40 Box Sets to See Before You’re 40 (Part 2)

So here it is: part two of my ultimate guide to box sets. There’s years of research and intense lying about has gone into this post. Oh yes.

Yesterday, I gave you my entirely personal, partisan selection of the best 20 box-sets for fans of comedy, guilty pleasures, family dramas and teen shows. Today, I’m all about supernatural, sci-fi, and (vaguely) medical and legal drama, along with a couple of shows I didn’t quite know where to place.

If I’ve missed one of your favourites, let me know in the comments. Although I didn’t forget to mention Allie McBeal or Sex and the City. That was an entirely deliberate choice, friends. You don’t need to sink that low.



The Vampire Diaries: It’s everything you want from a vampire TV show – over-dramatic, unlikely and featuring more attractive young people than you can shake a stick at. There’s a central storyline about a teenage girl (Elena) who falls for a vampire (Stefan) who was turned into a vampire hundreds of years ago by her doppelganger, but for the most part it stops making sense around season 2. Just enjoy the ride.

buffy the vampire slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What are the odds, eh? Buffy Summers is a cheerleader whose school happens to be built on top of a portal to Hell. Cue lots of demons, vampires and monsters, and Buffy is called to become the next “slayer” to keep the world safe, with the help of her friends. It’s smart, it’s well written, and it’s very funny. Thankfully, the effects stand the test of time fairly well, and it’s got all the usual high school drama on top of the supernatural element. Although I’m not sure I ever had a hot vampire boyfriend to contend with.


Supernatural: Two brothers, Sam and Dean, are raised as demon hunters by their father. Typically each week features a different monster that the boys have to take on, but there’s also a great story arc spanning the first five seasons. There’s also a killer soundtrack, lots of great one-liners and the eternal question: “Sam or Dean?” Dean.


The Secret Circle: When she wasn’t busy writing Vampire Diaries stories, LJ Smith took on witches with The Secret Circle – if you’re a Vampire Diaries fan, this one’s worth hunting down, too. Teenage girl Cassie moves to a New England town where she finds out that she’s a powerful dark witch (as you do). It’s even cheesier than Vampire Diaries, and doesn’t feature Damon Salvatore, but it’s an entertaining watch nonetheless.


True Blood: I still maintain the titles are my favourite part of this show, but there’s plenty more to love about this gothic, graphic tale of vampires in Louisiana – not to mention the fairies and the were-panthers. I love that someone invented the were-panther. Hilarious, dark and featuring plenty of gore, if you loved Six Feet Under, you’ll like this show.


Game of Thrones: Okay, so it’s the Middle Ages and there’s a war going on that looks a bit like the War of the Roses, except there are zombies, and mysterious happenings and a lot – seriously a LOT – of people die. In massively violent ways. And then someone throws dragons into the mix. It’s amazingness. There is a dizzying cast of characters and an epic setting but the show more than does them justice – it’s epic, it’s bawdy, it’s violent and it’s brilliant. Unmissable.



Misfits: This British series is now just a memory but it’s well worth investing in this fascinating, borderline bizarre story of a group of South London teenagers who are mysteriously given super powers while they’re doing their community service. It’s vulgar, it’s gory, it’s funny and the cast of characters has some of the most inventive superhero powers EVER – the power to bring drawings to life, anyone?


Roswell: So what if aliens really did land at Roswell, and they’d been living amongst us, as children, all this time? That’s the premise of this Jason Katims project, which has three aliens disguised as teenagers living in the town of Roswell. Everyone’s oblivious until one day, there’s a robbery, and one alien is faced with the choice of losing the love of his life – or exposing his alien gifts. It’s not the most robust sci-fi you’ve ever seen, but it’s lots of fun, and a bit like a more exciting version of Dawson’s Creek.


The 4400: This great show didn’t get the audience it deserved when it was broadcast, but is based on a great premise: what if all those people abducted by aliens over the past 100 years were all returned to earth at the very same moment, without ever realising they’d been gone?  There’s plenty of great drama to be had exploring what happens if you are suddenly catapulted 10, 20 or 50 years into your future – your children don’t recognise you, your partner has moved on, or everyone you know is dead. And then there’s the question of why these people were sent back – and are they the same as when they left, or just a little bit… different?


Fringe: When Pacey Witter grew up, it turns out he turned into Peter, the lead character in this sci-fi gem. Another JJ Abrams show, Fringe is based on the idea that Peter was stolen from a parallel dimension by his mad scientist Dad when this world’s version of Peter died in an accident. From there, all manner of paranormal disasters flow – but at its heart, this is very much a character-driven drama.


six feet under

Six Feet Under: The first season of Six Feet Under is still my favourite – centred on a firm of funeral directors, each episode opens with a (usually) spectacularly awful death, and a new body for the family to deal with, alongside their own family dramas. It’s a very dark show but really still very moving – and shows us that, after all, death is the great equaliser that brings us all together.


Prison Break: Imagine you’ve been sentenced to death for a murder you (probably) didn’t commit, and you’re on Death Row in America’s most secure prison. You’d better hope you’ve got a brother like Michael Scofield who deliberately gets sent to your prison and puts into action the most brilliantly fiendish escape plan ever seen. The first season is one of the most clever pieces of TV plotting I think I’ve ever seen, but even more impressive is the fact that this made 4 seasons of proper, on-the-edge-of-your-seat TV.


Sherlock: If you haven’t watched it, you must. It’s incredibly well written, with fabulous acting from the two leading men, and my only complaint is there are far too few episodes, shown far too infrequently.


The West Wing: It’s American government as we sort of wish it was. Smart, thoughtful, principled and scripted by Aaron Sorkin. Martin Sheen plays Jed Bartlet, a Democratic president, and he spends a lot of time talking really fast with his staff – the best of whom are Toby, the irascible speech writer, and CJ, the tough-as-steel press officer. It’s truly flawless, and if you think politics shows are dull, this is the one to change your mind. 


The Following: Another gem from Kevin Williamson, this serial killer show is one of the best of 2013, starring Kevin Bacon as former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is forever linked with James Purefoy’s sociopathic professor Joe Carroll. This gothic tale has some occasionally unlikely and overdone plot twists, but it’s a lot of fun to watch, with plenty of gore. 


The Mentalist: If you can get past the idea that a handsome former stage hypnotist and psychic is allowed to become an informal member of the California Bureau of Investigation, then this weekly show is lots of fun, with a weekly mystery to solve that makes this the perfect show to pop in and out of – although there’s an attempt at an over-arching storyline where the team are trying to hunt down the killer of the psychic’s family. Simon Baker plays the lead character with a good deal of charm, and there’s a strong ensemble cast. It’s perfect Sunday afternoon fodder.

orangeisthenewblackOrange is the New Black: This is apparently Netflix’s most-watched show ever, and I’m not surprised. It’s a comedy telling the story of “nice blonde lady” Piper Chapman, who’s been sent to prison for a crime committed in her youth. There’s plenty of dark humour, and a recognition that people in prison are more than simple stereotypes, and even a nice blonde lady is stronger and more interesting than she might seem at first. 




Spaced: I didn’t know quite where to categorise Spaced but it’s brilliant regardless. On the surface this is just the story of London flatmates Tom and Daisy, who live in Tuffnell Park. They have a weird neighbour called Brian. From there the show descends into a vortex of weirdness that is packed with pop culture references, kidnapped pets, drunk landladies and more. It’s positively joyous and some of the jokes are still funny even on the 10th viewing.


Mad Men: A period drama that’s cool. Mad Men is the story of a fictional New York ad agency in the 1960s, when men smoked, and women stayed home drinking gin and worrying about their nerves. There’s boozing, back-stabbing and lots of very sharp suits, and at the heart of it all is Don Draper, the man who appears to be living the dream, but is slowly watching everything fall apart – he can sell the dream, but he’s certainly not living it.


Band of Brothers: I was once married to a guy who was obsessed with WWII history and I’ve sat through a lot of documentaries, films and box-sets about the war. This one, though, without a shadow of a doubt, is the best. The 10 episodes follow a group of US airborne soldiers behind enemy lines in 1944 as they take part in D-Day and fight their way through Europe via Arnhem, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the Death Camps. It’s moving, amazingly well acted, and features the combined talents of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. And it’s based on a true story. 


So that’s it – 40 shows you can’t afford to miss. How many have you seen? And how many have I missed?

(click to see Part 1 of this post)



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.

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  1. Nikki
    11th March 2014 / 1:36 pm

    Totally agree re Buffy, The Following – loving series 2 now too, True Blood (OMG I love that series – the guys mmmmm) and Scrubs – very cleverly written.

    I’d add Angel (split off from Buffy), Bones, Walking Dead, House and 24. We’re working our way through The Wire – I find it very dated (although apparently that’s a deliberate shooting style tactic) and I couldn’t understand a word of the “street talk” in series 1, but it’s improving.

    Also tried Breaking Bad but it failed to keep us interested. Friends said to stick with it, but we’re giving up.

    Next on our list based on recommendations is Homeland and Game of Thrones.

    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:50 pm

      I wasn’t totally convinced by Angel, I watched around half of season one and lost interest. And after Season 2 (possibly even season 1) I just found 24… upsettingly bad. But absolutely agree on Bones and (to a slightly lesser degree) House, which I loved for season 1-3, then I felt it tailed off a bit.

  2. 11th March 2014 / 1:57 pm

    That’s more like it. Spaced is great, Game of Thrones is okay (not a patch on the books but then when is a TV adaptation?) AND I’ve also enjoyed Sherlock and seen a bit of Buffy.
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    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:50 pm

      Oooh, get you! If you love Spaced, you’ll like Misfits, I bet.

  3. Dan Thornton
    11th March 2014 / 2:27 pm

    Pretty good list – I’d echo that Angel needs to be included along with Buffy. Still hurts that it was cancelled…

    Additions? Although it’s a bit cheesy I’m a sucker for Castle – the fact it stars Nathan Fillion (who appeared in other Joss Whedon productions Firefly and Serenity), makes it slightly cooler, but the fact that a middle-aged childish writer gets to team up with a sexy female detective is pretty basic wish fulfillment on my part…

    I’ve recently also got into Arrow – it’s not a bad effort at putting a superhero in a relatively interesting and realistic world. And in that vein, check out ‘Caper’ on Youtube – each episode is only 10 minutes long, but it’s a great free web serial…

    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:51 pm

      I’m on the fence about Angel, sorry. My list, my rules and all that. But yes, I enjoyed Castle and Firefly (haven’t seen Serenity), and I’ll make a note to check out Arrow and Caper 🙂

  4. 11th March 2014 / 3:16 pm

    I’m bookmarking these posts, there are some I’ve never heard of but would like to see, mostly on this post rather than the other one as this is more my ‘bag’ I have to agree with the others though, you are missing Angel. Actually, I only own one box set myself and that’s Angel, yup every single episode, although the first three series are on VHS. Spaced is a brilliant classic, that’s why I love Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End 🙂
    I also enjoyed, Dead Like Me and Tru Calling although they didn’t last long.
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    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:51 pm

      Ooh, well, in that case I hope you enjoy making some new discoveries. Maybe I should give angel a second go…

  5. 11th March 2014 / 3:30 pm

    I’d add:

    Blackadder- particularly series 2&3, it’s great
    IT Crowd- basically a vehicle for Richard Ayoade (Graham Linehan worked with him on Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace), it’s brilliant fun.
    Red Dwarf- (up to series 5ish) inventive, funny, and initially a sci fi series with a lot of comedy, it later became a comedy series with some sci fi and endless space corps directive gags, the earlier stuff still holds up well IMHO.
    Father Ted- This cow is small Dougal, that cow is far away. Small. Far away.
    Black Books- a second hand bookshop run by Dylan Moran, a man who doesn’t like people and doesn’t want to sell them books.

    Sitcoms rule, half an hour, so you can dip in whenever you want without committing too much time.
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    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:53 pm

      Oh, you know, the IT Crowd was on the list but got bumped in favour of something else. But it is AMAZING and I love it so, so much. Red Dwarf always felt a bit too nerdy for me (personally) and I enjoyed Father Ted but can’t imagine doing the watch and rewind thing I do with both Spaced and Modern Family…

  6. Joanne Mallon
    11th March 2014 / 5:15 pm

    So many of these I haven’t seen but would like to. Have you seen Deadwood? That’s excellent, the script just crackles. Also Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip I think is a bit underrated (code for I’m the only one that likes it).

    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:53 pm

      Not so keen on Deadwood, I ditched it after a few episodes but LOVE Studio 60, predictably.

  7. Carrie
    11th March 2014 / 5:58 pm

    I am in agreement with so, so many of these as well as those you posted yesterday. The one you’re missing (in my mind) is Boston Legal. There are only two series I have ever watched completely from start to finish TWICE: Boston Legal and Gilmore Girls. Both series have some of the most intelligent, witty, fantastic writing ever.

    • Sally
      11th March 2014 / 6:54 pm

      Is that the one with William Shatner and James Spader? You know, I think I saw an episode but it just didn’t appeal. But if you love Gilmore Girls as much as I love Gilmore Girls, maybe I should think again 🙂

  8. 11th March 2014 / 7:13 pm

    Loved both yesterdays and todays lists BUT the following were gaping holes to me:

    The InBetweeners – Ruddy hilarious
    Greys Anatomy – LOVE this show
    The Walking Dead – LOVE LOVE this show
    Breaking Bad – One of the best things that has been on TV EVER!!

    Still need to watch Sherlock!
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    • Sally
      12th March 2014 / 9:16 am

      I do love the In Betweeners but for me it’s not a repeated watch. I found Greys’ amazing but after a time it felt a bit too soapy for me. But have never seen Walking Dead, will check it out 🙂

  9. Bongi
    11th March 2014 / 8:45 pm

    So glad you included the mentalist on this list !!! Love it, still haven’t managed to watch the final season though. No one else I know has even heard of it though!

    • Sally
      12th March 2014 / 9:16 am

      Really? I think it’s quite popular…

  10. 11th March 2014 / 11:50 pm

    Yeah I watch and love everything in the Supernatural section… go figure! (also… forget Dean or Sam… CAS is where it’s at for me!) 😉
    Any whyyyy isn’t The Walking Dead on here? SACRILEGE!!
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    • 11th March 2014 / 11:51 pm

      Ohhhh and have you watched Falling Skies? Post apocolyptic with Noah Wiley as the main char. You MUST see it. Must must must!
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        • Sally
          12th March 2014 / 9:17 am

          Haven’t seen it. But I still remember in uni days, when he was in ER, we used to have a song with a chorus that went: Noah Wyle makes us smiley…” Happy days…