Breaking away from the serious discussions of late, I thought I’d write something more light-hearted. Here is my top ten television shows of all time, based on what I’ve enjoyed through my life. (In other words, there may be shows here I don’t watch anymore).
10 Family Guy
Bizarre and abstract at times, and with no regard for political-correctness, Family Guy is one of the few shows that can make me laugh out loud time and again, even on repeats. The way nothing is safe from being parodied is hilarious and very clever too.
I’m not a fan of FRIENDS anymore, but I had to put this in as I was for many years, and in its first 4 seasons the show really was genuinely funny, moving, and original. In its later seasons, it tries to copy itself, and episodes and jokes become formulaic and, the worst sin of a sitcom, simply not funny. But FRIENDS’ early seasons, especially the humour of and between the three men, will always make me laugh.
With only 14 episodes, I can’t put Spaced any higher, but surely one of the best sitcoms ever. Hilarious, in the really clever sense of the word, and included in that is watchability. Because the show is so rich in pop-culture references and side-jokes, there is always something that you missed the last time around. I can’t think of another show with so few episodes having so much “quotability” and laughing points. How they also manage to fit in great story with some touching moments is pure genius.
This could be higher up, if only for the length and quality of the shows to come. Scrubs is the best sitcom of all time, at least it was in a first 4 seasons. Consistently funny, very clever, abstract and diverse at times, touching, moving; with pure quality writing and acting. Very few sitcoms get the balance right between humour and solemnity – Scrubs definitely does. Without ruining it for those who haven’t seen, the episode “My Screw Up” is Scrubs at its absolute best, and probably one of the best episodes of any TV show, ever. I mean that.
6 Babylon 5
Not your typical episodic “reset-button” sci-fi bilge; Babylon 5 is a show replete with flawed and unlikely heroes, and deep villains. Politics, religion, intrigue, drama, humour, ideology, evil, good, tough decisions etc are all themes, and most importantly, they are very real human themes. Set against a background of ancient aliens, dramatic space battles, and a very realistic future vision of earth, B5 made a lasting impression with hundreds of millions, including me.
I really like this show, but it’s simply not as addictive as three of the shows above which is why I can’t place it any higher. Typical Joss Whedon, and by that I mean every episode is fantastically written, rich in dialogue, never short of humour be it obvious or subtle, full of action, and intriguing with its mix of villains, demons, creatures, and overriding cataclysmic themes. It’s a shame it didn’t get a full 7 seasons like its predecessor as I think it could have got even stronger.
4 Prison Break
I didn’t like the “idea” of Prison Break before I watched it, even though I don’t really know what I was expecting. But if you want a show with constant drama, and an addictiveness rating to leave heroin in the shadows, you need look no further. Prison Break is probably the equal-top most addictive show I’ve ever watched. I simply cannot express how good this programme is. I remember the first time I watched the first season, smiling with delight at having “discovered” the show, (although my arm was twisted into watching it). It keeps you going, every minute of every episode, and just clambering for more.
This is a show that I have called “the best TV show ever!!”, and for many it is. There is no more addictive show in the world. Minute to minute, episode to episode, season to season, no time is wasted. 24 is a quality show in every aspect: acting, writing, score, drama, suspense, and realism. 24 doesn’t cut corners, it doesn’t patronise you, and it will hook you from the first episode. Has there been a single greater hero than Jack Bauer?? I can’t think of one! The best thing I can say about 24 is that it could be interchangeable with my remaining two as the best ever.
2. Star Trek
So many versions over such a long time, it would be unfair to break them into individual incarnations. Star Trek is a TV show that did, without any exaggeration, change the world. Many of the themes of television about different cultures coming together, drawing strength from their mutual differences and advantages, to meet friends and battles enemies, all started with Star Trek. In the 1960s, consider a black female officer on the bridge of a ship, a Russian, an Asian, even an American southerner; and the first interracial kiss on TV. The first NASA shuttle was named Enterprise after the Federation Starship. The Next Generation (TNG) had its moments, and it is a good show, but it is too sterile, too episodic, and the characters too flat to grab me. DS9 was a great improvement when it finally got going: darker, dirtier, more macabre; proper full-length space battles and a realistic enemy with depth, DS9 isn’t classic Star Trek, but it’s great fantasy and science-fiction. Voyager is the most like the original Trek: one ship with a determined flamboyant captain, encountering new races every week, proper banter between characters, great enemies, great fight scenes, without the same level of inane techno-bullshit that TNG regurgitated every week, and an overriding story arc makes it one of the best. The less said about “Enterprise” the better.
1. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
I recently finished re-watching this show all the way through, and it confirmed its status for me as best TV show ever. Buffy is a show that grows up as its audience does. From 15-16 years old, the problems of the characters in Buffy mature as they do, from high school and real life issues of friendship, first crush/love, unrequited affection, social skills, unpopularity, to adult ones of death, responsibility, sex, betrayal, and sacrifice. Monsters and demons are metaphors for personal demons; we don’t have to fight literal demons like Buffy does, but we do have to fight every day at times against our own fears and the troubles that life throws at us. There are very few real-life concerns that Buffy doesn’t deal with, and for that, I think there is something in it for everyone.
Buffy has consistently brilliant writing and acting. Every episode is packed with content; no line gets wasted. And it could win awards for its humour alone! The idea of a female superhero who rescues the boy and saves the day seems acceptable now, but it was revolutionary when Buffy first came out. Tru Calling, Dark Angel, and all the others that feature a strong woman with powers, were all inspired by Buffy.
No character on Buffy just “fills in”; each has episodes of their own to shine, but the truth is that most of the characters could have entire shows to themselves, (which Angel did end up getting). Buffy has watchability, duration, addictiveness, and diversity; it can be silly, outrageous, solemn, haunting, scary, dramatic, and genuinely touching. The reason I give Buffy top spot is simply because it has all the great things that other TV shows have between them, except all in the one place and in such quantity! Quite simply, television at its best.
I might do a similar top 10 in a year’s time and see what it looks like then!