Monday, February 21, 2011

My Favorite TV Shows Ever

I'm going off the beaten path, i.e., away from a glass of alcohol. But everyone loves a good top ten list to spark a healthy debate.  I am going to list my top 25 televisions shows of all time.  The first post will be the top ten, then the second post will be the runners up, the next 15.  A show cracked my top 10 with roughly the following formula, 50% production value (i.e., it's level of greatness), 40% pure entertainment value (this allows me to pick favorites that aren't the most logical), and 10% striking a balance of genres.

Disclaimer, I have not seen the following critically acclaimed shows:  The Sopranos, MASH, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or any other Joss Whedon shows), The Shield.  Also never seen Battlestar Galactica or much in the way of Star Trek.

For those of you who will ring your hands that Seinfeld didn't make it, you should know that it's number 11 as of right now.  I have been staring at this list trying to get it in the top 10.  I watch the reruns constantly and crack up.  I think the major drawback to the show is that it was a touch inconsistent, e.g. I really didn't care for the "show within a show" storyline and a few others like it.  Still, I'm pretty shocked it's not on here.  Maybe someone will make a good argument to convince me to put it in its rightful place.  Interesting side note: two of these shows feature Danny Devito.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Without further ado, the list, counting from 10 to number 1:

10.  Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights-It may seem like I'm cheating already, but these shows are still on their runs, and while both are incredible, only one will ultimately crack the list.  I thought the premise of Breaking Bad would be disturbing--a high school chemistry teacher turns into a meth dealer--but I am thoroughly hooked on this well-written, well-acted, well-directed AMC drama.  As for Friday Night Lights, it would be worth watching just for the spot-on argument scenes between coach and his wife; throw in a rotating cast of interesting characters, including a backup quarterback who takes care of his grandmother, and a bit of high school football drama, and you have one hell of a show.

9.  Freaks and Geeks-Can't be any higher than number 9 with only one season, but it was a perfect season of television.  It was the origin and perfection of the Apatow movement, with most of the stars moving on to bigger, if not better, things.  James Franco is the biggest talent to emerge, and is now one of Hollywood's biggest stars, and Judd Apatow has rattled off a string of blockbuster comedies.  Freaks and Geeks was a fantastic coming of age type show with touching stories and tons of comedy, and you can't go wrong casting Tom Wilson from Back to the Future as the gym teacher.  Also: lots and lots of awkward.

8.  Top Chef-This is my reality tv entry.  Cooking and eating is one of my big hobbies, so obviously this show is appealing to me.  But I really do think it's an excellent show.  It has a reputation for not coddling favorites through episodes in which they did not perform, i.e., the judges have more say than the producers.  They sent my favorite "cheftestant," Philadelphia's Jennifer Carroll, an early choice to win it all, home in the second week this season without even flinching.  The contestants and challenges are consistently entertaining, with the result being that when you finish watching you are left, well, hungry for more.

7.  It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-Hailed as the next generation's Seinfeld, this show's innovation turned it from a low-rent, low-budget production into a cult favorite.  Danny Devito asked to be a part of it and the rest is history.   Learning that Charlie is dyslexic in the episode "The Gang Runs for Office" is of of the most hilarious moments on the show, and the way they weave that into the rest of the show is an example of the show's brilliance.

Here's another great moment from Sunny for all you Phillies fans: Mac's Love Letter to Chase Utley

6.  Dexter-This is the only show that I've ever paid extra for, i.e., I added Showtime to my cable bill b/c I couldn't bear to wait for the DVD release.  Season 1 is, for me, the best single season of television ever made.  Any show that has you rooting for a serial killer must be something special.  Unfortunately the next 4 seasons could not quite measure up to the standard set by the first, but they've still taken us on a heck of a run.  I think it's time to wrap it up on a high note, though.

The theme song sequence is incredible, watch it here

5.  Taxi-Danny Devito, Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, Andy Kauffman, Rhea Perlman.  A stellar cast.  This is my nostalgia entry, as I remember watching reruns with my dad when I was a boy.  Sitcoms always seem dated and corny decades (sometimes even just months) later, but if you can allow yourself to go back in time Taxi will give you some solid laughs.  Also Marilu Henner is pretty hot.  My favorite episodes involve the burned out "Reverend" Jim (Christopher Lloyd). The episode where he takes the driver's exam to be a cabbie is classic television.

Clip: Jim takes the driver's test.  (The 4:00 mark is the funniest part).

4.  Late Night with Conan O'Brien-I still love Conan's brand of comedy, and have followed him from his Tonight Show controversy over to his recently launched TBS show, which I DVR and watch pretty religiously.  But his Late Night was the birth of that brand, and it was where Conan was at his best and most free.  His self-deprecating comedy and ridiculous characters, e.g., the Masturbating Bear made his the funniest nighttime talk show of all time.

The Walker, Texas Ranger lever is my favorite bit ever: Pull the lever here

3.  Scrubs-The best sitcom of all time.  It's easy to forget in a world where every sitcom tries to be "quirky" just how pioneering this show was.  The first American sitcom not shot in traditional 3 camera format and with no laugh track, and their "sitcom" episode is an awesome wink at that fact.  Some of the camera work on this show is amazing in light of the style they chose to shoot this show.  I can't deny that there is a drop off somewhere around season 5, but the remaining seasons are still funny, and it's amazing this show had the run it did, as it moved time slots multiple times and stared down cancellation rumors on more than one occasion.  The dynamic between Turk and JD in the early seasons is hilarious and is the key to the whole show.  My favorite all time line from the show is from Dr. Perry Cox, "As I wake up each morning and wonder WHY I should put both my feet on the floor I find precious few reasons. Escaping Jordan's morning breath? Yes. Scotch. It's too early to drink it but people it is NEVER too early to think about it. Or the possibility I may happen across Hugh Jackman and be able to give him the present I've been holding for him.......BAM!"

Clip-Turk auditioning for the air band with his Poison dance

2.  Mad Men-This is the best show on television right now (possible exception-Breaking Bad).  It's the type of show where sometimes I have no idea what the hell is going on but continue to stare at the screen.  Maybe it's the pretty people, awesome costumes, or amazing set design.  But I suspect it's because I want to see what Don will have for his next drink.  Maybe a more amazing feat than cheering for a serial killer is the Don Draper phenomenon.  Despite the womanizing, anger issues, and drinking problem, women love him, and I want to be him.

1.  The Wire-I'd be willing to debate any other show on this list.  Maybe you could convince me to replace or change the order of a few of them.  But not The Wire.  It's the best show ever made.  Five almost perfect seasons.  Honestly the other shows on this list couldn't hold The Wire's jock.  The characters and settings seem real and not fabricated nor over the top.  And the storytelling is astonishingly tight.  Plot lines that would be throwaways on other shows lead to major climaxes on The Wire, and even if they don't they provide so much texture to the story.  Every layer of drug trafficking is analyzed without even a whiff of moralizing.  It's like you aren't even watching a show at all, but rather staring reality in the face.  The only consistent theme or motto is the loss of hope.  But the series somehow manages to remain more fascinating then depressing.  My favorite is season 4, which takes place in the school system.  My only small complaint is in regard to the final season.  I think David Simon, as a journalist, put a bit too much of himself in Gus's character, and therefore the portrayal of the demise of the newspaper business was a bit biased/over-the-top.  Literally that's the only thing bad I can say about the entire series.  The show is a creative masterpiece even down to the changing theme song.  In the words of the series most legendary character, stick-up boy Omar, "Oh, in-deed!"


  1. always sunny is amazing, you actually got me hooked on it. charlie's dyslexia/illiteracy has another appearance when they are in a rival bar and see a sign on the door "private" and charlie asks dennis if he thinks a pirate lives in there.

  2. to be honest, I havent seen all the shows listed, but i agree with the ones i have seen, scrubs is great and dexter is one of my favs. you have a wide array of shows in this list, from reality cooking shows to late night talk shows. maybe you could makes some room on your top 25 for walker texas ranger being that you like the conan bit with the lever, i have a few seasons on dvd. also, did you ever borrow "spaced" from me? its simon pegg's show from back in the day, it only had 2 seasons, but they are terrific.

    side note, some scenes from "wired" are actually filmed right on the street where stu's warehouse is. i believe he said you could see the side of the building in some shots.

  3. My response was too long so I had to break it into several comments.

    This is a solid list. However, as a former TV Guide employee, I think I have earned the right to raise a few questions.

    -I probably would not include a talk show on my top ten list. I enjoy watching Conan (and also things like The Daily Show and Colbert) and I certainly think they've defined/revolutionized their own mediums, but I see them more as showcases for a singular performer than anything else. They can be brilliant and hilarious, insightful, but I don't see them representing the same kind of collective achievement that a scripted (or even nonscripted) TV show does. Sure, there are production values that need to be up to snuff, but the show is going to rise or fall depending almost entirely on one person's "persona," and somehow, for me, that makes it less of an achievement.

    -I'd probably have Mad Men sharing the spot with Breaking Bad, as it's also still running and very similar in many ways. I think Friday Night Lights has earned its own spot, although because of some truly rough plot lines, it's not a high spot. So I'd probably keep it in the 10-spot and have MM/BB sharing a spot toward the middle. MM is great, but I'm not sure it earns that #2 yet. And BB is better than 10th, for me.

  4. -I'm just not as interested in sitcoms as I am in dramas, so my list wouldn't have three spots for them. What I'd probably do is have a shared sitcom spot with Sunny and Parks and Rec. What? Hear me out. They are polar opposites in tone (Sunny, oddly, is kind of grimy and obscene, while Parks and Rec is, well, sunny and downright sweet) but they manage to sell that tone. I'd wager it's about as hard to sell sunny and sweet to today's jaded audiences as it is to sell grimy and obscene. But both are capable of eliciting the same kind of lose-your-breath laughter. Sure, Parks and Rec might falter at some point, and I recognize that it's not going to be the cultural touchstone that Seinfeld, or perhaps even Scrubs is, but that's where the 40% pure enjoyment comes in, for me.

    -I thing that the phenomenon known as reality TV is really interesting in how good and how effin bad it can be. Top Chef, Amazing Race, the early seasons of Project Runway: these shows are quality freaking entertainment. The horrible Bachelor-derivative trash that's on VH1? I won't hold it against you if you enjoy it, but it makes my skin crawl. So this is not a defense of all reality TV, but a recognition that it is a varied medium with some really stellar shows, and that it has changed television in recent years. And what show started it all? Survivor. While I do love the three shows I listed above, and one or two others, none engages me the way Survivor does. Those shows are pure competition, which can be lots of fun, but the element of strategy in Survivor can keep me up at night. Also, while it can be satisfying to see an annoying contestant have a bad week and get sent home on Amazing Race or Top Chef, there's nothing like the truly righteous blindside on Survivor. I'm sorry, this show is in my top 5. Period.

  5. -I have seen Buffy, and while the special effects look dated REAL FAST, and there's a significant overall cheese factor to the show, I'm going to look at it as a product of its time and recognize the major influence it had on TV storytelling. Without even getting into the Joss Whedon catalogue, here are some quality shows that would not have been possible without Buffy: Alias, Veronica Mars, True Blood, Vampire Diaries (don't laugh, it's actually pretty good!) and Lost.

    -Speaking of Lost, it also finds a spot on my list. Not the most consistent show, and perhaps it didn't end up answering every question, but the highs were incredibly high.

    -Therefore, my list, with the caveat that I wrote this quickly and reserve the right to change my mind. I realize my choice for #2 might sound like a cop-out, but I think it's a valid approach:

  6. Honorary Mention for shows I enjoy the heck out of but can recognize don't quite make a Top Ten list: The OC Season 1, Veronica Mars Season 1, Vampire Diaries (seriously it is a thrill ride. Lost could learn some lessons about answering questions from this show.) and Everwood (ALL SEASONS).

    10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    9. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia/Parks and Rec
    8. Lost
    7. Friday Night Lights
    6. Dexter
    5. Breaking Bad/Mad Men
    4. Survivor
    3. Freaks and Geeks
    2. [Honorary spot for stellar shows I haven't seen, i.e. Sopranos]
    1. The Wire

  7. I think you need to see spaced as well. There's only like 14 episodes. I would probably put Chappelle Show on my list too. Even my dad quotes it.

  8. chapelle show is easily in top 3 for me. i can watch the same episode over and over and somehow its just as great as teh first time. i also have a rule that i cant watch any show that has a laugh track.

  9. I still cannot believe that City Guys didn't make the list.

  10. Almost forgot, Flight of the conchords was great too.

  11. spin city? featuring michael j fox

  12. I liked Spin City but it's far from special. MJFox gets a shout out in the next part of the list, though. City Guys, now that's a damn fine show. I haven't seen Flight of the Concords. I do like Chappelle's show, and since I opened it up by putting Conan on he should be up for consideration.