Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Top 50 TV Shows Pt. 1: 13-40

13. Tales From the Crypt (1989- 1996)

Created by: Steven Dodd, Exec Producers: Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis

I grew up with EC Comics and they are the primary reason why I am such a horror fan (or fiend?). I also grew up with the films of Donner and Zemeckis and got into the films of Walter Hill later on. So it was a natural fit that this show works to the extent that it does. Along with MST3K and The Simpsons, my go to show for comfort food.

14. Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969- 1974)

Created by: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

Like the best bands, comedy troupes such as Monty Python are so well regarded because of how well they are able to play off each other's strengths. In this case, Monty Python were The Beatles of comedy.

15. Mad Men (2007- 2014)

"You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow because there isn't one."
-Don Draper

Created by: Matthew Weiner
Favorite characters: Peggy Olsen, Don Draper
Favorite episodes: The Suitcase, The Wheel, The Other Woman, Shut the Door Have A Seat, Waterloo, Person to Person, Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, In Care Of, Meditations In An Emergency, Signal 30, Lady Lazarus

While Winter went back to the gangster genre, another Sopranos writer decided to invoke another kind of existentialism: that of Madison Avenue advertising guru Don Draper. Beyond just that, it's based around one of my favorite periods of history: the 60's. More importantly, the shadows of repression from the 50's that lurked over a decade of sexual and political revolution. Even Don Draper didn't like Tomorrow Never Knows.

Amidst the cigarette smoke and alcohol tinged breath an ad exec takes when selling the ad, buying the new car, and bedding the new secretary, there is an air of nostalgia that pulls the past right onto their doorstep. As Don would say, in Greek, nostalgia means the pain from an old wound. When looked through the kaleidoscope of the 60's, watching the characters moving forward from an old wound only makes the pain more severe. Mad Men was a show that made us looked back in time to see that there still is work to be done today.

16. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000- )

Created by: Larry David

Curb is a rare show that has gone through 8 seasons and not only managed to not lose steam, it has become funnier. Like a bull in a china shop, Larry's insensitivity manages to wreak havoc on everybody. 

17. Oz (1997- 2003)

"There's somethin' in the air. And it ain't love"
-Officer Diane Whittlesey

Created by: Tom Fontana
Favorite characters: Ryan O'Reilly, Kareem Said, Bob Rebadow, Augustus Hill
Favorite episodes: Revenge Is Sweet, Escape From Oz, You Bet Your Life, A Game of Checkers, Works of Mercy, Unnatural Disasters, Capital P, Strange Bedfellows

Oz. That's the name on the street for the Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary. HBO's first real drama doesn't pull any punches. There is bone chilling brutality throughout that is only matched by soul stirring moments. Mass incarceration seems to be the one thing America excels at more than any other country and this show goes lengths to show how broken that system really is- from recidivism rates to the death penalty to overcrowding to horrific injustice.

When it's all said and done, television shows will have produced a handful of truly great character feuds. Tobias Beecher and Vern Schillinger will be up there.

18. True Detective (2014- )

"Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning."
-Rust Cohle

Created by: Nic Pizzolatto
Favorite characters: Rust Cohle, Officer Paul Woodrugh
Favorite episodes: Form and Void, Who Goes There?, Black Maps and Motel Rooms, The Secret Fate of All Life, Omega Station

A good example of how a novelist can take to the medium, in this case a cop drama, and don it with a new coat of paint. Nic Pizzolatto created a show that would cause Detective Somerset to comb the libraries looking for books from Robert Chambers, Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron. In many ways, the best of its kind since Se7en. The second season was more Chinatown than its previous influences but it still offered a number of fascinating characters and storylines.

19. Boardwalk Empire (2010- 2014)

"We've been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow...then you and me sit down, and we talk about who dies."
-Al Capone

Created by: Terence Winter
Favorite characters: Richard Harrow, Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller, Chalky White, Gyp Rosetti, Arnold Rothstein
Favorite episodes: Farewell Daddy Blues, Margate Sands, Erlkonig, To the Lost, Devil You Know, Two Imposters, Eldorado, Under God's Power She Flourishes, Paris Green, The Old Ship of Zion

After the Sopranos, everyone wanted to know what Chase was going to do next. What we weren't prepared for was Sopranos scribe Terence Winter going back in time to Prohibition-era 20's and exploring a different type of gangster. The performances are universally great and the look of it puts most other HBO productions to shame. I'll just put it this way: if The Sopranos is GoodFellas, then Boardwalk Empire is Casino.                                    

20. At the Movies With Ebert and Siskel (1986- 1999; Ebert and Roeper 2000- 2006)

"I'm Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. And I'm Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun- Times" 

The only substitute to that euphoric feeling of opening those respective newspapers and reading one of their reviews. It had nothing to do with whether or not they liked a movie I liked (though it helped). It was all about their chemistry as a duo of reviewers who could get fiercely embroiled in debate. 
Gene giving reviews while he was clearly sick with cancer and Roger persisting in reviewing on his site amidst the loss of his voice, is why I have such admiration for them. Their passion for what they did was boundless.
In an era of such vanilla bland, dishonest critics- A.O. Scott, Michael Phillips, and Ben Mankewicz, who all tried to fill the void- the balcony still remains closed.

21. WWE Raw (1993- Present)

The run from 1997 through 2005 was where all of its best moments lay for me. Specifically the Attitude era ('97- '02). What other show will you see its creator get a Stone Cold Stunner? This was the era that gave us the Monday Night Wars, Steve Austin flippin' off Mike Tyson, Wrestlemania X-7, the tag team division at the time, the Austin Vs. McMahon feud, Mankind winning the title, the list goes on and on and on.

Hearing of The Undertaker finally retiring for good last year put a lot of things in perspective. The Rock is now a Hollywood star and will be busy with the Fast and Furious franchise until the end of time, Steve Austin has taken to podcasts and putting in an appearance or two, Triple H has traded his attire for a business suit. Both Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels are retired. Eddie Guerrero has passed and Chris Benoit was responsible for a horrific murder/suicide of his family. All the heavy hitters that made that era what it is are more or less gone. The middle finger is now replaced with some crappy, watered-down family friendly goo. The product, as much as it tries to, is just unable to recreate that magic of the Attitude era.

C-137. Rick and Morty (2013- )

Created by: Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland

What if Doc and Marty were thrown into a cartoon with influences of Beetlejuice, Men In Black, and Cronenberg? Well, you'd pretty much end up with something looking like this. Yet the show doesn't wear it's influences on its sleeve for its own amusement. This can be contributed to the sharp minds of Harmon and Roiland.

There's a bottomless well of creativity here because there are infinite realities in the show. Once they tap into a concept for an episode, they explore every nook and cranny of it. It doesn't leave you with that distaste in your mouth thinking "I wish they could have added this." It's better than most animated shows on television. It's a version of an animated show you could trust when it says "Gazorpazorp". Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV?

23. Deadwood (2004-2006)
"Welcome to fucking Deadwood"
-Al Swearengen

Created by: David Milch
Favorite character: Al Swearengen, Calamity Jane, Doc Cochran, Trixie, Cy Tolliver, Joanie Stubbs
Favorite episodes: all of Season 2, Sold Under Sin

Westerns have always been a tricky genre for me. This is why it took so long to get around to this show. I was never into John Wayne or traditional Eastwood. The spaghetti western genre created by Leone and Corbucci seemed a fresh way into the style and Cormac McCarthy took the genre to its furthest points with the likes of Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy. Deadwood seems to fall somewhere around Cormac McCarthy's lighter fare (which is still saying a lot as far as the darkness goes).

Deadwood, out of the Holy Trinity of HBO shows- the other two being The Sopranos and The Wire (also created by Davids)- is the one with the most tenderness. While the other two were about the end of the American Dream, this show is about the birth of it.
It also has an absolutely bonkers cast: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Brad Dourif, Powers Boothe, Kim Dickens, Garrett Dillahunt, Jeffrey Jones, William Sanderson, John Hawkes, Keith Carradine and those are just the regulars.

Oh and one more fuckin' thing: cocksucker.

24. Better Call Saul (2015- )

Created by: Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould

A spin off show that is actually more subtle than it's predecessor. The most common thing I hear about this Golden Age of Television is how TV is moving more and more toward cinema, or in the case of Twin Peaks and Leftovers toward a weird space between the mediums. What is so striking about Better Call Saul is Gilligan's lack of interest in making it as cinematic as possible. He's happy playing within the limits of television- and he still remains unmatched on that front. Just compare Saul's intro to the sleak, visually striking intros of True Detective or Game of Thrones. In the midst of Breaking Bad, everyone has been trying to scramble to have their own Walter White. Gilligan bravely went the opposite direction: he focused on the comedy relief of an extremely intense show. And it worked.

25. Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Created by: D.J. MacHale and Ned Kandel

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...

Nickolodeon was the wallpaper to my childhood: Salute Your Shorts, Adventures of Pete and Pete, Double Dare, Ren and Stimpy, Legends of the Hidden Temple and so forth. Remember Gak? The carpeted floors to my living room do.

Tales From the Crypt was already my bread and butter and this was the next best thing: a horror anthology show for kids. Some of the episodes are still genuinely creepy.

26. Tim and Eric Awesome Show (2007- 2010)

Created by: Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim

Tapped into the infomercials you saw at 2 am on Channel 5 and then went even further. Exists somewhere between a nightmare and the humor of Andy Kaufman.

27. Freaks and Geeks (1998- 1999)

"The dance is tomorrow. She's a cheerleader. You've seen Star Wars 27 times. You do the math"

Created by: Judd Apatow and Paul Feig

A show that rested on the experiences of the outcasts in high school. The ones who would debate Led Zeppelin under the bleachers. They were always more interesting than the jock and the princess making out above them, anyway. Easily the best thing either Apatow and Feig have done.

28. Fargo (2014- )

"Maps use to say 'there be dragons here'. Now they don't. But that don't mean the dragons aren't there."
-Lorne Malvo

Created by: Noah Hawley
Favorite characters: Mike Milligan, Hanzee, Molly Solverson, Lorne Malvo, V.M. Varga
Favorite episodes: The Castle, Buridan's Ass, Morton's Fork, Palindrome, The Gift of the Magi, The Law of Non-Contradiction, A Fox A Rabbit and A Cabbage, Loplop

How are going to create a show based on a property as beloved and as brazenly original as Fargo? You go the other way. By creating and embracing new characters and stories, Noah Hawley breathed new life into the idea of a place where a man can hit a deer, veer off the side of the road and have a man hop out of the trunk in just his boxers. Season 2 brought an even stronger sense of original story that organically unfurled from Season 1. If only Season 3 was as good...

29. Six Feet Under (2001- 2005)

"You're alive! What's a little pain compared to that?"
-Nathaniel Fisher, Sr.

Created by: Alan Ball
Favorite characters: Nathaniel Fisher Jr., Brenda Chenowith
Favorite episodes: Everyone's Waiting, Ecotone, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, A Private Life, I'm Sorry I'm Lost, All Alone, Untitled, Perfect Circles

Alan Ball is frustrating. I have grown out of my love affair with American Beauty (watching it now, the movie genuinely pisses me off) and I've become apathetic about True Blood but the effects of Six Feet Under still weigh deep. He seems to love trapping his characters in emotional prisons and watching them claw their way out. For Beauty it was banal suburbia. For SFU it was. well, mortality. And the latter just turned out to be more fascinating.

30. Frasier (1993- 2000)

"I'm conducting a seminar on multiple personality disorders and it takes me forever to fill out 
the name tags."
-Niles Crane

Created by: David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee

Though I'm only two seasons in, this show has rocketed to the top 30. It could easily go higher. As another blogger said, it's not the most innovative show, but it achieves what it set out to do: to step out of the shadows of being a mere spin- off show to become a great show in its own right.

31. Batman: The Animated Series (1992- 1995)

Created by: Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski

After Batman Returns, I thought Burton had a lock on the character of the dark knight. Turns out that an animated show would change all that: it felt more true to the spirit of Batman than both Tim's films. And I really like Tim's films.
As much as I love the whacked out performance of Nicholson, it was the voice of Mark Hammill that sealed the deal. At least until Nolan's trilogy came along.

32. Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995- 1998)

"Harvard's Memory Loss Clinic, established in 1952, 1967, and for the first time in 1981."

Created by: David Cross and Bob Odenkirk

The seamless transitions from skit to skit created this weird dreamlike quality that really hasn't been seen with any other sketch comedy show. It's not as popular as SNL but the four seasons it produced can give any season SNL produced a run for its money as far as inventiveness goes. So pick up a copy and see the shit out of it! 

33. The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1992- 1996)

"Begone with you pulpy, before I fold you into some type of brochure!"
-Artie, the strongest man in the world

Created by: Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi

It's surreal growing up. This is a truth Pete and Pete nailed with its weirdness. The world's strongest man, trying to break a world record of staying up late, daylight savings time travelling, going on a quest to answer an ominous ringing telephone. And Petunia.

34. The Knick (2014- 2015)

"What have I done?" -Dr. John Thackery

Created by: Jack Emiel and Michael Begler
Favorite characters: Dr. Algernon Edwards, Nurse Lucy Elkins, Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr.
Favorite episodes: This Is All We Are, Get the Rope, Williams and Walker, Method and Madness, Do You Remember Moon Flower?

The boldness of the pilot and borderline horror movie tone toward the end of season 2 are what makes it  rise above your typical paint-by-numbers medical drama. Along with Deadwood, it transports you to a time of harsh primitiveness where some of the horrors of the time are still not easily as mended as the physical wounds the doctors are needed to suture. It's also Soderbergh's best work since Traffic. So much so, that if someone wanted an example of how television has become "better than film" I'd show them this show first. Take that ER.

35. Arrested Development (2003- 2006)

"Are you forgetting I was a professional twice over? An analyst and a therapist?
The world's first analrapist."
-Tobias Funke

Created by: Mitchell Hurwitz

A depiction of once of the most honest, stalwart families in America. I think if you peel back the layers of these characters you will find the inner workings of a humanity filled with grace and humility.

Let's just pretend it ended with season 3.

36. Louie (2010- )

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't"

Created by: Louis C.K.

Writer. Comedian. Lovable shlub. Where Seinfeld embraced its moniker as "a show about nothing", Louie is a show that lives moment to moment. Tackling one taboo after another, Louis CK straddles the gap between comedy and tragedy. Always managing to top itself with each season.

37. The Office (2005- 2013)

"I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious."
-Michael Scott

Created by: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

A remake of a British comedy show that spawned a bunch of imitators. The mockumentary format has been around for a while. It was only a matter of time till television made use of it.
The best characters were the ones in the background: Creed, Stanley, Kevin, and Toby. It declines in quality after Season 5. 

38. Taxi (1978- 1982; 1982- 1983)

"If you find yourself in a confusing situation, simply laugh knowingly and walk away."
-Rev. Jim Ignatowski

Created by: James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, Ed Weinberger

Working class sitcoms where each character had a distinct personality. They were not the most popular kids in the class but the writers never treated them as losers either.
Christopher Lloyd will always be Doc Brown but had that character not come to be, Jim Ignatowski would be the role he would be remembered for. With that, Taxi also gave us Louie DePalma and Latka Gravis.

39. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (2014- )

Please subscribe immediately if suffering from symptoms induced by the current administration that may also include:
migraines, chronic vomiting, hysteria, depression, and an overall bleak outlook on the American experiment.

40. Eastbound and Down (2009- 2013)

"Undaunted, I knew the game was mine to win. Just like in life, all of my successes depend on me. I'm the man who has the ball. I'm the one who can throw it faster than fuck. So that is why I am better than everyone in the world. Kiss my ass and suck my dick. Everyone."
-Kenny Powers

Created by: Jody Hill

According to Jody Hill, his film Observe and Report was influenced by Taxi Driver. It shows. The only thing better than a dark comedy of that nature is four seasons of that style. And with Kenny Powers at the helm we got it. Eastbound can be as dark when it wants to be and as gut bustingly hilarious when it wants to be. Many times in tandem with one another. Blind optimism at its best.

41. Ren and Stimpy (1991- 1995)

"Oh my beloved ice cream bar. How I love to lick your creamy center!"

Created by: John Kricfalusi

You think of textures and smells when you think of Ren and Stimpy. This is the only cartoon that I've seen pull that off. Skin curling, eye popping, and ear ringing. Happy happy joy joy.

42. Cheers (1982- 1993)

"It's a dog eat dog world and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear."

Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows

Quite possibly one of the best TV intros/ theme songs to lead up to the show itself. It gives context to everything: this is a tradition as old as the drink itself, gathering around with strangers who have become friends and sharing moments.

43. Games of Thrones (2011- )

"Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe."

Created by: George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Lord of the Rings did nothing for me. Harry Potter was fun but left me cold in the end. So it stands to reason that I should hate a show set in a fantasy fueled world of dragons and white walkers- a genre that, for the most part, leaves much to be desired. I was wrong. No other show to my knowledge has produced so many "oh my god" moments or  "Most Hated Characters in TV (Joffrey Lannister and Ramsey Bolton)" or "Most Brutal Episode Ever" lists. It's a treat just watching reaction videos on some of the episodes. Beyond just the value of those moments, the writing, amount of fully formed characters and world building are staggering. It's a pop culture event. So why is it not in the top 20? Simple: personal preference.

44. Looney Tunes (1930- 1969)

Saturday mornings in front of a television. A sandwich + milk + Looney Tunes. These were the ingredients for a successful day as a kid. The culture of Bugs Bunny seemed to wrap itself around many things I loved back then: McDonalds Happy Meals, Six Flags, even the worn out VHS copy of Batman. 

Don't tell me the Coen Brothers weren't thinking "live action Looney Tunes" when they made Raising Arizona. 

45. Most Evil (2006- 2008)

Created by: Investigation Discovery/ Michael Stone

Serial killers. A morbid fascination that many of us have. Even the ones who are afraid to admit it.
One interesting way Dr. Stone goes about the show is that he categorizes them: cult leaders, spree killers, attention seekers, schemers, cannibals and vampires, revenge and cold blooded killers. Then he quantifies their evil on a scale of 1- 20.
Do you have your Amy Fisher trading card?

46. Masters of Horror (2005- 2007)

Mick Garris will forever be known as 'The Guy Who Has Interviewed Every Major Horror Director'. In that sense he's the horror genre's Peter Bogdonavich. One thing he has over that director is a TV show. It's kinda what us fans of Dante, Carpenter, Argento, and Gordon always wanted and the only worthwhile horror anthology of the past 15 years. Look out for Takashi Miike's Imprint (banned from the show for being too...well, it's Miike. Go figure).

47. Quantum Leap (1989- 1993)

Oh boy!

Created by: Donald P. Bellisario

A show that takes on time travel in a unique way that can lend itself to moments that range from comedy, to suspense to pure emotion. The Leap Home is a personal favorite episode.
The only time Dean Stockwell has been better is lip synching into a lamp.

48. Amazing Stories (1985- 1987)

Created by: Steven Spielberg
Favorite episodes: The Mission, Santa '85, Ghost Train, The Beach, Go to the Head of the Class

An anthology show where so many episodes were directed by directors I love: Spielberg, Scorsese, Zemeckis, Hooper, Dante, Hyams. It also gave us two Spielberg directed episodes we all wished his Twilight Zone segment should have been.

49. The Eric Andre Show (2012- )

Created by: Eric Andre

Chaos manifested in a talk show. Never before has interviewing celebs been this much fun.

50. Boy Meets World (1993- 2000)

Created by: Michael Jacobs and April Kelly

Middle school nostalgia follows high school nostalgia follows college nostalgia.

Honorable Mention: Rocko's Modern Life, Justified, Treme, Spaced, Orange Is the New Black, Generation Kill, Married...With Children, The Outer Limits (60's era), Beakman's World, Doug, The Colbert Report, Night Court


Top 50 TV Shows Pt. 2: 1- 12
Top 50 Books

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