Let’s face it: we’re all voluntarily quarantined and we’ve got some time on our hands. What better time to binge-watch yourself into television expertise?

Daily Brief is here to help with some custom-curated lists of what to watch over the next couple of weeks while we’re all hanging out at home.

In the first of this hastily created series, Daily Brief considers the shows that ushered in the so-called Golden Age of TV. These shows came before anyone had even thought of streaming, and included anti-heroes, complicated women and novelistic storytelling. This era, which ran from approximately 1999 to 2013, forever altered what we all imagined TV could be, turning it into something much more complex, inspirational and glorious. This era arguably came to an end and evolved into something new when Netflix debuted the first original binge show: House of Cards in 2013.

Below is a list, which is by no means complete and is 100 percent subjective, of the ten TV shows that ushered in an entirely new era of storytelling, making them required viewing for every true TV fan.

10) UPN/The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1997-2003

Besides the fact that it had a tiny, adorable and sarcastic demon-busting female superhero (Sarah Michelle Gellar) at its core, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was genre-busting in so many ways. It’s dialog and tone, courtesy of series creator and executive producer Joss Whedon, was like nothing TV audiences had ever heard. Besides featuring a super-strong woman as the Slayer, it broke through other barriers, such as having Willow (Alyson Hannigan) come out as a lesbian and having a long-term relationship. And it had a musical episode! (One more time with feeling!”)

Besides its own spin-off (Angel) and other shows from Whedon (Firefly being the most notable) Buffy also paved the way for such fast-talking youth-targeted series as Dawson’s Creek, The O.C. and Gossip Girl.

Available to stream with a subscription on Hulu or on a $1.99 per-episode basis on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube or Vudu.

9) HBO’s Sex and the City, 1998-2004

Sex and the City was arguably the first TV series to show women as multi-dimensional creatures who, like their male counterparts, made bad decisions, struggled to pay the bills and enjoyed sex. And while much of the series’ focus was on sex and relationships—after all, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) was a sex columnist—it also was on New York City, which formed a sort of fifth major character throughout the show.

The series’ foursome—which included Carrie and her three best friends Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattral)—inspired single women the world over with their fabulous clothes, interesting careers and willingness to imbibe a cosmopolitan any night of the week.

From Sex and the City came such female-friendship-focused series as HBO’s Girls, UPN/The CW’s Girlfriends and HBO’s Insecure.

Available to watch with a subscription to HBO Go, HBO Now and/or HBO Max come May. Also available to Amazon Prime subscribers. On a per-episode basis, available on iTunes, YouTube and Vudu.

8) FX’s The Shield, 2002-08

The Shield was basic cable’s first breakthrough original drama, winning an Emmy for its star, Michael Chiklis, in its first season and marking the first time an original cable series took home an Emmy. That set a trend that has seen broadcast networks’ Emmy fortunes almost totally reversed, with it now being unlikely for broadcast series to even be nominated, much less win.

The Shield also was basic cable’s first take on the anti-hero, inspired by Tony Soprano. That trend was soon to be replicated on many shows, including several on this list.

Available to watch with a subscription to Hulu or on Amazon Prime for $1.99 per episode of $17.99 for the entire season.

7) ABC’s Lost, 2004-10

It might be true that in the end Lost made no sense and answered none of the damn questions that it raised, but it sure was fun to watch and ponder along the way. Lost with its many mysteries is the precursor to today’s puzzle-box shows, including HBO’s Westworld, which just premiered season 3 on Sunday night, Netflix’s Russian Doll, USA’s Mr. Robot and HBO’s The Leftovers, which, like Lost, is executive produced by Damon Lindelof.

Available to watch with a subscription to Hulu or by per-episode or per-season purchase on Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play.

6) NBC’s The West Wing, 1999-2006

Much like Lost, The West Wing is one of the last great broadcast network series. Emmy named The West Wing best drama four times in a row from 2000-04.

In an age of political despair, the show reminds many of a time when things were less ideological and more ideal. Set in the White House, the show came from Aaron Sorkin, who prior to this wrote the screenplays for The American President and A Few Good Men.

Criticized for creating a liberal fantasy world, the show still reminds viewers of a less-fraught political era. The cast, which included Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, and Martin Sheen, pulled off Sorkin’s lightning-fast dialogue with aplomb. Much of the cast won Emmys, including Janney, Whitford, Schiff and Spencer and guest stars Stockard Channing and Alan Alda.

From West Wing was spawned two types of series. The first were other shows from Sorkin, including Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom, neither of which were nearly as successful. (Another beloved Sorkin series, Sports Night, aired just before The West Wing.)

The West Wing also showed that political shows could work, bringing viewers such programs as HBO’s political satire Veep.

Available to stream with a subscription to Netflix or per episode or season on Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play.

5) HBO’s Deadwood, 2004-06, 2019

Deadwood was a short-live, filthy-mouthed Shakespearean treasure. From David Milch, Deadwood starred Ian McShane, who swore with glorious panache, Timothy Olyphant and an incredible cast of character actors.

Deadwood failed to return the Western to the TV screen—except maybe as Westworld—but HBO and fans missed it enough that it was briefly revived last spring as a made-for-TV movie.

Available to stream with a subscription to HBO or Amazon Prime and per episode or per season on iTunes, YouTube or Vudu.

4) HBO’s The Sopranos, 1999-2007

The Sopranos is arguably the show that changed it all—the show that demonstrated that a paunchy, middle-aged mobster could also be a charismatic leading man. David Chase’s masterwork told the story of Tony Soprano (the late, great James Gandolfini), who tried to exorcise his emotional demons in therapy while physically exorcising real demons in the form of rival mobsters or waylaid minions.

Tony Soprano laid the groundwork for some of TV’s greatest leading men, including Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Jon Hamm’s Don Draper—both of which are coming up next.

Available to stream with a subscription to HBO or Amazon Prime and per episode or per season on iTunes, YouTube or Vudu.

3) AMC’s Breaking Bad, 2008-13, 2019

Breaking Bad revealed its greatness right from its opening scenes, which featured Cranston clad in tighty-whities, a button-down oxford and a gas mask crashing a ramshackle RV through the New Mexico desert. From there, Vince Gilligan and team spun an airtight tale of high-school chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White (Cranston) and his wayward student and assistant, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, who can now be seen starring in season three of Westworld) and their descent into the harrowing world of meth.

While the specific and detail-oriented approach of Breaking Bad cannot be duplicated by anyone other than Gilligan and team, they have managed to do it again with Better Call Saul, now in its fifth and penultimate season on AMC.

Available to stream with a subscription on Netflix and per episode or per season on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play or Vudu.

2) AMC’s Mad Men, 2007-15

Matthew Weiner’s gorgeously rendered period piece set in the world of 1960s advertising focused on dynamic, gorgeous and troubled advertising executive, Don Draper (Hamm) and his seemingly perfect marriage to beautiful wife Betty (January Jones). Later seasons delved into such modern issues as workplace sexism and harassment, with nearly perfect writing always at its center.

While in many ways Mad Men was a workplace drama, it set new standards for television production, performance and writing.

Available to stream with a subscription to Netflix and per episode or per season on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play or Vudu.

1) HBO’s The Wire, 2002-08

Of any show on this list, the criminally underwatched masterpiece that was The Wire most deserves new attention. A masterclass in film-making and performance from David Simon and Ed Burns, The Wire is a raw and realistic look at life in the drug-ridden slums of Baltimore.

The show starred Dominic West and Wendell Pierce as two detectives struggling to understand the world they are patrolling, with people like Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan and Michael K. Williams breaking out as much bigger stars.

The Wire kicked off an era of novelistic storytelling that assumed viewers were smart and patient enough to hang around long enough to set the scene. From The Wire came such shows as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which also took their time to set up their plots.

Available to stream with a subscription to HBO or Amazon Prime and per episode or per season on iTunes, YouTube or Vudu.

Honorable mentions: HBO’s Oz, HBO’s Six Feet Under

Tags: abc amc breaking bad buffy the vampire slayer coronavirus deadwood hbo lost mad men nbc sex and the city the cw the sopranos the west wing the wire

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