Saturday, December 22, 2007

SDD's top 100 series of all time: Places 30-21





30) My So-Called Life
ABC, produced 1994-1995

What: After decades and decades of dumb teen shows (and, no, I don't like 90210, so stop asking), My So-Called Life brought the Herskovitz-Zwick school of ultra-realism to the high-school drama. As the two producers' follow-up to thirtysomething, the series had high expectations, and it mostly met them. Created by young writer Winnie Holzman, the series centered on the adventures of the disaffected and mostly off-putting young Angela Chase. Despite her extreme self-involvement (SO realistic), she became a television icon and hero to millions in her generation -- a generation that hadn't had to go to war or suffer through depression or even protest for change, a generation longing for meaning. The series was revolutionary in the way it delved not only into Angela's life but into the lives of both her current friends and former friends, slowly mapping out an entire high school landscape. At the same time, it delved into the lives of Angela's parents, two contented yuppies who found themselves yearning for the kind of youth they saw represented in their own daughter. At its best, MSCL was the shot in the arm the teen drama genre needed, an intimate look at just how much work it is to keep all those roiling hormones down.

Why: In the mid-90s, realistic, serious teen drama was just something you didn't do. Teen shows tended to be aimed at really little kids (the execrable Saved by the Bell) or feature completely unrealistic storylines and problems (the aforementioned 90210). There was the occasional good teen series (like Parker Lewis Can't Lose), but those series tended to take on the tone of the 1980s John Hughes teen comedies, where the teens were hip, cool and had it together. So when the MSCL producers decided to do something that would attempt to accurately capture just what it was like to be a teenager, no one at ABC seemed capable of understanding just what it was they had (and, indeed, they sat on the pilot for a year, trying to figure out what to do with an obviously brilliant piece of television-craft that they had nowhere to put). So the series landed on the schedule unprotected and had famously low ratings (though those same ratings would be good enough to score a top 30 placement in today's landscape). Even though the series scored remarkably well with teens (who usually skew away from ultra-realistic portrayals of their lives), that demographic was not yet valued by advertisers, so when Claire Danes wanted a raise lest she go off to make movies, ABC let her and the show go. More's the pity. My So-Called Life, even at its most mawkish (that CHRISTMAS episode?!), managed to be a delicate tapestry of the "pressures" of suburban teen life and the ways parents try to keep a lifeline to the kids slowly drifting away from them as they realize their own adulthood. At its best, MSCL is something that very few television shows can even hope to be -- utterly gorgeous. What made it work were the terrific scripts by a team of young writers that filtered out through the industry and brought us other great shows, a riveting central performance by the remarkable Claire Danes and a commitment to verisimilitude, rather than over-the-top dramatics. After 13 years, MSCL still feels fresh and relevant, even as its references march out of date. The series helped kick off the teen boom of the late '90s, and it's hard to imagine series like Buffy, Freaks and Geeks, Veronica Mars or Friday Night Lights without it.

Best season: My favorite was the second season I wrote in my head. Barring that, season one is pretty awesome.

Best episode: "Life of Brian" and "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" are both great episodes, but that incredible pilot is one of the greatest first episodes I've ever seen, instantly dropping you into a world that feels like it's both in another galaxy and just around the corner.

Did you know?: The famously long development cycle of the series stemmed from the inability to find anyone to play Angela. There was this one girl, see, but she was only 13. The producers ultimately cast the 13-year-old, hoping she would grow into the part, and the two year gap between pilot and series saw to that.

Available on DVD?: The whole series is available on a terrific set from Shout! Factory that's not even too expensive by their standards.





29) The Honeymooners
CBS, produced 1955-1956

What: The original one-season wonder, The Honeymooners was created as a rough spinoff of a recurring sketch on The Jackie Gleason Show. Canceled at the end of its first season because the ratings weren't so hot and the series' star was feeling the pressure of headlining TWO shows (when the heck did he sleep?), The Honeymooners created a whole subset of TV comedy -- the blue-collar sitcom. In the typical blue-collar sitcom, the loving couple at the center squabbles and worries about work and how they'll make enough money to get by (their living situation usually being the opposite of luxuriousness), even as they have to deal with their friends and neighbors. What I've just outlined is essentially the format that The Honeymooners completely invented. Numerous series have stolen bits and pieces from it, but none have quite gotten the whole thing together. The Honeymooners remains one of the cornerstones of television comedy for this very reason -- the stories are small and relatable, and they're acted out by a terrific ensemble. In only 39 episodes, The Honeymooners defined much of what we think of as television comedy.

Why: Despite its frustrating adherence to the standards of sitcom formula and a troubling undercurrent of joke-y misogyny, The Honeymooners endures because it's an almost perfect example of how to do a show about characters who are scraping to get by and make it amusing. In its own way, it was Death of a Salesman for the sitcom genre. The best episodes of The Honeymooners play out almost like little classical tragedies, where you know what's coming from the very set-up, but you're still watching just to see how the characters will react to it. The dialogue in Honeymooners isn't terribly sharp, but the performances by Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph are so good that it doesn't matter, and the episodes are so thrillingly STRUCTURED (each episode consisting of one big, long setup culminating in an often hilarious punchline) that it carries you along through the weak parts. Like all '50s sitcoms, The Honeymooners can feel a little logy to modern audiences, but the series defines itself so perfectly that it's probably the easiest '50s sitcom to watch in the modern day (even easier to watch than I Love Lucy, its most obvious competition for the title of best '50s sitcom, I would wager). Gleason and Carney's partnership is so well-done that it buoys the whole series, and the stripped-down plots are so perfectly constructed that they seem almost as if they were called down from some comedy Olympus.

Best season: There's just the one. I don't count the numerous, often inexplicable, lost episodes that were added to the syndication package and cobbled together from Gleason show sketches.

Best episode: "The $99,000 Answer" satirizes something that seems quaint to modern audiences (the craze over quiz shows) but closes with one of the best punchlines in sitcom history, something that you need the whole episode to get.

Did you know?: Despite a 39-episode run, The Honeymooners was tremendously popular in syndication -- so popular, in fact, that the syndicator was thrilled to hear of the discovery of tons of sketches from the Gleason Show featuring the characters. These were turned into the "lost episodes," which now are mostly UNsyndicated, simply because they don't make a lot of sense when stitched together into episodes.

Available on DVD?: The whole series is available for a very cheap price, but stay away from those Lost Episodes sets. While there's funny stuff in there, they're all sketches and should have been treated as such.





28) Battlestar Galactica
Sci Fi Channel, produced 2004-present

What: In the early 2000s, there was a real backlash within the TV sci-fi writer community against the strictures of Star Trek. The series had been a huge boon for televised science fiction, but it also had a rigid formula that kept characters from being in conflict (because the Federation would NEVER do such a thing) and meant that episodes would always end up having a disconnected feel. The feel of the series, constructed as a hopeful dream during the Cold War, no longer felt current, especially in a world of paranoia and fear. So Farscape sent modern man into the farthest reaches of space. Firefly did a Civil War allegory about haves and have-nots. And Battlestar Galactica, the best of them all, turned an old, laughed-at series about a human-robot war into the most trenchant commentary on American foreign policy post-9/11 on the dial. Developer Ron Moore, reluctantly agreeing to take a look at the original series, would be shocked to find in its story of a human race picking itself up after a tragedy and constantly on the run from a menace they could never fully stop ideas that resonated in a way they couldn't have in the late '70s (with Lorne Greene). Originally ordered as a miniseries, Moore and co-producer David Eick turned the event into a hidden pilot for a series, which followed a year later. Critics and sci-fi fans responded almost instantly to the ideas of the show and its well-executed action sequences, as well as the meticulously plotted overplot. Battlestar Galactica (BSG to its fans) finds in its characters a kind of human frailty rare in sci-fi television, then sees just how hard it is to survive, at war or in peacetime.

Why: I was a skeptic. "You HAVE to watch this new Battlestar Galactica series," said my friend. "It's REALLY good." But what did he know? Battlestar Galactica was that crappy show from the '70s that was basically greenlit as a Star Wars ripoff for television (and had lots of weird Mormon overtones). Imagine my surprise, then, as I ripped through the first-season DVDs after receiving them in a matter of a week. Darkly gorgeous and shot in a crazy, cinema verite style (recalling nothing so much as Overlord set in space oftentimes), BSG has had its eye-rolling moments (there was a stretch there in season three where every episode was a dud), but at its base level, the series is so ambitious and dares so much that it leaves you, slack-jawed in front of the television set. Where Star Trek was always devoted to preserving the status quo, Moore (who, after all, trained on Star Trek series) seems dedicated to messing with his status quo, taking his characters on a long, devastating journey to a sacred homeland (Earth, of course). The series' cast (making good use of film stalwarts Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell) brings a varied collection of flawed characters to vivid life, while the series' directorial style is like nothing else in its genre (and allows the show to get away with larger space battles than almost any other show on a weekly basis). BSG can get a little too pleased with its "ripped from the headlines" immediacy, but when the series is clicking, it blows almost everything else on television away. It's a passionate war show that's as much about the ways we live as the ways we die.

Best season: Much as I love long stretches of season two (with its fantastic opening episodes and Pegasus storyline) and season three (with ITS fantastic opening episodes and closing quartet), season one is the series' most consistent, and it has some of the series finest hours.

Best episode: It gets unfairly vilified in the fan community, but season three's "Unfinished Business" is an elliptical journey through memory and regret, covering events we needed to see and couldn't have guessed at. There's some silly business in it (President Roslin as a cut man? What?), but the overall effect is emotionally overwhelming.

Did you know?: The battle to bring a remake of Battlestar Galactica to television was led by one of its original stars, Richard Hatch, who was then dismayed to find that his beloved series for families would be reimagined as a dark series about men and robots at war. Hatch, however, came to love the new series and now plays an important recurring part.

Available on DVD?: The first two seasons, the miniseries and a made-for-TV movie are all available on DVD. Season three will be released next year.





27) Roseanne
ABC, produced 1988-1997

What: One of the most underrated sitcoms of all-time, Roseanne was the last, dying gasp of the All in the Family-style sitcom, where a blue-collar family full of frequently abrasive members struggled to make ends meet and found themselves having fights as often as they hugged each other. Toward the end of its run, when it had turned into a pretty awful show, Roseanne felt like a dinosaur in a world of Friends and Seinfeld clones, what with its focus on one nuclear family and their struggles to make life match up to the one they dreamed of. Outside of the central family, though, Roseanne had a fully developed cast of extraneous characters, including extended family members, coworkers and townspeople. The series often felt less like watching television and more like stepping into an alternate world every week at its height. Its portrayal of Roseanne herself as a "domestic goddess" was hugely influential, inventing a kind of television feminism that would scatter out from the show in waves (indeed, two of the writers trained on the program were Joss Whedon and Amy Sherman-Palladino -- who received her Emmy nomination for writing the show). Roseanne's abrasive character extended to the behind-the-scenes environment, where she often clashed with executive producers, who were sent packing more often than not. This gave the series an occasionally disjointed tone, but in its willingness to tackle things like sex and making ends meet, Roseanne was always earthily real in a time when most sitcoms felt sanitized.

Why: Roseanne's greatest strength comes from its honesty. No, families do not always get along as television has taught us. Yes, sometimes, teenage girls need to go on the pill. And no, life is almost never what you dreamt it would be. But when you're with the people you love, does any of that matter? Roseanne's argument was that sometimes, being with those you love was enough, and sometimes those people you loved were deeply frustrating and inconsiderate. The series also got considerable mileage of its star's willingness to portray herself in an unfavorable light, usually letting John Goodman's Dan Conner be the cuddly one who was more outwardly loving. The relationship between the two was an inversion of the usual sitcom format, and the series got so much mileage out of this (and its two stars' performances -- two of the best in sitcom history) that its early years, which were mostly normal family sitcom stuff, were still bracing. But the unique characters extended to the kids, who included Sara Gilbert's Darlene, one of the finer portrayals of a teen girl swimming in cynicism ever put on TV. The series could have gotten by with just its fine cast (which, let's not forget, also included Laurie Metcalf) and its good scripts, but it then went on to try to chronicle the life of blue-collar America in a country where it seemed these sorts of people had been forgotten (especially during the recession of the early '90s). In its look at how hard it can be to hold your life together, Roseanne both broke new ground and made it seem easy.

Best season: Season five was the season when the show best portrayed the Conners at their financial worst, spinning incredibly funny plots out of storylines of destitution and near poverty.

Best episode: "A Stash from the Past" is maybe the only good anti-drug episode in sitcom history, largely because it reminds us that drugs can be a hell of a lot of fun. . .until you have a life to get back to.

Did you know?: Until this year, John Goodman held the record for the most-nominated actor to never win an Emmy, thanks largely to a long string of nominations for his work here that he was never rewarded for.

Available on DVD?: The complete run of the series is available on DVD, but the quality of the transfers varies from set to set.





26) St. Elsewhere
NBC, produced 1982-1988

What: In the 1980s, MTM productions took the old drama format and threw it out the window, creating two series that blended many serialized stories together and often mixed humor and tragedy liberally. St. Elsewhere was the second of these series, and it's my pick for the best hospital show of all time, a sometimes goofy, sometimes tearful look at a series of days in the life of a downtown, decrepit institution, a hospital that was falling apart and seemed stuck off to the wayside. The most notable invention of the series was that the patients occasionally died. The doctors were all fallible humans, who made mistakes and sometimes found themselves unable to cope with their personal lives, despite their professional successes. The large ensemble cast was peerless (and launched Denzel Washington to stardom), and the series' ratings, while always low, were terrific with young people, meaning it lasted six years off the beaten path (and never winning the drama series Emmy). Elsewhere at its best was marvelous television, taking its medicine seriously but its characters even more seriously. In its blend of comedy and drama, you can see the seeds for many, many workplace dramas to follow.

Why: I'm a huge fan of the '80s workplace drama, in which a large collection of fallible characters confront their own failings and the issues of the day in an environment where those issues walk through the characters' front door. St. Elsewhere was the first series to pick up the torch lit by Hill Street Blues (well, they hailed from the same production company, after all), and it made the concept more blatantly comic than it had been before. The best of Elsewhere had a feeling of history and a culmination of time that gave the series a real weight -- you felt as though these weary doctors really were fighting against the world, especially as their broken-down hospital would seem to turn against them. And the cast was great too, featuring all-time great performances from William Daniels, Ed Flanders, David Morse and many others. Of course, the finale of the show (where the whole thing was revealed to be the dream of an autistic child) set off a mini-trend of its own (the "It was all a dream!" finale) and created an elaborate universe in which seemingly every show that aired ever is the dream of that child. At its heart, though, St. Elsewhere was a look at the heart of Reagan's America, where the forgotten often poured through the doors of the hospital and a group of doctors battling their own demons had to set those things aside just long enough to try to save a few lives.

Best season: The fourth season has many of the series' best episodes, including a two-parter that managed to make the series seem almost mythic.

Best episode: "Time Heals, Parts 1 and 2" works terrifically if you've never seen the show, but it works even better if you've seen every episode. A series of flashbacks to the history of the hospital features a long string of payoffs for fans of the show -- you just know that that insulation has asbestos, that that event will touch off tragedy in a doctor's life. Few series feel like they have a richly developed history. St. Elsewhere pays off on all of the hints dropped in earlier episodes in this duo.

Did you know?: Every episode of St. Elsewhere featured a universal story, a story about one of the characters, a medical story and a humorous story. These stories often had a thematic link, a concept the show's creators would later bring to Northern Exposure, and a concept that would be brought over to the St.-Elsewhere-as-a-sitcom series Scrubs later.

Available on DVD?: The first season is. Buy it so I can get Time Heals on DVD.





25) Taxi
ABC/NBC, produced 1979-1983

What: After the end of Mary Tyler Moore, Paramount, known for its dopey comedies like Happy Days and its spinoffs, backed a dump truck of money up to the houses of that series' creators, urging them to come work for the studio and develop a new series. Together, they left the upper-class, feminine world of Mary Tyler Moore behind to create a series they called a "guy show" about a bunch of blue-collar dudes (and one woman) who drove cabs and hung out in the garage that was their center of operations. Though the series was never as successful as Mary Tyler Moore, it was still a great sitcom in its own right, and it had one of the best ensemble casts in the history of the genre (including Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Andy Kaufman and Judd Hirsch). Taxi was wackier than Mary Tyler Moore, and it had a serious surreal streak, but it also had a very dark, sad side to it, as it was about a bunch of people who had big dreams and were only driving taxi cabs until they could achieve those dreams. Only Alex, the central character, had no goals beyond driving a taxi, and that somehow made him just as sad and bleak as the others. Taxi can get a little depressing for some, but it balances all of that out with some terrific laughs. It's become a little underrated, thanks to being out of syndication in most markets for so long. Check it out on DVD.

Why: Taxi could have had terrible scripts and a bad concept with that cast, which is just terrific and without a weak link after the first season (when the show ditched the derivative and uninteresting Randall Carver). Even Tony Danza works here, as he's essentially playing a dumb galoot. Unlike most other workplace sitcoms of the time, the workplace cast of Taxi is expansive and full of goofballs, a trend that would be copied by most of the great workplace sitcoms of the '80s. If the workplace sitcom is about how Americans tend to make the people they work with into their real families, Taxi is about just how dysfunctional that family can become (from the bizarre immigrant who pops in every so often to the angry little uncle who lords over everyone). While the best thing about Taxi is its ensemble, the scripts are very good too. The series quickly found that it could do broader, more physical stuff than Mary Tyler Moore, making this probably the slapstickiest sitcom from the MTM family. Since the series theme was that of scattered dreams, it also felt free to do things that deliberately broke with its format, such as an episode where everyone revealed their secret fantasy or an episode where everyone revealed what they would do with $1 million. Taxi's vision of New York as kind of a hellhole is dated, but its idea of that city being a place where millions of people come to chase possibly fruitless dreams hasn't. I don't know that there's been a grimmer popular sitcom than Taxi, and when you break it all apart, it's amazing that it works as well as it does or that anyone watched it at all.

Best season: Seasons two through four are the best, and season three is the most consistent. At this point, the Charles brothers (who went on to create Cheers) were doing a lot of the writing for the show, and their bleak view of the world fit perfectly with the series.

Best episode: "Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey" famously features the longest laugh in sitcom history. I'll leave you to figure out what it is, but it's pretty instantly recognizable if you haven't seen it already.

Did you know?: Danny De Vito hosted Saturday Night Live shortly after Taxi was canceled for the first time. The cast, glum about the surprise cancellation (Taxi's ratings had only crashed that season), showed up to get a sense of closure, giving their final bows on the program -- only to find that their appearance prompted NBC to pick up the show for a surprise fifth season.

Available on DVD?: The first three seasons are. There are no plans to release the other two.





24) Arrested Development
Fox, produced 2003-2006

What: Fox's strange satire of the lives of the idle rich and the ways in which they attempt to amuse themselves is one of the definitive cult series of our time, virtually unknown to almost everybody and holy scripture to those who DO know it. Without it, terms like "nevernude," "analrapist" or "Steve Holt!" wouldn't be out there in the culture, but, then again, they really sort of AREN'T out there in the culture. Arrested Development's complex, textured style of comedy seems like it was readymade for an age of TV on DVD and DVRs. At the beginning, Arrested was just a very, very dense comedy, though not necessarily something that you couldn't follow. By the end of its run, though, you had to know all about the show's situation with its network and the gossip about its stars to get the jokes. Plus, you had to have seen EVERY SINGLE OTHER EPISODE for the jokes to pay off. Whether this was offputting or rewarding depended on your resolve, but it made for terrific entertainment for its fans while it was on. In a way, it's good that the show was canceled. Eventually, its insular world would have felt TOO much like an inside joke between the show's writers and its fans, and everyone but the most ardent cult member would have bailed. Instead, the series lives on as a nearly perfect three seasons of goofy television.

Why: In recent years, Arrested Development has become a LITTLE overrated because every one of its fans posts all over the Internet (well, the nature of the show meant this would be so), but there's no denying just how funny the show was and just how well it used its terrific cast. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz to avoid most of the usual sitcom tropes, the series was ostensibly a freewheeling documentary about a family of rich people who hadn't worked a day in their lives and were suddenly forced to. The surreal humor of the show blended with the intricate plotting and made for a show that seemed odd at first but quickly turned into an obsession with repeated viewing. Since I'm fairly certain I'll be pilliored for not having this in the top 20, I'll say that I think it definitely IS the best of the single-camera shows, but I'm still uncertain of its place in history. Toward the end, I was worried that the show was actively disinviting people who hadn't seen every episode of the show up until that point. Obviously, a show like The Wire does the same, but it doesn't seem intentional, and it's a part of the series design. In its third season, Arrested was basically a long pile of inside jokes, and I naturally bristle at something like that (once a cult show becomes aware of its cult, this is often the case). Still, the cast was terrific, and the scripts were among the strongest in sitcom history. And the series' cutaways were always consistently hilarious, every one of them a perfect little sketch of some other sitcom that threatened to wander off on some new tangent of hilarity. See, Family Guy? That's how you do it.

Best season: Most fans pick season two, but I think that season one is basically unbeatable, largely because it's the most accessible and because it's fun to watch the show's writers gradually figure out just what they can and can't get away with.

Best episode: "Pier Pressure," which was the result of a note from Fox about how the family should learn some lessons, is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Hot Cops? "I was going to smoke the marijuana like a cigarette"? "And that's why you always leave a note"? Genius.

Did you know?: Series producer Ron Howard modeled the production of the series after the way most sitcoms, including Andy Griffith, were shot, not after the single-camera setup common to Malcolm in the Middle or Scrubs. This led to greater elasticity on set.

Available on DVD?: The whole run is.





23) Playhouse 90
CBS, produced 1956-1961

What: Most of the great dramatic and "playhouse" anthologies of the '50s are lost, thanks to their being taped on kinescope (the original broadcast of 12 Angry Men from Studio One was found in 2003, but discoveries like this are exceedingly rare), but a surprising amount of Playhouse 90, widely acclaimed as the greatest of them at the time (and I can understand why, given the talent at the time), survives, even on YouTube. I haven't seen all of Playhouse 90 (I couldn't have, since much of it was destroyed), but I've seen quite a bit, especially the series' seminal episodes (many of which inspired big films -- like Judgment at Nuremberg and The Miracle Worker). A deeply ambitious program, Playhouse 90 used its weekly hour-and-a-half timeslot to offer adaptations of Broadway works and original scripts that were like tiny little films for the small screen. Featuring lots of work by people like Rod Serling, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer and Jack Palance, Playhouse 90 is essentially what people are talking about when they talk about the "Golden Age of Television."

Why: Like Your Show of Shows, I'm placing this here because I have enjoyed what I've seen of it and the people behind the series were so talented that I have to assume they got most of the other episodes right. The dramatic anthology, a basic genre of television for its first 20 years or so, has largely disappeared in recent years, which is unfortunate, as the original anthologies were a terrific way for Americans to be exposed to some of the best playwrights in the world (imagine what our current great playwrights could do with a format like this!). Playhouse 90 tackled subjects that television didn't want to look at in its early days, and it was willing to leap across genres and television types to do so. What's even more remarkable is that for the first bit of its run, the show was completely live -- including most of the series' most acclaimed episodes. While many of these live episodes are gone forever, the very chutzpah of doing this sort of thing week after week is admirable. And the series' second episode is still one of the most famous episodes of dramatic television ever broadcast, winning its scripter Rod Serling a Peabody (look below to find out what it was). Playhouse 90's greatest benefit, though, is giving us a sense of nostalgia for a kind of television that's long gone.

Best season: Not enough of the series' first few seasons remains for us to be able to make a good determination on this. But season one seems like a good bet, as that's when Serling was most active.

Best episode: "Requiem for a Heavyweight" was the series' second episode, and its tale of a beaten down boxer, taking aim at one last fight for glory, even though it could kill him, is famous, even to this day. A feature film was made from the script, but if you can track down the original television episode (on a hard-to-find VHS), it's well worth your time.

Did you know?: In addition to Frankenheimer and Lumet, directors George Roy Hill and Delbert Mann started out on Playhouse 90. Other films that had their start on the program included The Days of Wine and Roses and The Helen Morgan Story. One episode, The Time of Your Life, was actually adapted from a film.

Available on DVD?: A handful of episodes are available on DVD and VHS. Sadly, complete season sets would be impossible.





22) Newsradio
NBC, produced 1995-1999

What: Perhaps the most perfectly constructed sitcom in television's history is also the medium's most underrated, a perfect combination of screwball comedy, workplace satire and slapstick. Precisely pitched with characters specifically designed so that every single relationship on the show would be interesting in a different way (and there were nine characters, so that was harder than it sounds), Newsradio is so exacting in its creation that it leaves some viewers, looking for the "heart" of other sitcoms, cold. And that's probably why the series remained obscure during its run on NBC and only a cult hit (though it had the love of critics). Despite its hilarious scripts and its perfect ensemble cast, the show always wanted to make you laugh more than it wanted you to get invested in the soap-y stuff it halfheartedly tried at the advice of NBC. For my money, there were better sitcoms than Newsradio, but there were no sitcoms that could match its clockwork-like construction.

Why: Creator Paul Simms, originally of The Larry Sanders Show, created Newsradio to be an homage to the screwball movies of Howard Hawks (with a fair dosage of Sturges and Lubitsch wrapped in). In the process, he created perhaps the ultimate workplace sitcom -- less about doing actual work and more about the ways you goof off to put one over on the boss and the ways the boss tries to deal with the same. Take a look at how perfectly constructed Newsradio is from a comic point-of-view. Dave, the main character, is the focal point of everyone in the office, driving most of the stories with his attempts to get the office more fully under his command. Lisa, his foil and lover, is the intelligent cynic, there to constantly undercut Dave with a word or a quip. Bill, the series' most-obviously comic character, is there simply to go against whatever Dave wants and come at it from a logical point of view. Jimmy James was the power over Dave, subjecting him to his every whim. And so on and so on and so on (I can literally do this for every character). In many ways, this is why Phil Hartman's death so completely wounded the series when other sitcoms could have gotten by without him -- his character played such a specific role in the series' construction that when the cast lost him, it lost a vital part of the comedic clockwork that made the show work. There are whole Web sites devoted to dissecting the perfect construction of Newsradio (here's one!), but the best way to get a sense of just how good TV's most underrated sitcom is is to pick up a DVD set and work your way through it. In so many ways, it's the dying gasp of the MTM-style sitcom, and it's one of the best.

Best season: Season one's all right, and season two is when the show starts to get its footing, but seasons three and four are the series' finest hours. I'll pick season three, when it still maintained a semblance of being tied to reality.

Best episode: "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" is the finest hour for my favorite character (Jimmy James) and features one of the best and funniest scenes in TV history, excerpted above. (To know what's going on, you have to know that Jimmy James' book, a bust in the U.S., was a huge hit in Japan, so it was translated from Japanese back into English.)

Did you know?: The series was actually canceled after its fourth season, but it was then picked up the next day for a fifth season after NBC got a cut of the syndication profits. Phil Hartman died a few weeks later.

Available on DVD?:
The entire series is available on DVD.





21) Star Trek (The Good Ones)
Which means The Original Series, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine
TOS: NBC, produced 1966-1969; TNG: syndicated, 1987-1994; DS9: syndicated, 1993-1999

What: The most enduring science fiction franchise in American history, Star Trek had its humble beginnings as "Wagon Train in space." After three seasons of low ratings, mostly from a cult fan base, the series was canceled and that was supposed to be the end of that. Instead, the fans slowly watched as their numbers swelled, thanks to syndicated reruns, resulting in an animated series, then a series of films, then a number of spinoffs, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps the most successful science fiction series of its time (if not all time). In the 1990s, the franchise grew a bit long-in-the-tooth, as its ideals of humans reaching a point where they never came into conflict meant that the shows kept doing the same stories over and over (despite the admirable attempt at serialized storytelling from Deep Space Nine). But Star Trek is so enduring because of its genuinely '60s ethos (the visuals in those episodes from the original series can be downright trippy) and the way it makes its fans feel like they're about to blast off into untold adventures. The best Treks -- TOS' The City on the Edge of Forever, TNG's Best of Both Worlds and DS9's The Visitor -- are little science fiction masterworks, offering worlds beyond our wildest dreams.

Why: While I think Star Trek has been surpassed by many of the series it inspired (whether through attempts to copy it or go against it), the first three live-action series are still incredibly entertaining television, and there's no denying the effect the franchise as a whole has had on the medium of television. As someone who grew up watching The Next Generation, I'm still impressed by the open-ended ability of the franchise to suggest a whole universe full of adventure and danger and thrills. And even now, looking back on the Original Series (which isn't as hokey as you think it is), it's remarkable how daring it was for its time, for just how much it dared to tell allegories about the injustices of modern American society. The show had a Russian, a black woman and an Asian man onboard the ship. Since there was a guy with pointy ears there, everyone could just say it was all fiction, but the integrated world of Star Trek (which comes closer and closer to reality, even as it seems to get farther and farther away) was pretty impressive in 1966 (just ask my mom). While the original is one of the five most influential shows in television history, Next Generation took that formula and finally turned it into truly enthralling television (after a few seasons to get its act together). The best of Next Generation stands right up there with almost any science fiction series ever. Finally, Deep Space Nine pushed the Star Trek format as far as it could without irreparably harming it, culminating in a series of seasons that unfolded in long arcs that seemed to presage some of the storytelling that would be done on science fiction series in the 90s (even if this happened in response to the popularity of The X-Files). While the other three Star Trek series are not as good, these three are enjoyable television and even more impressive when considered in the spectrum of just all they promised.

Best season: The original Star Trek's best season was its second, which packs in most of the most classic episodes (minus City). TNG's best season was its fourth, which dealt well with the aftermath of Picard's time as a Borg. DS9's fifth season saw the beginning of its story arcs in earnest.

Best episode: I'm still partial to the time-twistingly great "City on the Edge of Forever." Plus, Joan Collins!

Did you know?: A new series featuring the original cast, Star Trek: Phase II, was to be broadcast on a Paramount network in the late '70s, but the network decided to make a movie instead, deciding that a television network was an uncertain investment. The eventual Paramount network, UPN, would launch with Star Trek: Voyager as its flagship show.

Available on DVD?: Everything Star Trek is on DVD in many, many permutations.

The list so far:
21) Star Trek (the good ones)
22) Newsradio
23) Playhouse 90
24) Arrested Development
25) Taxi
26) St Elsewhere
27) Roseanne
28) Battlestar Galactica
29) The Honeymooners
30) My So-Called Life
31) Northern Exposure
32) Late Night with David Letterman
33) Barney Miller
34) Moonlighting
35) Survivor
36) Lost
37) The Wonder Years
38) South Park
39) Gilmore Girls
40) The Muppet Show
41) Wiseguy
42) Rocky and Bullwinkle
43) Your Show of Shows
44) 60 Minutes
45) The Andy Griffith Show
46) The Daily Show/The Colbert Report
47) Michael Mann's crime trilogy
48) Mystery Science Theater 3000
49) Buffalo Bill
50) The Ed Sullivan Show
51) Jeopardy!
52) Mr Rogers' Neighborhood
53) SportsCenter
54) thirtysomething
55) Soap
56) Friends
57) King of the Hill
58) The Larry Sanders Show
59) The Odd Couple
60) Get Smart
61) Saturday Night Live
62) 24
63) The Shield
64) The Dick Cavett Show
65) Monday Night Football
66) Mad Men
67) The Rockford Files
68) Undeclared
69) CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
70) 30 Rock
71) NYPD Blue
72) Sports Night
73) The Phil Silvers Show
74) The Office (US)
75) Green Acres
76) Frasier
77) The Waltons
78) Friday Night Lights
79) The West Wing
80) M*A*S*H
81) The Bob Newhart Show
82) Everybody Loves Raymond
83) Sex and the City
84) The Price is Right
85) Big Love
86) The Amazing Race
87) Futurama
88) Everwood
89) The Cosby Show
90) Beavis and Butthead
91) Firefly
92) Leave it to Beaver
93) Alfred Hitchcock Presents
94) Picket Fences
95) Veronica Mars
96) WKRP in Cincinnati
97) Project Runway
98) How I Met Your Mother
99) The Adventures of Pete and Pete
100) Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Today's Christmas tune: It's almost here, kids! In the 1950s, a company called Line Material put out a yearly Christmas album as a promotional item. These have become highly prized in the world of Christmas collectors for their stellar arrangements and the sheer weirdness of some of the albums. Here's "The Story of Santa" to give you a taste of the Line Material brand.

Tomorrow: Overrated series, which will be sure to anger most of you. I'll try and do my catch up tomorrow, but no guarantees.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

SDD's Top 100 Series of All Time -- Supplemental list #8: One-season wonders


The one-season wonder is a phenomenon almost completely unique to television. If there's an analogue for it in any other medium, it's probably the one-hit wonder, but even that is based on an artist who never quite lives up to their promise again. The creators of many of the best one-season wonders went on to create other shows that did much better (or came to their one-season wonders from a show that did much better). The best one-season wonders wrap up a bit of the promise of a great series that never was to be with some of the conciseness we expect from the best of television.

There have been one-season wonders on the list already (Firefly and Robbery Homicide Division, for two), but here are a bunch that almost made the list and then didn't for one reason or another. Don't consider this an exhaustive summary of one-season wonders either. There's a lot of stuff out there just waiting for you to discover it if you look hard enough.

First, the shows that AREN'T on DVD. . .





5) John from Cincinnati
HBO, produced 2007

I almost put John from Cincinnati on the list at #100 pre-emptively because as I watched it this summer, I really had no idea what the hell was going on, and I'm terrified that 50 years from now, I'll wake up, suddenly understand the series in its entirety and curse myself for never doing anything about it. HBO's series about mystical surfers and the second coming of Christ was the sort of show that TV fans hate the most -- the one you have to work at. That alone made me think that maybe it's a hidden work of genius. But at the same time, I have nagging suspicions that there's no there there in JFC, outside of a few terrific scenes (like that sermon at the motel in episode six) that hinted at what the series could have been. I already had other David Milch series on the list, so I ultimately cut the series from the list, but I do want to see it again on DVD. I have the feeling that over the years, we'll all parse out its weirdness together and realize there was a lot more lurking there than we initially thought. Either that, or we'll realize the whole thing was an extended curious riff, a goof on television forms and storytelling that was interesting but never quite cohered. JFC practically demands second viewings on DVD, so it's a good thing it comes from HBO, which diligently puts nearly everything it does out. (And, indeed, shortly after I wrote this, HBO announced a season set to debut in March.)





4) Sons & Daughters
ABC, produced 2006

Sold as the next big, wacky comedy, Sons & Daughters was actually a more subtle show about family dynamics in the age of the non-nuclear family. The series started out a little slowly but truly cohered into something wonderful by the end of its run, willing to take its characters to tough places and have them joke about it. A huge cast led by Fred Goss played an extended family tree that had branches and roots flying all over the place, but all of it tied back to the loving parents, played by Dee Wallace and Max Gale. I've heard that you always remember the first series you love that's canceled on your watch as a critic, and Sons & Daughters was that for me. I've mildly overrated it in my own mind only because I would love to spend more time with these characters (and I almost got to -- ABC canceled it at the last possible moment), particularly Eden Sher's Carrie. Sons & Daughters was a terrific look at the way that families endure, even when they want to kill each other, and its tossed-off, almost Altman-esque qualities made it a true joy. The series used a lot of music from the Grateful Dead, which is keeping it off of DVD, but much of it is available on YouTube. The clip above from the pilot isn't the best the show would get, so if you like it at all, seek out the rest.





3) Now and Again
CBS, produced 1999-2000

At a time when TV was mostly chasing ER-style ensemble dramas and Friends-style "young people" sitcoms, Now and Again brought the creator of Moonlighting back to television to do a goofy spin on the spy shows of the '60s that presaged most of the serialized television that would become so popular with the debuts of 24 and Alias two seasons later. At first, Now and Again seems like it's going to be really stupid -- fat guy becomes young hunk after a subway accident, and now the government is going to send him on missions -- but it was a terrific spin on the Six Million Dollar Man scenario, finding every possible avenue the story could go down, including one of the weirdest love triangles in the history of the small screen (even if it was mostly ripped off from Superman). Glenn Gordon Caron's dialogue was still sparkling, and the cast boasted familiar faces like Eric Close and Dennis Haysbert. Here's hoping that CBS releases the show sometime soon. It would be fun to figure out just how much Alias ripped off from it.





2) Nothing Sacred
ABC, produced 1997-1998
Please enjoy the clip from Rushmore. No one has thought fit to upload any of this to YouTube.

For most of its life, ABC has been the home of critically-acclaimed, low-rated dramas with terrific demos. In the mid-90s, it turned out show after show that lasted only one season and then found itself canceled due to viewer lack of interest (see the next entry). Nothing Sacred was just one of those shows and an attempt to do something new with the MTM-style workplace drama (where every week, a new story involving some social issue or another rose up to confront the characters). To be fair, Nothing Sacred was never quite as good as its premise -- a liberal-leaning priest works to help people in a dessicated inner city -- promised. But the finest hours of Nothing Sacred (including a deeply controversial one involving a priest with AIDS) were frank looks at the place religion had in modern American society, especially the Clinton years, when it was all too easy to take the church for granted. Nothing Sacred was the subject of instant controversy, thanks to the Catholic League, meaning it was subject to dozens of network notes and never quite lived up to its potential, even as it was so obviously striving to. I'm interested to see Nothing Sacred again to see if it lives up to my memories of it or if it had its problems. Then again, the same could be said for many a 1990s ABC drama -- take a look at them on Wikipedia; if any of them lasted only a season, they probably have ardent fans.





1) Cupid
ABC, produced 1998-1999

Cupid is, hands-down, my favorite one-season-wonder that didn't make the regular list. It's a new spin on the Moonlighting "they're going to do things and try to fight their attraction" format, but it actually works, God bless it. Jeremy Piven was never better than he was in the role of an off-putting asshole who might have been crazy but was also inadvertantly charming, and Paula Marshall's work here has endeared her to me for life, despite her generally poor choices since the series aired. But the series most endeared me to creator Rob Thomas, who wrote smart, punchy scripts that offered twists on every romantic plotline you'd ever heard and threw them together with the two great central performances and his witty dialogue. Cupid always balances on the edge of hitting DVD, but it never has, largely because its studio is seemingly uninterested in television now. That said, almost the entire run of the series is up on YouTube, unproduced scripts are easy to come by, and Thomas is randomly remaking the whole series for the new, resurgent ABC. Here's hoping lightning can be caught in a bottle twice.

And here are five that are ON DVD. . .





5) EZ Streets
CBS, produced 1996-1997

And here the list intersects with Paul Haggis, of all people. I've never been as quick to write off Haggis as many Internet folk, because I've seen what he could do in the television medium, where this series stands as his greatest achievement, a complicated, twisting noir about the interconnectedness of the cops, the politicians and the criminals that pulls off a lot of things that The Wire would do five years later. The series, anchored by two terrific performances by Ken Olin and Joe Pantoliano, aired two episodes before being pulled by CBS, then came back for a handful more the next year. Several of the series' episodes (including the magnificent pilot) have been collected on DVD, and the entirety of the series' run often airs on cable's Sleuth channel. Paul Haggis has contributed to a number of noteworthy dramas (including thirtysomething), but EZ Streets stands as the best evidence that he CAN, indeed, do complex things and not boil them down to simple Screenwriting 101 stereotypes.









4) Space: Above and Beyond and Invasion
Fox, produced 1995-1996; ABC, produced 2005-2006

Two smart twists on old sci-fi storylines that lasted for one full season and then disappeared occupy this slot on the list, in loving memory of all of the one-season wonder sci-fi series I got invested in back in the day. Space: Above and Beyond came from two X-Files writers who took the structure of old World War II adventure movies and tossed them in space, pitting their characters against a mysterious alien race that no one saw until the first season finale. The effects on Space are atrocious, and there's stuff here that feels corny in the post-Galactica era, but the series' dedication to telling war stories stood in marked contrast to the dominant sci-fi series of the time -- Star Trek. At its best, Space was enjoyably pulpy sci-fi, and it deserved more episodes. Invasion, on the other hand, overcame a slow start to turn into one of the more horrific series I've ever seen, including a scene where scads of humans were mass-converted into alien-human hybrids. The basic concept was very much in keeping with paranoid fantasies of the '50s, but creator Shaun Cassidy (yes, that one) turned the show into an examination of post-9/11 worries and concerns and offered up some of the best network sci-fi allegory in recent years. After Lost, few wanted to watch another complicated serial, so Invasion suffered and withered, but it didn't deserve to. Fortunately, the whole thing is preserved on DVD.









3) Profit and Wonderfalls
Both Fox, produced 1996 and 2004

If you've got an awesome, short-lived show from the last 15 years that lasted for a handful of episodes or seasons and then disappeared, despite having a cult-ish audience and critical acclaim, chances are it was on Fox and it's on DVD now for no real reason. Fox's long, long list of canceled series, taken before their time, is way too long to go into here, so I'm focusing on my two favorites here. Profit was an icy-black satire of the world of corporate business with a truly dark and disturbed Adrian Pasdar performance at its center. The act breaks in the pilot (especially, "Hi, Mom") are just terrific, and the series' takedown of the medium that was airing it is also legendary. There's some stuff that doesn't work in Profit, but in its handful of episodes, it was funnier and more witheringly dismissive of corporate America than any other series of its time. Wonderfalls, meanwhile, was a goofy stroll through the life of a disaffected twentysomething who started getting messages from. . .somebody. Caroline Dhavernas was perfect in the lead (and why hasn't she had more work since?), while the series creator, Bryan Fuller, went on to do the similarly acclaimed Pushing Daisies. Fox gets credit for developing all of these cool series, but when it's just going to cancel them, it's probably useless to develop them in the first place. Fortunately, in recent years, they've just been trying to develop series to air with House.





2) Police Squad
ABC, produced 1982

Better known by most viewers as, "Hey? Isn't that The Naked Gun?" Police Squad is actually the series that spawned The Naked Gun, which was greenlit years later after the low-rated six episodes of this series became a cult hit on video. Police Squad probably got the best possible result when it was canceled after its six, nearly perfect episodes, since there's no way the ZAZ style of spoofy comedy could have gone on for much longer, but this attempt to bring Airplane-esque shenanigans to the small screen is remarkably accurate, right down to the perfect opening credits (watch above. . .they may be my favorite of all time, and they're certainly the funniest). Almost all of the run of Police Squad is up on YouTube, so if you enjoy this, it's worth checking that out, but the DVD is even better, as then you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, in actual quality. The Naked Gun movies were amusing enough, but they never quite matched up to what the series did; they skewered cop shows, but they didn't seem like they really meant it. Police Squad definitely meant it.





1) The Ben Stiller Show
Fox, produced 1992-1993

Now what was I saying about Fox? And Judd Apatow? Oh, yes. This is sort of cheating, as a proto-version of this show aired on MTV in the season before it aired on Fox, but the Fox show is the one that everyone remembers, and it's the one that's been released on DVD, and it DID last only one season, so. . .Anyway, The Ben Stiller Show hails from an era when Stiller wasn't one of those annoying guys who starred in too many movies and was still just an agreeable doof who hosted stuff on MTV and dated Janeane Garofalo. The cast was full of perfect early '90s hipsters, including Stiller, Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk. While not as heartfelt as Judd Apatow's later series, Ben Stiller is very funny, and its take on sketch comedy as something to be done without a laugh track makes it feel weirdly like an ancestor to Arrested Development. The whole thing's available on DVD, and there are plenty of sketches up on YouTube, so check it out while you can.

And if you liked this brief journey through the history of one-season wonders, take a look at even more. There are tons of undiscovered gems, just waiting to be rediscovered, and most of them lasted only a handful of episodes before disappearing forever. For every Viva Laughlin or Cop Rock, there's a Leaving LA or Andy Richter Controls the Universe (sadly unable to be added to the list, due to its two-season run).

Today's Christmas Tune: You know where it's summer during Christmas? Brazil. Weird. Well, here's a Christmas song from there at any rate.

Tomorrow:
Places 30-21, including another one-season wonder and one old sitcom.

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"He only has one facial expression. That scares me.": Gossip Girl


Hello South Dakota Darkers. Carrie here. Have you ever wondered why Gossip Girl never mentions the parents in her cutesy voice over blog entries? It's because, from the fictional world of the GG blog to the very non-fictional world of my living room, NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE PARENTS AND THEIR BORING LOVE QUADRANGLES. (Well, unless they're Blair's parents, because everything Blair touches turns to fabulous.) Even the premise of the show seems to understand this, hence the absence of parents in the titular blog, although sadly the writers somehow still do not. Please catch on, writers. I've been a very good girl this year. Consider it your Christmas present to me. xoxo.

Sorry, I know you all must be sick of my broken-record bitching about this, but I just had to get that out. I don't know why this Rufus/Lily/Alison/Bart storyline bugs me so much, but it's neigh intolerable. When Lily divested herself of Bart a few episodes ago, I foolishly hoped it was the last of his boring self, but seeing that he proposed to Lily at the end of the episode, I don't think he's going anywhere.

[Note: I'm writing this on a plane waiting to take off, and I think they're trying to kill me with the music. Currently Faith Hill is wailing some nondescript Christmas tune. I think it was in the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch, seeing as he is featured in the video. Serenity now!]

Of course, since Alison went back to Hudson and her man there, Rufus has decided now is the time to tell Lily he wants to try having a relationship with her again. This means Lily will say yes to Bart's preposterous proposal even though she's in love with Rufus and not Bart, because that's Just How TV Works. Although the marriage would be ridiculous, the idea of Serena, Chuck and Eric being step siblings is sort of delicious.

[The music just switched to Kenny G's version of "Silver Bells." If this plane doesn't take off soon, someone's going to get some Christmas cheer in the form of my Chuck Taylor straight up their ass.]

In the land of parents that are actually sort of interesting, if only be result of their proximity to Ms. Interesting herself Blair Waldorf, Blair's dad turns up for Christmas as planned. Disappointingly for Blair, however, he brings lover Ramon with him and misguidedly attempts to force him and Blair to bond. Blair resists this pressure because all she wants in life is for her dad to come back to New York (because all she really wants in life is for someone to love her the way she loves them, and this thinly veiled plea she puts out their all the time just breaks my heart). When she sees that her father is happy with Ramon and isn't coming back, she opens up a bit and starts to let Ramon in. It's sweet, but also a little creepy because said bonding happens on Christmas morning while Blair is wearing the teeniest silk nightie known to man. Buy some flannel PJ's, Blair. They're retro!

[Oh, Jesus H. Christ. Now it's Manheim Steamroller, which might the the only band I hate more than Creed. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is right behind MS in my haterade. If they play them next, you might be hearing about me on the news before I get a chance to post this, as I just might rip the speakers right out of this plane.]

Also in Blair's world, she learns that Chuck went to Monaco for the holidays and starts a fun little text war with him, where he hints that he might just tell Nate about their little affair. Oh, the games we play when we're young, naive, rich, manipulative, vindictive and in love. Blair really gets worried when she finds out Nate isn't in Connecticut as he planned, but in Europe with Chuck. Ha! Chuck is delightful.

Finally, we have Serena and Dan. After a few episodes of blissful absence, Vanessa pops her strangely coiffed head in (seriously, she got some sort of 80's Janet Jackson meets Rosie Perez makeover here, and it's distractingly bad) and announces that she stole one of Dan's stories and submitted it to a contest at the New Yorker, and Dan is going to be published. This of course threatens Serena, who can't possibly compete with a present like that. Well...there's one thing she could give him that I think he would like better, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

[David Benoit. Who the hell is that? My new enemy, that's who. How can someone mess up "Carol of the Bells"? It's like the coolest Christmas song ever. I think I've been on this plane for an hour already. TAKE OFF, PILOT!]

Serena gets Dan a freaking amazing watch instead, which he refuses because he's POOR (remember?) and forces Serena to get creative, which she does with help from Vanessa. Sweet Serena doesn't see what's really going on there with Vanessa, but Blair awesomely does and not so subtly threatens Vanessa to back off of Dan, all while innocently holding a pair of scissors. It's beautiful. Dan ends up loving Serena's present of making it "snow," but I'm pretty sure her real present to him was the booty. As in, she gave up her booty to Dan. In case that was unclear. Anywho, Serena and Dan have the sex and everything is peachy keen. Until next week, when they realize OMG! they are from different worlds again! Those two need to get a new conflict.

[Ah, forward doors are closing. I've never been so happy to watch a safety video in my entire life.]

All in all, a decently satisfying Christmas episode of our favorite CW bitchfest. According to the promos, the next two episodes (whenever those may be...) are THE BEST YET. And you know what? I'm inclined to believe them. Until then, my friends, have a wonderful holiday season.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

SDD's top 100 series of all time: Places 40-31





40) The Muppet Show
syndicated, produced 1976-1981

What: Possibly the finest hour of popular children's TV visionary Jim Henson, The Muppet Show is like a variety show on crack, speeding the pace of the old reliable genre up to a breakneck one and forcing the guest hosts to keep up. But the series was more than just a variety show. While it had the comic sketches and musical numbers associated with such an entertainment, The Muppet Show also had a collection of beloved recurring characters, who continue to be popular with the general public, years after their show had left the air and their creator had died. The show's melding of the sitcom and the variety show managed to make it seem relevant even as the latter genre was slowly dying all over the television landscape. But what shone through the most was Henson's gentle humanism, his belief that there was something honorable and amusing about frogs and comical bears and piano-playing dogs and weirdoes with hooked noses. Even though it's not a part of the actual series, that moment at the end of Muppet Family Christmas where Henson shows up to watch his whole brood sing carols (in what was, I believe, his final production with his creations) gets me every time.

Why: Jim Henson was in love with a lot of genres that were slowly going out of favor in the late 70s, including vaudeville and the broad jokes that went with it. The series took the basic format of Laugh In (lots of fast-paced sketches that bled into each other) and wed it to a backstage sitcom about a bunch of wacky freaks trying to keep an old theater up and running. There's nothing quite like The Muppet Show until The Simpsons, what with the dozens of well-developed characters bouncing around and interacting with guest hosts, who ranged from the obscure (Mummenschanz?!) to the very well known (the cast of Star Wars). Not every guest host was equal, and not all of them could quite give in to playing along with the little puppets, but when the show finds a host who likes playing along with the gang, it can be downright magical in just how much it gets you to suspend your disbelief. Henson threw a whole bunch of stuff together and pitched it at a level that kids would enjoy, even as their parents got a kick out of some of the weirder gags (Pigs in Space, for example). The Muppet Show blends the best of variety shows, sketch comedy shows and sitcoms, and that's something not to be laughed at.

Best season: Season three, still unscheduled for DVD release, was when the show was at its height of popularity, and it boasts the best collection of guest stars, including Leslie Uggams, Sylvester Stallone and Big Bird.

Best episode: I'm partial to two season two episodes. Milton Berle's episode is as good as its reputation, but Steve Martin's episode is a great, winking example of a star having his cake and eating it too on the show.

Did you know?: Unable to find a U.S. network that would produce his show (despite two pilots for CBS, both available on the second season DVD set, and work on Saturday Night Live), Henson took the show to London, where a British broadcaster financed it and sold it into U.S. syndication.

Available on DVD?: The first two seasons of the show are out, and a few best-of DVDs are available sporadically.





39) Gilmore Girls
The WB/The CW, produced 2000-2007

What: Amy Sherman-Palladino's crazy, spiffy portrayal of the small town as heaven was quite possibly the finest hour of the late-period WB. Centered around a mother-daughter relationship that was too close to friendship for some, Gilmore Girls became one of that network's biggest hits thanks to just how fun it was to hang out in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, and just how lovable so many of the characters were. The series boasted one of the all-time great performances in television history (the sadly un-Emmied Lauren Graham) and a portrayal of the small town as loving family that seemed almost directly drawn from a Hillary Clinton position paper. The contrast in shooting styles between Stars Hollow (with its bright, autumnal color palette and smoothly gliding camera) and the staid home of Lorelai Gilmore's parents (with its muted colors and set-in-stone camera) conveyed far more about the characters' various relationships than any lines of Palladino's famously whiplash-inducing dialogue, but the series' greatest strength was in how it argued for the importance of the family in all its forms.

Why: I can see why a lot of people really hate Gilmore Girls. The series is almost patently unrealistic, and it can overdose on twee from time to time (not to mention that Palladino was fond of episodes where literally nothing would happen -- good thing her characters were so fun to hang out with). What makes Gilmore Girls work where, say, Ed fell apart is that the twee goofiness in Gilmore is only a means to an end -- it's a way to get us to keep watching, so we get invested in the good-hearted relationships between the characters and the deeply emotional core of a ruptured family finding a way to put itself back together after years and years of bitterness. Gilmore Girls had its problems (the last two seasons are desperately uneven, largely due to Palladino's insistence on keeping the central Luke and Lorelai pairing apart when it was obvious they should be getting married or something and the leavetaking of the Palladinos from the show in the final season), and the series could be a little too pleased with just how clever it was, but at its best, it was a look at how a child is best off if she has a whole mess of parents, all invested in her life.

Best season: Season three, Rory's final season in high school, has the benefit of the best plotting that plays into the strengths of the notoriously spotty Alexis Bledel.

Best episode: "Wedding Bell Blues" takes the show's two best actresses -- Graham and Kelly Bishop -- and turns them loose, showing just how wrapped up in each other's lives the two characters had become.

Did you know?: Gilmore Girls was the first pilot produced with funding from the Family Friendly Programming Forum to go to series. The Forum has since helped numerous projects, including Commander-in-Chief and Chuck.

Available on DVD?: The whole run is available on DVD in an attractive complete series set.





38) South Park
Comedy Central, produced 1997-present

What: Originally an irreverent cartoon full of scatalogical humor and grossout gags, South Park evolved into an increasingly bitter satire of the ridiculousness of American culture in the late 90s and 2000s. The politics of the show occasionally seemed as though its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were just diligently dedicated to flaunting the status quo of Hollywood at every turn, but the two also made trenchant points at the show's highpoint, hilariously willing to skewer just about anything or anyone and helped in that task by a large cast of great characters and a production schedule that allows them to make a whole animated episode in a week. The animation on the show is crude, but the world of South Park, just a hair removed from our world, makes all of this bearable. South Park is both shallow and deceptively deep.

Why: I actually think South Park has become a touch overrated in recent years, as Parker and Stone have started to buy into their own hype and unleashing more and more basic political satire. But there's no denying just how sharp the show was at its height (roughly seasons four through eight), and its talent for close observation has allowed it to do funny episodes in every one of its seasons (the recent episode about Guitar Hero was a perfect satire of gaming culture and movies about rock bands -- in other words, an instant classic). South Park is nothing without its characters, especially the four little boys at its center (even if Eric Cartman gets too much credit for the show's humor). Even without Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman, though, the show would boast a great ensemble. What other show would boast a character as demented as Butters (possibly the closest the television medium has come to capturing your editor as a young man) or as despairingly white-bread as Stan Marsh? South Park isn't what it once was, but when the show kicks back and is content to spend a little time in its meticulously crafted world, it can still be a lot of fun.

Best season: Season six gives Butters the most to do and makes a great running gag out of the boys trying to find a replacement for the finally completely dead Kenny.

Best episode: For whatever intensely personal reasons, "The Death Camp of Tolerance" makes me laugh long and hard every time, largely due to the voyage of Lemmiwinks.

Did you know?: Everyone remembers the "Spirit of Christmas" short which launched the show, but the original iteration of the South Park characters featured a battle between Jesus and Frosty, NOT Jesus and Santa.

Available on DVD?: Most of the show's seasons are available, while the current season returns in the spring.





37) The Wonder Years
ABC, produced 1988-1993

What: The culmination of a long string of critically acclaimed but low-rated dramedies (including Hooperman, Frank's Place and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd), The Wonder Years capitalized on the current taste for '60s nostalgia in the '80s and gave baby boomers a show they could watch with their own kids, one that hit on universal truths of growing up but also found the important moments of life in the '60s -- Vietnam and the hippie movement and the civil rights movement. The Wonder Years grew a bit long-in-the-tooth toward the end of its run (largely thanks to the many child actors the show employed), but it's early seasons were a wonderful blend of Leave It To Beaver-esque family sitcom, coming-of-age story and earnest social issues drama (with a killer soundtrack to boot). There's stuff now that seems silly about The Wonder Years (namely the way the narrator would often strain to tie every episode of the show into some universal Life Lesson while Fred Savage stared, dewy-eyed at the camera), but it's also one of those defining documents of life, a show that feels so important and real and achingly beautiful that it almost seems as if it just dropped onto the primetime schedule directly from Nick at Nite or something.

Why: The Wonder Years' critical reputation has taken a bit of a beating in recent years as the show has largely disappeared from reruns -- a lot of this is just due to not seeing the show, which has a tendency to grow more mawkish than it actually was when you think about it in your head (I didn't have it on the list until I forced myself to revisit it and was somewhat blown away). That devastating Simpsons parody of the show (in Three Men and a Comic Book) is accurate to a degree, but the series doesn't really get enough credit for just how unsentimental it was at its best. The element of having David Stern there as a narrator lent the show a certain air of sentimentality and nostalgia, to be sure (much as the Bob Saget narration makes the very year we're living in seem like a golden age we never can return to in How I Met Your Mother), but it also leavened some of the show's harsher moments for its younger audience. While I know that the series had moments of sheer stupidity (especially in its last season), I can't think of many shows that can match the heights of Winnie discovering her brother had died (in the pilot, no less!), Kevin going to visit his dad at work (in the third episode, no less!) or Kevin going to make sure Winnie was all right after a car accident. The series also popularized the use of popular music on television, making unprecedented use of a soundtrack of '60s hits, and the performances, especially from Fred Savage and Dan Lauria, were note perfect. The Wonder Years deserves to return to a mainstream cable channel to regain the reputation it once had.

Best season: The first four seasons are all pretty great, but the Emmy-winning first season is six episodes of pure perfection.

Best episode: "My Father's Office" is one of the best realizations of the moment you have when you realize that your parents haven't met all of their dreams and that you almost certainly won't either. And, again, the THIRD EPISODE.

Did you know?: Creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black wrote five of the first seven episodes, then were removed from the series under still mysterious circumstances. The two now are advocates for home schooling and have completely removed themselves from the world of show business.

Available on DVD?: Music issues mean the series is likely to never be released on DVD. There are two best-of DVDs.





36) Lost
ABC, produced 2004-present

What: The best of the mid-2000s big network serialized genre dramas (and that's less specific than that sounds), Lost was a glorious, often maddening, remix of a whole century of pulp fiction, tossed into a paper shredder, reassembled in scripts, and dumped on a mystical island where nothing was as it seemed and the characters were allowed to think back on their lives to that point and find themselves in a new crucible, ready to prove that this time, they would be able to do it right. Lost could kind of wander offtrack (season two is basically meaningless in the larger narrative now, since it was one long up and back of a season), and its uneven nature has driven many of its fans and admirers crazy by this point (the broad-based hit promised in the first season has morphed into what's probably the world's biggest cult hit and essentially turned into a retelling of every ginormous book Stephen King has ever written). But when Lost is on, it's ON, and there's really nothing else like it in the history of television. For its willingness to toss hundreds of years of literature, theology and philosophy into its scripts (even if these concepts occasionally come off as 101 versions of themselves) and its sheer audacity, Lost more than earns its spot in the top 40.

Why: Before the back half of season three, things were getting pretty dire for Lost apologists, who increasingly had to turn to pointing out all of the show's promise and the times when it had gotten it right, instead of pointing to current, great episodes. Then, the show seemingly grew tired of being the subject of fan and critic sniping and unleashed a straight stretch of incredible episodes that more than lived up to the bars Lost set for itself by invoking some of the best genre fiction of all time. I'm not going to lie and pretend that Lost is an all-time masterwork of the televised form, but it's tremendously entertaining, and its dime-store philosophy is at least on a par with the Star Wars trilogies and/or The Matrix (take your pick). Even when the writing is letting the show down, the phenomenal cast and the stirringly visual direction are enough to keep anyone watching, and the good will built up for the characters in earlier episodes gives us something to latch on to (there have been characters like these before on television, but the specific assemblages of, say, John Locke or Ben Linus are new). Even the much-maligned flashbacks (which have a tendency to distill everything every character does to a single motivation or two) can sideswipe you with a scene of real, raw emotional power. Lost is that rare show that was probably overrated at first, then mostly underrated, but can any of you say you WON'T be back after that third season finale, the best payoff in the show's history?

Best season: I think season two is unfairly maligned -- yes, it does nothing for the big picture of the show, but there's a lot of really fun small-scale storytelling in it -- and season three is great, but season one is still the best, packing a lot of power into its episodes.

Best episode: The three-hour "Exodus" has a dud of a cliffhanger, but that's more than made up for by everything that comes before and the moment when the raft sets sale, a startling, cinematic montage told almost entirely through music and pictures.

Did you know?: The series was initially conceived of by ABC exec Lloyd Braun, who came up with the idea for a show set on a deserted island after an airing of "Cast Away" garnered huge ratings for the then fourth-place network.

Available on DVD?: Seasons one and two are available, and season three will be available later this month. Season four airs this February.





35) Survivor
CBS, produced 2000-present

What: Based on a Swedish game show format, Survivor hit the airwaves in the summer of 2000 with low expectations and completely reinvented the television landscape. It helped that the show came on at a time when TV didn't have a lot of shows with recognizable characters or exciting plotting; Survivor had both in spades, and it was tremendously entertaining to boot. Like any series that's lasted 15 seasons, Survivor has pretty much become a shadow of itself at this point, but there are moments and characters throughout the run of the show that still resonate and provide classic TV memories. Survivor also blended The Real World with a game show and invented a new TV format that would go on to take over the entirety of the networks' broadcast schedules over the seasons to come. Like American Idol or The Amazing Race or America's Next Top Model? Not a one of them would be on the air if Americans hadn't flocked to Survivor so readily and proved that cheap, reality programming could compete with more expensive scripted programming. Survivor isn't the best reality show (that's probably The Amazing Race), but it is probably the most consistently entertaining -- reliably exciting, even in its weaker seasons.

Why: Survivor is probably the show that rated the highest based on its influence, its entertainment value and its value as comfort-food TV. But, really, what's so wrong with that? Many of the series Survivor inspired are pretty awful, but the original itself is just terrifically fun television, allowing viewers to spend one hour per week with people willing to do anything to get that $1 million prize. Survivor also manages up surprising lessons in basic ethics from time to time, as when Colby wouldn't betray Tina in season two or when the sneaky Rob utilized the trust of those in his team to pretty much screw them over in the all-stars edition. This quality can make the show frustrating to watch from time to time, but the series usually gets you coming back for more thanks to its impeccable casting, its handsome production values and its best-in-the-genre editing, which takes what must be hours upon hours of boring footage and assembles them into episodes that are tautly paced and fun to watch. There are seasons that are weaker than others, and recent seasons just haven't had the sparkle the show had in its first years, but Survivor is the old reliable of reality television, and that has to count for something.

Best season: Season two is pretty great, as is the Pearl Islands season, but nothing can quite match up to that very first year and its perfect cast.

Best episode: While the first-season finale is probably more famous by now, I'm still partial to the episode early in the season when Richard Hatch decides to form an alliance with a few other players. In his cacklingly evil glee, you can see the invention of the way a WHOLE GENRE OF TELEVISION would play out.

Did you know?: The creator of the original format for Survivor, Charlie Parsons, is basically unknown to American audiences, despite picking up an Emmy for the program. Producer Mark Burnett, who exported the show to the U.S., is far better known.

Available on DVD?: Six seasons are available on DVD, including the first season, and a few best-of DVDs are also available.





34) Moonlighting
ABC, produced 1985-1989

What: In a time when most detective dramas were fairly dry shows where the crimes were formulaic and easily solved (like, say, Murder She Wrote), Moonlighting followed the "wacky detectives" path set out by Remington Steele and created something very like a screwball comedy from week-to-week (well, from month-to-month -- the show is famously the worst-run hit show in history). Glenn Gordon Caron's perfect scripts played with the fourth wall, destroyed storytelling conventions and pinged all of this off of one of the best will-they/won't-they storylines in the history of the medium. It helped that the dialogue was tremendously funny and the episodes were never formulaic. While the mysteries themselves were almost always a disappointment (Caron considered them basically beside the point), the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd more than made up for that, as did Caron's willingness to do episodes inspired by film noir or Shakespeare or classic musicals (including sequences directed by Stanley Donan, of all people). Many of the dramas of the '80s don't hold up as well today, as the longer running times meant that the shows needed to fill more space (usually with exposition). Moonlighting's famously short scripts created situations where the show had to stall for time, and it somehow still holds up to this day.

Why: Moonlighting, for me, comes down to just how much fun the dialogue was and just how much its genre mash-up managed to play up comedy, then drama, then mystery, then romance. Willis and Shepherd may have hated each other, but the two of them had a palpable chemistry that fairly burbled on screen. I know that the show gets a lot of flack for getting the two of them together too early, but if you look at the show, it was a writers' strike that killed it -- since it unnaturally extended Maddie's pregnancy. The original plan -- examining two people who had slept together and then realized that was a bad idea and THEN realized they still had to work together -- still strikes me as the kind of thing that would have worked given the proper time to make it work. But the strike and other external factors made that impossible, and we're left wondering what might have been. Still, those first three seasons are all pretty terrific (and the fourth is underrated), full of smartly written television that just goes all out in its attempts to amuse and entertain you.

Best season: Season three is the show's most inventive and the peak of its terrific dialogue.

Best episode: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice" is both a film noir tribute AND a he-said/she-said episode, making it that rare televised cinematic feast of pre-90s television.

Did you know?: The average television script is 52 pages long. Thanks to the rapid-fire dialogue on Moonlighting, its scripts were often 100 pages long, and episodes still often came in short in editing.

Available on DVD?: All five seasons are available.





33) Barney Miller
ABC, produced 1975-1982

What: The warmly witty and understated Barney Miller has become the great lost sitcom of the '70s, thanks to its virtual disappearance from cable reruns and syndication. At first, the show was a fairly standard workplace sitcom with a strained "home life" element, but the subtle, character-based humor of the show often eluded the studio audience, and the show soon gave up on filming live and evolved into one that utilized still-legendary, all-night taping sessions, where executive producer Danny Arnold and his cast would stay up with that episode's director and tweak and tweak and tweak the episode until the thing was tight as a drum. The series slowly tweaked itself until it became the best possible version of itself, and its note-perfect ensemble helped deliver those acclaimed scripts. The series was a critical success at the time, but unlike other big sitcoms of the time, it's mostly faded into obscurity. It's time for the show to come back, though; one of the most common things to say when you're trying to hype a sitcom is that its scripts recall great one-act plays. But, here's the thing. The often one-set, occasionally poetic Barney Miller really DOES.

Why: Danny Arnold is the forgotten sitcom genius, perhaps because Barney Miller never managed to hit the heights of other '70s sitcoms and because he never had another hit that matched up to this series. Most sitcoms, even the good ones, eventually tend to get too broad, but Barney Miller just got more and more intricate as the seasons went on and the irascible Arnold started to figure out all that he could do with the show. One of the rarest things in the world of stage-bound sitcoms is a show that takes place on one set predominantly (the first season of Cheers did this), but Barney Miller worked this to perfection, turning its squad room into a microcosm of the world in whole. Each episode tended to focus on the characters' personal problems and then juxtapose those with the latest criminal in lock-up (often for some ridiculous and amusing crime). Arnold's working methods may have been mildly insane, but they created a sitcom that genuinely felt like nothing else on the air then or now. Fred Goss, creator of Sons &; Daughters, is one of the foremost champions of the show and he keeps trying to do a series in its spirit (only with mostly improvised dialogue). Here's hoping he pulls it off, because this is a show that deserves to live on, if only in spirit.

Best season: The show is one of the few that got better as it went on, and I think season five is its height, when the ensemble was at its funniest and the writing staff at its strongest.

Best episode: "The Photographer," the only episode to win the show a writing Emmy, won that award for a very good reason.

Did you know?: The series invented the phrase "All the good ones are taken."

Available on DVD?: Season one has been available for years, and it will finally be joined by season two (when the series started to get its groove together) in early 2008.





32) Late Night with David Letterman
NBC, produced 1982-1993

What: It's rare that you can legitimately cleave the history of a medium (any medium) in two thanks to the influence of one person, but David Letterman is like that for television. Before Letterman, televised humor was pretty firmly in the camp of the old, traditional borscht-belt stuff -- wacky one-liners, gags about the commander-in-chief, that sort of stuff. After Letterman, the sky was the limit. You could do ironic stuff. You could do blatantly absurdist stuff. You could waste network time by donning a suit of Alka Seltzer and getting dunked in a water tank. The whole "let's put something not especially funny on the air and see if it gets a laugh just through our attitudes" school of television comedy is Letterman through and through. I don't know what, exactly, this has wrought, but Letterman was, at least, tremendously funny and a good interviewer to boot. His program gave the first TV appearance to a number of indie bands (including REM) and stars who weren't exactly in the limelight. While I like Letterman's Late Show, it's really just an imitation of the early, groundbreaking work he was doing on NBC.

Why: Really, all of the reasons why I put Letterman on this list are above, but I'll reiterate them. The first time I ever saw David Letterman's Late Night, I was 11, and I had no idea what was going on, but I thought it was terrific. I watched the show whenever I could and followed him to CBS when he moved two years later. I even watched the later reruns of Late Night on Bravo and Trio, so I could get an idea of the weird stuff he was doing in the '80s (and some of it could be REALLY WEIRD). Letterman's first show was just different from anything else on, and no one has done bizarre humor better than him since, not even himself. I'm not going to say that everything he tried worked, but so much of it did, and that was largely due to the wryly grinning man playing with his notecards and sitting behind the desk just off to the side of center-stage.

Best season: While not really applicable, if you can find his strike stuff (when he would get shaved on TV or have his producer play Lady of Spain on an accordion), do check it out. We could be looking forward to this sort of thing in the weeks to come.

Best episode: That historic confrontation between Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler is good, but so are many of Crispin Glover's appearances, including the one where he almost kicks Dave in the head.

Did you know?: REM made their first national television appearance on the show, but Michael Stipe refused to be interviewed, leaving the other three members to pick up the slack.

Available on DVD?: Sadly, not even best-of DVDs are available.





31) Northern Exposure
CBS, produced 1990-1995

What: So I like quirky small town dramedies. And for my money, Northern Exposure (NoExp to its fans) is the best quirky small town dramedy of all time. The characters are goofy and twee, but not TOO goofy and twee, and the scripts are smart and literate and brimming with literary references and philosophical discussions. The direction, while not as great as rough contemporary Twin Peaks, is very good and makes excellent use of location shooting (which began to become de riguer in the '90s after being mostly limited in early decades). This probably shouldn't have worked as well as it did, but Northern Exposure ended up being a default training ground for the same crew that would go on to create The Sopranos, the great drama of the 2000s, where they learned from the people who created St. Elsewhere, one of the great dramas of the 1980s. At the time, no one could see it, but Northern Exposure is one of the few places where '80s and '00s-style drama come together in an intoxicating brew. The series also probably has the most varied and perfect soundtrack in the history of the medium, drawing on all sorts of genres and musical types to create the world's best-stocked jukebox. There are things about Northern Exposure that are forced or unbelievable, but the series as a whole is a charming statement about what we all wish small towns might be in our heart of hearts -- loving places in which we can reinvent our very selves.

Why: Northern Exposure is another show that has taken a bit of a critical drubbing in recent years, largely due to a final two seasons that were both pretty weak and a huge number of quirky small town shows that spun off in its wake, few of them able to match up to it (though you'll find one down there at #39). This makes it hard to view the series that created all this mania through fresh eyes. First broadcast as a summer replacement series, the show garnered some curious critical praise (mostly from people who wanted to see where things went from the pilot) before evolving extremely rapidly into a cult obsession, then a national one in its abbreviated second season. The series is one of the oddest to have become a big hit, largely because it made no pretensions of being about important social issues (as was the style at the time) and often found itself taking time to allow the local radio DJ time to read from Whitman or discuss Nietzche. A lot of this was really superficial stuff, but Northern Exposure was dedicated to the idea of the small town as a kind of paradise. Cicely, Alaska, is the natural heir to Mayberry, N.C., and the ancestor of so many more TV towns. So was NoExp, which was either the last of a breed or the first of one, depending on how you look at it.

Best season: The third season is just a massively accomplished season of television, including the series four or five best episodes. Really, the first four years are all good, but season three is the best.

Best episode: "Cicely," the third season finale, is a time-bending journey through the history of the series' setting that closes on one of the best lump-in-the-throat moments in TV history. Also, if you're looking for good Christmas viewing, you can't go wrong with "Seoul Mates."

Did you know?: The showrunner for the series' sixth season was whispered by some to have run the show into the ground. Consequently, he had a lot of trouble getting the next series he created off the ground. It was about a mobster who started visiting a psychiatrist. . .you may have heard of it.

Available on DVD?: Music rights issues are irritating, given how great the soundtrack was, but the entire series is available.

The list so far:
31) Northern Exposure
32) Late Night with David Letterman
33) Barney Miller
34) Moonlighting
35) Survivor
36) Lost
37) The Wonder Years
38) South Park
39) Gilmore Girls
40) The Muppet Show
41) Wiseguy
42) Rocky and Bullwinkle
43) Your Show of Shows
44) 60 Minutes
45) The Andy Griffith Show
46) The Daily Show/The Colbert Report
47) Michael Mann's crime trilogy
48) Mystery Science Theater 3000
49) Buffalo Bill
50) The Ed Sullivan Show
51) Jeopardy!
52) Mr Rogers' Neighborhood
53) SportsCenter
54) thirtysomething
55) Soap
56) Friends
57) King of the Hill
58) The Larry Sanders Show
59) The Odd Couple
60) Get Smart
61) Saturday Night Live
62) 24
63) The Shield
64) The Dick Cavett Show
65) Monday Night Football
66) Mad Men
67) The Rockford Files
68) Undeclared
69) CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
70) 30 Rock
71) NYPD Blue
72) Sports Night
73) The Phil Silvers Show
74) The Office (US)
75) Green Acres
76) Frasier
77) The Waltons
78) Friday Night Lights
79) The West Wing
80) M*A*S*H
81) The Bob Newhart Show
82) Everybody Loves Raymond
83) Sex and the City
84) The Price is Right
85) Big Love
86) The Amazing Race
87) Futurama
88) Everwood
89) The Cosby Show
90) Beavis and Butthead
91) Firefly
92) Leave it to Beaver
93) Alfred Hitchcock Presents
94) Picket Fences
95) Veronica Mars
96) WKRP in Cincinnati
97) Project Runway
98) How I Met Your Mother
99) The Adventures of Pete and Pete
100) Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Today's Christmas tune: Those Lutherans! What won't they do? Well, here's a carol that I've only heard in Lutheran services, "Before the Paling of the Stars."

Tomorrow: 10 one-season wonders, five on DVD and five. . .not on DVD.

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