From Doctor Who to Transparent: five groundbreaking TV shows

Transparent, the new transgender show from Amazon Prime Instant Video, is the latest in a long line of TV dramas to push boundaries and break taboos

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Once in a while, a show comes along that breaks new ground, shatters taboos or just does something no other TV drama has done before. Here are five of the best…

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Transparent (2014)

Why it’s different: It’s a comedy-drama with a transgender character as its heroine

Sure, transgender characters have popped up now and then in TV dramas down the years, but aside from the protagonist in Channel 4’s Hit and Miss, they’ve never been the star of the show. Transparent is different. The tale of Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman preparing to break the news to the Jewish family that knows her better as dad, puts her sex change, and their attempts to deal with it, at the heart of the drama – and the comedy…

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The Sopranos (1999-2007)

Why it was different: It made us love a monster

Before there was Breaking Bad’s chemistry teacher-turned drugs kingpin Walter White, or crime-fighting serial killer Dexter, there was Tony Soprano, a family man in more ways than one. On one hand, Tony was a father and husband trying to provide for his wife and kids, on the other he was a Mafia boss. Like many ordinary people, the stresses of work and home life took their toll on Tony, to the point where he needed regular sessions with a shrink just to stay sane. But Tony also killed people, or had them killed. Ruthlessly. A lot…

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Queer as Folk (1999-2000)

Why it was different: It was the first drama series to fully focus on the lives of gay characters

Russell T Davies’s late-90s series showed that homosexual characters didn’t have to be a gimmick or an issue – that you could actually have a drama all about gay people. He also ensured they were fun rather than over-earnest by making them slightly fantastical, larger-than-live characters. Oh yes, and it was really quite dirty…

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Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

Why it was different: It mixed soap and surrealism in a way never seen before

Twin Peaks was like no TV show that had come before it. Mixing soap opera melodrama with supernatural surrealism, it pursued David Lynch’s obsession with the dark underbelly of American suburbia, introducing characters like The Log Lady, The One Armed Man, and the evil demon known simply as Bob, as FBI agent Dale Cooper and Twin Peaks sheriff Harry Truman investigated the murder of tragic high school homecoming queen Laura Palmer.

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Why you Twin Peaks should be your next series binge

Twin Peaks is returning for a new run in 2016, exactly 25 years after the last series ended


Doctor Who (1963-?)

Why it’s different: It invented regeneration

A show doesn’t celebrate it’s 50th anniversary without a few clever ideas to keep it going. But with the introduction of regeneration, Doctor Who not only found a way to ensure its central character would survive no matter how many actors came and went, it also guaranteed the show would never get stale – and that every few years there’d be the best cliffhanger possible…

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Catch up with Doctor Who now