The good shows that could have been great

WARNING! There may be a spoiler or two for some of the shows laying around.

It happens at times that I start watching a new television show and my first impression is that it sure looks great. Then, having watched a few more episodes, or seasons, or the whole damn thing, I get a feeling that something is wrong. Not that the show in question was bad, although that also happens, but that it simply wasn’t good enough.

I mean here that the quality of the show was such that I did enjoy it and thought it had potential but that it didn’t live up to that potential. I trust you know what I’m talking about here, the show had an interesting story or interesting theme and the actors were good, but a few faults in the script brought the whole thing down. Although I do not claim that I could have written a better script, all the shows that I’m now going to list have in common the simple fact that I have a rough opinion of exactly what went wrong.

Keep in mind here that this is by no means a list of bad television shows, it is a list of good shows that could have been even better.

Battlestar Galactica (2003 edition) – Let’s start with the really disheartening case. I like to see myself as a sci-fi enthusiast, but as things have turned out I have often drifted more towards reading, watching and writing fantasy instead, since I have more often found fantasy that appeals to me than science fiction. Therefore I was of course happy when I came across the reimagined Battlestar Galactica a few years after it was first released. I liked the show at first, I liked it a lot, but then as I kept watching it things slowly went downhill one season at a time.

The problem with this show is to be honest the actual plot itself. The setting is fantastic, it looks nice and I like the idea of space travel. The background story of the last fifty thousand humans escaping on an armada into space after an AI rebellion is also very solid. And the characters are just great, I liked almost all of them, from Starbuck to Baltar to Romo Lampkin to the admiral. I would just have preferred seeing those characters in that setting but with different things happening, especially towards the end.

Some parts of the main plot were good, I liked the idea of the humans at some point being recaptured and occupied by the cylons and then resisting covertly before escaping, so that stuff they had going at New Caprica worked for me. But after that things quickly got weird and spiritual, and not in a good way. I didn’t like the whole thing about the prophecies and searching for Earth and Starbuck coming back from the dead, I would have preferred a more mundane plot.

I also didn’t like the way that people were revealed to be cylons at arbitrary moments, it had a deus ex machina and pulling-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat feeling to it. But I enjoyed watching the show overall though, I just ignored the bigger picture and focused on the character interactions and the cool setting. Battlestar Galactica was at the end of the day a very good show, but with those characters, that setting and say 60% of the story they had the potential to make something that was not just good but great.

Breaking Bad – This one might be meet some opposition, the show sure got a lot of positive attention towards the end. Overall the story is great, the characters are interesting and very well acted, and I like the fact that the main plot is sort of down to earth, it doesn’t involve geopolitics or nation-altering stuff, it just focuses on a bunch of people in New Mexico and their rather local shenanigans.

The problem I have with Breaking Bad is sort of opposite to what I disliked in Battlestar Galactica. BSG had great characters and a great setting but the main plot, as it developed from start to end, was a bit meh. In Breakign Bad the long story, or whatever you want to call it, was great, but unfortunately riddled with individual episode that kinda sucked.

Two good examples of what I mean is first the episode where Walter has to solicit money from some former colleagues and then the one where he spends half the episode chasing a fly in his laboratory. These episodes are just boring, and unfortunately they are not alone. I kept wanting to see how the main plot unfolded while watching Breaking Bad, but certain specific episodes, that although they were relatively few were really bad, made me want to skip ahead, and that is not a good thing.

The Vampire Diaries – I loved the first season and a half of The Vampire Diaries. I stopped liking it, I realized in hindsight, just after Kathrine was captured by the Salvatores in season two and Claus was introduced.

Up until that disastrous turn the show had so much good going for it. The first season with the vampires locked in the tomb was good, the way they portrayed Caroline being turned into a vampire was good, the romantic aspect of the show had not yet degenerated into the usual triangle drama which mean that Damon was still an interesting character, and I even liked how they introduced the werewolfs.

Why then did we eventually have to deal with some straight up Twilight bullshit in this show? Damon made a really interesting villain in the first season, and when Kathrine appeared he smoothly transferred into an interesting supporting character but then we drowned in cliches.

The show was so damn good for a season and a half, and I wish they hadn’t messed it up.

Doctor Who (9th doctor and onwards) Now it gets controversial. This show has a really dedicated fanbase, the Whovians swarm the internet in greater numbers than I want to think about, and lest they all get upset let me present this very clearly.

The first episode of Doctor Who I watched was ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. This may be the best stand-alone episode in the entire show, which to be honest sets the bar rather high, perhaps unreasonably high. But what an episode! It contained what may perhaps be the best piece of dialog in the show (and I’m paraphrasing):

-”Everyone has nightmares, even monsters have nightmares.”

-”Really? What do monsters have nightmares about?”

-”Me.”

After this I watched a bunch of mediocre episodes and some really bad ones before once again watching some that I really liked. Consider for example such episodes as the pairs “The Empty Child-The Doctor Dances” and “The Impossible planet-The Satan Pit”. Or for that matter the stand-alone episode “Blink”. Those episodes prove that this show can be fantastic when it wants to, or at least it could in the David Tennat and Christopher Eccelston days.

Unfortunately, however, plenty of episodes of Doctor Who are what I would call goofy, or simply less serious than the ones I mentioned above. This is perhaps a matter of taste, but every time I watch an episode of the doctor that I don’t like I think with some sadness about Blink or The Girl in the Fireplace and ask myself why they couldn’t make them all that good.

The top 10 ones who really were great

Maybe you feel like I have been too negative here, just bitching about things that should have been done better. So let me therefore, for the sake of completeness, list my ten favorite television shows as well, shows that I would say, although they have their faults, truly are great.

The ordering is completely random, I suggest you ignore it.

1. Firefly – Why fox, why? WHY!!??? This sci-fi classic only ever got one season while all kinds of other crap gets to go on year after year.

2. The Wire – Cops vs gangsters, it sounds simple but it isn’t, this is in some way like Game of Thrones without swords and dragons.

3. House of Cards – This Netflix original will probably not appeal to those with no interest in US politics as it primarily follows the plots and schemes of a congressman. This particular congressman, Frank Underwood, can honestly be described as fucking scum, but the show manages to present his doings in an interesting and very believable way.

4. Deadwood – Who would have guessed that there would be good western-themed television of the cowboys and indians type being made after the turn of the millenium?

5. The Newsroom – Like House of Cards, this show too will primarily appeal to those who have some knowledge of US politics and media. The Newsroom hasn’t been as widely praised as I would expect, but I like this show a lot, it has some of the most enjoyable characters on television lately.

6. True Detective – For those who like dark mysteries, with an emphasis on dark.

7. Sons of Anarchy – A mixture of motorcycle gangs and one of Shakespear’s most famous works.

8. Rome – Perhaps my favorite show from HBO, but it may be because I am a history buff.

9. Game of Thrones – This one needs no introduction.

10. The Shield  One of the best police shows ever made, although it can be very rough at times.

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