight weren't terrible, and Twilight actually had any plot that didn't revolve completely around true love. I mean, Roswell had a scene where Liz and Max, Roswell's brooding leading man, are lab partners sharing a microscope (of course, Roswell came first). If you like late 90s/early 2000s teenage supernatural cheesiness, this is the show for you.
- The Vampire Diaries (1-2/3) (ca) The first few episodes of the Vampire Diaries are not very good. In fact, they were what I expected this show to be when I first saw the promos for it. I mean two of the main characters actually write in diaries with corresponding voice overs. Another transforms into a crow and fog. Ick, right? But then, around the fourth or fifth episode or so, something happens. The show actually starts to get good. Then, about half-way through the first season, it starts to get really good. The Vampire Diaries centers around Elena Gilbert who encounters newcomers to town (and also vampires) Stephan and Damon Salvator. Look, even at it's best, this is a CW teen-oriented show about vampires. It's not perfect. The acting and dialogue can be cheesy at times, there are some plot holes, and I'm not always pleased with every direction the show takes. That being said, it has about a million twists and turns, and it's extremely fun. Often, after the first commercial break, I'll feel like enough has happened to fill a whole episode. Similarly, the show progresses so quickly that episodes that could be season finales occur multiple times throughout a season. Plus, I have almost as much fun reading Price Peterson's semi-mocking but semi-admiring photo-recaps as I do actually watching the episodes.
I know, I know. It's kind of odd to classify Mad Men and Grey's Anatomy under the same category, but both do contain a lot of drama.
- Mad Men (1-4/4) (ca) Oh Mad Men. Since it was added to Netflix this summer, it seems that everyone and their mother has starting watching it, myself and my mom included. It's about an ad agency in the 1960s. The series' main character is Don Draper, a somewhat terrible guy who cheats on his wife. Then again, you can't completely root against him because he's got issues and is played by Jon Hamm. There's a reason why Mad Men has won so many Emmys; it's a really good show on several levels. First of all, it's visually stunning. Watching it, I get taken away to a world of beautiful dresses and glamorous locations. However, there's also not-so-glamorous aspects of the 60s that are touched on. Almost all of the characters are extremely flawed. Granted, I don't know a whole lot about the 60s, but I do known that there was plenty of racism and sexism. Mad Men doesn't romanticize that past so much that it forgets its flaws. It's an adult show in that it does touch on some heavy issues and dark sides of human nature, but it also shows that things like cheating rarely lead to happiness. It's also pretty thematically deep. I love reading Alan Sepinwall's recaps of the episodes because he manages to catch a lot of things that slide by me.
- Grey's Anatomy (1-7/8) (ca) I sat here for a minute thinking about what to say about Grey's Anatomy because I know it often gets made fun of. Well, the simple truth is, I enjoy watching it. Like many shows, the first few seasons are the best. And yes, there were some times where it struggled a bit (the interns' medical fight club, Izzie's romance with a ghost, the musical episode). However, I think it's improved a lot lately from that, and I've really enjoyed the current, eighth season. Anyway, it's about the doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital. One of those doctors, Meredith Grey typically opens each episode with a monologue (likely you've seen at least one of these quotes pop up on your Facebook news feed). Basically, everyone in the hospital gets together with someone else in the hospital (or many someone elses), and they take medical cases. It's sad at times, funny at times, gross at times, great at times, terrible at times and dramatic at all times. Grey's Anatomy even produced one of the most stressful and terrifying episodes of television I've ever seen when a shooter comes into the hospital in the two-part sixth season finale.
These shows are great if you're not wanting to dedicate yourself to a multitude of seasons. Each only ran for one season and contains 14 episodes or less.
- Harper's Island (1/1) (sc) If you judged me for Grey's Anatomy, you're really going to judge me for this one. The acting is worse, and the dialogue is cheesier. But I managed to zip through Harper's Island in a couple of days. It's not a high quality show, but it's a super-high fun show. It's also a super-high body count show. The show begins with a wedding party boarding a boat to travel to Harper's Island for the wedding. Once they get to the island, however, they realize (but only after a multitude of people go missing) that there's a killer in their midst. It's part whodunnit and part gory slasher. Plus, there's some attractive people in it. What more could you ask for? The show was only intended to last one season, so all is revealed by the end.
- Firefly (1/1 plus a movie) (sc) This is the fourth Joss-Whedon-created tv show I've put on here, but I promise it's the last (of course, he's only created four shows so far). You've probably heard of it or heard/seen it referenced if you've read a list of tv shows cancelled before their time, watch Castle, watch Community, watch The Big Bang Theory, or have simply spent much time on the internet. If you're unfamiliar with Firefly, it's classified as a sci-fi western. It follows a ragtag crew aboard a spaceship in the future (lead by Nathan Fillian's Mal Reynolds) who makes money through unscrupulous jobs. They run into River and Simon, a brother and sister who are on the run from a group called The Alliance. Honestly, it didn't sound like that great of a show to me, and the first two or three times I tried to watch the pilot, I gave up on it. However, its legion of fans and the fact that Joss Whedon created it convinced me to watch past the pilot, and I actually really enjoyed the show. There's a reason that it has such a cult following.
On that note, I'm going to end part one of my recommendations. Next time, I'll share my other 14 picks for the following categories: quirky, foreign, comedy, and reality.
Have you watched any of the shows I've listed above? Do you plan to watch any of them? Do you completely disagree with some of my picks? What are some of your favorite shows available online? Let me know in the comments.