3. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2003-2009)
You remember the show, right? Lorne Greene in a shiny cape leading a band of well-coiffed thirtysomethings as they flee from extras in shiny suits? Glen A. Larson’s original ’70s Battlestar Galactica: not the worst by-product of the Star Wars juggernaut, but close. So one could view the unmitigated brilliance that is the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series two ways: (1) They had no place to go but up or (2) it’s amazing they did so much with so little. The core of the Galactica plot — the last human survivors of a catastrophic genocide are on the run from their attackers, the Cylons — carried a new resonance in the wake of 9/11. And in keeping with science fiction’s grandest tradition, BSG tapped into the power of allegory to enrich its outer-space dogfights and military pomp with the gravity of issues like abortion, terrorism, stem-cell research, racism, even the war in Iraq. —Marc Bernardin
4. THE X-FILES (1993-2002)
Once upon a time, the FBI sent no-nonsense special agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to debunk the crackpot theories of special agent Fox ”Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny). What they got instead was a conspiracy-fighting team so powerful it threatened to bring down the shady men who’d infiltrated the highest levels of government with their dreams of alien/human hybrid technology. What did we get? One hell of a TV show — even if we never quite got the truth. For the first time since The Twilight Zone, viewers could ponder the mysteries of the universe and get scared silly. From inbred mutants to satanic cults, Mulder and Scully’s darting flashlights lit up some seriously freaky darkness.
Abrams’ Alias starred Jennifer Garner as graduate student-turned-CIA super agent Sydney Bristow, who embarked on world-saving missions while tracking down artifacts tied to the mysterious 15th-century artist-engineer-architect-prophet Milo Rambaldi. Also, she wore glam outfits.
The West Wing (1999-2006, though Sorkin left after the 2002-2003 season)
In its first four years on the air, The West Wing won four Best Drama Emmys, seven acting awards, two Humanitas prizes, two Peabody awards — and Sorkin wrote or co-wrote 85 of the 88 episodes.
Behold, a Thanksgiving miracle built on disappointment! Noel (Scott Foley) breaks up with long-distance girlfriend Hannah (Jennifer Garner), who’s headed off to art school. Meanwhile, all of Felicity’s friends realize that their own families are giant emotional voids, so they all end up back in the dorms to eat a hastily procured turkey with their new college family. Awww.
MY SO-CALLED LIFE
Number of Episodes: 19
The teens on this drama — Angela Chase (Claire Danes), Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) among them — were so painfully self-aware that we couldn’t look away for one minute. And it was that striking humanity and raw passion that made the show so relevant. In a world obsessed with Gossip Girls and 90210s, it’s a shame that Life lasted only one season.
THE JUDD APATOW COLLECTION
Before his string of box office hits, Judd Apatow had a string of critically acclaimed but tragically low-rated TV comedies. From the pop culture parodies of The Ben Stiller Show (1992) to the maladjusted high schoolers of Freaks and Geeks (Above, 1999-2000) and the maladjusted college freshmen of Undeclared (2001-02), the comedy king perfected his hilariously (and sometimes painfully) realistic portrayal of misfit-and-geekdom with cult TV hits before striking gold on the silver screen.
Read the reviews:
The Ben Stiller Show