Yes, I watch television. I realize that kills all of my hippy credentials and makes me a brain-dead, uneducated member of the lower middle-class according to most intellectuals and liberals. Yes, TV is evil, it will melt your brain and it has no redeeming qualities. Well, as with anything else moderation in everything, and like there is shit art, shit movies and there is certainly shit TV. But, like there are also paintings by Van Gogh, and movies like Citizen Kane, there is also great television. I’m a frequent but pretty selective TV viewer and as such my friends who don’t “watch” TV or even own one, come to me for recommendations on series to watch on DVD or stream through Netflix.
So after several friends have made these types of inquiries I decided it was time to put together a list of what I consider the greatest TV shows of all time. I’m going to do this in five parts. In part I, I’ll talk about dramas, part II crime dramas, part III comedies, part IV science fiction, fantasy, horror and in part V the rest, the utterly unique, TV events and anything else. For each part I’ll talk about both current TV shows as well as shows that are no longer on the air.
I can only evaluate shows that I’ve watched, there are some shows like 30 Rock that seem to get great press but I haven’t seen them so I can’t rate them. Enjoy.
TV shows currently on
1. Treme – is an HBO program that focuses on people in New Orleans, and inevitably the fallout from Katrina. The show is especially good because of its willingness to take risks, for the multiple layers it operates on and finally for the music. Probably the best soundtrack of any show ever on television.
2. House – the most recent of the great television hospital shows. The main reason this show is so good is because of Hugh Laurie’s magnificent acting ability. The show’s main theme the relationship triangle between three characters has undergone a surprising amount of evolution. Doesn’t hurt that they work an attractive woman into the cast every season.
3. Mad Men – what makes Mad Men so special is that the show so full-on confronts the injustices of the 60’s while still pulling off an entertaining and classy visage. The show is full of really pretty people (see January Jones & Jon Hamm) and a lot of them are playing really horrible people. Complexity with a shallow veneer makes for great TV.
Beyond the crime dramas we’ll discuss later, no other current dramas stand out.
TV Shows – Off-air
1. Six Feet Under – complicated, intense, incredibly funny, sad, openly weird and openly gay characters. A series set around a funeral business and it was quite simply some of the best TV ever done with an exceptional series ending.
2. St. Elsewhere – The greatest hospital show ever created, cast included Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley Jr., Stephen Furst, Mark Harmon and Christina Pickles. This show was intense, afraid of facing nothing and did it all way back in 1982.
3. The West Wing – The show that brought us Martin Sheen as the president, an incredible cast, resurrected Rob Lowe’s career and taught us all the meaning of the expression POTUS. This is the gold standard for a political drama and has set an incredibly high bar.
ER early seasons – early on a great hospital show with a phenomenal cast including George Clooney, Anthony Edwards and Julianna Margulies.
Friday Night Lights – a truly great show about high school and Texas football, Minka Kelly’s big break
Moonlighting – Bruce Willis, with hair and Cybil Shepard need I say more
Kung Fu – ok they screwed Bruce Lee on the casting but America’s introduction to Kung Fu and Taoism
Northern Exposure – the first of the quirky, complicated and truly interesting dramas
Joan of Arcadia – Amber Tamblyn’s first vehicle and a really fascinating and interesting show that almost nobody saw.