Scanning the landscape of television across the many networks available to us, we find tremendous choices in numerous genres. The writing and special effects are stellar in so many of these shows. In this post, I’ll acknowledge those that demonstrate the greatest imagination. There are many to choose from, but I’m going to try to name the best ten, in my opinion.
In the 70 years since television became standard household furniture, there have been many groundbreaking shows. Many that were imaginative for their times can’t compare to the level of creativity and innovation common to programs today. However, there are a few that still stand out and deserve recognition for their longevity. After all, it’s more about ideas and creativity than use of technology. So, on to the list, with no regard for the age of a series or its popularity. Vision and imagination are the key.
10. The Wild Wild West
This show from the late 1960s combined the western with science fiction and comedy. The innovation was most clearly seen in the many gadgets introduced for the characters to use. One example of many included a sleeve gun, which was a Remington Double Derringer that was revealed with the help of an ejecting arm that sometimes produced other surprising tools of defense. Fans of the show could always look forward to developments they wouldn’t have predicted.
9. Doctor Who
There are probably those out there who think this series should be ranked No. 1. While I appreciate the show, I haven’t immersed myself in it and most likely just don’t get it like its legions of fans do. The truth is, though, that this British show has endured since 1963 and that doesn’t happen in Science Fiction without a solid reason. It’s a testament to the collective imagination of the makers of this program throughout its long tenure, having maintained their strong vision that continues to entertain. They have evolved right along with the time travel premise common to Doctor Who and Science Fiction overall.
8. Star Trek: The Next Generation
Gene Roddenberry created this upgraded phase of Star Trek which began its run in 1987. Taking the universe of the Enterprise to a new level of sophistication, this series gave us such unique characters as the endearing android Data, Geordi La Forge who was blind but sighted through his visor, the Federation’s Klingon officer Worf and the vastly powerful, narcissistic Q. And we can’t leave out the Borg…resistance is futile.
7. Police Squad
This groundbreaking TV sitcom was brought to us by the creators of Airplane, starring Leslie Nielson as Detective Frank Drebin. The sight gags and word play are hilarious and out of left field. A comment like this on Police Squad may be followed with a shot of the staff writers in baseball uniforms firing their jokes in from left field at Dodger Stadium. This style of writing is like no other and the dialogue is creative well beyond the usual.
6. Breaking Bad
What is it about Breaking Bad that makes it stand out so much from other shows? In my opinion, it’s the combination of desperation with life-and- death situations involving characters with whom we can relate on a personal level. A schoolteacher who has a terminal illness is determined to provide for his family after he’s gone. Entering a world of crime and cartels isn’t the way to go and we watched it unfold in riveting fashion. Oh, how the people who made this series expertly milked it for a thrilling ride!
5. Battlestar Galactica
This was an epic program when it was rebooted in 2004. There have been few TV shows with the scope of this one and it did not fail in the promise of imaginative storytelling with excellent effects. I saw it first on Netflix, only about six years ago. It held up just fine. The episodes were strong and the characters were rich. It’s one of the all-time greats for good reason. It fills our minds with compelling fear, it breaks our hearts, and it manages to help us maintain hope all the while.
When Fox started running The X-Files in 1993, it was a gamble. There was not a known market for this unique series. The fans were out there and thankfully the quality was what they were craving. Stories were often taken from legends or rumored phenomena, but the way they were fleshed out took tremendous imagination. Additionally, the overarching plot featuring Deep Throat, The Cigarette Smoking Man, The Lone Gunmen and others is developed masterfully across the seasons. The skill required to do so involves detailed imagination as well.
3. Twilight Zone
This classic may be the standard of imaginative script writing. Even though I’ve seen most of the episodes, I’ll watch one now and then out of curiosity. When the show was still in the CBS rotation, the premise of each episode was an opportunity to see the world from a new perspective. A visit to an isolated old woman by aliens that were the size of small action figures. The question of sanity when seeing a creature trying to sabotage an airplane engine mid-flight. The woman whose horrifying face can’t be saved by piggy surgeons. These are stories fashioned by highly creative minds ahead of their time.
In 2008, Fringe debuted on Fox. It’s another Science Fiction program involving the FBI. It has been said to be influenced by X-Files and Twilight Zone. It’s easy to see why, with the investigations of bizarre crimes and events as well as matters of universal import. The creators were able to mold amazing stories around high-tech procedures, alternate timelines and parallel universes in a framework of fringe science. This is inventive mythification at its best.
The basic premise of this series is one of the most original concocted in television history. It explores psychic connection, using eight people from all over the world who each have suddenly had visions or dreams of the death of a Sensate. A Sensate is someone who has a keen emotional and mental connection with a cluster of others with the same experience. The cluster can be with each other as a group or individually and take part in each others’ lives, fully functioning you might say. When a Sensate dies, eight more are spawned. The new Sensates have to deal with what’s happening to them and why. Considered dangerous, they are aggressively pursued by an antagonistic organization. The weaving of the plot and various subplots in a world where eight characters can be mentally anywhere at any time is a monumental effort of wild but disciplined imaginations.
There are so many TV shows that are fantastic in their inventive creativity. Without spending too much time on it, I came up with a list of 23 of them. It was truly agonizing to leave some of them off this list. A golden age of television indeed.