We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

Television ancestors

If you've watched all the modern TV there is to see, maybe it's time to take a look at some of the shows that inspired your favorite television. This week we look back at some of the shows that inspired the modern TV landscape and some of the programs where your favorite stars and creators got their breaks.

Twin Peaks

Netflix, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: The X-Files

Recent (and, sadly, probably untrue) rumors of a third season have sparked another round of interest in David Lynch's bizarre supernatural mystery/soap opera Twin Peaks (ABC 1990--1991). While it only lasted two seasons, the show has been hugely influential, paving the way for supernatural shows on television and even providing the dark comedic tone that shows like The X-Files would use at their best. Over the years, the show has inspired countless imitations and homages from critical hits like Lost to children's shows like Eerie, Indiana and the more recent (and brilliant) Gravity Falls, which keep the weird northwestern vibe but ditch the Lynchian creepiness.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Netflix, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: The X-Files AND Twin Peaks

Of course, at this point almost every X-Files fan has heard of Twin Peaks. So how about some cult-classic "advanced reading?" Kolchak: The Night Stalker (ABC, 1974) is the granddaddy of the supernatural procedural. Chris Carter has said his memories of Kolchak were a huge influence on The X-Files, but everything from NBC's Grimm to Buffy spin-off Angel has referenced the show. Chicago reporter Carl Kolchak investigates murders the police are unequipped to solve, usually because they involve a supernatural beast of some kind. The show itself has some plotting and pacing issues, probably because its trying to figure out how to blend horror and crime shows with no model to work with, but it throws around enough ideas to make all 20 episodes worth your time.

Taxi

CBS.com, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: The Office or other modern workplace sitcoms

On its own Taxi (ABC, NBC, 1978--1982; above) is an interesting series. It's got a great cast including Andy Kaufman and Danny DeVito and it holds up surprisingly well for a series that stopped airing 30 years ago. Taxi really shines, however, as a piece of TV history creating a bridge between the socially conscious 1970's sitcoms of Norman Lear like All in the Family and more traditional 1980s sitcoms like Cheers. While Taxi does have the occasional "very special episode" it's also more willing to build episodes around the show's characters and their relationships, eventually rejecting the more gimmicky social issues framework almost entirely in favor of just watching its characters interact.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Netflix, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica show-runner Ronald D. Moore got his start writing for the Trek universe, and he really came into his own writing for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Syndicated, 1993--1999). When you watch with that in mind DS9 shares a lot of DNA with Galactica. While other Trek shows are almost Polyanna-ish in their utopian optimism, DS9 strikes a darker, more morally ambiguous tone. Communication can't solve all the cultural conflicts on DS9, or even all the conflicts on the station. That results in a look at the Trek universe that focuses on some of the holes in Gene Roddenberry's idealistic future society. That can turn off a lot of long-time Trek fans, but it also provided a blueprint for a lot of the more violent and morally complex sci-fi, like Battlestar Galactica, that are airing now.

Upright Citizens Brigade

½

Hulu Plus, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: Parks and Recreation

Before she starred in Parks and Recreation, before she was even on Saturday Night Live, Amy Poehler (along with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh) was producing great sketch comedy on The Upright Citizens Brigade (Comedy Central, 1998--2000). The show itself never broke out of the shadow of nineties sketch giants like The Kids in the Hall but the UCB group has defined a generation of comedy. The group's members have of course been responsible for some of the best comedy of the last decade but, through UCB theaters in New York and LA, they've also trained and featured a new generation of genius comedians.

Felicity

Netflix, full series now streaming

Watch if you liked: Lost, Alias

This pick is a little bit tongue in check. J.J. Abrams first series is almost nothing like his others. Felicity (WB, 1998--2001) follows its title character as she skips out on an Ivy League education to follow her high-school crush to NYU (or rather the incredibly thinly fictionalized University of New York). For its first three seasons, the show is a very traditional nighttime soap, but it's interesting to watch Abrams slowly reject how traditional the show wants to be. Eventually Abrams can't resist his time travel obsession, and at the start of the fourth season, Felicity wakes up just before an important decision in season two, letting her see what would happen if she picked the other man in her love triangle. (You knew the show would have a love triangle right?)

What's new

Portlandia (IFC) Seasons 1--2: Netflix

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margrett (IFC) Seasons 1--2: Netflix

Expiring soon

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Syndicated) Part 3: Netflix (1/12)

Excel Saga (Syndicated) Full Series: Netflix (1/17)

IDG UK Sites

3 of the best portable chargers: a solar power charger, a hand-cranked charger, and how to charge...

IDG UK Sites

iOS 8 review: Hands on with the iOS 8 beta

IDG UK Sites

Thinking robots: The philosophy of artificial intelligence and evolving technology

IDG UK Sites

Sharknado 2 VFX: how The Asylum created CG flying man-eating sharks