What are some TV series with really good story arcs?
December 28, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I love me some arcs. Please share your favorite TV shows that offer really good story arcs. Leaning towards mystery and sci-fi. I'd prefer shows that feature "factual accuracy" within the context of the show.

As per factual accuracy, I'm totally willing to buy into the premise of a show (aliens exist, you can read someone's brain using a series of wires) but not external inconsistencies. For example, I thought I was going to like The Librarian before I'd seen an episode -- who wouldn't enjoy a show about an Indiana Jones-style librarian adventurer? But in the (only) episode I saw, they find a copy of "the" Book of Genesis in Solomon's Mine and it's a book--a bound volume. Oh and they also find "the Dead Sea scrolls" there too. Really?!? But I had no problem with the idea that the book in question could be used to conjure up ancient spirits. That's fair game.

Bonus points for shows that can be viewed online or can be gotten easily via Netflix.
posted by Deathalicious to Media & Arts (75 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Wire.

Put all 5 seasons in your queue. I'm working my way through a second time, and it's just as awesome.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:48 PM on December 28, 2008 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Dexter, season one. Maybe season two as well, I haven't finished it yet. But the entire first season is based on the first novel and unfolds magnificently, like a good book should.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:49 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The new Battlestar Gallactica made us almost miss work a couple times.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:50 PM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

The Wire. Everyone will say this, and for good reason. The Wire and do not delay.

Dexter is also a great one. Especially season 1 which is basically a just very long murder mystery.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:51 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Veronica Mars! It was a great show with a lot of potential. Season 1 has a pretty good arc. Season 2 wasn't as good, but it still had an arc and was entertaining. I'd skip season 3, though.
posted by firei at 1:02 PM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I are watching The X-Files. The wiki page has a list of all of the mytharc episodes; the rest of the episodes are of the monster of the week variety. SurfTheChannel has the whole series available, hosted on Tudou and Sina--of the two, Tudou has better quality encoding, but really needs to prebuffer before you can watch.

If you're going to be super picky, I have no idea if it'll work for you. It's set in contemporary times (~1994), and they include a fair number of current events. There're definitely a few points where I'm like, "What!? That's assinine!". But, for the most part, we're loving it. I especially love that it's just about the first show to use cell phones and the internet (Scully had email before I did); they mention nanotech, brain implants, genetic engineering. And, surprisingly, they do it well, and aside from "enhancing" images, rarely show their machines doing what they can't actually do. Hell, even the UI on the computers looks legit--a kind of mix of unix and Mac OS.

Just to let you know, the series absolutely jumps the shark at some point. I don't remember the exact season, but somewhere around the 7th season, David Duchovny left the cast, and the whole show lost the thread.
posted by Netzapper at 1:02 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Damages. Has an awesome cast: Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Rose Byrne. It's one long mystery told over 10-15 episodes. It starts out with the murder of the lead character's fiancee and spins out from there. Season 2 starts in January on FX, but Season 1 is on DVD, and you should be able to rent it. It is self-contained (i.e. it won't leave you with huge cliffhangers like Lost or something). It's pretty consistent; not too many plot holes (that I could find, but I'm not super sharp).
posted by bluefly at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

if you havent seen it, try six feet under. same actor as stars in dexter. true blood is pretty cool too :)
posted by big open mouth at 1:06 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are good arc shows. Burn Case is a little cheesy, but it's fun, and it has Bruce Campbell. If you're willing to get away from mystery and sci-fi, Slings and Arrows and Ugly Betty might be worth a look.
posted by EarBucket at 1:11 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Babylon 5. I warn you now that the first season is a bit of a struggle as the actors and crew settle into what they do, and the final season is generally considered a bit anticlimactic. Seasons 2 - 4 are TV SciFi gold, and still streets ahead, in terms of complexity, of pretty much anything else in that niche. The character development around the major support characters is quite compelling, and the major arc is bolder than most of the simple-minded good alien/bad alien out there.
posted by rodgerd at 1:13 PM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Star Trek Deep Space 9 - had a great story arc over many seasons.
posted by All.star at 1:21 PM on December 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Seconding Dexter.

Also: Big Love, The Wire, The Sopranos, and most all of the other HBO original series.
posted by nitsuj at 1:29 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Life. Great music, great humor, and a really good arc. Seemingly minor characters are coming back in a big way this season, and the show overall has a great "everything's connected" feel. Season 1 and the 5 most reason episodes from Season 2 are on Hulu.
posted by niles at 1:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second Veronica Mars, especially the first season. The second season was fun to watch because of the characters, but the season's mystery was pretty weak.

Also, Life. It's in the middle of its second season right now, and it just keeps getting better, if you can ignore the dreadfully unrealistic "dead" "bodies."
posted by Bella Sebastian at 1:34 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: I think Deadwood is one of the best written TV series I've seen. Not sci-fi or mystery, but there is a great story arc.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Burn Case is a little cheesy

Sorry, I'll try not to moderate my own question but for those of you who haven't heard of the show, it's actually Burn Notice [warning: videos with loud sound] and yeah, Bruce Campbell aces the role as Sam Axe, the hardened former intelligence operative turned beach bum. It actually does fit the criteria and I do find myself wondering why the burn notice happened but since I don't really like the protagonist I don't feel quite as motivated to follow the series.

Actually, Babylon 5 is one of the shows that triggered this question...I've been slowing watching it over again since it looks like they have all of Season 1 and some of Season 2 on hulu now.

Now I'll just award a few best answers then sit on my hands.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:40 PM on December 28, 2008

I'm totally willing to buy into the premise of a show (aliens exist, you can read someone's brain using a series of wires)

Based on this quote, I'm guessing you've looked into this, but have you seen Fringe? It's brand new (still in its first season) but you can watch it on Fox for free, and it's interesting so far.
posted by Night_owl at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2008

Life on Mars. Not the US version, which doesn't suck out loud, but the UK version, which is gold.

Nthing Six Feet Under, Dexter and very much BSG. I like Burn Notice, for the record, but I agree it's a little fluffy. You're likely to vastly prefer Dexter.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:49 PM on December 28, 2008

it's actually Burn Notice

Oops. Don't know how I managed to do that.

Anyhoo, if you haven't watched 24, the later seasons devolved into silliness, but the first season is some pretty good TV, particularly if you like that kind of spy stuff.
posted by EarBucket at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2008

The greatest TV story arc of all time doesn't fit into our requirements but I feel it should be added. (about 6:40 into) the series finale of "Newhart".
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: but have you seen Fringe?

Ha ha, I am watching it right now. I keep waiting for it break my heart but it still keeps on being a fun watch.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2008

If you like fringe, it might be worth checking out J.J. Abrams' older show Alias, which is full of really great arcs up until about the middle of the fourth season, when he left to start work on LOST.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: scratch that, the middle of the THIRD season is where it started sucking and getting a little rediculous.
it's worth watching up until the end of that season, though.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2008

ReGenesis is one of the best I've seen recently. Seasons 1-3 are on Hulu.
posted by Houstonian at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2008

Sorry for the derail, but if DS9 fans could only get a few seasons of the show, what seasons would they get? I'm low on cash and time to hunt down all the DVDs, but I'd like to watch the best of it, and enjoy the arcs. After seeing TNG, I don't want to sit through two seasons that weren't that great.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:11 PM on December 28, 2008

nthing Dexter.

True Blood just completed its first season and I'm really digging it... vampires, shape shifters, demons?

I know you specified scifi but for a sitcom, How I Met Your Mother has been arcing over the past 4 seasons... and it stays fresh and entertaining.

Sarah Connor Chronicles would probably fit your description and I think is available on hulu.
posted by hummercash at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2008

Television is (imv) usually pretty bad, and even the praised shows (Sopranos) seem a bit flaccid once watching the entire series. I mean, is Steve Van Zandt going to make that face every episode?

Anyway, The Wire is different. It is great! Seriously consider watching all 5 seasons.
posted by plexi at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2008

Sorry for the derail, but if DS9 fans could only get a few seasons of the show, what seasons would they get?

Honestly? I'd shell out for a Netflix subscription and watch the whole thing at a fraction of the price you'd pay to buy even a couple of seasons on DVD.

I believe, though, (it's been more than a decade since I've seen the show) that it didn't really get going until the fourth season.
posted by EarBucket at 2:20 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have to second Angel. They did a very good thing with their story arc... I won't reveal too much, but sufficed to say, everything they did during their first three seasons is why the shit really hits the fan in the fourth. When they did the big reveal in season 4, I tell you, it blew my fucking mind.

Also, yeah, Deep Space Nine had a great story arc and as others have said, LOST is the king of the super-involved story-arc at the moment.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:23 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Lots and lots of good stuff already listed here, including all of my favorite shows ever except one: Arrested Development. A completely arc-based comedy series! Mind-blowingly original humor in a single-camera format! Jokes that are set up 2 seasons in advance! No wonder it was destined for failure. Add to queue immediately.
posted by junkbox at 2:24 PM on December 28, 2008 [6 favorites]

"Sorry for the derail, but if DS9 fans could only get a few seasons of the show, what seasons would they get?"

Seasons 3 through 6. Season 7 is kinda dull, I must admit, but if you can watch just the final 10 episodes of Season 7 somehow, you'd be right with purchasing just seasons 3 to 4.

While I'm at it, another great sci-fi show with a very long story arc is Stargate SG-1. Running for 10 seasons, the arc is pretty much wrapped up by the end of the eighth, but generally the whole series is great fun to watch.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:26 PM on December 28, 2008

A little addendum about The Wire.

The Wire is part morality tale, part metaphor for other current events, and part police procedural, with clever and funny dialog.

One of the great things about the show is that is respects the intelligence of the viewer. Some story arcs may take several seasons to pay off. The stories are complex, and there are many characters to keep track of, but the show does not spoon-feed you. That's why a second viewing is just as awesome as the first. (In fact, I plan on buying the whole 5-season set soon, because I know I'll watch it several more times.)

One word of warning: I would avoid listening to the DVD commentary until you watch it all the way through. I love commentaries, so I listened to each disk as I got it from Netflix, and some of the commentaries have spoilers. So, if you are a commentary fan, have some self control and wait.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

While I'm at it, another great sci-fi show with a very long story arc is Stargate SG-1.

In this house, we'll watch Stargate SG-Anything-At-All, but I have to disagree with this. It's a great show, but the arc is so long that it's practically lost. There are mini-arcs, too, like the Replicator series, but I really think of it as episodic television because each episode generally stands well on its own. Given the length of the series, there are relatively very few two-part cliff hangers, even.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2008

Seconding Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Battlestar Galactica.
posted by Muffpub at 2:43 PM on December 28, 2008

I really liked the short-lived Day Break that aired on ABC back a few years ago. It was available online briefly, but should be on DVD at Netflix. It's like the movie Groundhog Day mixed with a thriller/mystery/drama genre with an interesting story arc spanning the whole season.
posted by jaimev at 2:51 PM on December 28, 2008

Seconding Arrested Development.
Also The BBC version of the Office (which had 12 episodes and a finale and told a very unique story well in that time)

If you can watch anime (which I generally can't stand but did really like these):
Afro Samurai, Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, Paranoia Agent are all good shows that have a great story arc. The Venture Bros. second and third seasons have story arcs, but aren't as awesome as the first season (the latter half of which has a continuing plot throughout).
posted by Large Marge at 3:05 PM on December 28, 2008

Ugh, I could NOT stomach Afro Samurai, but then I'm VERY picky about anime. If you can get hold of the German anime series Elfen Lied and have a stomach for somewhat gratuitous violence at times, it is only 13 episodes long, with one story arc throughout, and I loved it.
posted by Night_owl at 3:07 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Watch British TV from the 70s and 80s. (And a few from later.) Don't expect American production values, but do expect fantastic writing, acting and the story arcs you're looking for. The arcs were there because, unlike in the US, the Brits generally don't run series indefinitely (until they "jump the shark"). Most of the great Brit series were fully planned from the beginning, and if they ran for multiple seasons, each season had its own complete arc.

I recommend:

"I, Claudius"
"Upstairs/Downstairs" (takes a while to find its feet and then becomes absolutely compelling)
"To Serve Them All My Days"
"Paradise Postponed"
"To Play The Kings"
"The Charmer"
"Prime Suspect"

In my opinion, the first two on my list are the best. I would say that the best TV series ever are "I, Claudius", "Upstairs Downstairs" and "Deadwood."

One of the reasons "Deadwood" is great (certainly not the only reason) is that it followed the Brit example of giving each season its own arc. So even though it's tragic that it got canceled, each season that exists is satisfying by itself.

Oh, you should also get the director's cut of "Fanny and Alexander." It's about six hours long and was originally filmed for Swedish TV.
posted by grumblebee at 3:11 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

the wire
twin peaks
babylon 5

non-TV: the invisibles graphic novel, grant morrison. meta-story arc about reality.
posted by gonzo_ID at 3:26 PM on December 28, 2008

All the new Doctor Who series are worth a watch (I can't vouch for the old stuff not having seen it, but 2004 onwards for definite). Some beautiful story arcs, amazing writing and brilliant acting. Really can't recommend it enough.
posted by teraspawn at 3:28 PM on December 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding Prime Suspect. I just watched Rome, the HBO series. Season 1 was excellent, Season 2, not as good, but still worth watching.

If you don't mind violence, The Shield. Especially the seasons with Forest Whitaker and Glenn Close.
posted by hazyspring at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2008

Oh, other sci-fi recommendation: Blake's 7. The special effects have aged about as well as you'd expect, but it's actually rather good. I've rewatched it a couple of times as an adult and I've been surprised at how well the first two seasons, especially, have aged. Rather nasty and bleak, and you have to be able to get past the shonky FX.
posted by rodgerd at 3:56 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Going back a long ways, try Homicide, Life on the Streets. It's the first series that Simon and Burns worked on, before the Wire. Great acting, fantastic characters, based on the book of the same name by Simon. It had a lot of great arcs, not always very long, maybe 3-4 episodes, but very compelling tv. The complete series is available on DVD now.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:00 PM on December 28, 2008

I'm throwing in my n+1 for Arrested Development, too. Great if you want an arcing series that puts humor before drama, rather than being a drama with comic relief, like most sci-fi arcs.

I like The Office, but the arcing is pretty light. Missing an episode won't ruin the series, which is why it doesn't have "On the last episode of The Office," aside from the season 3 first episode. It mostly focuses on jokes and interactions between the coworkers, and usually the main plot is pretty self contained, while the relationships tend to go through a small amount change, building up over the season.

Firefly hinted at developing an arc, but it died way too early. Still, there's always some remote hint the series may be revived as a comic book series or sequels to Serenity.

If you can tolerate anime, most series do have arcing plots. Evangelion and FLCL are kinda the standards, although the plots make nearly no sense. Evangelion hints at a grand plot mired in biblical apocrypha and Jewish myth, while FLCL seems like an acid trip, but people have been able to form cogent theories for both series.

Granted, if you're an arc connoisseur, consider me a guy drinking a sugary cooler, as I gave up on Lost during the second season, and it's apparently the perfect demonstration of story arcs. For me, the story was getting too complex, and the mysteries weren't really advancing, so much as just throwing up more questions.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2008

I can't add anything fresh to your list, I'm just here to Nth The Wire. Its the best TV show ever made IMHO. Be prepared to have to work a bit, it doesn't baby you with plot exposition dialogue like most mainstream TV. Really worth it though, I just got the 5 season set for Christmas and I'm really looking forward to re-watching it, and seeing all the little things that foreshadow future events. I love re-reading a great book, but how often does that happen with a TV series?
posted by Joh at 4:05 PM on December 28, 2008

I'm a fan of Ultraviolet, a short British series about a secret government agency that hunts vampires. They did a very nice job in thinking out the consequences of their version of the vampire mythology (ie, vampires cannot be recorded on electronic devices like surveillance cameras, which is useful, but also cannot heard on telephones, which is awkward).
posted by SPrintF at 5:09 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I second the new Doctor Who -- there's even an entire Wikipedia article called "Story arcs in Doctor Who." Don't read it though, because obviously there are spoilers, but it's just proof that your story arcs are there, and also the show is awesome.
posted by thebazilist at 5:14 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Everyone's pounded the obvious into the ground already, but I'll give a hearty second to Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles. The second season especially revels in the time-travelly causation puzzles that can crop up as well as the machines' rapidly maturing relationship with humanity. Really getting into the guts of the world.

Also, Spooks (MI-5 in its native country, the UK) has a pretty great first two seasons. Just stop watching when all the characters you love are replaced. :/

And even though it's short on story-arcs, if you're a fan of mystery and sci-fi, you can't do much better than seeing The Prisoner or The Avengers. They are source material for alot of contemporary sci-fi/mystery epics. Campy and lovely.
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:16 PM on December 28, 2008

The West Wing also has some good arcs, as well as some of the best-written dialogue in the history of television (for the first few seasons, at least).
posted by EarBucket at 5:52 PM on December 28, 2008

Another vote for Rome. Both seasons.
posted by NortonDC at 6:23 PM on December 28, 2008

Well, naturally The Wire. The original Office seems tighter to me than the American version - which may be because I watched every single episode in one go.

How tight do you want that arc? The Supernatural is a bit loose on the over-arching story thing, but tons of fun and if you are gay you can enjoy all the Winchester brother hunkiness. (If the object of "just got engaged" in your profile is a woman, she can enjoy all the Winchester brother hunkiness.)

But honest to god, The Wire is insane. There are cases where a character shows up for one line - one - in season one or two and then reappears for two lines in season four or five - and the lines do add to the context of the story. Awesome.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:37 PM on December 28, 2008

Sorry for the derail, but if DS9 fans could only get a few seasons of the show, what seasons would they get? I'm low on cash and time to hunt down all the DVDs, but I'd like to watch the best of it, and enjoy the arcs. After seeing TNG, I don't want to sit through two seasons that weren't that great.

The first couple seasons of DS9 are way better than the weakest seasons of TNG, and the story builds in such a way that you're initially just watching some good star trek and then suddenly you're in the middle of something phenomenal. It's worth seeing from the start.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 PM on December 28, 2008

Eureka on the Sci-Fi channel has some season-long story arcs, I think. I haven't watched it consistently to tell you for sure, but it has a great sense of humor.
posted by lilac girl at 6:43 PM on December 28, 2008

I think six feet under deserves a little description.

It may essentially be a soap opera but the writing and story arc are incredibly good, as well as the acting, and creepiness. The final (fifth) season wasn't as good and the finale was awful, but I haven't cared about characters in a episodic show anywhere near as much.
posted by huxley at 7:00 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Wiseguy is an oldie (1987-90) but a goodie. One of the 1st crime dramas to use an arc format. It's about a deep undercover agent who gets involved with the Mob in one arc (Ray Sharkey) a drug dealing psychopath (Kevin Spacey) and his sister (Joan Severance) in another, a white supremecist (Fred Thompson) in a third and a crooked garment manufacturer (Jerry Lewis!!!) in another. These all came out on DVD.

There is an excellent arc about the music business with Deborah Harry, but this and a bunch of others aren't available on DVD. Each arc is pretty independent. If I had to pick one I'd choose the Kevin Spacey one but it's out of print and hard to find.
posted by MCTDavid at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2008

Best answer: Please don't ignore the recommendations for Veronica Mars. That show was excellent, especially season 1. Also, Slings and Arrows, especially season 1, is excellent. Firefly viewed with Serenity will give you a good (resolved) arc. Wonderfalls, while not for everyone, also works well.
posted by gudrun at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We love The Wire, the Sopranos, Rome, also completely 2nd the British-TV idea, esp. Prime Suspect and Cracker, and Sarah Connor is great stuff.

Surprised not to have seen some of these on this list, coming in late as I am (others are pretty obscure, but we loved 'em all, and all are arcs, not episodic):

The 4400
Prison Break
The State Within
State of Play

NOT SF or mysteries, but arcing and excellent:
Friday Night Lights
The Best of Youth
Cold Feet
The L Word
Island at War
Samurai Trilogy
Piece of Cake

(All at Netflix.)
posted by dpcoffin at 8:43 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Farscape. Often derided as "muppets in space", but there is a good reason that the fans freaked when the fifth and final season ended - it ended on a cliffhanger that was pretty intense. The ending "season" got a shorter mini-series (The Peacekeeper Wars) to close the series out, and it's also got a comic book followup out now. (Similar to the Buffy Season 9 comic.)

A fully realized universe, internal consistency, and characters that grow and develop is the main reason to watch it, imo.
posted by gemmy at 9:38 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fourth season ending, sry.
posted by gemmy at 9:39 PM on December 28, 2008

I am a huge fan of Desperate Housewives.

I find I'm utterly alone in this amongst absolutely all the people I know, but it doesn't bother me. Great show, season-long secretive story arcs.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although Pushing Daisies was generally just an adorable procedural during season one, it has developed a lovely arc throughout season two. (Which may or may not ever be resolved, depending on if ABC decides to show the three remaining episodes.)
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 10:13 PM on December 28, 2008

Don't forget "Murder one". They only made two seasons, but it's about as arc-driven as you can get. Essentially, each case takes an entire season.
posted by mmoncur at 11:31 PM on December 28, 2008

Sorry for the derail, but if DS9 fans could only get a few seasons of the show, what seasons would they get?
Season 4-7 is what I would get, and then fill in 1-3 later as budget allows.
Have to disagree with a few upthread on this who said season 7 was weak, IMHO it was the glue that held the arc together.

Stargate's SG-1 arcs are lengthy, but when you watch the whole series in a short period of time (as I did seasons 1-7) it doesn't seem that there is too much episodic action. Small things in most episodes move the arcs along even when it's not the central part of the story. Atlantis's arcs are more pronounced I find, and they have 2 and sometimes 3 parters every season.

nthing Galactica as pretty much the epitome of scifi arc series.
posted by barc0001 at 2:49 AM on December 29, 2008

Also, as a couple of people mentioned anime upthread, it's not for everyone's tastes, I don't generally watch much myself, but there have been a few standouts for me:

Original Robotech/Macross I saw when I was a kid, it's kind of dated now but still worth a look.

Macross Frontier (If you're into downloading the eps with english fan-made subtitles) is pretty much the updated sequel to Macross that I've been waiting 20 years for since I saw the first one as a kid, mentioned above.

Fullmetal Alchemist is good as well. Definitely not a "kids" anime, based on the relative heaviness of the subject matter, I'd say suitable for young teens and above. Good storyline, my daughter and I watched it and it was a definite catalyst for discussions of perspective, and that the world is seldom black and white.

Cowboy Bebop was good

FLCL just made me jealous that Japan gets all the really good drugs.
posted by barc0001 at 3:05 AM on December 29, 2008

Best answer: Nthing The Wire and The Shield

The Singing Detective is one of, if not, the best thing that was ever shown on British television... kind of a post-modern take on the classic detective story.

Our Friends In The North is probably the best thing since that.

I'll add Survivors - 70s series about people trying to rebuild civilization after a mass epidemic wipes out most of the population. It drags a bit in the second series but comes good at the end. (A remake has just been shown on the BBC but it was bloody awful)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:04 AM on December 29, 2008

I can't believe this has gone unmentioned: Bodies

Two seasons and a xmas special of glorious arcing goodness.
posted by roofus at 6:22 AM on December 29, 2008

Fans of The Wire should watch The Shield.

It's a 7-season plot arc with four or five sub-arcs that tied into the main. Easily one of the tightest, best-written shows I've ever seen.

The final episode was gut wrenching.
posted by Thistledown at 7:13 AM on December 29, 2008

Best answer: Buffy! For a show about vampires, it is the most internally consistent universe I've ever seen. Most of the characters have strong arcs, and they are clearly the same people at the end of the series that they were at the beginning. Willow in particular has some of the best character development I've ever seen. While she definitely grows and changes, it always makes sense and it's clear she's still got the same personal issues.

While probably little in Buffy was planned out entirely in advance, the writers were excellent at referencing and building on what came before, so it feels like a consistent, cohesive world.

I noticed one of the first Best Answers mentioned The X-Files, and while I still enjoy their exploits, I must respectfully disagree. Scully would constantly see weird out there shit, and the next episode she'd seem to forget all about it and go back to playing the skeptic. She got a little better at this near the end, but still. The "mythology" episodes are actually a load of crap and don't make any sense when you consider the big picture. It definitely jumped the shark earlier than Season 7. In my mind Season 5 and 6 sucked, Season 7 was better as they seemed to be heading for an ending with renewed energy. The less said about the last two seasons the better.

My favourite moment of X Files' terrible continuity is when someone asks Mulder either why the killer did something, or what he's going to do next. Mulder's reply? "How should I know, I'm not a psychologist." This despite the fact that the pilot makes it clear that he is, and in fact made his name at the FBI as an excellent profiler. Sheesh.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Here are a few more anime recs, all with excellent arcs, in no particular order:

Gunslinger Girl
Trinity Blood
Speed Grapher
Samurai Seven(based on Akira Kurosawa's film Seven Samurai; Kurosawa had a hand in the series' development)
Samurai Champloo(although most episodes can stand on their own, they serve to further a larger arc)

I seriously can't recommend them heartily enough. Definitely not kids' stuff.
posted by owtytrof at 8:55 AM on December 29, 2008

Best answer: As a big fan of Babylon 5, Deep Space 9, The Wire, Firefly, Dexter, Lost, Sarah Connor Chronicles, etc... I nth them all and provide the following recommendations:

Millennium (especially seasons 1-2, when Wong and Morgan were doing the writing) has a particularly effective and interesting multi-episode arc. It's not all FBI-profiler-catching-serial killers, as those who hung in there past episode 1.4 will attest...

You could also watch "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" (both satirical comedies) as well as "House of Cards" (political thriller). My anglophile husband loved those series, but to be fair, you don't have to be an anglophile to enjoy them. The masterful backstabbing and manipulation of the latter show is hard to beat, even in an era of endless permutations of "Survivor" and "Big Brother". All are available on Netflix.
posted by parilous at 10:31 AM on December 29, 2008

Extras (the Ricky Gervais HBO comedy series) sort of has an arc in that it follows the rising and falling star of the main character. And it has a REALLY satisfying finale, and really funny star cameos in every episode (my favorites- David Bowie, Kate Winslet, Patrick Stewart).

It kinda tells the story of Ricky's own rise to fame, actually. But much more exagerrated and funny. :)
posted by thejrae at 12:54 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

True Blood on HBO has had only 1 season (HBO style of course) and it had a good arc for season 1. I recommend that show to all. as for shows already mentioned.....

I love scifi and I'm glad to see someone mentioned Farscape. Really good stuff.

We're in the middle of watching Stargate SG-1, which we're enjoying a lot. We ended up buying the full series on DVD (on sale via Amazon!) because Netflix had too many discs o "Unknown" availability (same with Farscape unfortunately). It is episodic, but agree with above that when you watch it continuously (like 1 ep/night) it moves along fine.

And nthing Babylon 5, which started out with a known arc. Agree 2-4 are best seasons, but it at least ends well (season 5). Be warned it mainly a 5-season story arc.

Glad you're watching Fringe. I think it is solid non-space scifi. I can't wait for it to return!!

As for Eureka mentioned above, they do have some arcs, but even if it doesn't qualify you should watch it anyway. Great scifi comedy (which are rare).
posted by evening at 1:53 PM on December 29, 2008

Echoing much of what's already been said, the final season of The Shield really solidified it as one of the greatest television programs (especially the arc) of all time. Phenomenal stuff.
posted by dhammond at 3:49 PM on December 29, 2008

Response by poster: Holy crap. Well, the good news is that now if I don't have a life I a) have only you people to blame and b) won't have the free time to contemplate it.

Consider this question frikkin resolved.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:06 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Arrested Development is available in its entirety on Hulu.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 12:03 PM on January 12, 2009

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