Best TV Show First Seasons

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Last night I started watching the fifth and final season of Friday Night Lights. Can I first of all point out it's really nifty that they have it out on DVD simultaneously with the TV series premiering on NBC next week? As someone who owns (and lends out) the DVD series to everyone, I jumped on buying it instead of waiting week-to-week. Of course, this means I will get through the show faster, which is depressing after last night's heart-tugging opener.

I reflected that FNL had one of the best series premieres ever...and it got me thinking to the best series premieres of all time, and I realized that generally speaking, the shows with the best series premieres end up having the best first seasons. A show with a fantastic premiere (at least in its first season) rarely fails to live up to said standard. After the first season, it's a crapshoot. So instead of creating two separate lists of best premieres and best first seasons, I present my list of the best first seasons (and generally speaking, premieres) ever.

The OC - Remember when Mischa Barton was a fashion icon? And Rachel Bilson had curves? And Seth Cohen was charmingly self-conscious? And Luke had a gay dad? And Julie was a 'Real Housewife'-in-training? And Ryan's brooding desire to save people was sweet? And Oliver was a total psychopath? And the show was actually funny and shocking in equal parts? Sigh. Few shows, in particular teen shows, will top the glory that is the first season of The OC.

Lost - I was a latecomer to Lost, catching up on the first four seasons in quick succession literally days before the fifth one began. I'm kind of glad I did watch it on DVD so I could (somewhat) solve the confounded mysteries instead of being stumped for weeks. Few shows had as strong a premiere or first season as Lost - where characters were in constant peril, mysteries were piling on top of one another (but not to the hysterical levels they were in future seasons), and insight into each character's life was something to be savoured...and tied in very nicely with what was happening with their on-island selves. In retrospect, the first season is a little tedious compared to future ones (after all, they only thing they discover is the hatch and a whole lot of WTFuckery?) but I constantly hear complaints about s2's "Tailies" and s3's venture into the "Others" territory, so S1 really is a holy bastion of wonderfulness.

Friday Night Lights - I put up a serious fuss about watching FNL. I thought the actors looked smug on the cover. I didn't like the movie very much. I'd seen a clip on TV of Tyra's mom in the middle of a drinking binge and thought it looked lame. Alas, one day we popped season 1 in the DVD player and I was INSTANTLY hooked. The premiere is one of the most captivating ever, and the glorious full length of the first season allowed you to see many different facets of these humanly flawed characters. True, the series felt a little long compared to the length of an actual high school football season, but have 20+ episodes to play around with allowed for so much more than the protracted seasons we now have.

Desperate Housewives - I no longer watch DH because of this first season, and all that it stood for. A hilarious satire of soap operas, the show was whip smart, hilariously funny, and ooey gooey twisty turny. The women were a lot more entrenched in their archetypes - a good and bad thing - and we had some characters that added a lot of flavour to the show...Martha Huber, Edie, Paul, Rex (!), John to name a few. Plus it made sense for Mary-Alice to actually make guest appearances. Part of me thinks they blew their load (sorry, graphic) too early by giving up Mary-Alice's secret, and then following that same format year-after-year. The show was just so fresh, and the supposed cattiness of the stars (particularly come awards season) was entertaining fodder as well. Shame they've now become exactly what they were mocking in the first place - a big, stinky, soap.

Survivor - Talk about The Real World however much you want, this is when reality TV became part of the popular zeitgeist. I started watching about a third of the way through, I think on the episode when Gretchen was eliminated. My family and I quickly became hooked (and played reverse catch-up before the finale) and were surfing the wave of popular culture along with the rest of North America when Richard and Kelly went head-to-head in the much-watched finale. Watching the first season of Survivor now seems a little laughable. The naivete of the castaways is nearly infuriating, the props and challenges look amateurish, and even little details like the cheesy graphics or the fact Jeff doesn't have this catchphrases quite nailed down make for a charmingly docile entry for one of the genre's most resilient franchises.

Solid Contenders:

Pretty Little Liars - the first season just wrapped up and golly was it good...the show lacks (male) character development and one of their best actresses is, unfortunately, dead but the constant guessing game has made it into the teeny bopper version of Lost. Only with blind flute players instead of rampant polar bears.

The Walking Dead - in six little episodes this show blew me away. Again, it could use some work on character development, but you can only expect so much from a half-dozen episodes. Incidentally, if I were to make a 'best premieres evahhh' list, this show would easily end up on it. The fact it was like watching a little movie every week made for a completely enthralling tv-watching experience.

Mad Men - There was lots to like in Season 1. The near-weekly ad pitches (that were sadly absent for much of S2 & S3). Don's lothario ways weren't tired, and Rachel Menken was his most lovely dalliance to date. Betty's desperate housewife act earned equal parts raised eyebrows and empathy. Admittedly however, the pacing was a little slow (although it crawled in S2) compared to the punchier, zippier feeling of S3 & S4, where the show took that initial foundation and skyrocketed our characters to new levels before slamming them back down to earth.

Modern Family - Everyone keeps telling me that this current season isn't as funny as last season (I just caught up on them both over the last three months). I agree getting to know the characters and their funny little quirks - Cameron's a jock! - was funnier the first time around, as opposed to somewhat rehashing elements of their personality this season, but I'm not totally convinced that Season 1 is the best this show has to offer...Season 2 has still shocked and delighted me, and the first few episodes of S1 has some weirdness they've since dropped, so I won't peg their first season as the best ever...but I will say it's definitely one of THE best first seasons for a 30-minute sitcom.

- Britt's On


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