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In the hands of just about anyone other than the delightfully bizarre David Lynch (and co-creator Mark Frost), of course, the tangle would gradually unravel itself as the series progressed, the mystery elucidated little by little until the show reached a logical conclusion. Instead, Twin Peaks layers more mystery upon the initial mystery, growing increasingly enigmatic – and more maddeningly, wonderfully addictive – with each and every cliffhanger of an episode. Gorgeously surreal, part-nightmare and part-dream, and with enough symbolism to make your head burst from trying to figure it all out, Twin Peaks is proof of what good things are possible on those rare occasions when network television has dared to take a chance on true originality.

the sopranos
buy the complete first season; the complete second season; the complete third season (release date: August 27)
The Sopranos
is the perfect example of why television, as a medium, can sometimes tell a story better than film. The best mob movies have always emphasized character as much as plot – The Godfather, at heart, is a relationship movie more than an action flick – and the Sopranos makes excellent use of the long-running serial nature of television shows to let us sink into the lives and characters of the always-fascinating Soprano family. At the center of the family, and the show as well, is Tony Soprano: middle-level suburban Jersey Mob boss, husband, father, and exasperated son, whose recent bouts of anxiety attacks have landed him in secret weekly sessions with a psychiatrist. The sources of Tony’s stress, it turns out, are many and varied – from the mundane problems of family life (his son’s school troubles, his teenage daughter’s tense relationship with wife/mom Carmela, his own overbearing, manipulative, mean-spirited and possibly senile mom), to the not-so-mundane predicaments of life in The Family (Feds on his tail, an uncle who’s plotting to have him killed). Brutal and loving, charming and crude, James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano is one of the most complicated, interesting characters ever created for television. Toss in the complex relationships he has with the many equally fascinating members of his family, blood-related and otherwise, and what you get is something that’s often quite genuinely touching, frequently darkly comic, and always compulsively watchable.

buffy the vampire slayer
buy the complete first season; the complete second season (release date: June 11)
Buffy’s an easy show to mock if you’ve never actually seen an episode. For starters, there’s that silly title. But watch just an hour or two, and I dare you not to get hooked. Deftly mixing equal parts horror, comedy, and action – along with some of the best portrayals of high school life/young adulthood ever seen onscreen – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, like its titular character, offers way more depth and intelligence than one might initially expect. The show begins as sixteen-year-old Buffy Summers, by all appearances the stereotypical gorgeous California blonde, embarks on her first day of school at Sunnydale High. Buffy’s had a bit of a checkered past – she burned down the school gym at her school in LA, for one – and everyone, from her mom, to the new principle, to Buffy herself, is determined to make this move to Sunnydale a fresh start towards something a tad less destructive. All of which might be a perfectly reasonable goal, for any other girl anyway. But Buffy’s no ordinary teenager. She’s the Slayer, the one girl in all the world chosen to protect the world from the forces of evil – vampires, namely, but also zombies, werewolves and all the other creepy, crawly, lumpy, bumpy demons that wander the world wreaking havoc for mankind. Under the guidance of her Watcher, Giles, and with the help of her best friends Willow and Xander, Buffy juggles the normal problems of growing up with battling demons and saving the world. With its witty dialogue, fantastic cast, and an increasingly dark tone and epic scale that makes its well-rendered universe take on a mythic scope (beginning with season 2, especially), Buffy’s always been much more than just a fluffy-fun show about cute teens killing vampires. It’s about love and lust and friendship, anger and hatred and death, regret and forgiveness and change: that emotional rollercoaster of life. And it’s funny, and terrifying, and sad, and happy. And just plain all-around brilliant, brilliant TV.


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