Friday, December 05, 2008

The Top 100 Shows of All Time: The Comments, Part 1

(Thanks for your great ideas, everybody. I'll get up the Mad Men review, some Oscar predictions and a few posts on Christmas entertainment over the next couple of weeks, along with some of your other suggestions. -- ed.)

Back when I did the top 100 TV shows posts, I really thought I was going to come back after a week's hiatus and respond to all of the great comments I got. But I was working then as an actual TV critic at an actual newspaper, and I found less and less time to do the blog (particularly as I had to devote most of my first-run reviews to the paper). So the whole thing kind of languished there for a while, which meant the comments posts never got done. What better time to do them, I thought, than a whole year later! Yay! Follow me below the jump to travel back in time as we respond to comments from the first 12 posts in the series.

From Supplemental List #1: 10 Shows I Loved As a Kid That Don't Hold Up at All:

Occasional SDD blogger Carrie said:

I also watched all of these terrible sitcoms you listed here, and LOVED THEM. Now I have such a hard time with sitcoms, and I wonder how my parents sat through those shows with me without wanting to stab themselves in the eyeballs. Perfect Strangers was oh so awesome, though. Seriously, I loved that show with all my heart.

Um, I also loved Punky Brewster. Her clothes were so cool! She had a dog! She was an orphan! Cherry almost died in a tragic refrigerator accident! I'm sure if I saw it now I would just cringe at the terribleness.

I watched all of Party of Five but can't remember most of it. That's not a good sign for the quality of the show.

Great lists so far!

Carrie's referring to the TGIF sitcoms I talked about in the post. Strangely, I was never that into Perfect Strangers (Libby really was), though it might have been the BEST show in the classic TGIF lineup, all things considered. I also never really got into Punky Brewster, and all attempts to watch more than a handful of episodes as an adult have ended disastrously.

I disagree on Party of Five, though. A fair run of the show is up now at Hulu (which has inexplicably stopped alphabetizing its "browse" list), and I'm surprised by how much of it holds up. Yeah, most everything after season three gradually dragged down into the muck, but there was a lot of really good stuff in there, really incisive, small-scale family drama that you just don't see on TV anymore. The Intervention episode still packs a big punch, particularly if you know the characters. Po5 has largely been forgotten because it was so overshadowed by some of the shows that came immediately before and after it (everything from My So-Called Life to Dawson's Creek), but I now think it's underrated enough that I wish I had slipped it onto the lower rungs of the list somewhere.

From Swimming in Memory: Or, Bad TV, Young Kids, and How a Generation Fetishized Itself -- An Introductory Essay (how about that title?!):

Carrie (again) said:

Great analysis, Todd. I can't wait for the list.

As much TV as I watched growing up (and I watched a lot) I don't think I fully understood what good TV was until I saw the pilot for ER. That's when the light clicked on and I thought "this can be more than I thought." I've been hooked on quality dramas (and unfortunately still hooked on dreck like what I used to watch) ever since.

For me, the point where I "got it" was with Picket Fences, a show I can barely stand today, but one that I used to carve out an hour a week to watch. To a degree, my politics owe themselves to that show. From there, I moved on to the similar, but much weirder, The X-Files, and I was set. I was a quality TV junkie from there on out.

(This is not to ignore the many, many nights I spent parked in front of Nick at Nite, absorbing the whole of sitcom history, which I felt a pressing need to do for some reason. It's the reason I've seen so many sitcoms that are now sparsely seen, though I'm sure I've only seen the syndication cuts.)

From #100-91:

Filipe Furtado wrote:

I'm almost surprised that you made anthologies elegible, given how hard is to compare them to regular shows.

For all the praise it usually got there were one major flaw in Veronica Mars that always made me rate it a little bit lower than most people: with few execeptions the show was always awful with the stand alone mysteries. And as wonderful as the characters were, the fact that the show was driven by larger investigations made storytelling more central to it than something like Pushing Daisies. All this rambling is to justify my opinion that not only season 2 is stronger than the first one, it's far stronger. It's more confusing with too mny parallel arcs and it sort of loses itself when during the half dozen eps where the focus shift to what's going on with Duncan, but it has far fewer episodes were the main focus was not in one of the larger arcs that the show did so well. As often happens on great or near-great first seasons, a lot of the praise seems to exclude the minor flaws that were already there, so the great first season of Veronica Mars ignores how often the episodes had a weak main storyline with a lame plot but good character bits, a more amusing Keith plot whose subplot status help it to get away on characterization alone and a compelling C-plot that get something to do with Lily's murder.

I didn't really see a way around ignoring anthologies, which were such a substantial part of American TV history. If I had excluded them, I likely would have had to exclude The Twilight Zone, which ended up in the top ten. And as the list went on, I pulled in variety shows, reality shows and talk shows, which are all very hard to compare to, say, a serialized drama. Still, I've probably seen too few anthologies and could stand to see more.

As far as Veronica Mars goes, I do agree that season two has been rather underrated. The episodes are definitely stronger on an episode-by-episode basis, but the overarching story is just not as compelling. That's a real pitfall of serialized storytelling. I actually have always rather liked Lost, season two, as well, but that's another season where a bunch of strong episodes didn't necessarily add up to a comprehensive whole that felt like it was going anywhere. It was just an enjoyable string of episodes, which is not the end of the world, but sure felt like it to fans at the time. The writers clearly learned their lessons, as seasons three and four have more narrative momentum. I'm not sure the writers on Veronica did, as season three is a little too discombobulated to work, though much of the best stuff about the show was still there. Jamie Weinman has pointed out over and over that many of the characters on Veronica Mars were specifically conceived of to play a role in the "Who killed Lily Kane?" mystery, and when that mystery was over, there was really no reason to keep them in the storyline, so that led to a lot of moving chess pieces around in season two. You could see the show starting to try to build a cast that made sense in season three, but the rug was pulled out from under them.

Carrie (how I miss her) mostly responded to Felipe and talked about Adult Swim, but she also said:

It's interesting that Joss asked Staite to gain weight. If only he would have done the same when Sarah Michelle Gellar lost all of her weight in seasons two/three of Buffy. Although I doubt that would have gone over well with SMG.

I, in general, agree. Seasons one and two Sarah Michelle Gellar is much hotter than seasons three through seven SMG, who just got scrawnier and scrawnier. The huge preponderance of stick-thin women is one of those things I'll never get about TV. I think one of the things that's so great about Mad Men is just how differently proportioned its women are.

From Supplemental List #2: Ten Cable Networks That Changed Everything:

Dan wrote:

If you want to know why so many people don't like Americans, just watch FOX News. Awful, awful, awful. The fact it's popular is just... a sad indictment of the US culture.

Outside of the US, it's the BBC that most country's watch -- because, y'know, it's less inflammatory, better researched, as neutral as you can be within reason, etc, etc. Proper journalism.

Fucking sports-news style news???

I saw a clip of that O'Reilly guy totally berating a muslim guy whose dad had died in the WTC attacks. Psychologically kicked the shit out of him because he still didn't think the War On Terror was right.

TV bullying from so-called "authority figures" on a country's news service, I couldn't believe it.

CNN is deservedly #1, but even that pales compared to BBC.

Oddly enough, I got an e-mail from family after posting this list asking how I could put something so biased as CNN atop the list. The ranking wasn't intended to be anything other than my conception of what the most important cable networks were historically, and CNN, to a large degree, recreated the way we understand the world around us, something Fox didn't really do (it simply took the CNN template and remade it in a blatantly conservative image).

I've done a lot of thinking about media bias in this year of 24-hour political coverage seemingly everywhere (and, actually, I think media bias as a THREAT TO THE REPUBLIC is rather overrated). I plan on doing a post on this at some point, but I DO think that the U.S. is VERY different from other countries in that our state-funded media (which doesn't even qualify as state-sponsored) is relatively weak. NPR and PBS have their partisans, but, by and large, most of our populace gets its news from commercial entities. This seems terrifying to people from other countries, simply because commercial media mostly focuses on what Americans want to hear about, which tends to be a mix of jingoism and celebrity news and incorporates very few international stories. I'm not convinced this is an EVIL thing or anything, but it does give the impression that, say, Fox News is an official organ of the Republican party, when it's ALSO now attempting to skew a bit leftward in the wake of Obama's election. It will always be the most right wing of the news networks, but what it and the other networks are primarily chasing is ad dollars. Hence the endless specials about Obama, which generally draw very good ratings for things that are pretty cheap to produce.

From #90-81:

Carrie again:

Everwood. How I love that show. More distressing than the fact that they aren't planning on releasing any more DVD sets (due to weak sales) is the fact that ABC Family bought the syndication rights, ran the entire series only one time, and then replaced it with 7th Heaven. I keep my ABCF Tivo season pass for that fateful day they bring the reruns back, but I'm not holding my breath. It's been over a year. :(

And, hey, look it's a year later, and you can watch Everwood online at The WB and the second season DVD is coming! Good things come to those who wait! I'm more convinced than ever that an Everwood-ESQUE show needs to be on the airwaves, and yet none seem to be forthcoming. Oh well.

I actually responded to the large number of comments in the thread on the Supplemental List #3: Specials, Made-for-TV Movies and Miniseries. But I'll reiterate that I'd like to see a remake of V, and one is apparently happening.

I ALSO responded in-thread to most of the comments on #80-71, but I guess that I'll again say that I think M*A*S*H is probably the most overrated series of all time. I respect it, but only grudgingly. It DOES feel like something I should probably buy on DVD and plow through over a month or so, but I thought so much of the late stuff was SO AWFUL that I can't imagine deciding it was better all of a sudden. That said, I ALSO think the series finale is pretty awful, maudlin in a way even the worst episodes of the show rarely were.

I responded to a lot of the comments on Supplemental List #4: Series from other shores, including a spirited discussion about Spaced and Corner Gas (which I still kinda think Myles is underrating -- it's a lot better than NCIS, dude), but I never got around to responding to this one from Jason Mittell (whose excellent and too-infrequently-updated blog is a must-read):

I'm enjoying this list as well (although catching up a bit late). While it's true that Canada & the UK are the prime importers to the US, there are some other imports that bear mentioning - besides a number of anime titles that you could grapple with, I think Iron Chef deserves a spot on any list of greatest imports.

And I'd quibble with your characterizing Robert Thompson as one of the foremost TV historians (in another post) - he's foremost in his ability to give good soundbite, but not actually write & research TV history...

I can't believe I forgot Iron Chef! It's such a fun show, and one of the few where its pronounced "foreignness" was central to the show's success (the American remake mostly sucked). I could watch that show for hour after hour.

I was going to respond to you by asking if you'd submit to interviews for my various feature pieces the way Thompson would, but, clearly, I'm no longer doing that so much anymore, so I guess the request is moot.

There was a spirited conversation in #70-61, also, which I think I responded to most of, but I'll just say that the relative terribleness of 24: Redemption (or whatever that was called) makes me feel even smarter about what I said about the show in this list. I know everyone said season six was terrible, but most people thought it could be rebounded from. I never did.

There were no comments on Supplemental List #5 (the one about new-ish shows I liked), but I totally called Chuck there (OK, Sepinwall did too).

I was going to respond to the two posts on #60-51, but they're kind of self-explanatory, though I appreciate the shout-out from Bianca Reagan (who I hope hasn't left us forever) to KDOC, which has one of the goofiest and greatest lineups in the LA area, resurrecting all sorts of old sitcoms and stuff.

We'll wrap this up tomorrow!


Carrie said...

I'm still bitter that ABCF isn't rerunning Everwood, but I'm happy a season two DVD set is being made. I would love to have a mulit-generational drama like Everwood on the airwaves right now, and unfortunately I've finally realized that the ridiculous CW is never going to give that to us. Have I mentioned how much I hate the CW? It's truly the worst, taking everything shallow and horrible about the current pop culture of America and blowing it up into disposable television shows featuring products and clothing and very little characterization (although Privileged is sort of cute). All of the CW shows I watch are WB carryovers. (Save Gossip Girl, which I'm sort of down on lately, and Privileged, which the network doesn't promote and is doing terribly, and 90210, which I watch out of some sense of obligation because I loved the original series but actually sort of hate. Okay, so I watch three WB carryovers and three CW series, but I like the carryovers more. Sort of. I am diluting my point, so I will shut up now.)

The WB network will always be the thing on TV I miss the most.

Jason Mittell said...

Todd - thanks for the shout-out, and glad to see your belated comments on the list. Alas blog updating has waned for me over the past 6 months, but I'm optimistic that I'll have a lot to write about this spring, and perhaps even the time to do so!

And if you or your TV critic comrades ever need an academic quote to bolster an article, definitely drop me a line...

Bianca Reagan said...

Someone has been busy with business school. So blog reading, blog posting, and blog commenting are at about 10% of what they were before August. :|

It's nice to be missed!

legion said...

Hey Wow, this was a really fantastic, in-depth piece of blogging. My hat is off to you.

I've made up a complete index page with links to everything you wrote back at my website. I was wishing you had an easy to navigate table of contents, so I wrote my own :)