Thursday, July 28, 2016

Top 20 TV Shows of All Time

By Kenny Howell

So I thought I would give this a shot. It's hard to really pin down what the best TV shows of all time are because there are so many things to consider. Do you consider the show over the whole run, isolate seasons that were stellar, and do you have consider much before TV's late renaissance? TV has become one of their more inventive mediums, when for years it was just a producers medium for light entertainment.

That has changed and the shows below will show you that. The majority of them are after the year 2000, or post-Sopranos when a whole new world of TV opened up. It just makes the older stuff look pedestrian in many ways, though there are still some bright spots, even ones that don't pop up on this list. But the list belongs mostly to the new world of television, where the medium has taken on a new art form. Just a small note, I may change this list over time as new stuff appears or great shows that are current right now continue to build on its already fine work.

1. Mad Men (2007-2015) - For me, there is no better work in television history than Matt Weiner's story of Don Draper, an ad exec in the 1960s who is trying to escape the past. Weiner expertly blended history, office politics and humor into the most well-written character study in TV history. Just perfect.

2. Arrested Development (2003-) - Comedy is a loaded category here, and it is hard to separate one from another. Arrested Development is the most intelligent, clever show that did the bizarre as well as straight comedy. I still think about bits of this show often, and break into smile. Luckily, we are still going to get some more Bluth family hijinks in the future.

3. Seinfeld (1989-1998) - It was hard to choose between this and the one above, because it is just as clever, mostly because it had to work around its constraints being on network TV during the 80s and 90s. It is still a landmark and has some of the best written episodes of comedy ever to make it on TV.

4. Breaking Bad (2008-2013) - Along the same time that Mad Men was doing its thing, AMC also had this one, a killer thriller about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth to pay for cancer treatments, but falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Probably the best depiction of a man descending into chaos in TV history.

5. The Wire (2002-2008) - Brilliant examination of not only the street drug trade in inner cities, but that of a city on the brink of collapse and the law enforcement, politicians and community leaders who try to keep it afloat or sabotage it. Large cast of colorful characters that the show managed to spend equal amount of time with, painting a wide picture of the trouble that was Baltimore at the time.

6. The Sopranos (1999-2007) - The one that changed everything on TV. David Chase's story of Tony Soprano, a mobster who is in the middle of a mental crisis was terrific television and still holds up almost 20 years after it premiered. The key is the brilliant James Gandolfini, which we sadly lost too early. Luckily, the landmark character he created lives on forever.

7. The West Wing (1999-2006) - Network TV depicting intelligent people was scarce in the late 1990s, luckily Aaron Sorkin is the best at writing brilliant characters. Some feel that after Sorkin left the quality suffered, but I think it remained strong throughout the run.

8. The Office (UK) (2001-2003) - Few shows are perfect throughout their run, but Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's The Office was close to that. Unfortunately, we only got 12 episodes and a Christmas special, which knocks it down a bit. The American version was great too, though suffered in the post Steve Carell years.

9. The Simpsons (1989-) This is the opposite situation of The Office in that there is too much of this. You just can't hold the quality over that long a run. However, the early seasons are about as good as you can get.

10. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011) - On the surface, Friday Night Lights was about football, but it was much more than that. Peter Berg created fantastic characters, probably the most realistic married couple on TV in Coach and Mrs. Taylor, and was able to maintain its quality through a change in cast because of kids graduating and going on to different things.

11. 30 Rock (2006-2013) - Tina Fey's comedy was about 5 jokes a minute, extremely quotable, and fairly solid throughout its run.

12. Game of Thrones (2011-) - The sprawling world of George R.R. Martin got the TV treatment in this addictive, albeit dense fantasy. If it would trim the fat a bit and focus on a smaller amount of characters, it would be higher on my list. It doesn't handle it quite as well as The Wire did.

13. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-) - Larry David helped create another show on this list, No. 3 Seinfeld, but this one is all him. Curb Your Enthusiasm was a weekly exercise in great comedy writing.

14. Six Feet Under (2001-2005) - Another one of HBO's early masterpieces, Six Feet Under focused on a family who owned a funeral home. Maybe the best final episode of any show ever.

15. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) - Launched the careers of a ton of young actors like Seth Rogen and James Franco, and showed what type of work Judd Apatow would be doing in the future. Maybe the most honest look at being in high school.

16. Lost (2004-2010) - I am the person that liked the Lost finale. I thought the entire series was great B-movie style television, and even though it didn't tie up all the loose ends, it was addictive as addictive gets, back when you actually had to wait a week for another show to come on.

17. The Americans (2013-) - The newest show on this list, The Americans is a criminally under seen show. The husband and wife Russian spies are as complicated a relationship on TV, and the show is smart and thrilling.

18. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) - Much like 30 Rock, and the American version of The Office, Parks and Recreation made NBC the place to be for comedy again. Unfortunately they don't do that anymore.

19. Deadwood (2004-2006) - David Milch use of language is incredibly odd, and for some reason it worked perfectly in this western that had some real historical characters mixed with fictional ones. Took cussing to the next level.

20. Veep (2012) - Speaking of taking cussing to the next level, this brilliant satire of Washington D.C. politics takes insults to the next level and is probably the best comedy on TV currently.

1 comment:

  1. finally a top list i can agree to at least half. i have "breaking bad" but haven't watched it yet, same with "orphan black" which i did not see listed.