10 Greatest Monster Of The Week Shows, Ranked

Stills from The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural

Television continues to evolve in staggering ways, and it’s always fascinating when new ideas and themes become universal staples and not just passing fads. There is still no shortage of television series that toe the line between procedural stories, which reset the slate at the end of each episode, and those where a serialized mystery continually propels the characters forward.

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A lot of science fiction and genre series have turned to a “monster of the week” formula where random supernatural tales can mix things up from the usual narrative. In some series, the monster of the week procedural stories have left behind a greater legacy than the show’s larger mystery.

Decades before superhero series and prequel origin series were the norms, Smallville confidently told its own version of Clark Kent’s formative years as a high school student in Smallville, Kansas. Smallville functions as Superman’s humble origins, and it does the same for other pivotal DC characters, including its own rudimentary take on the Justice League.

Smallville produced 10 seasons and more than 200 episodes, not all of which are winners. For some fans, the less said about the magic-based episodes, the better. However, there’s a very consistent track record that finds a unique take on standalone superhero storytelling before it was omnipresent.

9 Millennium Tackles Spiritual Conspiracy Theories

Chris Carter’s success with the creation of The X-Files earned him a blank check for other supernatural series. Millennium only lasted three seasons and never reached mainstream acclaim, but it found a passionate cult audience who appreciated the show’s grim stories. Millennium focused on a lot of murderers and heightened violent criminals who were driven by religion, spirituality, or cryptic conspiracy theories.

Millennium would also occasionally explore paranormal creatures that would shatter Frank Black’s careful worldview. The ongoing story arc in Millennium becomes a mess and hastily gets resolved on The X-Files, but there are some excellent standalone stories hidden in it.

8 DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow Never Takes Itself, Or History, Too Seriously

The CW Network thrived during the 2010s with its growing Arrowverse, which routinely pulled off massive crossover events while the DC Extended Universe languished. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was created with skepticism. The series is a crossover hybrid where its cast is made up of discarded misfits from other CW DC shows.

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After a rough first season, Legends of Tomorrow finds its voice through constant silliness and a compulsion to laugh in the face of superhero stereotypes and reverence. Legends of Tomorrow benefits from time travel, and each episode has the luxury of tackling a different time period where famous historical figures can get mashed together with comic book characters.

Grimm lasted for six seasons on NBC and had a lot of the same creatives as Buffy, Angel, and The X-Files, which certainly helped it achieve a higher level of quality with its standalone storytelling. Magical animal-human hybrids named Wesen are the primary dangers in Grimm, but over the course of 123 episodes, there are some creative riffs on established monsters as well as completely new ideas.

The procedural episodes in Grimm occasionally lean more into the fantasy and crime genres. That being said, Grimm quickly finds a unique and entertaining rhythm.

6 Evil Is A Modern Take On The Skeptic/Believer Monster Of The Week Dynamic

Evil has three seasons, with at least one more on the way. The show has comfortably embraced its role as a modern X-Files, albeit one that focuses more on spirits than extraterrestrials. Kristen and David easily fit into the skeptic and believer archetypes and Evil does exceptional work with how it rips current events from the headlines and adapts them into its supernatural universe.

Evil keeps its characters and audience on their toes about whether angels and demons actually exist. A series of seemingly unexplainable events mean that there’s never a dull moment in Evil.

5 Buffy, The Vampire Slayer & Angel Put A Pivotal Stamp On Procedural Storytelling

There are collectively more than 250 episodes between both Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel. Both of these supernatural series have different aims and act as deconstructions of unique periods of life. However, the shows are set in the same universe, consistently crossover, and feature comparable monsters.

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Buffy begins as a tongue-in-cheek metaphor for how high school can be hell. The show slowly cycles through most horror staples like vampires, witches, werewolves, and demi-Gods. However, Buffy and Angel both do some of their most effective work through original creations, whether it’s Buffy’s voice-stealing Gentlemen or Angel’s puppet-transforming spell. The Hellmouth never runs out of macabre creations.

4 Decades Of Dedicated Monster Hunting Reveal Endless Surprises In Supernatural

Eric Kripke, Supernatural’s creator, left the show after its fifth season, which ostensibly works as an ending and wraps up the show’s original mission. However, Supernatural goes on for 10 additional seasons and a monumental total of 327 episodes.

Admittedly, many of Supernatural’s later episodes can feel like parodies. Both the series and the Winchester siblings experience identity crises. The grander storylines in the final seasons deserve criticism, but it still maintains high quality when it comes to Supernatural’s episodic monster of the week stories. For example, “Scoobynatural,” which pairs Sam and Dean up with the Mystery Incorporated crew, is a series highlight and doesn’t arrive until season 13.

3 Kolchak: The Night Stalker Seamlessly Inserts The Supernatural Into Society

Kolchak: The Night Stalker only received one 20-episode season during the 1970s, but it helped set the modern standard for monster-of-the-week storytelling. Without Kolchak, there would be no X-Files, Buffy, or even LOST. Darren McGavin stars as Carl Kolchak, an investigative newspaper reporter who gradually gets consumed by supernatural cases.

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Kolchak’s cases can cover Vegas vampires, reanimated corpses, and even mysterious and possibly murderous swamp moss. Kolchak would live on through a series of made-for-TV movies and a short-lived reboot, but its DNA is very much alive in modern monster of the week series.

2 The X-Files Is A Classic Take On Standalone Monster Stories

The X-Files was one of the biggest TV shows during the 1990s. It’s a rare series that successfully transitioned to movie theaters and received a modern sequel series extension. There are 218 episodes between the 11 seasons of The X-Files, which amounts to more than 100 strange, silly, and satisfying monster-of-the-week stories.

The ongoing “mytharc” episodes of The X-Files, not to mention Mulder and Scully’s will-they-won’t-they chemistry, is what initially drew viewers in. However, it’s the inconsequential standalone episodes that hold up on rewatches and properly highlight the versatility and creativity of The X-Files.

1 Fringe Explores Two Worlds Under Stress

Fringe delivers 100 strong episodes across five ambitious seasons of sci-fi television. It definitely takes a page out of The X-Files’ book, but it improves upon The X-Files’ formula. Fringe finds a way to perfectly interweave seemingly standalone monster-of-the-week stories into the grander narrative. The show presents impossible events right from its first episode, but it’s not until its second season that its full multiversal scope becomes apparent.

Fringe dips into compelling stories of control, technology, and science, which are all able to gain depth as they’re deconstructed on multiple Earths. Fringe gets into monsters, evil geniuses, the very collapse of reality itself, and everything in between.

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