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March 29, 2013

Top 50 Shows of the Last 25 (or so) Years: Numbers 50-31

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Written by: Eric Smith
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Top 50

As mentioned previously, I’m taking a good look at the top television shows of all time. It’s a fairly deep list, so we’re breaking it up into three parts. Here’s the first, counting down from 50-31.

50. The Newsroom – I’m starting off the list with a show that had one fantastic first season. This choice was a tough one for me. The Newsroom had a great start, but it is only one season old, and the next two could be complete dog shit. That said, I think the quality of Aaron Sorkin’s writing through this first season would keep this show on the list. Will McAvoy is a host that I could believe in, and News Night felt like a program that I would watch. I hope The Newsroom is still good enough to be on this list in five more years.

49. The Unusuals – Of the shows I put on my list, this one may draw the most sideways glances. The Unusuals was a smart and funny procedural cop drama that starred a sexy Amber Tamblyn and an equally dashing Jeremy Renner in the leading roles. The two of them led an incredible ensemble cast that deserved a big-budget film, let alone a show that only lasted ten episodes of network TV. Unfortunately the show ended with a cliffhanger, and the untimely cancellation prevented this show from making it higher on the list.

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48. Good Eats – A cooking show on a best of list? How dare I?! I didn’t hesitate for a second when choosing this show. Alton Brown put together a show that not only could teach an idiot how to cook a great meal, but he did it in an entertaining way. Sock puppets, giant foam representations of gluten; Alton Brown knew that to understand how to put together a good meal, you had to understand the science behind it. Even if you don’t have an interest in cooking, I recommend you check out Good Eats.

47. Batman: The Animated Series – I had a debate with fellow SideQuester Steven Strom over which animated comic book show belonged on this list. I was for Batman: The Animated Series, while Steven tried convincing me of the Justice League show from a decade ago. I went with Batman: TAS because of the amazing voice work of Batman and the Joker (by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively), and how well each episode of the show felt like past issues of the comic book.

46. Better Off TedBetter Off Ted is one of the best shows of the last five years. Jay Harrington plays the titular Ted, who works for Veridian Dynamics. Veridian Dynamics is an evil company that will do anything to make a dollar. Scientists Phil and Lem work in the labs doing research for the company, and their aversion to a fight often finds the Veridian Dynamics taking advantage of them. For my money, Phil and Lem are one of the best TV duos in recent memory, and the comedy that came out of them made the two seasons of this critically acclaimed show unforgettable.

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45. The Killing – Based on the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen (The Crime), The Killing is a fantastic police procedural that strikes a tone similar to that of Twin Peaks. The first season follows the first two weeks of the murder investigation into Rosie Larson, whose murder involves politicians, teachers, and even a terrorist plot. Having recently been renewed for a third season (after being cancelled last July), I have big hopes for what this show can do with the extra air time.

44. American Chopper – It has been over ten years since American Chopper first took to the airwaves cable wire, and since then most shows of that nature have since gone off the air. Until the show was originally cancelled in 2009, American Chopper was a staple in my house. Not only because of the amazing theme bikes the Teutuls cranked out, but because the drama between an argumentative father and son was a source of great entertainment. Unfortunately, after Paul Jr. left in 2009, the show came back as something else, barely a shell of what it once was.

43. How I Met Your Mother – Of shows that are surprising to me to be on the list, HIMYM is at the top. I saw about two or three episodes during broadcast a few years back and was completely disinterested in it. Come a lazy weekend last year, I decided to start How I Met Your Mother from the beginning. Two weeks later I was through the entire series. HIMYM has great laughs, piled on top of a great cast. The titular shtick is getting old, and the reason for the series to continue is getting muddled in a plot that the writers seem to think is as deep as Lost. That said, I know a lot of people have reservations jumping in, but I hope you give it a chance as it is well worth watching.

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42. Bill Nye the Science Guy – I watched a bunch of trash when I was a kid, and my parents knew it. The only reason they let me keep watching TV at all was because I also enjoyed shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy. Children’s educational programming has rarely been done better than Bill Nye. Each episode chose an interesting topic that was good enough for my middle school science teachers to show in class, but also easy for kids to understand, as well. Bill Nye has since gone on to do other television and even other educational programming, but for most people he is still just The Science Guy.

41. Home Improvement – This is one of the shows I had in my head when I thought about putting together this list. Sure, it isn’t on the top ten, and it really shouldn’t be. But Home Improvement was part of the mid-‘90s tween-to-teen viewing library that did a great job of trying to instill actual values on kids of that age. It was actually a family show in my house; it was understandable enough for me as a kid, but good enough for my parents, too. Maybe because I’m not looking for it in a TV show right now, but I can’t find a modern equivalent of Home Improvement, and that is a damn shame.

40. Reading Rainbow – Levar Burton teaching kids the power of books. I don’t need to say anything more.

39. Whose Line is it Anyway? (US Version) – I fought with myself for a while whether or not to choose Whose Line? or The Drew Carey Show. I could have gone with both, but I honestly feel that Whose Line? incorporates the thing about The Drew Carey Show I like most: Drew’s persistently jovial attitude. Drew being targeted for jokes by the cast is one of the best parts about Whose Line?, and on top of that, Ryan Stiles and Collin Mochrie are one of the best comedy duos to ever hit television.

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38. NovaNova is the oldest, longest running show on this list. This choice is more subjective than most, due to its documentary-style, science focus. If you don’t care about learning about some of the most fascinating things in the universe, you should probably not watch Nova. That said, despite its content, the writing, editing, and pacing of the show is some of the best on TV. If you are interested in putting a documentary together, you Nova is required viewing.

37. Dragon Ball – I actually prefer Dragon Ball Z to its predecessor, but it won’t be appearing on this list. It was a fantastic show, but the filler episodes were too many, and too bad to allow it on the list. Dragon Ball on the other hand is a fantastic show, with a great sense of humor and best of all, it didn’t ramble on for 200 episodes longer than it needed to. The tales of a young, innocent Goku were also much more grounded, and the bombast was not present because it was not needed. Keeping it simple-stupid was the secret to success in the Dragon Ball universe.

36. The Walking Dead – This is one that I need to remind everyone that this is my damn list. We are still a week away from starting the second half of the third season, so this is one of the younger shows on here; that said, there is not a chance I could leave this off. There is not one episode in the first two and a half seasons in which I was dissatisfied. The storytelling is very slow, and methodical, and it puts the characters above all else in the world. It is at its best when it strays from its graphic novel brethren, and shows what the TV medium can do for it. The tension is high, the stories are troubling, and I believe that The Walking Dead is great, even for fans of the books.

35. Parks and Recreation – I owe this one to my friends on Twitter. At two points over the last couple months I tried watching Parks and Rec. and I just could not get into it. The first four or five episodes were extremely unfunny and none of the actors felt like they were into their roles (the lone exception being Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson). Then, starting with the last episode of the six episode first season, the show’s quality flips a 180, and started blowing my mind. It felt as if everything had a purpose. From every joke to every facial expression made, everything started clicking. If you don’t feel like watching the first season because of what I have presented, that is fine, if it is between you and watching the show at all.

34. The Daily Show – Don’t get me wrong, Craig Kilborn, you’re a good dude and all, but the best thing to happen to The Daily Show was you leaving to follow up Letterman. John Stewart’s brand of comedy was made for hosting the fake news, and helped bring current events to young adults that could not sit through an hour of other news shows. The secret was to make satirical jokes about everything to hide the fact that TDS was actually bringing important information out to a group of people historically known for not giving a shit about the world around them.

33. That ‘70s ShowThat ‘70s Show wasn’t perfect, but it had heart. It tried very hard to emulate a strange time and place in American culture, and it did so in a believable manner. Many times, this comedy moved some late-‘70s socio-political issues to the forefront. From the feminist movement to the distrust of the US government, That ‘70s Show tried to do something in an era where most television has to be cookie cutter to be successful, and it was rewarded for its attempts.

32. JerichoJericho is one of the best shows that no one ever watched. Telling the tale of a post nuclear-event in Middle America, Jericho was 29 episodes of tension and drama (and that isn’t even talking about the multiple cancellings of the show). Jericho made due with what seemed like a shoestring budget, with a network that expected viewing numbers well beyond the means of what was provided. Fan support of the show was so strong after it was cancelled at the end of the first season, that a second mini-season was ordered. When CBS realized they still weren’t going to make 16 million viewers an episode on an even smaller budget, they cancelled the series yet again, this time it is likely not coming back. In lieu of the TV show continuing, two six issue comics representing the third and fourth season of the show exist. From most reports, they hold the show’s style quite well and are worth checking out.

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31. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Maybe it is because I love mid to late ‘80s hip hop and rap more than any person should, but The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air holds a dear place in my heart (actually, it is exactly because of that). That said, Fresh Prince was a show that I sat around and watched with a couple of my friends most days after basketball practice. It was good for laughs, and each character brought their own brand of funny to the table. I still watch it whenever I can catch an episode. It doesn’t get old.



About the Author

Eric Smith
News Director. Eric is an experienced freelance writer. He serves as a co-host of The SideQuest, the Lazy Sunday Gaiden, and plays far too many competitive games. When he isn't thinking about videogames, he is probably watching TV or a movie. You know, productive stuff.