Which TV Show Had the Best First Season of All Time?

My friend Dan Wells posed an interesting question on Twitter yesterday: which TV show had the strongest first season? His nominee was Veronica Mars, and while I loved that show and thought the first season was superb, anytime someone starts talking about the *best* of anything, I just can’t let it slide without trying to give some serious thought to the question.

Dan had some pretty solid arguments for Veronica. For one thing, the show developed a huge cult following primarily on the merits of its first season. The second and third seasons aren’t nearly the same caliber as the first. (I enjoyed them still, but even as a fan, you have to admit they’re not the same.) In addition, the first season stands completely on its own merits. It’s one huge plot arc that’s self-contained in that one season.

But is it the best?

I had some other candidates immediately spring to mind:

  • Firefly managed to develop a huge cult following as well, and with less episodes than Veronica. But then again, some of the episodes aren’t as strong as others, and it’s definitely not self-contained. (One of the reasons that the show lingers on–it posed so many interesting questions, and never had a chance to fully answer most of them.)
  • Battlestar Galactica also has a great opening season, but once again, it’s only part of a greater arc, and it lacks the complete package Veronica presents.
  • The Wire is a really good candidate for this, and I tend to think it’s got Veronica beat. Its first season is spectacular, and it stands alone very nicely. (One of the things I admire most about The Wire is the way each season does its own thing, and how each functions separately from the rest, while at the same time contributing to the richness of the whole series. It’s a show that definitely gets better the more I think about it. Great television.)
  • Game of Thrones is another interesting one. It had some *huge* moments–episodes that stay with you for a very long time afterward. But it’s the same as Battlestar, in that its first season is a piece of a greater whole, and certainly doesn’t stand on its own.
  • 24 managed to do a ton with its first season, and I think it’s another frontrunner for this title. It’s self-contained, has some *wow* moments, and is riveting television.

What do you think? Which gets your vote, or should there be a different winner altogether? Other TV shows that had strong first seasons certainly include Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, True Detective, The Sopranos, Arrested Development, and more. But even with that list, I feel like I might be forgetting some older shows. (Then again, I’d argue that TV has come a long way in the last decade or so, so perhaps it makes sense that the best candidates for this title all step from the mid-nineties on . . .)

Anyway–I’d love to hear some other takes on this. Tell me who you think has this won, and why.

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