Starting Points for Long-Running TV Shows

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There is a ton of great TV out there, and now with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it’s easier than ever to catch up on TV shows that have been around for a while, or even start watching a show long after it finished. While with some shows, it’s easy to jump right in on the first episode of a series, it’s not always that simple. What about shows like Doctor Who that have been around for literally a half a century? Where do you even start with a show like that? Or how about something like Supernatural that’s been on for a decade? It can seem like a daunting task to go all the way back to season one, episode one of such a well-established show. What if you hate it? What if, despite your friends prodding you on, saying, “It gets better, I promise, just stick with it!”, you’re ready to jump ship on the show? While I myself am a fan of the “season one, episode one” method of TV watching, I completely understand that for long-running TV shows, it can be nice to have a place to start other than the pilot to see if you even enjoy the show.  So here are some entry points to a few long-running TV shows other than the series premiere.

Doctor Who (premiered 2005) 

Doctor Who has been on the air for ages. While Classic Who is absolutely great, and a vital part of the Whovian canon, I usually don’t recommend Classic Who to new viewers. I usually tell my friends to start with new Who and then circle back to the classic stuff. Specifically, I–along with just about any Whovian out there–always recommend this episode as a great starting point for prospective Whovians:

Blink (Episode 3.10)

Blink introduces my favorite modern villain, The Weeping Angels, and it’s inventive storyline that immediately sucks you into the world of Doctor Who. An episode outside the season’s main story arc, it’s also just a solid stand-alone episode, and the perfect Whovian gateway episode.

The Empty Child (Episode 1.9)

I usually recommend “Empty Child” to a friend who is struggling to “get” the first season of Who. If you’ve tried to jump in to Doctor Who starting with Christopher Eccleston’s very first episode and are finding it a bit campy for your taste, jump forward a few episodes to “Empty Child”. It’s one of my personal favorite episodes, and it’s when the show starts to really find its groove. Also, little kids in gas masks saying, “Are you my mummy?” are freaking creepy.

Of course, because of the nature of the show, a great place to jump in is when a new companion climbs aboard the TARDIS or when the Doctor regenerates. Personally, I recommend a regeneration rather than a new companion. Christopher Eccleston (the Ninth Doctor) is featured in the first season, but if you don’t want to start Doctor Who with the series premiere, here are the first episodes of Ten, Eleven, and Twelve:

David Tennant’s First Episode: The Christmas Invasion (Episode 2.0)

Matt Smith’s First Episode: The Eleventh Hour (Episode 5.1)

Peter Capaldi’s First Episode: Deep Breath (Episode 8.1)

Supernatural (premiered 2005)

I’ll be honest. You kinda need to start this show from the beginning. The story is like a snowball rolling downhill, and so missing a season or a chunk of episodes means you’ll miss big pieces of information. The series premiere, in fact, features a very significant death that starts one of the characters on the path he’ll walk for the rest of the show. However, if you are looking to test drive Supernatural before you pull the trigger to start watching all ten seasons, here are some good jumping off points:

Dead Man’s Blood (Episode 1.20)

The entire first season of Supernatural is very “monster of the week”. However, there is an underlying story that keeps Sam and Dean moving from point A to point B. “Dead Man’s Blood” is where that story line becomes front-and-center. Of course, this episode is in season one, so if you’re going to start here, you might as well start twenty episodes back with the series premiere. Just sayin’.

No Rest for the Wicked (Episode 3.16) and Lazarus Rising (Episode 4.1)

I hesitate to send you off on a mission to watch “No Rest for the Wicked” without advising you to follow it up immediately with “Are You There God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester.” The reason being, “No Rest” by itself is a pretty heavy episode, and it has such a sense of finality that might keep you from ever watching another episode again. However, if you can devote a two-hour block to watching “No Rest” and “Are You there”, the huge emotion behind the show and the crazy-addicting story line will most likely pull you in to the ranks of the crazy Supernatural family.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Episode 8.1)

After the completion of season five, Supernatural went through some growing pains. Initially, the show creators didn’t envision a Supernatural past season five. Because of this, seasons six and seven were good seasons with some great episodes (for instance, one of my favorite meta-sodes, “The French Mistake” is in season six), but they weren’t as strong as the previous five. However, the show finds its groove again in season eight. That GIANT story line from the first five seasons long sorted out, season eight is where the show finally finds its footing and begins on another huge storyline.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (premiered in 1997)

This is another great staple in geek and sci-fi/horror culture, and is certainly a must-see. A product of the ever-brilliant Joss Whedon, Buffy is one of those shows that you can’t help but recommend to any geek you come into contact with. Again, this show premiered quite a while ago, so it’s possible that you simply never got into the show. In my opinion, this show doesn’t have as many entry points as something like Doctor Who, but here are a couple places that you could jump in if you aren’t ready to start watching the series from the pilot:

When She Was Bad (Episode 2.1)

Regardless of how much we love Buffy, if you ask most Buffy fans, they’ll tell you that the show’s first season was definitely not the show’s strongest. While the first season does lay important groundwork for the show and the show’s characters, the initial campiness–much like the first season of Doctor Who, just without the farting aliens–can turn off new viewers. Because of that, jumping in on the first episode of season two can often be a good idea.

Hush (Episode 4.10)

This is one of my favorite episodes of Buffy. Oddly enough, it features less than thirty minutes of dialogue. It features the super creepy villains called “The Gentlemen,” who steal their victim’s voices prior to killing them. Buffy and her friends spend most of the episode trying to figure out who is responsible without speaking. This episode shows how imaginative and genius Joss Whedon and the Buffy cast are, and will get any newcomer instantly hooked on the show. Also? The Gentlemen are pretty terrifying. Just look at that picture up there. Good luck sleeping with that guy in your brain.

Once More, With Feeling (Episode 6.7)

This one is probably more fun for a Buffy viewer who has seen more than this one episode, but “One More Time with Feeling” is arguably one of the best musical episodes on television. Because it’s a musical episode, it’s certainly out of the ordinary, but it’s an incredibly fun episode with a flawless musical aspect. This one isn’t necessarily representative of the show as a whole, but it will certainly pique the interest of first-time viewers. Plus, if you’re like me and you love musical theatre, you’re all about musical episodes.

What are your favorite long-running shows? Where do you recommend new watchers start watching? What episodes of Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer would you recommend new comers start with? Let’s talk about it in the comments! 

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