Because I really can't come up with ten, but thanks to Carrie at Reading to Know, I'm going to give it a whirl with the ones I can.
Truth is, I hate most television shows. I hate knowing ahead of time exactly what's going to happen next. And most TV shows run on predictability. There are shows I really tried to like--Numbers is one--because of the characters, but if I can walk in at any point, watch two minutes and tell you exactly how far along it is, whodunnit, and what's going to happen next, then I'm just not interested.
It's got to have plot, yes it does. I know there are only six plots in the world, but keep me guessing on which one it's going to be and how it's going to get there. And character development--not just characters I like, but characters I am curious about what they're going to turn into. And difficult moral questions. Not "good guys" and "bad guys" but real, honest people who might choose good and who might choose bad.
Or you can get me with a good laugh.
We don't watch much with the kids, but I'll try to include a ratings comment in case you wonder.
This is the one we just finished. And yes, it had it all. Plot that developed mind-blowing new complications in nearly every episode. Characters that you loved to hate and hated to love and couldn't wait to see how they might grow. "Bad" people getting second chances . . . and third chances . . . and "good" people finding out what was under the facade. I loved it.
Suitability for Small Hippos: It's about people's choices. Some of those are really bad ones. Some of those get shown a little more onscreen than probably should happen. It's also really, really scary at times. OK, most of the time.
2. Babylon 5
Another one with fascinating characters, unpredictable plot twists, and difficult moral questions. Plus, this one has exploding spacecraft! Like all sci-fi, it shows its age a little. (We've got intergalactic travel, but no cell phones?) But on the whole, very well thought-out. I also appreciate that it's one of those rare works of science fiction that doesn't treat religion as either irrelevant or malevolent, but still a significant factor in the life of sentients. The series as a whole seems to favor a kind of proactive pantheism, but even the occasional devout Christian gets respectful treatment. The first four seasons are awesome--the fifth one kind of got tacked on, and is comparatively lame, but by that point we were too hooked to stop.
Suitability for Small Hippos: The camera tends to pan out when necessary (except for some in the last season), but because of themes it would need some judicious editing for me to show it to young teens. Plus I don't think anyone younger would enjoy it.
3. Jeeves and Wooster
And now for something completely different . . . OK, so this has no character development and the moral questions come down to, "If Aunt Dahlia says you MUST pinch the cow creamer, then what else can you do?" But Wodehouse is Wodehouse, and if you don't find it hilarious then there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably seek professional help. Immediately. And then watch it.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Well, we let OUR kids watch it. They haven't started drinking cocktails or pinching cow creamers yet. The Duchess did develop strong opinions on the proper clothing for gentlemen, though.
It had me at the use of the Underground stations. Of course there should be Black Friars at Blackfriars! And an Earl's Court at Earl's Court! It kept me going with great characters, epic adventure, and subtle but deep examination of serious questions. It's only a miniseries, so maybe it doesn't count, and maybe if it does I should lump in all the adaptations of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and George Eliot I've enjoyed (and in that case, we WILL make it to ten and then some), but I think in this case the miniseries came before the book so I'll count it.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Very scary and some very creepy characters, but highly recommended for the strong of stomach.
5. Fawlty Towers
We've actually only watched this in little chunks on YouTube, but John Cleese is hilarious at any resolution.
Suitability for Small Hippos: As I recall, the only things there were to get wouldn't be gotten by anyone too young to get them.
Does this count? I think there are movie-length ones and TV-length ones. OK, so there's complete predictability (Poirot WILL deduce who did it) and no character development (Hastings will always be lovable and dumb). However, at least one is always kept guessing as to who will prove to be the murderer and how Poirot will figure it out. I can't watch in large doses, but every once in a while I enjoy one.
Suitability for Small Hippos: Well, murder is kind of nasty and people usually do it for rather nasty reasons. However, that stuff takes place off screen. There have been a few which I would have preferred not to see for thematic reasons, although I suspect those tend to be the more recent ones. I would watch many of them with youngish teens.