Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

My List of Best TV Shows Ever!?

Posted by Roobs on March 8, 2010

I started working on this list before the Oscars. Now following that night of justified failures (Fern Gully? cough, i mean Avatar?) i have completed my personal list of the top 9 TV shows to air on TV. They are not in any particular order.

Side note. If i have not seen the show, then it didn’t make it on my list. Oh well, get over it. Weeds i hear was an amazing show but since i have seen maybe 2 episodes of it, i can’t call it one of the best.

Without further adoo, the nominees are…

STAR TREK (original)
A list of great TV shows could not exist without Star Trek. Here is why. The original Star Trek series brought the human race its first glimpse of something to look forward to. In the age of Obama when people talk (or talked) about hope and change, Star Trek one uped them with its weeknight stories. It didn’t talk about hope and change; it just imagined a world, nay, a universe when all that was already in existence. And at a time when most science fiction was depicting epic battles of moral-less aliens destroying all that we dear on planet Earth; reinforcing our fear of the unknown, Star Trek ventured to say not only does mankind have a future, it has a positive future to look forward to. It actually made us happy to be human.

Additionally, Star Trek broke many grounds. It had the first African American in a leading role as well as the first on screen interracial kiss. Many of the often mocked technology depicted in the original series are used today. Cell phones anyone? Reminiscent of the communicators used on set? Don’t believe me, look it up yourself. Also, the much derided “techy talk” in Star Trek and its continuing series’ is actually scientific theory or fact. Yes, Timmy, there is such a thing as “Anti-Matter”. Yes, Johnny, “Worm –Holes”, “Warp Drive”, “Transporters”, “Deflector Shields”, “Phasers” are theoretically possible, if not already in the early development stages. (yes, some scientists have produced small deflector shields around objects.)

I loved Doug as a kid. It was such a great cartoon, you know, for those old enough to remember when Nickelodeon aired cartoons. Doug was a simple coming of age story that followed the life of Doug Funny, as he grew up and went through life in the town of Bluffington, along with his loyal dog and friend, Porkchop.

The story was simple but it was brilliant in how it worked in real life situations (for a kid, at least) and taught the viewer many social and moral lessons. Like learning to dance, standing up to bullies, first loves, first kiss, discovering who you are as a person. Many children’s shows try to do this but Doug was so entertaining and brilliant in how it reached young children that it is rare to see in a similar show for kids today.

You loved Doug, don’t lie! You have always wanted to name your Dog “Porkchop”! You were really excited when Dough finally kissed Patty Mayonnaise and still remember the legend of the Nema Toads!

Outside of Doug, Hey Arnold! Is the only other show that grasped the elegance of teaching kids about life lessons with great simplicity. Probably even more elegant, Hey Arnold revolved around the lives of Arnold (last name never revealed) and Helga Pataki, Arnolds secret admirer and nemesis. Many of the life lessons learned in Doug, such as standing up to bullies, tolerance, leadership, first loves, are repeated in Hey Arnold! But they are done so in a slightly more mature way.

Hey Arnold appeared after Doug. Arnold was a very mature kid who loved Jazz and had knowledge of technology that allowed him to trick out his room with a lot of boy toys that many older tech hungry guys today would love to have in their house, let alone their room. The situations he was placed in were slightly more adult than Doug and played out more metaphorically by using, sometimes odd, storylines. Such as teaching tolerance in an episode that had Arnold helping “Pigeon Man”, an urban legend who is tormented when local bullies discover his real existence, save his birds and teach him that humanity is still capable of kindness.

Such great a great cartoon that I’m still sorry to say has not been even remotely replicated for kids today.

Why is The Simpsons, a cartoon, on my list of best TV shows? Because it IS a cartoon! The Simpsons is arguably the first “adult” cartoon that went beyond wacky antics of immortal characters and, instead, matured the cartoon genre to a place where they could humorously take on current social and political events. The Simpsons is probably one of the smartest shows on TV for that reason and led the way for cartoons like “Futurama” and “Family Guy”.

The Simpsons keep up to date with new world and cultural issues and address them in a humorous light. Even people who don’t understand a jab at communist China or at Clintons will find the show incredibly funny. It transcended the idea that shows are split between those who want something “smart” and those who want something “dumbed down”. It appeals to a broad range that it deserves nothing less than to be included in my list of the best TV shows ever!

Will & Grace was a great and groundbreaking show because it was, really, the first show on basic cable who’s main characters were openly and unapologetically gay. But it did so in the most brilliant of ways that made the show such a hit with viewers. Will & Grace revolved around the always entertaining relationship between a gay man and his best fag hag (or fruit fly to be more PG). Unlike the average gay movie, Will & Grace was not a story about how Will or Jack came out of the closet and had to overcome social judgments and obsticals; instead, Will & Grace was after-the-fact. Will and Jack (the two gay characters) were already openly gay in the community and had established lives. Will & Grace didn’t try to be a show of “social change”. It successfully branded itself as a funny primetime sitcom whose main characters happened to be gay.

This was actually a very successful strategy for social change, in my opinion. Will & Grace introduced the “gays” to mainstream America. As Harvey Milk’s character said in the movie “Milk”, “They vote in favor of us 2-1 when they know one of us”, Will & Grace allowed many who may have not known a gay guy or girl to get to know one, even if in a fictional tv show.

Now, we can debate the accurate nature of Will & Grace and whether or not it reinforces gay stereotypes (Jack?) But what many who often take that route miss is that Will & Grace offers a great transition piece. It simply introduced the conversation of gay men and women to the average American without being political. It was a fun show and people who may have not been in the pro-lgbt group now found themselves laughing with the studio audience at Will’s OCD and Jack’s crazy antics.

This one may get the most feedback but I feel it deserves a mention here. 24 was a truly unique departure from traditional television shows. The entire season occurs in 24, one hour episodes. Each episode, supposedly depicting 1 real life hour, took action to a new level. Whether we want to question the accurate depiction of that 1 hour (notice they never use the bathroom in any of those 24 hours) is for another time.

The first season of 24 was a truly excellent action thriller of a series. It débuted after the September 11th attacks and dared to show a fictional story of terrorists in the LA area planning another attack. The acting and writing on 24 was surprisingly good. You really found yourself rooting for the good guys and frustrated when the terrorists gained an edge. We actually connected to these characters. Jack Bauer? Come on! You love Jack Bauer! The man kicks ass! Even when you secretly know that a network like FOX will never kill off a main character… you don’t care! You root him on as he knee-caps the bad guy and saves America’s first black president, David Palmer!

When so many times, we find ourselves lamenting the loss of reading a good book because it can grab you and won’t let you put its pages down, 24 played out as a really good book. You couldn’t put it down. Don’t believe me? Find the 1st season online and play the first two episodes at least. If you can easily walk away without watching the 3rd one in a row, then I guess you really don’t like the series.

The West Wing is a political show for politicos. Not since the film, The American President, has a show brought life to Washington’s ivory halls (Because you know you would marry a guy who offered to fight and pass HR 454 for you). Every politico I know LOVES this show! Granted, I have yet to finish the whole series but the seasons I’ve seen thus far are amazing!

What brings The West Wing to my list of Best TV Shows Ever is the simple fact that The West Wing is BRILLIANT! The writing of that show accurately depicts how politics is played in America with realistic back room deals, witty political banter and secret hate of the press. It realistically shows the battle every politico faces as he or she struggles to do what is right in the face of the Washington machine. The acting brings the characters to life and you become enamored in ever deal being made. You secretly hate the Senator who holds out in exchange for appropriations yet take sadistic pleasure when he (and his state) receives nothing in the end. You rooted for and probably voted for Bartlet’s second term. You probably even stayed up late in the evening watching the fictional returns come in. Admit it.

There is so much to say about the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel’s reimagining of the old show that I cannot even begin to contemplate putting it all in brief paragraphs. Nevertheless, BSG (as it is known to its fans) represents the all-time best of sci-fi dramas even remotely attempted since, say, Star Trek or Star Wars. I mean, really. As I sit here and write, I can sense the rolling eyes coming from critics of science fiction in general. But I have to ask, have you seen BSG? Honestly? You really should go and rent the first season DVD and sit and watch it from start to finish, just the first DVD of the first season. The rest show will do the rest and you will watch, I guarantee you.

The story in BSG is, in essence, an alternate creation myth of Humanity as we know it now on Earth. It revolves around an old yet massive battleship called, Battlestar Galactica. Humans live on 12 Colonies in a distant solar system. They created a race of robots, known as Cylons years ago who eventually rebelled, starting a long war. The BSG series begins as the Cylons return to annihilate mankind. Out of a solar system of billions, around 50,000 human refugees survive along with Galactica and flee for their lives in search of the mythical 13th Colony known as Earth for refuge. The 4 season series follows these survivors through battles, political and religious struggles, as well as emotional turmoil as they journey to their new home.

BSG brought science fiction to a new level and a new audience. At a time when one of the most commented posts on my Facebook is about why a movie like Avatar didn’t deserve an Oscar, the real question is why wasn’t BSG in the running for Best Picture? Sure, it was a television show but the acting, the story with its brilliant insight into human characteristics and understanding of modern politics was truly exceptional. The cinematography for “frak” sake was amazing and the music brought an already epic story to an emotional climax. Truly, one of the best science fiction dramas ever created.

Mad Men is still new, having just completed its third season. But oh, man! What three season have they been!

Mad Men is still the best show on television that no one is watching. I mean, really. Outside of my friends who I already know watch Mad Men, the average person knows not of this show. WHY?! John Hamm is the new “George Clooney”, a man and character (Donald Draper) who is just all man. Not in the traditional American fart and crush a Coors can on your head, type of way. But in the independent thinking, strong willed, intelligent and willing to fight for a cause kind of way.

You love and loathe Donald Draper. You think he is just so cool yet have hesitations about his romantic and personal lives. But that is the very essence of what makes this show so great. Every viewer connects with at least one character because they all are so deeply interesting yet so deeply flawed that we each identify with some aspect of their lives. The very depiction of such dichotomous lives by these characters is American life, both past and present, through the looking glass.

From Donald Draper, a man with a struggling past to rise to wear he is only to realize how deeply unhappy he still is; to Salvatore Romano, the now terminated Art Director at Sterling cooper who so brilliantly showed a gay man’s struggle to hide who he was from the people who worked with and lived with at home, including his wife (evidenced by this clip: There’s Pete Campbell, the really annoying guy you love to hate because he reminds you of that kid back in elementary school you just wanted to smack for being a little shit but still had to share the Crayons with… you know the one.

Let’s not forget the overall aesthetics of the show! I mean, come on! The hip and trendy modern style of the 1960’s, the sinful grace and elegance of the smoked filled rooms and drinking of scotch. Showing a time when men actually wore suits to the office and women dressed up. Mad Men continues to receive acclaim for its accurate depiction of 1960’s clothing and furniture. After the first season of Mad Men, Macy’s actually reported an increase in sale of three piece suits and thin black ties.

Again, Mad Men is the best show on TV that nobody is watching. And that is also part of the fun. Mad Men is a club that Mad Men-addicts, such as myself love to be a part of. It’s a club that, frankly, you are not invited to… unless you bring a case of rye. Then you’re good.

Honorable Mentions:

-Saved By The Bell
-Star Trek: Voyager
-Modern Family
-Breaking Bad
-Queer as Folk
-Desperate Housewives
-Law & Order


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