My last communication got me in some trouble. (Who knew there were so many Bristol Palin fans out there.) So, I decided to undertake a safer topic this time around. Television. Most of it sucks more ass than Sasha Gray, but occasionally—just occasionally—a show trickles out on the airwaves that deserves a place in history.
So, in no special order, here are the 10 best television programs of all time. Read em and weep.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
Featuring what is arguably the best writing ever on television, especially the dialogue, West Wing also demonstrated a laudable civic-mindedness that has never appeared on TV. Viewers were treated to a lesson in democratic governance in almost every episode. Add in the fact that it had a sublime sense of humor, and the entire combination made for TV nirvana. It was sometimes corny, sure, and more than a bit idealized, but given the current state of our political discourse, it’s nice to reflect from time to time on what might be.
I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
A groundbreaking TV comedy, Lucy solidified the three-camera production format, and was the most-watched show in America for four years running. It’s best comedic bits fare just fine today. Among the finest are: “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” where she gets loaded on Vitameatavegamin (“Are you unpoopular? Do you pop out at parties?”), “Job Switching” where Lucy and Ethel can’t keep up on the chocolate candy assembly line and start stuffing the excess candies in their mouths; Lucy’s classic “mirror” routine with Harpo Marx; and “Lucy Does the Tango” which was responsible for the longest recorded live laugh in TV history. Netflix the first four seasons ASAP.
South Park (1997-present)
Rude, crude and socially unacceptable, the show was once referred to as a “threat to American democracy.” It’s also sly, clever, irreverent, socially relevant and, entering its fifteenth season, still freakin hysterical. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, bless you boys. Red rocket! Red rocket!
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Quality writing and some of the finest acting in the history of the medium (though I worry that Gandolfini will be able to escape Tony’s shadow). It managed the amazing feat of getting viewers to turn in week after week to watch the actions of a group of sociopathic morons—and to care about them. It also had a demented sense of humor (“Pine Barrens,” the episode where Paulie and Christopher get lost in the woods, is sublime). Mafia pop-culture on a par with The Godfather movies and Goodfellas.
Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)
For five seasons this was the smartest show on TV. It went places few shows have gone, asking important questions about religion and the nature of life, without becoming pedantic, losing its fast pace, or scrimping on the action. Gaius Baltar was, I believe, a dream role for an actor, and one of the most intricate characters on TV. Plus, Katee Sackhoff is a full-on scorch-cake. Smarts and hotties. What more could anyone want?
Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)
The first major offering from Steven Bochco, HSB completely revolutionized the cop drama by presenting cops and their jobs in a much more realistic light. It plays a tad dated today (“Drop the gun, you turkey!”) but its grittiness was considered downright offensive by some pundits when it debuted. The acting was superior, and several characters—DA Joyce Davenport, Captain Frank Furillo, Detective Mick Belker and Officer Andy Renko—are now icons of ‘80s TV. Sadly, due to legal wrangling, only seasons 1 & 2 are currently available on DVD. I wish FOX would get off its ass and get the remaining seasons ready to go. “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978)
I personally think Bob Newhart is one of the funniest humans ever. His dead-pan delivery can render even a silly line a thing of comedic beauty. Many of the show’s best moments came in the office scenes (Newhart, you’ll recall, played a psychologist) and his endless stream of goofy patients, notably the sarcastic Mr. Carlin, as well as Newhart’s office-mate, Jerry the dentist, and the secretary Carol Kestrel, played by the wonderful Marcia Wallace of later Simpsons fame. Watching Newhart do his classic bits on the telephone makes the world a little bit sunnier.
The Ernie Kovacs Show (1952-1956)
Only after his death did the world wake up to the genius that was Ernie Kovacs. His show broke all kinds of new ground and his surreal, visual style influenced, among others, Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, the members of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live (especially Chevy Chase), and, in a big way, Sesame Street. Lots of Kovacs’ work was ad-libbed, born of his creative philosophy: “I do my best work when it’s three o’clock and I have a production meeting at three-thirty.” Words to live by.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)
What is there to say? When you mention “British Comedy,” it’s the Pythons who first spring to mind. They are responsible for more giggles than most other TV comedies combined. It’s hard to trace their influence, though you can hear their echoes in the work of Douglas Adams, Rowan Atkinson, The Kids in the Hall, and, albeit in a much more ham-fisted and less witty vein, Will Ferrell. But they were, and remain, pretty much beyond anything but direct imitation. The years of the Pythons formed a perfect storm of comedy perfection.
The Daily Show (1996-present)
Some might argue that the show’s success is a troubling development in our country, seeing as how it’s one of the only sources of edgy political commentary on the air. During the bleak Bush years, the Daily Show did the work that should have been done by our national news media. And that is sad. But the show is also damn smart and damn funny. Here’s to another fifteen years.
And the Most Overrated:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Ruined vampires for the whole world.
The six most annoying people in the whole world.
Good twitchy fun for over-caffeinated semiotics majors.
It’s physically impossible for me to suspend my disbelief to the degree required to watch this.
Scales aren’t singing. Anti-art trash. (Except for Jennifer Hudson.)
The next six most annoying people in the world. I just keep whispering shark attack to myself. And smiling.
Six Feet Under
Characters with lives even more morose than death. It’s enough to make Baal suck on a shotgun.
Why are they desperate? Cuz that’s the only emotion their programmers loaded in them.
Sex and the City
They never find true love because they are self-centered, shallow, vapid idiots.
Treating logic and reason like Booth treated Lincoln.
Til next time, friends: treat yourself to some good TV.
Oh, and by the way, Bristol Palin is still a cum-belching gutter slut.