Diamonds in the Rough

Diamonds in the Rough

My husband and I don’t watch a lot of TV. We gave up on it when most networks turned to reality TV and cheesy cop dramas (but that’s a whole other blog post). When we do fall in love with a TV show, its box sets inevitably adorn our shelves so we can re-watch them whenever we please. On a rainy day, on a chilly night, when you just don’t feel well, choose your favorite adventure, pop it in the DVD player and relax. The following are my go-tos for entertainment.

5. Sherlock
I never fell in love with Sherlock Holmes until I saw the recent movie staring Robert Downy Jr. Mysteries have never really been my thing. But the movie draws attention to the eccentricities of the character, revealing a depth I hadn’t realized he possessed. The movie so made me love Sherlock Holmes that I didn’t hesitate when friends raved about BBC’s Sherlock. I dove right in. I think I might love Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes even more. He embraces and caresses the eccentricities of the character. On top of that, the show seamlessly folds the classic character into a modern setting, using it to enhance the methods and actions of the characters. It’s intellectual, it’s playful, it thrills me beyond description.

It appears on the lowest slot on my list because, sadly, there are so few episodes. The re-watchability here is low compared to my other go-tos simply because there are only nine of them. And while I really love all nine of those episodes, you can only watch them so many times without taking a break. Luckily this show is still running. Hopefully by the end (and I hope it doesn’t end any time soon!) there’ll be a larger library of episodes to choose from.

4. Firefly
I didn’t have the privilege of discovering Firefly until it came out on DVD. By then they’d made a movie. My brother-in-law loved the show and purchased the DVD box set. He let us borrow it. To this day, every time we re-watch the series, my husband gets enraged that it was canceled. The DVDs include two bonus episodes that were shot but never aired. They also include some insightful commentary from Joss Whedon which highlights how amazing this series was and could have been. I think I can best illustrate how I love the show by saying I hope whoever at Fox made the decision to can it is still kicking themselves in the ass over it.

Firefly is the wild west in space. It takes place on the uncivilized frontier where starvation is as real a threat as bandits. Everyone in the show has their own agenda, from the settlers trying to scrape by, to the bandits running their little empires, to the Alliance who runs the civilized sections of space. And in the midst of it, a ragged band of everyday people, brought together by circumstance, struggle to go on surviving. Each character has a unique personality, as does each planet, ship and aspect of the universe’s culture. Though it’s science fiction, it isn’t heavy in the science aspect, and I think that only serves to enhance the show. It’s a plausible, realistic vision of Earth’s future should we ever make it to space. When I think of the amazing avenues the show could have explored if it went on longer, my heart weeps.

Unfortunately, it also suffers from being too short. We tend to re-watch the entire series and the movie every so often, pout that it’ll never be what it should have been, then let it return to the shelf for awhile

3. Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a recent discovery for me. I hesitated to start watching the show because I couldn’t figure out where to start; fans have written dissertations on the best place to begin. Eventually I decided to ignore what everyone told me and start watching from the beginning of the new series (the BBC re-launched Doctor Who in 2005 with the ninth incarnation of the Doctor). The first episode might be pure cheese, but I fell in love with it.

I’ve seen every episode of the rebooted series and I’ve loved each and every one of the doctors so far (even if I’m always sad to see them go). Falling in love with the series unlocks 50 years worth of old episodes to sift through. I’ve been working my way through the first Doctor’s episodes. It was a different show back then with different dynamics. The doctor was more of a curious alien than some kind of super hero, but I like it just the same. The nice thing about Doctor Who, old or new, is that if you don’t like one of the doctors, you can skip them in favor of another. There’s bound to be one for you in the dozen there have been.

Best of all, since the Doctor is a time traveler, various historical events tend to be rewritten (out of necessity for the characters but likely out of convenience for the writers) so you don’t need to memorize fifty years worth of history and lore in order to understand what’s happening in the new episodes. The fact that the doctor regularly regenerates a new face and personality keeps the show fresh, as does the regular rotation of companions he travels with.

2. Stargate
I fell in love with the Stargate universe one night in high school when the Sci-fi channel ran the movie. It was one of those bleary, boring days when I was home alone with nothing else to do, so I watched it. Several years later, when showtime dropped SG1 and Sci-fi picked it up, they started running the show in four hour blocks to catch people up for the new season. The first episode I ever saw remains one of my favorites. It was the typical ‘groundhog’s day’ episode most sci-fi and fantasy shows inevitably make where the characters get stuck in a time loop until they figure out what’s causing it. It is one of the funniest episodes of the show in all ten seasons. But I didn’t get hooked on the show until two years later when we lived in Toronto and started watching the re-runs on Space every night.

I fell in love with Stargate partly because it’s based on my favorite mythology – Ancient Egyptian. I stayed because of the amazing characters and the writers’ abilities to weave interesting long-term plots. Early in the show’s history they apparently decided not to create love triangles or long-term romance plots because they didn’t want the show getting bogged down with emotional drama. I think that served it well. They started writing endings for the show sometime around season six, believing each year the show would be canceled. I think that habit of writing endings, thus giving every season their all, also served the show well.

Stargate SG1 got something of a refresh after season eight when one of the main characters left the show. The producers closed the gap by bringing in two new characters and a host of new villains, taking the show in a completely new direction. Alas, it only lasted two more seasons before Sci-fi pulled the plug. Stargate SG1 was, before its cancellation, the longest running North American sci-fi show with over 200 episodes to its catalog. It spawned two spin-off series; Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe.

When Stargate Atlantis started, I didn’t think I’d like any series based on the mechanics of the universe that didn’t follow established characters or lore, as Atlantis contained nothing from the movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We didn’t watch Atlantis until SG1 ended (it had already been on the air three years by that point), and we finally decided to give it a try. Truth be told, I think I like Atlantis MORE than SG1. The Wraith are more nefarious than the Goa’uld ever were – with the latter only wanting to rule you as a god while the former prefer to suck out your life. I loved the development of the characters and the freedom to do some darker story lines. Atlantis ran for five years before it was canceled and, sadly, it didn’t get the ending it deserved.

I watched only one episode of Stargate Universe and I don’t feel I missed anything by skipping it. The producers seem to have abandoned everything that served the first two series in favor of making something ‘sexy’ and ‘edgy.’ The characters were all jerks with ulterior motives and the plot stepped on enough of the established Stargate mechanics it struck me as wrong. But even without Stargate Universe, the franchise provides more than enough good episodes for years of entertainment.

1. Star Trek
The first Star Trek related thing I ever saw was the opening to an episode of The Next Generation where Captain Picard “died” and “went to hell” where he stood in a solid white world and spoke to Q. I dismissed it as rubbish. Several years later I watched an entire episode; it was the episode in which Data, an android, constructed a daughter because he wished to be a father. It was such an emotional masterpiece I re-evaluated my opinion of Star Trek all together.

The first series I watched any amount of was Star Trek: Voyager. Probably because, at the time, it was still releasing new episodes every week. I loved Captain Janeway. I loved that there was a woman running the ship.

I watched The Next Generation next because Spike started showing six hour blocks of it every Sunday afternoon. I loved TNG even more than Voyager, partly because of Data (who is my all-time favorite Star Trek character) and partly because it took place within federation space (where as Voyager is about a lone federation ship trying to get home through hostile and uncharted space). I liked the dynamic that being among the federation added to TNG.

I’ve never really liked Deep Space Nine or Enterprise. Enterprise fell flat for me by trying to re-create the dynamic of the original series (Archer being very much a Kirk clone), and attempting to be ‘edgy’ by setting the stories in ‘a time before the prime directive.’ I didn’t like their depiction of humans as struggling to prove themselves to aliens who considered themselves superior (a dynamic that missed the point of the original series). Likewise, I didn’t like Deep Space Nine turning into a story about war and paranoia that, again, contradicted much of the point of the original series. But each of those series has its good points and good characters and is at least worth consideration.

I only recently fell in love with the original series after seeing the movies. Wrath of Khan is probably the penultimate Star Trek thing for me. It depicts the federation at its height. It shows all of the characters in their best light, and I still cry every time I see it (even though I can repeat the movie word for word).

While I think Stargate may edge out Star Trek in terms of my favorite story, I put Star Trek in the number one position because, of all the shows on this list, it has impacted my life the most. Star Trek isn’t just a series of sci-fi shorts. A lot of those stories are meant to challenge your view of the world and its current morality. A lot of the older shows, especially in the original series, have haunting endings that aren’t quite happy even if they aren’t bad or sad. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, Star Trek is intellectual, it’s philosophical, those characteristics sit at the heart of it.

What makes Star Trek so amazing is the future it portrays. Gene Roddenberry created the original series to showcase his idea of a perfect society. A society where everyone is treated equally, regardless of race or gender. A society which is based on mutual benefit, where money isn’t important, where everyone has access to food, shelter and medical care. A world where every life, even alien life, is valued above all else. Growing up with that vision has shaped my view of the world. The future depicted in the original Star Trek so excites and inspires me, it’s changed the way I live my life.

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