I've written about two favorites in this first post. These shows are, I suppose, stereotypically female-centric, but if you want to go ahead and debate, I'll debate. I think both men and women have been able to enjoy both over the years. Especially the first.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003)
"Buffy" appeals to me because it's Joss Whedon writing strong televised fiction about a woman who has been chosen to do a job, a job that only a woman can be chosen to do, and she does it...well. "Buffy" is a kind of show that doesn't exist anymore, and it's sort of like the fundamental antithesis of "Dollhouse," because it gives its characters that one thing that "Dollhouse" simply cannot: agency. While so much of it, especially those earlier episodes, may be steeped in the villain-of-the-week formula, "Buffy" is still a show whose characters act clearly and consistently on their agendas. Even when the characters change in the most drastic, unexpected ways, it's never truly unexpected, because they never change merely to convenience the plot; They only change because, well, there just never was any other way--Willow was always going to become an ambitious, uber-witch, and Riley was always going to leave, and Faith was always going to get pushed off that rooftop. Buffy was always going to sleep with Spike. You can look back, you can find those roots. That first time Spike puts his hand on Buffy's back in Fool for Love, how they fought before that--there's even that line that's echoed again much later--You're beneath me. From beneath you, it devours, we remember the First. Well, this is kind of how Buffy works. Its characters mature and become jaded and hard, sad creatures, but none of it is ever sudden. It's always been there, lurking in its many forms, cold beneath the surface, waiting to come up and to hurt and feed and kill again like it was always meant to do.
Top Season(s): 2, 5 -- Season two is my truest love, mainly because of the way that it handles the crisis of the teenage girl--sex, boys, first love, passion and limits and bodily disorientation. Season five, I think, has a vast and well-developed arc. It is the tightest of all the seasons, in terms of vision, and Glory is, perhaps, my favorite of all the Big Bads.
Top Episodes: Surprise/Innocence (2.13/2.14), The Body (5.16), Passion (2.17), Conversations with Dead People (7.7), End of Days (7.21), Restless (4.22), The Zeppo (4.13), I Only Have Eyes for You (2.19), Graduation Day Pt. 2 (3.22), Becoming Pt. 1 & 2 (2.21/2.22), Amends (3.10), Hush (4.10), Once More, With Feeling (6.7)
Favorite Story Arc: The Buffy/Spike relationship--I have always maintained that Spike is one of the most dynamic characters ever written for TV. His relationship with Buffy, as well as his ascension from monster to man, is long, filled with tragedy, violence, and small, perfect moments, moments like that last scene in 5.7 Fool for Love, or much much later in 7.20 Touched. There is a crossroads when Spike returns in season seven with a soul, and he's weak and possibly killing again, skulking mad in the basement of Sunnydale High School. I write specifically of episode 7.2 Beneath You, those final moments when Spike reveals himself to Buffy as a man, and he folds himself over the cross, and things are never so easy as folding yourself over the cross...but in time, I think, Buffy accepts him as this, as a man. Does she ever learn to love him? I'm not really sure. By the end of season seven, I'm not sure that Buffy is capable of truly loving anyone. She's hard-worn and broken, and the days have been long, and the apocalypse...it's been aplenty.
Favorite Moment in the Writing: Anya in 5.16 The Body, struggling with the concept of mortality in her recently human state - "But I don't understand! I don't understand how all this happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's--there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid! It's mortal and stupid! And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, I was having fruit punch, and I though, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why."
"Gilmore Girls" (2000-2007)
I think that, after having watched the entire series between two and seventeen times, I have begun to understand "Gilmore Girls" as one of the most consistently well-written, well-directed, well-acted shows ever on television. Each episode is its own little gem, building, not a thousand little story arcs in the way that "Buffy" builds story arcs, but instead, an incredibly gracious, vast world of individual characters, their growth, their relationships, and such a marvelous setting for them to walk around in--Stars Hollow. "Gilmore Girls" is a show that appreciates its characters more than anything else, that relies solely on its characters as credible, flawed individuals. It exercises restraint and agenda to push itself forward, where lesser shows will exercise plot. The tension in "Gilmore Girls" is rarely plot-driven, and even when it is, our real concerns always lie with Rory and Lorelai, the women at the heart of this massive, magnificent universe, and their experiences and plights and stumbles and falls are the things that make this show so special, so charming, so terribly missed.
Top Season(s): 6, 7 -- This show is so very consistent in its brilliance, but there is a certain maturity in the later seasons that I love, perhaps because we're centered more on Lorelai, and as Rory gets older and her life gets its own pieces and moving parts, they become separate, autonomous women, and each of their experiences are no longer hopelessly linked, but individually textured. I also love the utilization of Emily in these later seasons, who has learned quite a bit about herself and about her daughter over the past several years. Her relationship with Lorelai evolves, and there are moments toward the end there, especially in episode 6.21 Driving Miss Gilmore that are so deftly achieved it breaks my heart to acknowledge the series' demise.
Top Episodes: Driving Miss Gilmore (6.21), Partings (6.22), Raincoats and Recipes (4.22), Friday Night's Alright for Fighting (6.13), You Jump, I Jump, Jack (5.7), Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy-Days (3.1), They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They? (3.7), I'd Rather be in Philadelphia (7.13), Hay Bale Maze (7.18)
Favorite Story Arc: While this show does not have clear-cut arcs, as previously mentioned, my favorite thing that's closest to an arc is the relationship between Luke and Lorelai. It takes forever to get there, but when we finally do at the end of Raincoats and Recipes, and we watch it rise and stagnate, fall and flounder, then, perhaps, rise again, it's just so credible and so well-developed. There never was more restraint exercised in a TV romance, or more practicality.
Favorite Moment in the Writing: Friday Night Dinner in 6.13 Friday Night's Alright for Fighting -- scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the clip. It's incredibly hilarious, comic timing genius, a moment of pure catharsis powered by six seasons of painstaking characterization and the continuous escalation of familial tension after familial tension. I could never transcribe it correctly here. The funny stuff starts at about 5:20 on the clip.
(Next, I'm going to take a minute to talk about "The West Wing" and possibly "Lost.")