Sunday, March 30, 2008

Top 50 All-Time Favorite TV Shows

Ain't It Cool News has posted Empire magazine's list of top 50 all-time best TV shows. If you look at the plethora of comments by readers, you can tell it's a much disputed list.

The three most notable things about the list is that it has a fair amount of science fiction (something I don't mind); a few shows on the list are either old, obscure, or British (but not as many as you'd think considering Empire is a British magazine); and almost all the shows are from the 1990s or 2000s.

Lists are often fun to read, but they're also hard to create. There are always items that make the list or don't make the list on a technicality. Narrow the criteria for the list, and it's too hard to eliminate some favorites. Broaden the criteria and stuff gets in despite some flaws.

Below is my best attempt to list *my* Top 50 All-Time Favorite TV Shows. Since it's too hard to rank all of them or even pick a top ten, I have divided them up into categories and will also reveal some Honorable Mentions. I've never had premium cable channels, so The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Dexter, Rome, etc. are automatically missing.

My Top 50 All-Time Favorite TV Shows (for now)

Best of Science Fiction & Fantasy

  • Alien Nation

  • Babylon 5

  • Battlestar Galactica (2004)

  • Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

  • Crusade

  • Firefly

  • Heroes

  • Highlander: The Series

  • John Doe

  • Journeyman

  • Lost

  • Quantum Leap

  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation

  • Stargate: Atlantis

  • Stargate: SG-1

  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

  • The 4400

Babylon 5 is my #1 all-time favorite show out of all genres. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer was drastically disappointing in the sixth & seventh seasons, but the high quality of the first five years makes it too hard to eliminate entirely. Highlander: The Series was one of my favorite shows during college. Terminator: tSCC barely makes the list since it's only had seven episodes so far, but I think it has potential if renewed. Alien Nation, Crusade, Firefly, and John Doe were short-lived shows that deserved better. The 4400 lasted four years but was cancelled before it could get a fifth season or a proper series finale. Farscape probably would have made the list had I watched it more consistently, but I only caught it occasionally and was often lost when I did.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Farscape, Moonlight (current), New Amsterdam (current), Sliders
DIS-HONORABLE MENTIONS: Andromeda, Doctor Who (sorry, I just don't get it), Flash Gordon, Lexx, Painkiller Jane, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise

Best of Action/Suspense/Mystery

  • Chuck

  • Jericho

  • Prison Break

Chuck is the best new show of the 2007-2008 season. After fan support won the show a 2nd season of seven episodes, Jericho is once again and permanently cancelled by CBS. The creator of the show is shopping it around to other networks, but the future is bleak. Many criticize Prison Break for beating a dead horse. While it does seem to depend on coincidences, conventient (or sometimes inconventient) timing, unexpected double crosses, and gimmicky cliffhangers a bit too often, it's still a guilty pleasure that's hard to give up. Alias doesn't make the list or even the honorable mentions because I grew tired of it halfway through its run, but it's worth noting that its pilot episode was one of the best series premieres in the last eight years (surpassed only by Lost and maybe Chuck).
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Standoff (cancelled prematurely), The Pretender, Women's Murder Club (current)
DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: 24 (I didn't like the 1st season enough to stick with it)

Best of Drama

  • House

  • Rescue Me

  • The O.C.

  • The Practice

  • The Shield

  • The West Wing

Though not perfect (Rescue Me wasn't that good last season, The O.C.'s third season was hard to watch, and I took a sabbatical from The West Wing during seasons five & six and caught them later in repeats), all six of these shows have excellent writing. Despite the violence & harsh language, repeats of The Shield are surprisingly re-watchable because of the compelling downward spiral the main character, Vic Mackey, takes into corruption. House's procedural format somehow thrives in a world full of arc-driven shows. The recent cast re-shuffle on House may seem like a premature move at re-invention, but it's actually improved the show in its fourth year. The West Wing is a monument to class & intellect that NBC could have used more of in the last two years.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brothers & Sisters (current), Commander-in-Chief (cancelled prematurely), ER (*only* because of its early years), Grey's Anatomy (current), L.A. Law
DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: Nip/Tuck (thank goodness I stopped watching after the identity of the Carver was revealed a few seasons ago; I've heard it's gotten even worse since then)

Best of Dramedy

  • Ally McBeal

  • Boston Legal

  • Gilmore Girls

  • Men In Trees

  • Picket Fences

  • Ugly Betty

Deserving of their own category, I love shows that blend drama & humor, especially in original, quirky ways. It's no coincidence that three of these shows (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Picket Fences) are David E. Kelley shows. He's the master of blending biting social commentary, comforting humanity, and unbelievably eccentric yet relatable characters. Gilmore Girls (for a while there, my #2 all-time favorite show) caught "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Syndrome" and declined in seasons six & seven, leaving me with mixed feelings about the show as a whole. But, as with B:tVS, the brilliance of the Gilmores' first five years are impossible to ignore.
DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: Pushing Daisies (I'm the only person on the planet who doesn't like that show, and I gave it a chance too)

Best of Comedy

  • Cheers

  • Scrubs

  • Seinfeld

  • South Park

  • The Golden Girls

A few years ago, I decided to stop watching half-hour sitcoms. I didn't like the directions characters were taking on Friends, Niles & Daphne getting together took the fun out of Frasier, Spin City wasn't going to be the same without Michael J. Fox, and I simply lost interest in That '70's Show. But, I caught up on Scrubs when it went into 2nd-run syndication and repeats on Comedy Central. The writing on that show is extremely sharp, and it's nice not having the laugh track. South Park is hit & miss. It's sometimes too raunchy or juvenile, but other times, it's pure genius. Though they don't age well with time, I could't deny the enjoyment I got out of Cheers, Seinfeld, and The Golden Girls when they were current.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Frasier, Friends (*only* for its early years), Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Carol Burnett Show, The Cosby Show, The Muppet Show, Whose Line Is It Anyway

Best of Talk, Reality, Nature, or History

  • Beauty and the Geek

  • Dirty Jobs

  • Mythbusters

  • Survivor

  • The Daily Show

  • The Presidents

Okay, so this is an odd Frankenstein of a category, but it's also a small list, so it was best to combine these shows somehow. Beauty and the Geek is a reality/competition show that depends on stereotypes at its core and yet still manages to be as heartwarming & relatable as it is sometimes frustrating & silly. The host of Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe, is quite possibly the most witty & likable person on TV. Mythbusters is both entertaining & educational, and I like how they respond on the show to fan feedback. Survivor, despite some often questionable casting, is an addictive and seemingly unstoppable cultural phenomenon. The Daily Show, while trying to be just a satirical comedy show, somehow manages to be informative & credible. I love presidential trivia, so for me, frequent repeats of the History Channel's mini-series, The Presidents, has high re-watch value.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Ebert & Roeper At the Movies, Face the Nation, Girls Next Door, Kid Nation (hopefully they'll try a 2nd season), Last Comic Standing, Late Show with David Letterman, Meet the Press, Man vs. Wild, Prime Minister's Questions, Who Wants to Be a Superhero

Best of the 1980s

  • Airwolf

  • Knight Rider

  • The A-Team

  • The Dukes of Hazard

  • Transformers

  • Voltron

Although these are shows that I haven't seen in a long time and probably wouldn't enjoy nearly as much today, I can't deny how iconic these were when I was growing up. In a list of *all-time* favorites, these shows win a place for their significance in the past.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: MacGyver, Little House on the Prairie (used to watch reruns of it in between classes in college; don't ask me why)