40 Box Sets to see Before You’re 40

Like many a woman before me, I’m a big fan of a TV box-set.

Once upon a time, I used to buy actual DVDs from HMV, or order them from the US to play on a specially purchased DVD player from a shop on Tottenham Court Road. These days, being a box-set fan is a LOT easier – there’s iTunes and Netflix for most stuff, and since becoming Amazon-free at the start of this year, I’ve managed to work out several new places to get my box-set fix.

Over the past 20 years or so, then, I’ve watched more box sets than I should probably admit to. But my idleness is your gain – since I’ve decided to put together my personal, low-brow, entirely biased list of the 40 television box sets you should watch before you’re 40.

I’m splitting the post into two sections, because I have a proper job to do too, you know. I can’t be sitting round here all day arguing about whether Joey should have chosen Dawson or Pacey (Pacey) or whether Felicity should have chosen Ben or Noel (Noel).

So for today, here are my top box set picks from four genres: teen drama; family drama; guilty pleasures; comedy. Tomorrow: crime, medical, fantasy/sci-fi.

Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed anything!

TEEN DRAMA:

veronicamars2Veronica Mars:  Yeah, it’s a teen crime drama, but it’s so much more – it shows that girls can be smart, snarky, solve mysteries and sleep with hot guys. With an amazing performance from Kristen Bell, it’s hardly surprising fans of the show stumped up more than $5m to see it made into a movie.

mscl

My So-Called Life: It’s been more than 20 years since My So-Called Life was taken off-air (how old does that make me feel?!) but there’s never been anything to better it. Angela Chase’s story is excruciating and awkward and just beautiful. As you’d expect – this show was the next project for producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, after Thirtysomething was cancelled. And it’s scored by WG Snuffy Walden, which (in my experience) always means a good show. Angela really does embody the plain awkwardness of being 15. My favourite Angela quote: “People always say you should be yourself, like it’s this definite thing… like a toaster, or something.” 

felciity

Felicity: An early series devised by JJ Abrams (also scored by Snuffy), Felicity is a classic love triangle teen drama, beautifully shot, very heartfelt. It kicks off with high school nerd Felicity making the snap decision to move to New York to go to college because the boy she’s had a crush on for years (but has never spoken to) tells her that’s where he’s going. Cue four years of, “Should she be with Ben or Noel?” I’m just saying – Noel is still pretty hot, all these years on…

dawsonscreek

Dawson’s Creek: I recently read a post that said this Kevin Williamson show does not age well. Absurd. I’d link to it but I can’t remember who wrote it – if it’s you, say hi in the comments 🙂  It’s fair to say that as a 30-something I might just want to slap Joey Potter and be best friends with slutty Jen, but there’s never a wrong time to watch Pacey Witter. The script is still sharp, all these years on, although the show’s score varies wildly depends on which version watched – since the programme was made before producers thought to secure DVD rights for the music they used.

onetreehill

One Tree Hill: The early shows in this series suggested it might become a show about the working class boy made good. But actually, it was just a show about well-off, attractive white people making problems out of thin air. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Although the later seasons where they all inexplicably become effortlessly rich and famous are possibly best avoided.

prettylittleliars

Pretty Little Liars: So this is the story of four teenage girls who are being bullied by text message – following the mysterious disappearance of their best friend.  It’s fast-paced fun that is packed with  ridiculously unlikely twists and turns, but it’s a lot more fun than those Swedish crime dramas. And there’s the usual teen drama mixed in – like, it’s a shame about the body under the lawn, but why doesn’t my boyfriend want to go to the dance with me? Genius.

popular

Popular: Before Ryan Murphy made Glee, he made Popular, a snarkier, weirder version of the high school experience. It’s about two girls – at opposite ends of the popularity stakes – who become step-sisters and have to coexist. While Dawson’s Creek is all overwrought drama, Popular is all about camp characters, snarky one-liners, outcasts and slightly surreal storylines. Apparently shortly before the show was cancelled the network told Ryan Murphy it was “too gay”. If only it had been made in more enlightened times, it might have lasted a bit longer.

freaksandgeeks

Freaks and Geeks: Before Judd Apatow starting making deeply crap films, he made this – one of my favourite ever comedy drama shows, the story of a kid moving from the geeks to the freaks in high school. The cast is absolutely amazing, including James Franco, Busy Phillips, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel… and the fact that only 15 episodes were ever shown is just sad. All the best shows die young.

FAMILY DRAMA

parenthoodParenthood : The creator of this family ensemble, Jason Katims, started out life as a writer on My So-Called Life, but this is a warmer, glossier take on family life, helped by a ridiculously strong cast including Peter Kraus, Dax Shepherd and Lauren Graham. It’s a warm, heartfelt drama, which can on occasion veer towards cheesy, but that’s no bad thing.

gilmoregirls

Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls is (imho) one of the very best TV shows ever made. But it’s not just me – Time Magazine listed it as one of the best TV shows ever, too. This is the story of single Mom Lorelei and teen daughter Rory who are ridiculously book-smart, witty and pretty living in a quirky Connecticut town. It’s warm and charming and the script is every bit as wordy as West Wing – only funny, and with amazing pop culture references scattered throughout.  Unmissable.

nashville

Nashville: Oh, this show is a soapy, over-dramatic bundle of fun. Telling the story of an ageing country music diva and the young pretender, it has melodrama by the bucket-load, plus an amazing soundtrack. I recently showed Season 1 to a straight, guy friend and he cried seven times during one episode. In my experience, straight guys can’t handle this show. It’s strictly for chicks.

thegoodwife

The Good Wife: So you’re married to a politician and he gets involved in a sex scandal (tsk). What do you do? Well, if you’re Julianna Marguiles, you go back to work as a lawyer and proceed to tackle everything from the school run to racism and equality. Beautifully scripted and acted,  it’s smart, grown-up telly. Love it.

fridaynightlights

Friday Night Lights: Hands down, one of my favourite dramas from US TV. Friday Night Lights It’s about a small town in Texas, and their high school football coach, and his family. But it’s more than that – this series is another Jason Katims project (he’s head writer), and it shows – it’s equal parts dramatic, warm-hearted, and is one of those shows that makes you want to be a better person. For a bit, anyway. And there’s another quality score from Snuffy.

SERIOUSLY GUILTY PLEASURES

hartofdixieHart of Dixie:  Filmed on the very same set as Gilmore Girls, but this time we’re in Alabama, not Connecticut. Beyond that, the two shows have a lot in common – imaginary small town with quirky cast of characters, and a stubborn refusal to accept any level of realism whatsoever. This show was created by the team behind The OC, so don’t expect anything too heavy – it’s a light-hearted, fish out of water comedy drama featuring Rachel Bilson as a NY doctor transplanted to Alabama.

scandalScandal: This show professes to tell the story of a political fixer and a morally bankrupt President and his administration. Despite the lead character describing herself as a “gladiator” there are no good guys – virtually everyone winds up lying, cheating, killing or otherwise doing Bad Stuff to Other People. Still, I defy you not to love Olivia Pope, the tough lawyer who is consistently undone by her on-again, one-again affair with the (married) President. It’s written by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) so  you should expect lots of sex and drama – and almost zero mention of actual politics.

revengeRevenge: Season 1 and 3 are the where this show really hits its stride – the tale of a young woman who vows revenge on the rich society types who framed her father for murder. It’s one of the most camp shows I can remember watching, with endless cliff-hangers and more on-screen bitches than have been seen since Dynasty days.

COMEDY

modernfamily

Modern Family: If the notion of a gay man introducing his adopted daughter to the extended family by holding her aloft to the Lion King soundtrack doesn’t make you laugh, you’re not a Modern Family person. Otherwise, you’ll love it. It’s full of quips and quotable lines. My favourite?

Haley: You’re like that guy from the movie who wishes he was never born.

Alex: It’s a Wonderful Life

Haley: You say that, but do you mean it?

curbCurb Your Enthusiasm:  I adore Larry David’s sit-com. You know that fleeting thought you sometimes have of, “Oh, I wish I didn’t have to sit through the nativity again?” that you stifle, because you’re a nice person, and you just want everyone to be happy? Larry David doesn’t bother filtering. He announces he’s bored, and he leaves. He’s a one man social disaster, who spends his entire life inadvertently offending people.

community600Community: This smart comedy about a college study group is packed with in-jokes, meta references and parody moments. It’s silly and funny, especially if you skip season 4, when the network unwisely got rid of the show’s creator (he was back on board for season 5).

scrubs

Scrubs: Okay, it’s not the coolest sit-com out there but this ever-so-slightly medically themed show is reliably funny. Plus, if you don’t love JD and Turk’s brown bear bromance, I think you might be dead to me.

 

Click here to see part 2 – crime, medical, sci-fi and supernatural! 

 

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

17 Comments

  1. 10th March 2014 / 12:09 pm

    Wow. I’ve heard of 5 of those and seen none of them :-O

    Mind you, I’ve only seen the pilots of Lost and the Sopranos, two episodes of Lilyhammer, three episodes of Breaking Bad, 4 of Battlestar Galatica and the first series of Game of Thrones, so perhaps I’m not entirely the target audience 🙂
    Alex recently posted..It’s a dogs life (in kids TV)My Profile

    • 10th March 2014 / 6:26 pm

      Ha! I think a lot of online lists of this site are written by guys for guys. This is not that list. Although I am SHOCKED you’ve only heard of five, and never seen an episode of Veronica Mars. Tsk.

  2. 10th March 2014 / 6:06 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! Modern Family just gets better and better! And Larry David is like a modern day Basil Fawlty. Great to see Community on there too – none of my friends have heard of it, so I have to quote it to myself!
    Marge recently posted..Say no to new!My Profile

    • 10th March 2014 / 6:26 pm

      Larry David used to be a bit close to the bone when I was married, but he makes me laugh a lot more now!

  3. 10th March 2014 / 6:46 pm

    Ooooh, can’t wait to see part 2! I love The Good Wife and Gilmore Girls.

    I’d add Breaking Bad, Homeland, The Vampire Diaries, Greys Anatomy and 24… 🙂

    • 10th March 2014 / 7:11 pm

      If you love Gilmore Girls, you’ll love Hart of Dixie, and if you love Greys, you’ll ADORE Scandal. Trust me.

      • Vanessa
        18th May 2016 / 3:07 pm

        Found your list and THANK YOU! I am about to finish watching Gilmore Girls for the millionth time (in prep for the REVIVAL!!!! Best news EVER!!!!)
        And I’m looking for something I would like nearly as much (not possible but I will try!)
        Never heard of Hart of Dixie but you agree that Gilmore Girls is the best series of all time so I like and trust you :))

  4. Lynley
    10th March 2014 / 6:52 pm

    Wow yes I adored Felicity, and Popular. They were on at the same time as Roswell – does that count as teen or sci fi? I loved all three.

    • 10th March 2014 / 7:10 pm

      I’ve put it in Sci Fi, as I don’t remember the school being a bit part of their story 😉

  5. 10th March 2014 / 6:56 pm

    Oooh, I think you might be some kind of TV twin for me! I’ve seen, and loved, all of those apart from Felicity and Popular. I feel I may have to remedy those gaps. Looking forward to part two!
    Pippa Ainsworth recently posted..Silent Sunday and My Sunday Photo 0/03/2014My Profile

    • 10th March 2014 / 7:11 pm

      *high fives TV twin*

    • 10th March 2014 / 7:12 pm

      Also let me know how much you love Felicity. Because you will love it. But since it wasn’t really shown here, hardly anyone’s seen it.

  6. Bongi
    10th March 2014 / 10:54 pm

    Wow I haven’t heard of a lot of these either!! Are they on Netflix?

    I would add arrested development to the comedy boxsets. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s instalment!

  7. 11th March 2014 / 1:36 pm

    wow, I havent heard of a lot of them. We are on Breaking Bad and Dexter at the minute. I do fancy starting The Good Wife and Gilmore Girls too though

  8. Michael
    17th March 2014 / 8:18 pm

    I guess I have to confess that quite a few of them I hadn’t heard of either. But Revenge, One Tree Hill and the Good wife, Parenthood and Dawson’s Creek were the ones I have heard about and occasionally watched.
    As I like sci fi, that’s missing for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge