It seems these days that almost every show to ever appear on television is popping up on DVD a few months later. While I might wonder how many people are running out to buy entire seasons of Full House, there are certainly a lot of shows I'm glad to see are still with us.
1. Planet Of The Apes – The original Planet Of The Apes movie is a sci-fi classic. Its many spin-offs including four sequels and this ill-fated TV series are not at that level by any means, but are entertaining nonetheless. This show centers around two astronauts who become stranded on the planet while on a mission to search for the missing captain Taylor (Charlton Heston in the original movie). The mention of Taylor’s character is really the only connection between the show and the original movie. This ape planet is quite a bit different. For one thing, the humans are just as intelligent as the apes, but are considered the lowest of the low class and kept segregated for the ape population (in an obvious social commentary). I suppose this is meant to somewhat follow events from the Apes sequels. The best part about the show is the involvement of Roddy McDowell, who brilliantly played Cornelius in the original movies. This time McDowell plays a similarly sympathetic chimpanzee called Galen. Galen joins forces with the two lost astronauts and the show follows their adventures on the planet fighting “racism” and searching for an escape. Sadly the series was canceled before a resolution was found, but this nearly forgotten TV series is still a must for any Apes fan.
2. The X-Files – With the impending release of the second The X-Files movie just around the corner, what better time to get reacquainted with the early adventures of Mulder and Scully? Black oil, clones, bounty hunters, human-alien hybrids, bees, and the infamous cigarette smoking man; it’s all here. Some of the “stand-alone” episodes may be a bit tough to slog through (particularly in the first two seasons), but the mythology of the series is well worth the effort. One of the many shows to start bridging the gap between episodic and serial primetime television, The X-Files was a pioneer in the continuous storyline that has become a standard for dramatic television.
3. Saturday Night Live the First Three Seasons – The early seasons of SNL are an interesting watch. What’s great is you get classic characters like; the Blues Brothers; the “wild and crazy guys;” the Coneheads; the Samurai; and Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute; just to name a few. There are great hosts like Steve Martin, Paul Simon and Elliott Gould, and awesome musical guests like George Harrison, The Band, and, well, Paul Simon. What’s interesting is that even with the memorable musical guests, characters, and sketches the first few seasons brought us, there are almost as many misses as there are hits. Like with the current show, SNL skewers current political events, some still echo with relevancy while others are frozen in their own time. All and all, the early years are an informative and highly entertaining look at the birth of a TV phenomenon.
4. Star Trek – It’s hard to ignore the impact Star Trek had on television. The show not only spawned four spin off series’ and ten movies (with an 11th in the works), but a dedicated following so massive it would be ridiculous to call them a cult. That’s not bad for a show that only lasted three seasons and continuously struggled to remain on the air at all. The show dealt with big societal issues like racism and sexism, as well as philosophical ones like humanity’s role in the universe. All the while the show took its audience an exciting new adventure each week, most of the time handling it’s overriding of theme of harmonious existence with subtlety. The show was also one of the first on television to have a diverse cast in major roles. And, unlike much of what had been seen prior, it was a sci-fi based show set in space that took itself seriously.
5 – Star Trek: The Next Generation – Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted eighteen years after the original went off the air in 1969. In that twenty years there had already been four movies and a multitude of Star Trek conventions all over the world. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock were so well known that even the most ardent non-fan could tell you who they were. It goes without saying, The Next Generation had some big shoes to fill. And while it couldn’t match the iconography of the original series, it did pretty well for itself. It lasted seven seasons on the air and of course spawned its own film franchise. Like the original, the show dealt with societal as well as philosophical issues, and took the viewers on adventures throughout the galaxy. However, it was not an exact copy of the original series. The characters were all their own, and the show expanded the Star Trek ideology rather than just re-treading what had already been established. Yeah, The Next Generation can be a bit corny at times, but it’s also very entertaining and worth watching. Revisiting the series might make you ask yourself – “is Wesley Crusher really any more annoying than Counselor Troi?”
6. The Twilight Zone – The Twilight Zone is probably one of the greatest shows to ever be on television. The show is practically a showcase for early roles from some of Hollywood’s most well known actors like Robert Redford. But, of course, it’s storytelling that makes the show. The show’s creator, Rod Serling, is responsible for a great number of the stories, but there are also submissions from notable sci-fi writers like Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. It’s interesting to see the common themes of the show. Time travel, space exploration, mass hysteria, war, and the unfinished business death often leaves behind were all obviously on the mind of Rod Serling and many of the other writers too. Serling often found unique, and eerie ways of dealing with those issues. Like with any show, every episode is not a classic, but it’s certainly worth watching, because in this case the good far outweighs the bad.
7. WKRP In Cincinnati – WKRP In Cincinnati may not be the most groundbreaking show, and it might not have explored life’s deeper meanings but it was about as entertaining as sitcoms of the early 80’s got. Sadly, only the first season is available on DVD. The show has had a lot of difficulty making it to DVD due to music licensing issues. The season one DVD, unfortunately, is full of generic rock filler instead of the real songs actually used in the original airings. While this has been a source of contention amongst fans, I think the show is still worth watching. It is still funny, and missing none of the banter and situations that made the show so good in the first place. Episode of note from the first season: "Turkey's Away" – the classic Thanksgiving turkey drop promotion episode.
Honorable Mention –
Seinfeld – I didn't include Seinfeld on the regular list, though it is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I happily own all nine seasons on DVD. I think it's great to watch, but I feel like it's very much still with us in its heavy syndication run. I know you can regularly catch some of these other shows on TV, but certainly not as easily as Seinfeld. At any rate, it's still a great show and still worth owning if you are fan, but I don't quite feel it's ready for the nostalgia trip yet.