Since it is fun to rank things I’ve compiled my top 100 favorite shows. Put simply, the criteria I use is that higher ranked shows are shows I’d rather watch than lower ranked shows. I’ve tried to pull from a variety of different types of TV including reality shows, sports, and documentary series. Everything did air on TV at one point and all of it gave me some degree of pleasure. Usually I do these five at a time, but that would last forever, so I’m going to release my list in intervals of ten. As always, I want to make it clear as with any of my lists that I’m listing “favorite” shows. In no way am I arguing that my 100th ranked show is better than The Honeymooners. I’m sure that show was important, but I didn’t watch it and all I’m saying is I’d probably enjoy watching anything on this list over anything not on it.
I also want to disclaim at this point that there were a number of shows left out for a variety of reasons. Six Feet Under and The Sopranos were both shows I watched but didn’t love as much as most people. Breaking Bad and Mad Men I haven’t watched enough of to decide how much I like those shows. Louie would have made this list had I started watching it when I compiled it. There are a few others things I just plain missed like ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series. The point of this is to be a dynamic and changing list. In a year I will update everything. There should be a lot of movement of things coming and going, rising and falling.
20. Farscape (1999-2003)
I’m not exactly sure what makes me so fond of this little Sci Fi space drama, but it is just so dang likeable. Initially designed by the Jim Henson Company to showcase their ability to still make realistic puppets, this was a bit of a motley assemblage from the outset. They used that to their advantage and made a surprising number of excellent episodes featuring memorable characters. It also featured one of the more compelling love stories I’ve ever seen on TV as the cocky American astronaut eventually one over the soldier/warrior who was raised to feel nothing. Ben Browder and Claudia Black were perfect in their performances and it was one of the few times that I actually got sucked into a TV romance. I always appreciated the show’s ambition. They were not afraid to throw in some absurdist comedy, nor to play with the conventional TV storytelling structure. Even though there were plenty of mediocre episodes, it is the effort that I’d like to reward this show.
19. Scrubs (2001-2010)
It is easy to brush Scrubs aside and think of it as a silly comedy. It often is a silly comedy that features lots of bits that would be impossible to take place in the real world. Despite that, the show was always grounded in the real drama of working in a hospital, surrounded by the sick and dying. The ability to switch between JD’s outlandish fantasies, slapstick comedy, and the grief of dealing with death was remarkable. It makes Scrubs easily one of the most flexible shows that could literally do anything. An interesting comparison is to Gray’s Anatomy which is a total ripoff, except they left the drama behind. Gray’s takes itself extremely seriously and rarely tries to go for a laugh. To me the tone of that show is far more one note, than one that bounces back and forth several times within an episode. I want to make special mention of John C. McGinley who for a stretch of time was possibly the best dramatic and comedic actor on TV. His Dr. Cox is worth watching alone, but fortunately there many other great characters that fill out the ensemble.
18. The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1993-1996)
A relic from my childhood that still stands up better than could be imagined. The beauty of Pete and Pete was that it captured two things perfectly. The first was a sense of Americana from the perspective of someone growing up surrounded by it. The second was a creative weirdness that spoke to a certain type of creative, weird person like myself. Even though the show was bizarre it always made some sort of sense to me, because the kids on the show were reacting the way I would have reacted to crazy the events that surrounded them. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny the show remains to this day. Somehow the jokes that were designed for kids in the mid-90s were funny at the time, and remain funny now. Most pieces of childhood nostalgia can’t say the same.
17. The X-Files (1993-2002)
While The X-Files certainly deserves the credit it gets for being the Sci Fi show that made alien paranoia cool again it doesn’t get nearly enough due for its brilliant execution. It is my go to example of a show that perfectly balances having stand alone episodes that a first time viewer can drop in and enjoy, along with serialized elements that tell a grander story. In some ways the grander story arc is served better by showing up intermittently. It delays gratification and whets the appetite for more to be revealed. In the meantime the show offers up explorations of the surreal interacting with the real. David Duchovny of course deserves infinite praise for his portrayal of Mulder, the believer. Sharp, funny, and a little bit damaged. Duchovny pulls it all off.
16. The Simpsons (1989-current)
I’ll start by saying I don’t often watch The Simpsons anymore, and haven’t done so for years. That doesn’t take away how great the show was and probably still is. My favorite parts of The Simpsons were the clever satire, whether it was Twin Peaks references or a “Who Shot JR” parody, I didn’t always get the joke fully at the time, but I still laughed. I did become bored at points when the show would try to go to a heart warming place, but those little trips were somewhat necessary to humanize some of the more outrageous characters (i.e. Homer). Even though I don’t have time for the show currently, it still was as big an influence on my taste in comedy as anything I’ve ever watched.
15. Deadwood (2004-2006)
While the “Western” as a TV/Film/Novel was popular and ubiquitous in the US at one point, it certainly wasn’t in 2004. That probably had something to do with the romanticism that long had been attached to the wild west. Deadwood came along and served to portray the early days of a real town in the middle of nowhere that was populated by rough characters. While some of the specific language that was used was anachronistic, it succeeded in conveying that Deadwood was not the most courteous place in the land. Employing one of the greatest casts ever assembled, the depiction of life on the edge was both compelling, bloody, and humorous. It was the type of show that would have characters deliver Shakespeareanesque, profanity laced monologues while receiving oral sex. I have to say, that is my kind of show.
14. Community (2009-current)
I will always be more interested in daring and ambition than recitations of what has been successful in the past. Community started as a quirky sitcom that placed a bunch of disparate and funny characters together and let the jokes fly. That was good, but it had been done before. Creator Dan Harmon, couldn’t let that stand and started to shake things up. The show got weirder and more experimental, culminating in the great success of a paintball episode that satirized numerous war films. After that door was opened Harmon let things fly. My favorite moment was the tribute episode to “My Dinner with Andre” which was a movie nobody had ever watched, yet the episode was fantastic. Unfortunately Harmon, as many creative giants are, was hard to work with and was fired from the show. We’ll have to see if the new producers can keep making the show that dared more than just about any other, or will they play it safe and lose the edge that made Community great (although watched by few).
13. Millennium (1996-1999)
From Chris Carter, who also did The X-Files, I actually have this rated higher. I think I just find the topic of aliens less intriguing than serial killers. That could say something bad about me, but I prefer to interpret that preference as liking content about things that actually exist. Serial killers are out there and their psychology is an actual phenomena, not something that was made up. Yes, I don’t believe in little green men, nor a government conspiracy to keep their existence hidden from the public. Frank Black of course is an interesting character in how own right. Haunted by a gift that gives him insight into the insane, he struggles with his family life and his ability to stay sane himself. Despite being more grounded in reality, there is still a nice dose of the mystical that adds a weirdness to the show that I always liked.
12. Angel (1999-2004)
The Buffy spinoff that became really good in its own right. In some ways Angel exceeded Buffy because it was a more consistently good product once they worked the kinks out and figured out how to make a good show. Overall it rarely hit the heights that Buffy hit, but was certainly enjoyable to watch from beginning to end. I have to give David Boreanaz a lot of credit, because based on his performance in the first three seasons of Buffy it would be a stretch to think he could carry his own show. The more screen time he had, the better he got. He had a tough role because he was the lead, but in many ways he was the one guy that couldn’t change much or grow as the series progressed. Fortunately there were some other great characters that were allowed to have interesting arcs that fulfilled that need that every great show has.
11. Seinfeld (1990-1998)
This is the ultimate example of letting a show that has promise stick around and get better. The first season weren’t great, but they showed promise. Jerry Seinfeld never became a great actor, but was particularly rough early on. The show had smart ideas, but hadn’t figured out how to layer them on top of them. NBC stuck with the show and in a few years it became the funniest show on TV and their biggest hit. When at its best Seinfeld was just full with good jokes that stemmed from a combination of crazy characters and Jerry Seinfeld’s observational style of stand up comedy. I think its safe to say that Seinfeld gets the highest combined score of being funny and being popular. That’s a pretty good position to be in.