Here now, the second half of my Top 20 television shows of all-time. As was the case with A Lifetime Of Shows, I stuck mostly to well-known and at least somewhat-popular network shows. This is 100% personal preference, and continues to change by the minute as I write it up. Appreciate it as entertainment, please.
10. The Prisoner
The Prisoner is the only television show in the countdown that I have never actually seen on a standard television set. The DVD box set still runs well over $100, so I’ve been forced to enjoy the 17-episode series via Interweb. Fortunately, it takes nothing away from one of the most visionary, complex and downright frustrating shows ever created.
An underrated, early predecessor to shows like Twin Peaks, Lost (for sure) and even The X-Files, The Prisoner was one of those shows where you only knew as much as the main character, which in this case, wasn’t very much. As the weeks rolled on and the surreal story started unraveling, less seemed to make sense, culminating with what could be the most bizarre series finale of all-time. Find an opportunity to watch this show, and hey, if you happen to own the series on DVD, don’t be afraid to send a copy this way.
theCDP. PO Box 865 Sun Prairie, WI 53590
Show co-creator Patrick McGoohan sez’:
“I think progress is the biggest enemy on earth, apart from oneself…We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt, we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche… As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy. We’re at the mercy of the advertiser and of course there are certain things that we need, but a lot of the stuff that is bought is not needed…We all live in a little Village… Your village may be different from other people’s villages, but we are all prisoners.”
9. Twin Peaks
Finally! After mentioning Twin Peaks nearly 20 times in the last two days, it finally shows up to claim the #9 position on our countdown. It would have placed much higher, but with only a season-and-a-half of programming, it seemed a bit too grandiose. Not that it wouldn’t have deserved it or anything.
David Lynch is, from what I can tell, an all-American guy. Lived a storybook childhood. Is a great conversationalist and storyteller. Enjoys fishing and baseball. But when this man gets behind a camera, he always manages to create the impossible: a conscious dream. Seriously; what I like the most about Lynch’s work is that it’s truly like viewing the most lucid and unexplainable dream possible, and yet there it is, right there on the silver screen. Or in the case of Twin Peaks, the TV screen.
Do me a favor. Go back and watch Eraserhead, and tell me that isn’t the closest representation to an honest-to-God nightmare as you’ve ever seen. I dream about crap like that all the time. Unnamed characters that come and go. Scenes that lead to nothing. The laws of physics breaking and gluing themselves back together. People randomly tuning into completely different characters. Backwards-talking midgets and a woman that takes advice from a log that she cradles like a newborn. With Twin Peaks, Lynch actually took this style and made a national television show out of it, which seems absolutely impossible, and yet captivated the entire nation for the two glorious years that it existed. When we follow Special Agent Dale Cooper through the dreamlike, film noir town of Twin Peaks, we’re with him in the realization that something isn’t quite right. Like maybe, we’ll just wake up from this world and get back on with our real life. So goes the genius of Lynch.
The ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ storyline in 1991 was an even bigger phenomenon than the ‘What’s in the Hatch?’ Lost storyline from 2004. The Emmy nominations piled up, imitators came out of the woodwork, and ABC will always be remembered as the network that gave David Lynch and a brilliant cast the chance to create the most unlikely television classic in history.
Lynch, Lynch, Lynchity-Lynch Lynch. Penis.
“Before the two-hour pilot premiered on TV, a screening was held at the Museum of Broadcasting in Hollywood. Media analyst and advertising executive Paul Schulman said, “I don’t think it has a chance of succeeding. It is not commercial, it is radically different from what we as viewers are accustomed to seeing; there’s no one in the show to root for.””
8. The Wonder Years
Paul Pheifer isn’t Marilyn Manson. Wayne Arnold didn’t commit suicide. Winnie Cooper is indeed the hottest math teacher on the planet and Kevin Arnold is Daniel Stern. Wait, what?
I’m big on influences, and to me, there were few programs that had such a positive influence on television (and my writing style) as The Wonder Years. This was the first show that I can remember as a child that had no definable genre. It was set in Vietnam War-era America. It was narrated by an adult version of the main character. It was brilliantly funny. It was heartbreakingly sad. It had moments of true emotion and deep nostalgia. The soundtrack was amazing. Nowadays, most programs attempt to combine as many genres as possible, but The Wonder Years was one of the first to do it so perfectly. In a standard sitcom, you knew that the main character’s girlfriend wasn’t going to be killed by the end of the episode. In The Wonder Years, everything was open for interpretation and flux.
Due to the aforementioned music rights issues, this timeless show hasn’t seen the light of day on the DVD rack. I can only hope that this matter gets handled immediately, so I can finally see if the show holds up to all of the praise that I feel I’m rightfully stacking upon it.
Kevin Arnold sez’:
“…And so Winnie and I had our one slow dance after all. But things wouldn’t be the same between us. We were getting older. And whether we wanted it or not, the Lisa Berlinis and the Kirk McCrays were changing us by the minute. All we could do was close our eyes and wish that the slow song would never end…”
7. The Twilight Zone
There’s a reason why The Twilight Zone gets revived for a new audience every few years. The greatest sci-fi/horror series in history draws upon classic short stories to produce an original anthology that still draws annual marathons and legions of fans. Still the scariest and most thought-provoking show I’ve ever seen, the Rod Serling era-broadcasts are the very definition of ‘classic,’ and you’d be hard pressed not to find the show still in syndication in your area. The most memorable episodes are too numerous to name (besides, you know them by heart, I hope), and the cast of actors ranged from virtual unknowns to monumental royalty.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi and thought-provoking horror; any sci-fi and thought-provoking horror that currently exists on your television in any facet, you can thank The Twilight Zone for its existence.
Rod Serling sez’:
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs, and explosions, and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, ideas, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. A thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all it’s own for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, is that these things can not be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
6. Saturday Night Live
It has survived 34 years (5 without creator Lorne Michaels), boasted a revolving door of writing and acting talent, functioning as sort of an American Idol for comic actors and breakout stars. It has shaped the way we tell jokes, changed the way we talk to each other and even shaped Presidential elections. Where in the hell would American popular culture be without Saturday Night Live?
Whether it’s a good season or a lackluster one, people still watch, stars are still made and seven-minute sketches become the conversation topic of an entire nation come Monday morning. With the exception of maybe two other shows, nothing on television has shaped me as much as SNL has. Chances are, you’re probably the same way. And the music! For as much as the sketch comedy aspect of SNL dominates conversations on the historical significance of the series, their musical guests are always a more accurate and definitive snapshot of the times than even the sketches themselves.
In short, a Canadian created a show that, for all purposes, should go down in history as an American standard. Funny how things work out.
Sean Connery sez’:
“Suck on it, Trebek. Suck it long, and suck it hard.”
TV Guide states that Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all-time. Of course, the nation was in the grips of Seinfeld-Mania at that particular point in time, so I have to believe that the list might be slightly altered should it run again in 2008. A quick scan of my high school yearbook even unearths tons of Seinfeld quotes and musings scribbled into margins and back pages by friends and teachers. Truly, Seinfeld was a defining moment in time, not just for television, but for comedy in general.
Within the confines of a ‘traditional’ sitcom, they broke taboos, seamlessly intertwined genius with wackiness and practically begged you to realize that the four main characters were some of the most selfish, shallow and self-centered characters ever created. We saw ourselves in those characters (I’m half-George, half-Jerry), and it allowed us to root for them, even as they ruined lives, obsessed over the trivial and broke up with people on a weekly basis for the most superficial of reasons.
When Seinfeld finally came to a close after nine seasons, I honestly didn’t know if there would ever be another live-action show as brilliant and versatile. Then…well…
George Costanza sez’:
“There is Relationship George, and there is Independent George…you are killing Independent George! A George divided against itself… cannot stand!”
4. Arrested Development
Well, here we are. My #4 favorite TV show of all-time, and my pick for the greatest live-action television series I’ve ever seen. Just like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners or even Seinfeld, Arrested Development deserves to be placed on a pedestal next to these timeless shows, if only for the sole reason that they invented something brand new. I’d also argue that since Arrested Development invented something brand new in 2004, their feat is even more spectacular than all of the shows I just mentioned.
What is there to say about Arrested that hasn’t already been said? There was just absolutely nothing like it, before or since, that has even come close to matching the pacing, depth, acting, characters, writing, spectrum, pop culture knowledge, satire and self-parody displayed in just one episode. Quite frankly, I feel very fortunate that I lived in a moment of TV history where a show like this existed, if only for three short years. It was that good.
The jokes were everywhere. The wordplay and puns were positively Shakespearean in their execution. The taboos were destroyed. The very network that took a chance and almost instantly left them for dead was mocked mercilessly. Guest stars trusted the material enough to play so far outside of their ranges that their careers could have been ruined had it been anything less than perfect.
And that’s what Arrested Development was. 100% perfect, from start to finish.
Entertainment Weekly sez’:
“As Hollywood agents worry about the demise of the town’s lowing cash cow, the multi-camera, staged sitcom, here to save the day is Arrested Development, a farce of such blazing wit and originality, that it must surely usher in a new era in comedy.”
I get a free pass on Lost, as it would appear as if I’ve done enough talking about it already.
The CDP sez’:
“Lost is the greatest television drama of all-time, weaving the very best elements of survivalism, action, horror, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy (ack!) and surrealism, while opening discussions concerning the topics of fate, religion, free will, conspiracy and karma. The cast is historic, the storyline is genius personified, the storytelling elements are unlike anything ever put on TV, and the writing team of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have created a world so deep and entertaining, we should be paying them a residual every week to even be allowed to think about this masterpiece. I’m done.”
2. Mystery Science Theater 3000
Taken from MST3K Info; a perfect epilogue that I’ve probably read 100 times over the last 8 years:
So, after nearly 200 bad movies, ten years of production and fifteen years of television audiences joining the crew of the SOL for “movie sign!”, it’s fair to ask what it was that kept this show so beloved.
Well, Joel said something very profound about his show in an interview in 1990: “It’s about liberty, in a small, goofy way,” he said. And that is probably at the heart of it. It appeals to an innate human desire to unabashedly say what you think. And for young kids, that seems to be the principle draw: the whole notion of grown-ups in power being heckled and ridiculed for their obvious inadequacies is irresistible.
But there’s more going on here, or this would just be Beavis & Butthead. More importantly, MST3K is a call to arms in a war most thinking people are waging every day: the battle against the mediocrity that floods our lives. MST3K is an object lesson, a demonstration that we don’t have to–and shouldn’t–passively accept the garbage we are spoon-fed on a daily basis. Indeed, the series places the ‘bots and their human companion on the front lines of that battle. It’s in this way that MST3K rises above mere heckling and becomes a compelling metaphor about fighting the good fight.
But beyond that, there is no mistaking the genius at work here. It shines so clearly that toddlers are instinctively drawn to it and senior citizens smile knowingly — even if neither gets the Courtney Love jokes. From Joel’s forehead-slappingly simple concept to its loopy-yet-graceful execution, the show has a cool elegance, an endearing off-kilter brilliance. It engenders an astonishing loyalty in its viewers — a loyalty that stems in part from the way it makes its viewers feel like they are “in on” a very special secret. It manages the near-impossible by being one of the most delightfully unpredictable programs on national TV, while also being one of the most reassuringly formulaic. “The show,” as devotees simply call it, rewards knowledge and insight, punishes inattention and passivity. But most importantly, it always has been — and always will be — really, genuinely funny.
In the theater, the give-and-take rhythm between movie and commentary can be, at its best, dazzling and exhilarating; while the host segments often build to the kind of antic cartoon chaos (reminiscent of Monty Python or a Warner Brothers Looney Tune) that is a tonic for anyone who feels trapped in a dreary, workaday world. The overall result is an entertainment experience that leaves its viewer a little happier than when he or she found it.
On January 31, 2004, fifteen years of Mystery Science Theater 3000 came to an end on broadcast television. But the show lives on in the hearts and minds of fans all over the world who continue to buy the Rhino Home Video episodes and who have never forgotten those four magical little words: “Keep circulating the tapes.”
MST3K didn’t run forever. But it will never leave us.
1. The Simpsons
There you have it, folks. Time Magazine’s choice for the Greatest Show Of The 20th Century also happens to be the CDP‘s choice for favorite show of all-time. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.
TOMORROW: TV Week Continues With A Tribute To The Programming Block!