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Which Animated Shows Should I Try? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: FOX, Netflix, Discovery Family

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

Am I missing out by not watching animated shows? I know they can’t be lumped together just because they’re animated, but I’ve never been into animation on the whole and worry I’m unfairly discounting some good stuff. I’ve never tried Archer, Rick & Morty, and other shows people rave about. Recently I watched BoJack Horseman, though, and loved it — the character development is so well done, and the women on the show had their own interesting story arcs. I’ve never been into the “everything stays the same” mode a lot of animated shows use. Is BoJack just super great? What else am I missing? —Monika

BoJack is super great, so it’s not totally fair to measure other shows by its standards, but in general: Yeah, you’re missing out by not watching animated shows.

Archer doesn’t have the depth and pathos of BoJack, but it is hilarious — and it has season-long arcs where things do substantively change episode to episode. Rick & Morty is more episodic, but it does have real emotional range. If you like mythology series, give Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra a go. (Start with Avatar.)

If you think you can go along with more stand-alone storytelling if it pays off in other ways, then there are a lot of wonderful shows out there just waiting for you to love them. (And the truth is lots and lots of sitcoms do that either fully or mostly.) No. 1 on that list is Bob’s Burgers. That show is a precious treasure, and might be the best family-set show on TV. Adventure Time is philosophical and tender and uplifting, even in its short episodes, and it’s a perfect show to watch with children, should the need arise. Steven Universe is a little shouty for me, personally, but I know many, many people with superb taste who enjoy it, and it might be worth investigating for yourself. No matter how long I go without watching an episode, I always somehow find my way back to South Park, and I’m almost always glad to.

This may seem obvious, but … have you watched The Simpsons? You should watch The Simpsons. Maybe not present-day Simpsons, but historical Simpsons. That show is part of TV literacy; I can’t insist you love it, but it’s part of understanding modern television. (And most of the shows listed above are in its debt.) Finally, if you for some reason avoided Daria in the ‘90s, let me be the one to tell you that it holds up completely and feels essential even now.

As the new six-episode limited series of The X-Files approaches on January 24, I wanted to know if there is an “abridged” way to watch the series. While I’ve seen the first three seasons of The X-Files, there is no way I can watch the rest of the 200-plus episodes (and the movie) by the time the new series airs. I’ve already got too much TV on my plate!

I hate to do this to such a legendary show, but if you can provide an accessible way to watch the show (and if I need to see the movie or not), such as which key/important episodes etc. I need to watch, that would be fantastic! I really want to watch the upcoming reboot but at the time don’t feel like I know enough to tune in. —Jason

Well, Jason, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you don’t really need to catch up to watch the revival. They really lay it all out there. The bad news is that it’s because the first episode of the revival … leaves a lot to be desired. That means, if you want to watch it, you’ll need to have built up a huge reservoir of X-Files love in your heart. Focus on finding X-Files love, not X-Files knowledge.

The movies are optional. Watch the show the way you want to — skipping episodes here and there, or watching just the funny ones, or watching just the “mythology” ones, or watching every single episode because you’re a man on a mission. Luckily, The X-Files is one of the most-discussed shows of all time, so any episodes you skip or misunderstand, you can very easily find thorough recaps and analyses of — in fact, there are many books dedicated to this exact endeavor, beyond the gajillions of websites and articles. Your project is to follow your X-Files bliss here, and despite what a bunch of crabby dillholes will tell you on Twitter, there’s not actually one right way to watch a show with 200-plus episodes. I’m a completist, and The X-Files is one of my favorite shows of all time, and even I am like, “Ehhh, I’d probably be happier if I’d never heard of Agent Reyes.”

Whatever path you choose, it will probably behoove you to watch “Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way,” and “Paper Clip.” That’s the finale of season two and the first two eps of season three, and they’re significant to the series in big ways.

I am loving Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, especially the musical numbers. Are there any other great musical shows out there? I tried Galavant but couldn’t get into it. I remember there being musical episodes of Scrubs and Buffy; will I be able to enjoy them as stand-alone episodes if I never watched the shows? (Yes, I know I should watch Buffy.) Any other shows with musical episodes? I vaguely remember Grey’s Anatomy having one. —Sarah

The Scrubs musical episode, “My Musical,” is one of the greats, and you can watch it on its own. If you like Avenue Q, it is extra up your alley: Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez wrote some of the songs. I feel strongly that this episode does not get enough credit (we’ve talked about Scrubs’s odd legacy here before), which is a pity — I genuinely still listen to songs from that episode on a personal, recreational basis.

“Once More With Feeling,” yeah, you should watch that, too. Don’t wait until you’ve decided to take the Buffy plunge — it works better as part of the whole, absolutely, but it works enough on its own to be worth watching. (Obviously, only do this if you’re not concerned about spoiling major character shifts that occur.)

What sets these two apart from other shows’ “musical” episodes is that they use original songs. Grey’s Anatomy’s musical episode is a jukebox musical — it uses existing songs, just with the cast singing them. This isn’t a worthless format per se, but it didn’t work well at all on Grey’s. It worked so-so on That ‘70s Show, and worked a little bit better on Ally McBeal. The jukebox format worked really well for Glee at the beginning, and the British show Blackpool (sometimes known in the U.S. as Viva Blackpool) also used it well. The American adaptation, Viva Laughlin, however, was not good.

But if you like the songs in CXG, you’re probably in the market for original songs that are really part of the show, though, not just musical episodes of otherwise straight shows (even if those episodes are very good). In that case, you seek My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. There are some shockingly legit songs on that show, many of which are just good pop ballads, some of which are sweet little Sondheim homages. As a bonus, you get to feel like Tina Belcher.

You might also like Flight of the Conchords, which is less bombastic but really terrific, and has some A+ songs. Finally, while I can’t recommend Smash qua Smash, the musical numbers on that show are often fantastic. It’s a terrible show! Terrible, just terrible. But “The Higher You Get” is one of my favorite songs of the last five years. Seriously.

Which Animated Shows Should I Try?