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 second, counting down from 30-11.
30. SportsCenter – SportsCenter has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I would visit my grandfather a few streets away and watch the Braves game, and we would follow it up with SportsCenter. It may have pissed my mom off that I was riding my bike through the streets after midnight, but she tolerated it because it helped keep me interested in sports (and I could spend valuable time with my grandfather). Ever since then, I have kept up with the show, it being one of the view things I watch on a near-daily basis. The anchors are generally really good, and the flavor they all bring to the world of sports impresses me constantly. Granted, none of this matters to you philistines that don’t care about sports.
29. Prison Break – Too many times has a TV show that has a great premise runs long in the tooth. Prison Break is a victim of such a thing. The first two seasons of the show are fantastic, full of drama, suspense, and great character movement. The last two seasons exist because the show did well and Fox decided they would gladly take a few more dollars. Not to say the entirety of the closing seasons is bad, but they easily could have not existed and made the entire show better. This show gets points from me for being something so dumb that it almost seems plausible. I am also going to mention Breakout Kings here, a show which apparently takes place in the same universe as Prison Break. It is equally as dumb and has moments of brilliance.
28. The Deadliest Catch – Of all the shows to come from Discovery in the early-to-mid aughts, The Deadliest Catch is the strangest to become popular. If you told me ten years ago that I was going to love a show that is about Alaskan Crab fishing, I probably would have flat out laughed at you. The Deadliest Catch is to nature buffs that Jersey Shore is to meatheads. It is people living a very certain lifestyle that is just beyond fascinating. The heartbreak and joy that is felt by the crews is very obvious and radiates to the viewer. Give it a shot, it will probably surprise you. F/V Northwestern all the way!
27. The Wonder Years – The Wonder Years is another show from my formative years that I realized stood up to the test of time. Since it was added to Netflix in late 2011, I have made my way through the series with nearly as much enjoyment as I experienced watching the show when I was 12. From beginning to end, The Wonder Years was awe inspiring, heart wrenching story of an average kid, just trying to make his way in the world. Since its airing, The Wonder Years has made plenty of “top shows” lists, so don’t just listen to me on this one, watch it now.
26. Death Note – I know, more of this anime nerd stuff that everyone hates. Deal with it. Usually, I treat anime like videogames, it may be really cool, and interesting, but the story is something to laugh at. Death Note flipped the script on that. I felt genuine emotion in every direction watching through the series; including one of the most heartfelt endings I have bared witness too. I have been trying to tell people who harrumph around saying, “Screw anime!” for years, but honestly, if there is one thing to make you change your perspective on an entire format, it is Death Note.
25. Boy Meets World – Much like The Wonder Years, Boy Meets World is telling the story of your average, young adult. Not just because of the Savage brothers, I have always felt both of the shows were cut from the same cloth. From middle school through college, watching the events of Cory Matthews’ life was always fun. The typical experiences that kids of that age generally experience felt honest, and were portrayed in a believable manner. Boy Meets World gets A’s across the board from me.
24. Mythbusters – Over the past decade, special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have seen their popularity, mostly due to the show Mythbusters. Put simply: The show is about testing popular myths to see whether or not they are true or false, and maybe they will blow some stuff up along the way. Jaime and Adam (along with a team) set out each show to debunk a couple myths, such as death by peeing on the third rail, or shooting a propane tank to blow it up. Most often, the results don’t matter, the antics the guys get up to along the way is what has kept the show on the air for nearly ten years now.
23. Sports Night – When people think “Aaron Sorkin,” their mind goes straight to The West Wing (with good reason); but if you want to experience his writing style at its rawest, look no further than Sports Night. The show was cancelled after two seasons – perhaps unjustly – because of low ratings. The show lacked a solid direction, it was too sporty for a casual viewer, but not sporty enough for the die-hard sports fans of the world. The snappy dialogue and great interaction between the anchors and the staff of a sports show seemed like a perfect fit for the people like me, the people who love sports and sitcoms. I have no doubt in my mind that if Sports Night was on TV today, it would have lasted beyond two seasons and maintained more than a cult following of viewers.
22. Twin Peaks – After this list, I am going to do one about the best television mini-series. I mention this because if Twin Peaks didn’t get a second full season, I would probably put it near the top of that list. Twin Peaks had one of the best first seasons of any show. The pursuit of truth in the Laura Palmer case was told in an extremely indie-movie-esque style, and it drew in people in a deep way. I truly feel that David Lynch found his way as an artist after joining up with Mark Frost for this show. While he made some interesting stuff before, Twin Peaks was a great show and helped build his now fantastic career.
21. 30 Rock – I think most people would put this show much higher than myself (good thing this is my list), and I can understand why. 30 Rock has Alec Baldwin, who in my eyes is one of the best male leads in a television comedy. Tina Fey in the starring role of Liz Lemon, is also perfect for what the show brings to the table. The jokes are amongst the smartest and most well written on TV, and are usually more than a fart joke. Unfortunately, I was usually pushed away from the show every few episodes because the show felt like it was retelling the same thing many times over and over again. That said, it is still a great watch for most folks.
20. Dirty Jobs – “I explore the country looking for people who aren’t afraid to get dirty — hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” Mike Rowe’s intro to Dirty Jobs is one of the reasons it is one of the best documentaries and television shows of all time. He is a guy that recognizes a large percentage of the world’s workforce has grueling, gross, and dirty jobs; and instead of looking down on these people like most do, he respected them for doing the jobs they do, and brought them to the viewer’s eyes. Whether it be reaching his arm two feet into a live cow, or wading through sewage, Mike Rowe tried his hardest to show what it’s like for a normal person to try some seemingly impossible jobs. Everyone should watch Dirty Jobs not only for the comedy, but for the information that can be gleaned from every episode. I know this clip below isn’t from Dirty Jobs, but it shows the thought process behind the show.
19. South Park – South Park is an anomaly. It is – at the same time – both extremely smart, and extremely childish. The show follows four foul-mouthed fourth graders, who get into all sorts of dirty business. The majority of South Park is satire of current events (a nice byproduct of their six day production cycle), but my favorites are the typical fourth grade kid problem episodes, like birthday parties and school bullies. Most of the time I am against restricting kids from watching most stuff, but South Park is something my kids won’t be able to watch until they are 30.
18. House – House should have been more than it was. Or was House more than it should have been? I still can’t decide. From the first episode to the last, House was a formulaic show. It deviated from time to time, but each episode was written in the exact same way (so much so that around the fourth season they started making fourth-wall breaking jokes about things that would happen at certain points in the show). This didn’t stop it from being clever, and often hilarious. Most of the last season was a bummer for me, but the finale is one of the best in television history, which scores major points in my book.
17. Entourage – This pick is another statement that this list is mine. Entourage is a divisive show. Some people hate it because it is Hollywood douchery, where everyone and everything is shown to be better than it is. Others love it, because they recognize that fact, easily step aside it, and enjoy the show for what it is. Over the course of the show, most of the problems faced by Eric, Vince, and the crew were hardly problems at all. That didn’t stop any of the drama and comedy from being less exciting. Check it out and see which side you fall on.
16. Rescue Me – In the wake of September 11th, people really wanted to gain an understanding of New York’s firefighters. How could they go through that and keep up with their lives? Rescue Me, by all accounts, does just that. Dennis Leary brought this show to the table wanting people to understand that while everyone may look at firefighters as heroes, they are more than that. They are people that have flaws, that have feelings, that believe that they have a job to do. Whatever they have going outside of the firehouse, it stays outside the firehouse. For all Rescue Me does, the simple humor of a band of brothers is what really makes the show. Riveting to the very end, Rescue Me should be seen by all.
15. Psych – In a different universe, Psych would be in the top five of my list. Of course, in that universe, the show would have been completely different for a couple of the seasons. For the last three seasons, Psych has been one of the top shows on TV, and that is saying a lot right now. Psych does referential comedy in a way that Seth MacFarlane could only dream of. Whether they are riffing on Twin Peaks, The Shining, Indiana Jones, or Chinatown, Psych is able to make an excellent comedy-drama. For most of the series, the sexual tension between Juliet and Shawn drives the show in a big way. The “will-they-won’t-they” is one of the best done on TV, and while they do finally get together, the show changes just a bit and allows for another major relationship for the main character to have. Psych is a criminally underrated show, and deserves to be talked about by more people. Go watch it.
14. Law and Order – I only watched a couple dozen episodes of vanilla Law and Order during its original airing, most of the time I have just caught reruns on TNT. My favorite pairing of detectives was Ed Green and Lennie Briscoe, played by Jessie Owens and Jerry Orbach respectively; however, very few times was I disappointed by the performance of any of the detectives. The show, for me, is made in the courtroom. Sam Waterston as thunderous Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy rules this show. Law and Order is a simple show, and for 20 years it ruled the airwaves bring little more than an honest police procedural to the people.
13. The Simpsons – The Simpsons will go down as one of the greatest shows in television history. Of anything on my list, I know this one show will be known by everyone for at least the next 50 years. It was revolutionary when it came on, and to this day, it is an excellent source of entertainment for kids and adults alike. South Park yelled “Simpsons did it!” because they had, almost any situation you have been in can be related to a Simpsons moment, and it was probably hilarious.
12. Trailer Park Boys – This show is unknown to most people. In fact, if you live in the US, you probably haven’t even heard of it. Trailer Park Boys is the documentary (mockumentary, sure) of the life of Ricky and Julian, two residents of the Sunnyvale Trailer Park. Telling the story of their lives after they are let out of jail –and frequently back in jail—Trailer Park Boys is a smart show, disguised in idiocy. Ricky, Julian, their cohort Bubbles, and the rest of the trailer park dwellers are idiots. The constant foil of the series is Jim Lahey and Randy, the park superintendent and his assistant, one of which is a failed cop, the other an idiot that refuses to wear a shirt. With so much idiocy, the cleverness of the writing and structure shines through brightly. If you have Netflix, I urge you to watch the show.
11. Friday Night Lights – A television show spun off from a movie based on a non-fiction book about the 1988 Permian Panthers…how is this even good, let alone more entertaining than either of the other works? Friday Night Lights was real nine times out of ten (the tenth was the unfortunate season two opening). That realness made this show what it was. A bunch of high school kids who have to face real situations that most of us have gone through. The raw, unflinching realness of Friday Night Lights is probably what kept the show from being a runaway success; people don’t turn on the TV to see what goes on around them. But if you watched, you got sucked into the Dillon, Texas way of life, Fridays were what mattered, and nothing else. This Farewell to FNL piece by Time’s James Poniewozik is perfect for why this show should be watched by all. Texas forever.