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 third and final part, counting down from 10-1
10. Firefly – Firefly only lasted 11 episodes, several of which were out of order from the way show creator Joss Whedon intended. That didn’t stop the show from being one of the biggest cult hits of all time. Simple fact is: If Firefly were airing in a Thursday primetime slot today, it would last at least a few seasons. A show with half the ratings of Firefly have been getting third and fourth seasons recently, which is good for fans of shows with small audiences. Most of the actors from Firefly have gone on to have fairly successful careers elsewhere, as well as Whedon himself. The cinematic style and the surprisingly good CGI were off the charts for a television show in 2002. If you spent any amount of time with the show (I just finished rewatching it for the dozenth time last month), you knew that Serenity and her crew was something special. Fans keep hoping for another film, a follow-up to 2005’s Serenity, or somehow getting more episodes of the show ordered up. It is a longshot, unfortunately, and we will likely never find out the full backstory of each of the characters. Firefly is one of the greatest shows ever produced, and it being cut short in life is one of the biggest mistakes Fox has ever made.
9. The X-Files – Few shows have been as good as The X-Files. So why isn’t it higher? Because, unfortunately, few shows have been as bad as The X-Files, as well. But let’s not dwell on the bad final seasons, and the terrible 2008 movie. Let us instead remember all of the good the show brought. The monster of the week style of The X-Files was what made the show fantastic. The sexual tension present between Mulder and Scully was one of the primary driving forces of the show, along with the goofy, depressing mystery of what the hell actually happened to Fox’s kid sister. The X-Files gave me a feeling few shows ever have when it was at its best, and thankfully, it was at its best for the majority of the first seven seasons.
8. Freaks and Geeks – Like Friday Night Lights, Freaks and Geeks went against the grain and tried to show a real look at small-town life in middle-America. Like Friday Night Lights it also depicted a specific group of young adults, and did so in a pretty accurate way. Maybe because in high school…and still am, a member of both groups, my life revolves around videogames, and music. Outside of that, Freaks and Geeks is a classic Judd Apatow work; the uncomfortable relationships, the ugly guy getting the girl, the blatant opposition to typecasting. The soundtrack really does help, too, an excellent selection of late ‘70s rock, from Styx to Neil Young pulses from the show’s heart straight into the veins of the viewers. As much as I want to be upset for NBC pulling the plug early on Freaks and Geeks, I really have to commend them for having the courage to put the show on the air at all. It is a boring looking cast, with a boring looking premise, in a boring looking place. It took a certain amount of magic for the show to come together into such a fantastic coming of age tale, but come together it did.
7. Scrubs – My buddy and I had an apartment together in Buffalo from 2006 and 2007. We went to college, went to the gym, went to baseball practice, and then came home. Three nights a week, we wouldn’t have anything going on, so we would sit down and throw on a season of Scrubs. We probably watched the first five seasons about a dozen times over the span of six months, and if you gave us a TV, a quesadilla maker, and the seasons of Scrubs, we would be able to sit down and watch all of them right now without issue. Scrubs was a rarity; a single camera sitcom with a magnificent ensemble cast, which managed to keep itself together, and remain clever for a long period of time. Scrubs was a workplace comedy that still existed in a real world, but never took itself too seriously. Even when the show went down a darker path (see: the conclusion of Ben’s storyline, played by Brendan Frasier), they could wrap a tale of tragedy in light comedy, and make you feel mixed emotions about everything. The “true” finale, the end of season eight, was one of the most well shot, and well executed pieces of film making I have ever seen. While the show carried on after that, it was an entirely different show (one I still enjoyed, for what it was). The biggest key to Scrubs is something you will only get if you buy the first run DVDs of the seasons. The licensing of the music wasn’t properly attained at the show’s inception. The thought that any other distribution method wasn’t thought of other than pressed discs, e.g. streaming. You can watch the show on Netflix, but through the first four seasons, about 30 or 40 songs have been changed, giving the show an entirely different feel. That said, it is still a fantastic viewing, and you are wasting your time if you haven’t watched it.
6. Lost – History has shown that most television viewers flee from opposition. If a show doesn’t give them gratification moment to moment, they hit the bricks. This fact is what makes it amazing that Lost survived for six seasons in a very tumultuous TV environment, impressing millions along the way. When Lost was on, the superfan’s schedule went like this every week:
- Tune into Lost, watch it while recording it.
- Hit up forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and talk about the show analyzing what they thought went down.
- Re-watch the episode.
- Listen to Lost podcasts getting new theories and better analyses on the episode.
- Return to forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and continue to talk about the show, seeing if any new secrets had been discovered.
- Do research on an ancient bit of technology or philosophy that the writers used in the show.
- Do the forum run again explaining everything you found out.
You laugh, I know people who followed schedules like this. Lost offered more than a TV show, it was almost a social experiment built around a fantastic science fiction program. I checked in on forums every now and then and listened to a podcast here or there, and could see how someone could fall all the way down the well trying to figure out all the secrets. The fan interaction and exploration is part of the reason why I loved the show and why I believe the ending was far better than people gave it credit for. It continued some of the mysteries; it is left up to the fans to contemplate what really happened. That took courage.
5. Sons of Anarchy – Sons of Anarchy is probably my favorite show on television today. Charlie Hunnam, who plays Jax Teller, has long been one of my favorite actors, and he really puts his talents to work in SoA. The Sons of Anarchy are a Northern California motorcycle club that is all up in dirty business. Drug and gun running, protection scams, robbery, they are a full-on criminal organization. It is often described as Hamlet on a Harley, and I can see their point. The constant struggle for leadership of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original) is what drives the show. The in-your-face violence and action is proof that creator Kurt Sutter had more to prove after working on the other anti-hero show The Shield. This show definitely is not for everyone, the single-mindedness is its greatest strength but having only one thing to achieve pushes away anyone not looking for the criminal power fantasy that SoA is.
4. The West Wing – If I had made this list up 6 months ago, The West Wing would not have been on here. It was one of the huge missing pieces from my viewing history –of which there are many– and I rectified that by watching all seven seasons on Netflix about three months ago. It took me a bit more than three weeks to go through all 150+ episodes, and looking back on it, I am surprised it took me that long. Since then, whenever I feel like watching another episode, I just throw it on and I am taken away to that magical political dream that is The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin has been a staple on this list, as I have always enjoyed his writing style and absolute vision. The West Wing is what allowed Aaron Sorkin to become Aaron Sorkin; many of the techniques used throughout the run of the show (although Sorkin was only present for the first four seasons) have become ubiquitous in Hollywood. There is no doubt about it; The West Wing is an idealized version of the American executive branch. We all hope that this much thought goes into every decision that is made, and in some way, The West Wing is probably a dark criticism on the actual actions of government work. That said, don’t let the political nature of the show turn you away. It may look impenetrable, but I assure you, it is actually quite inviting once you check it out.
3. The Wire – The Wire is about Baltimore, and these people just happen to live in it. A city on the fall of a once great industrial past, Baltimore has problems. Gangs, drugs, corruption, it’s all there. The people that walk the streets of B-More may make the show, but I still say The Wire isn’t about any character. It is easy for a show to have an anti-hero as its protagonist, any number of scenarios can be written to make the bad guy look like the good guy. However, The Wire makes you root for both the heroes and the villains, and most people will do so shamelessly. The work of the police is great to follow; they are obviously in the right: Clean up these streets. But the gang members are living a way that is all they have known their entire life. Both sides know the part they play, cops do good, gangs do bad, and you don’t f*** with that. The raw nature of the show brings out the amazing performances from everyone. From Dominic West who plays detective Jimmy McNulty, to Michael Williams, a thief and a murderer that robs from drug dealers, The Wire is an untouchable force of acting prowess. The Wire is one of those shows that everyone tells you to watch, and even with all of that hype, it lives up to expectations. So just watch it already.
2. The Shield – Not many shows make me feel dirty just for watching them. The Shield is a show that does that after almost every episode. Vic Mackey, leader of the LAPD Strike Team, Farmington District is a bad good guy, or is he a good bad guy? In either case, he is a cop who is willing to do just about anything to get the job done. If a cop is in the way of catching his guy, he will put him on his ass, and that goes tenfold for any criminal. Favoring one gang in a drug war to lower crime? Sure. Murdering a cop who is going to rat his team out? Of course. I have mentioned cinematic style very few times on this list, but in this case, it deserves a shout out. The show is shot on 16 millimeter film with handheld cameras. Every scene has amazing camera placement that highlights the actors’ ability to a staggering degree. There are very few dull moments, and each season has a crazy drama that has to be dealt with. If you have the time, sit down and check out the entirety of the series (which is on Amazon Prime Instant), as it is worth watching all the way through.
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation – Deciding this number one choice took a lot out of me. The final ten shows all hold a special place in my heart, and that rings true for Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. TNG is a show about the nature of man, and how more than anything, we are explorers. As you are reading this on a videogame-oriented site, I bet a lot of you understand that primal urge to want to just look around that next corner because you just have to know what is there. That is The Next Generation. Captain Picard and the rest of the Enterprise D are on a mission to explore every corner of space, and to meet and understand the beings on the worlds that exist. There are 178 episodes (and four movies) of The Next Generation ilk, and if you asked ten fans to name their favorite episodes, the list would be quite diverse. I still feel weird about spoiling any of the stories even this long after the show has aired, so I will simply say this: Watch TNG. Some will tell you to skip the first two seasons as they are uneven (and they are), however they set up the universe and need to be watched to understand the way of things.
Thanks for reading through this list. I originally intended each show to have a much shorter piece about it, but it turns out that brevity when describing what makes an entire show good is quite hard to pull off. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any thoughts on shows I didn’t have, feel free to add them below. I will be the first to admit I skipped some amazing shows, and it is regrettable. Just please be as civil as possible. This list was fun for me, and I hope it is enjoyable for you, as well!