The truth is that Netflix streaming service has built it’s popularity on tv shows more than it has on movies. In many ways Netflix seems to have been built for tv, particularly for shows that are good for “binge” watching (like all of the shows on the list you are about to read). Before getting to the best of the shows Netflix lists as “Action & Adventure” there are three points I have to make.
- Their catalog of Action & Adventure shows was so deep that I had to leave off a number that may have had single seasons as good or better than any on this list. Shows like Lost (seasons 1 & 2 are amazing), Alias (agin, the first and second seasons are phenomenal) and Heroes (season 1 is great, it goes down hill after that) all hit tremendous highs but were not able to maintain that level for as long as the shows that made the cut.
- There were still too many good shows so I had to cheat (you’ll see what I mean)
- As always, there were a few shows that I thought Netflix should have included in this category that they did not. In this case mostly Magnum P.I. which would have definitely been on my list.
Sorry, but that is comedy gold and honestly just kind of a random interchange from the show’s first episode.
note: if you didn’t find that dialogue funny then don’t watch Archer, it is not for you.
8. A-Team (1983-1986)
Ah, Clubber Lang… oops, sorry I meant B.A. Baracus… no, wait, Mr. T… whatever, who cares, the point is we miss you and your goofy van and your Mohawk (this show debuted during my senior year of high school and me and the rest of the football team almost immediately went and got mohawks) and your gold chains and your overalls and your sleeveless shirt and your weightlifting belt, we just miss it all. As the recent movie adaptation proved (a movie I liked fine by the way, but no one would claim was great) George Peppard, Dwight Schultz and Dick Benedict were all terrific and yet entirely replaceable, but Mr. T, there will only ever be one Mr. T.
7. Xena: Warrior Princes & Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994 – 2000)
Xena is really the one here but the truth is there is no Xena without Hercules so you kind of have to include them both. With shows like Legend of the Seeker, Merlin and even parts of the Stargate series syndicators have been trying to replicate the success of Xena and Hercules for over a decade and no one has gotten the level of kitsch and fun and action (and extremely thinly veiled lesbian antics) just right the way these shows did. Maybe they just need to always use New Zealand for this kind of thing.
6. Miami Vice (1984 – 1988)
I wondered if the quintessential 80’s tv series held up so I recently watched a couple of episodes and to my surprised delight they still work. Sure, the show can be overly stylized and feel like a music video more than an actual story, but when it is good it is still really good. And no matter what else the one incontrovertible fact is that Michael Mann knows how to make stuff look cool.
5. Walking Dead (2010 to present)
Yes, I like the comics better. Yes, I don’t think this is as good as Mad Men or Breaking Bad (another show that is on Netflix but surprisingly not categorized as Action & Adventure) or Justified or Game of Thrones and I even prefer True Blood, although I don’t know that I would argue that True Blood is better (it’s complicated). Having said all of that Walking Dead is undeniably addicting and has stretches that are, from an Action & Adventure point of view, as good as anything on tv. That makes it more than worthy for the 5 spot.
4. X-Files (1993 – 2001)
The top four were really hard for me to rank and I suspect, as is often the case with lists like this, if I were to do this ranking again in a week the order would be different. X-Files “falls” to #4 solely because of its last three or four seasons. The first four seasons of this show are some of the best and most rewatchable tv of all time. Yes they focus on the conspiracy theories a little more than I would like and often like the “monster” episodes more than the “alien” ones and the movies miss the magic of the series entirely, but go back and watch season 1 again and I will guarantee you will be hooked.
3. 24 (2001 – 2010)
24 feels like it was created for Netflix and Netflix feels like it was created so that you could kill a weekend powering through a season of 24. In fact, if you have a busy week in front of you do yourself a favor and make sure you DON’T start watching a season of 24, because once you start it is nearly impossible to stop. Look, is 24 absolutely absurd? Oh yeah. Is Kim maybe the dumbest character in the history of television? Almost assuredly. If you are so inclined you can find a moment (actually, more often than not multiple moments) in each season where the crisis could have ended with a simple phone call for back up. If you have lived in southern California you can marvel at the impossible speed Jack Bauer and company make it from one end of the city to another and even more improbably out of the city altogether within moments from their downtown location. In short, 24 is as much action fantasy as it is action adventure, but none of that stops it from being perhaps the most perfect binge watching program in tv history.
2. Firefly (2002)
Geekdom unite! Watching an episode of Firefly last week (I doubt I have gone more than a month without watching at least one episode of Firefly in the last three years) I asked myself “would I love this show so much if it had gone on?” I’m not sure I would have. The fact that it is only 12 episodes and that each episode is fantastic is a big part of what I love about Joss Whedon’s western/scifi hybrid masterpiece. Firefly is like a spectacular athlete whose career was cut short by an injury, all we remember is the show at its peak and we never had to struggle with any likely inevitable valleys. To put it another way, if Lost ended after 12 episodes it would be in the top two or three of this list. Alias and Heroes would likely be Top 5 at worst if they had been canceled as quickly as Firefly. Maybe Whedon would have defied the odds and kept the quality as high throughout, but maybe he wouldn’t have.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel (1997 – 2003)
Start on a cheat and end on a cheat. Actually, I almost made this a massive cheat by simply naming all of Joss Whedon’s shows as co #1 (Dollhouse is available on Netflix too), but I settled on keeping the shows of the same “universe” together and separating out everything else (and no Dollhouse was not close to making the list). The difference here, as apart of the other two times I cheated, is that in the previous two cheats the truth is one of the shows deserved to be in that spot (Star Trek Next Generation would have been #10 for me and Xena: Warrior Princess would have been #7) and I just added the connecting shows so I could add more to the list, but in this instance I don’t know that either show would be #1 on it’s own. Standing together however they are just unbeatable. If I had to pick one over the other I suppose I would pick Buffy both because it is the original and because it never really had a low point (Angel‘s Connor storyline gets weirder and weirder and by the time Connor and Cordelia are together it is almost unbearable, fortunately Angel comes back strong in the last season with addition of Spike). Having said that I’m not sure my wife and I have ever enjoyed a tv show together more than seasons 1 & 2 of Angel. We liked it so much that whenever we see J. August Richards or Amy Acker or Alex Denisof or Charisma Carpenter we almost immediately like whatever it is they are on (heck, Angel is as much a reason as any that we still watch Bones each week)… such is the pull of the vampire with a soul.