My parents recently asked me if they would like Doctor Who. I mean, they probably, definitely would not like it. It’s a show about a guy* who travels throughout time and space fighting monsters and dragging fifty-plus years worth of weirdness and mythology with him wherever he goes. But then again, he** also gets into charming madcap adventures with people all throughout history, so maybe?
They asked me to recommend a few episodes to watch to see if its something they might be able to get into. This presented an interesting dilemma. How do you distill a multi-year (and in this case, a multi-decade) series into just a few episodes? In the age of binge watching, do I just tell people to watch the show and make up their own mind? That seems dismissive. Indeed, one of the best TV shows of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t produce a begrudgingly watchable episode until its second season and wasn’t regularly interesting until its third. It’s hard to curate that watching by only saying, “Stick with it for a year and half, then it will get very good.”
Maybe we need to start making TV show mix tapes with episodes that symbolize the very best a show has to offer, and prime others to see what captured your imagination so completely. When it came to Doctor Who and my parents, I could really only come up with a few episodes that might capture their attention, from series 2’s “Tooth and Claw***” all the way to series 5’s “Vincent and the Doctor****”. So, no, my parents would probably not like Doctor Who.
But it got me thinking about other shows to make these mix tapes out of. Every hour of the first four years of The West Wing is near perfect, but I think I can come up with 22 episodes over the course of all seven seasons that can give viewers the experience of the entire show, except only the length of one season. Don’t believe me?
2. "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet"
3. "What Kind of Day Has It Been*****"
4. "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen" (Parts One and Two)
6. "17 People"
7. "The Fall’s Gonna Kill You"
8. "Two Cathedrals"
9. "Manchester" (Part One and Two)
10. "Bartlet for America"
11. "Debate Camp"
12. "Game On"
13. "Election Night"
14. "Red Haven’s On Fire"
17. "The Dogs of War"
18. "Third-Day Story"
19. "Faith Based Initiative"
20. "2162 Votes"
21. "Election Day" (part two)
Or Deep Space Nine.
2. "The Jem’Hadar"
3. "The Search" (Part One and Two)
4. "The Die is Cast"
5. "The Way of the Warrior" (Part One and Two)
6. "Paradise Lost"
7. "Apocalypse Rising"
8. "By Inferno’s Light"
9. "Call to Arms"
10. "A Time to Stand"
11. "Sacrifice of Angels"
12. "In the Pale Moonlight"
13. "Tears of the Prophets"
15. "Til Death Do Us Part"
16. "Strange Bedfellows"
17. "The Changing Face of Evil"
18. “When it Rains…”
19. "Tacking Into the Wind"
20. "Extreme Measures"
21. "The Dogs of War"
22. "What you Leave Behind"
These aren’t even my favorite episodes. They merely cut through to the quick of the overarching storyline. You could do it with any number of shows (as long as they aren’t particularly episodic, I’m looking in your direction TNG******). Buffy, Babylon 5*******, and certainly LOST could all benefit from the treatment.
Under normal circumstances, I might apply the process to some of these other shows, but I’ve been a bit busy this weekend. I’ve been making plans and working like a dog (or a bird) to get my own show up on its legs. I keep promising more on this topic, and next week I just might deliver.
Until then, my friends.
*And soon-to-be-a-woman. #whyisthissomethingthatmakespeoplemad #ifyouthinkthisisoverlypcyouareaverydumbperson #yesmythirteenthdoctor Although, to be fair she will be the fourteenth doctor, to get technical. #gallifreystands #RIPJohnHurt.
**And soon-to-be she. #yesmyfourteenthdoctor.
***Even though it features werewolves.
****Even if it includes the Krafayis monster (which…krafays things), everybody should watch that episode.
*****Not to be confused with the episode “What Kind of Day Has it Been” featured in Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom… For the uninitiated among you, it might be best to prepare for Sorkin to repeat himself from time-to-time.
******I often want to condense the rewatching experience for episodic shows, but the best way to do that is if Netflix got serious about innovation and adopted the “random episode” function in their platform. The FXX app’s Simpson World has it, WHY CAN’T YOU? End of rant. Although, if I’m honest with myself, I think I’ve made that rant on this space before.
*******Just skip the first season and you’re halfway there.