COLUMN: Television Greatness

239

Source: CVDaily Feed
$inline_image}

“I’m like King Midas in reverse. Everything I touch turns to [bleep].”

—Tony Soprano

On Twitter this week, a popular hashtag asked users to list their favorite seven television shows of all time. I took a few moments to read some of the tweets. Meh. Mostly newer shows were mentioned, which should be expected since younger people tend to avoid watching anything old.

Like most things in my life, I started to overthink this. I wondered if I could make a list of my favorite television shows in my head and then move on to other things. This column should answer that rhetorical question with a resounding “nyet!”

How would I construct my list? Can sitcoms really be judged against dramas? Is it fair to critique eight episodes of “True Detective” against shows that have aired over 100 episodes?

What about game shows? Where would “Jeopardy!” and “Survivor” fit in? I adore both. As a kid, I used to watch “General Hospital” and “Days of Our Lives” devotedly. Are soap operas legitimate?

My mind is spinning.

This is the conundrum with anal retentiveness. It makes someone who is obsessive compulsive consider minute, picayune details regarding irrelevent lists whilst wrought with worrisome contemplation. Someone might read this list a century from now and evaluate me solely on my love or hatred for “Cop Rock”. My posterity hangs in the balance…I must get this right!

Most of my burden about the correct criteria regarding this list is alleviated by the fact that my top two favorite television shows have been unchanged for a decade. In my expert opinion, “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing” just did it better than any other show aired for public consumption.

What a great time the 2000’s were for TV. These two shows aired the crux of their best episodes during the early years of that oddly named decade. Following the peculiar and unordinary lives of Tony Soprano and President Jed Bartlett was an indulgence that I never wanted to end. Given that these two shows were diametrically different in both tone and setting made it so that between them I really did believe I was visiting two different worlds.

Growing up in the Italian culture of South Philadelphia, I was unfortunately aware of many of the shady, sociopathic characters prominently displayed on “The Sopranos”. These were not men of honor. Mafioso tend to be no better than street hustlers looking to make a buck at the expense of honest people.

David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos”, allowed his characters to ooze a level of cynicism that was fitting for its ugly, uninspiring northern New Jersey setting. Watching the show retrospectively, it is hard not to discern that Chase was allowing his own contempt for humanity to show through in his fictional band of criminals and enablers.

And Chase loved to hector those of us who were loyal to his landmark show. In the course of its run, “The Sopranos” often left red herrings dangling in front of us. So many plot twists went unexplained. Chase would show us storylines without a conclusion and then just leave it there. It was almost as if Chase was laughing at our obsession with characters he manipulated us to care about, despite their glaring humanistic deficiencies.

Counter this, if you will, with “The West Wing”. I recently binge-watched the entire run of this magnificently-intelligent show on Netflix and came away with an even higher reverence for its storytelling and rapier wit than I had on my first viewings.

This drama was about how a wholly idealistic liberal U.S president would often have to sacrifice those ideals in favor of political expediency. In its seven-season run, “The West Wing” set a standard for high quality television that became sorely lacking in the years since the Kardashians and “Duck Dynasty” came to contaminate screens.

You needed some semblance of political acumen and highly-functional mental acuity to enjoy “The West Wing”. It was a show for snobs. That’s why I found this show so endearing.

So, yeah, these two shows are slam dunks for my list. Almost two decades after they debuted, they have aged superbly. But what about entries 3 to 7?

I am omitting sitcoms. “Community” was the funniest TV show I ever watched. I still have a fondness for the early seasons of “Cheers”. Once they wrote Diane Chambers off the show, I thought it lost much of its allure. “All In The Family” is a time capsule we all should open.

I just think comedic shows should be placed in a “separate-but-equal” classification to dramas. Not many sitcoms stay funny throughout their run.

I am disqualifying all mini-series, limited series, and anthologies. That kills off most entries from “Masterpiece Theatre” as well as the first season of “True Detective”. If I am going to be true to this list, a major criterion should be if a show sustained itself over a lengthy period of years.

Game shows are nixed. This was a tough call. I reserve the right to rescind this methodology if someone makes a cogent argument that they are on the same plane as structured dramas.

Soap operas? Half a no. Daytime soaps lack the consistency necessary for a fair and adequate comparison to shows with a fixed number of episodes. I did consider “Dynasty” for my list. I loved that show, and it followed a classic primetime schedule that made it easy to measure up with other dramas.

Finally, no franchises. Each show stands on its own merits. Spin-offs and shows that continue a brand are individual entities that will be reckoned accordingly.

So, here is the list of my seven favorite television shows of all time. Drum roll please.

  1. The Sopranos
  2. The West Wing
  3. The Walking Dead
  4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
  5. Downton Abbey
  6. Deadwood
  7. Game of Thrones

There! It is official. Once this gets uploaded on cachevalleydaily.com, it cannot be changed—except to correct the multiple grammatical errors both I and my editor miss. When someone stumbles upon this list long after I have shed my mortal coil, compiled in earnest on a hot summer day in August of 2016, Anno Domini, it will speak to who I was as a person.

May the benevolent judges of television greatness have mercy on my soul.