Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ewwwwww! (teevee edition)

I was going to do a lot of comment on the various EW lists that they've got circulating, but I think I'll do this one last post and call it a day on that subject. (Unless anyone's really dying to hear what I think of, say, the "New Classic Death Scenes" or something similar.) I'm just doing the teevee list now; I won't be doing the music list because I own exactly five of the albums on that list. (For fun and kicks, try and guess which ones!)

Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the teevee list. (For comparison, check out SamuraiFrog. His teevee tastes diverge sharply from mine on a number of instances, but on others we're in total sync. Which is what you'd expect, I guess.) I won't be bolding anything; just the list plus comment.

1. The Simpsons

Yeah, it's a great show. That's granted. No, I'm not going to state what everybody already knows – that its greatest years are now far in the past (imagine, this show is going to reach a point next year where two full Presidencies will have elapsed since its strongest episodes aired), but it's still pretty funny and of generally high enough quality to warrant continued watching.

2 The Sopranos

I never saw a single episode. I've long noted that my interest in mob stories is practically non-existent. Whenever I say this to people, the invariable response is "But it's so good!" Well, I'm sure it is. I'm still not interested.

3 Seinfeld

I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld. I even liked the much-maligned ninth season, and I didn't think the finale sucked that badly (although it wasn't nearly as funny as it should have been, with that premise). One great moment after another, and lines that I still quote and have recognized when I do so.

4 The X-Files

I loved this show too. Did it go on too long? Certainly, but I don't think its fall from grace happened nearly as early as everybody else seems to think. I loved the show's production values, the character chemistry between Mulder and Scully, and all the little touches therein. I loved the impenetrable mytharc too, and the Monsters-of-the-week.

5 Sex and the City

(Never saw a single episode, not once. Although for obvious reasons there's one episode I might have liked, had I seen it.

6 Survivor

I hate this show. I've only watched two seasons of it all the way through, because a couple of years back The Daughter decided that she liked watching the games on the beach, so we ended up watching it. (That was when Rupert was on, and then a season or two later when a guy named Terry went on this big streak of winning every challenge for weeks on end, only to fall short of the million bucks in the finale, losing to some dopey little jerkoff named Aras. I haven't watched the show since.) I didn't like how the show basically rewards people who are complete jerks for being able to be the biggest, sneakiest of jerks. The skill set that makes people contenders to win Survivor also makes them complete asses in real life; why root for an ass to win a million bucks?

7 The Cosby Show

I watched a handful of episodes, found it amusing enough, but was never a big fan. Although, I do recall one hilarious bit that had Cosby describing the most horrifyingly inept Little League game in history, "a game which was broken open on a grand-slam bunt".

8 Lost

Meh. Lots of people wandering around a mysterious island, acting all mysterious and stuff. I'm not a big fan of JJ Abrams.

9 Friends

One of my favorite shows of all time, and I'm not apologizing for that, either. It should have ended a year or two earlier, but I think it's actually become underrated. At its best it was as funny as anything I can remember on teevee.

10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is continually high on my "get the DVDs and watch it one of these days" list. I saw a few episodes here and there and I was always impressed, but by the time the show came on my radar screen it had already been around for a few years and I just didn't want to invest the time to get up to speed on a show that had a dense mythology behind it. But I really do want to watch the thing.

11 The Wire Never seen it; not a lot of interest, really.

12 South Park

I was a big fan for a while but then I just fell away from it. I didn't stop liking it, I just gravitated away. I'm a little surprised it's still around, though.

13 Freaks and Geeks

I really need to see this.

14 The Daily Show

I love it when I see it, which isn't often.

15 The Oprah Winfrey Show

Meh. I've never understood how Oprah's become the 800-lb gorilla of, well, everything.

16 Arrested Development

I always missed it during its brief stay on the networks because its time slot always coincided with either something else or The Daughter's bed time. I'd like to see what the fuss was about.

17 The Office (U.K. Version)

I've seen a few episodes and liked it.

18 American Idol

OK, I'm still a fan. And I liked Taylor Hicks. And that clicking sound you hear is my readers now clicking the "Back" button on their browsers. (This season of AI was pretty disappointing, though.)

19 ER

When it was good, it was great. It had seven or so really terrific seasons, then a few years where it fell on hard times, and then it just started to downright stink. Two major events on the show made me start to lean away from it: the death of Dr. Romano (as horrifyingly bad a moment as I've ever seen on a scripted teevee show, from a writing standpoint), and the resolution of the Reese Benton custody battle. But I hung in there a few more seasons anyway before I finally admitted that the show was a shell of its former self, with old interesting characters replaced by boring new ones; increasing reliance on the stunt-casting of older notable actors as "terminally ill geezers of the month" (always in time to provide epiphanies to whichever cast regular was in most need of an epiphany at that moment); lazy shit like the "Let's send some other character for a life-changing stint in Africa!"; and so on. Ensemble shows are hard to keep going over the course of many years, even if, as in the case of ER, they're designed to allow for the rotation in of new ensemble members to replace old ones. New characters have proven interesting (Dr. Pratt, for example), but at times the cast has become so bloated that newer characters simply blended together, and in any case, no ER cast has ever had the same mix of chemistry that the original group did. ER is apparently ending this coming season, but it should have ended five or six years ago.

20 Beverly Hills, 90210

Never watched it.

21 Roseanne

I hated this show. I never once found it funny, and to this day, when I catch it in reruns, I still fail to laugh.

22 The Real World

I watched three seasons: LA (season two), San Francisco (season three, the one with Pedro and Puck), and London. Then I pretty much stopped. I liked the show well enough, but I finally got irritated with that little doofus from the London cast, the playwright kid, who spent all of his five months in London sleeping. Dude, you're in London. WTF?! (The other American guy, the one who was befuddled because he couldn't find Ranch dressing in London, was pretty amusing for a while.)

23 The West Wing

It was my favorite show for a while. The first two seasons and a chunk of the third were brilliant, but then Aaron Sorkin started to peter out. Season Five had a couple of strong episodes and a lot of "Meh" episodes, but the last two years seemed to figure things out again.

24 Star Trek: The Next Generation

Ahhh, I loved me some TNG! We always watched it in college, with the new episodes on Sunday nights and re-runs the rest of the time. Quite a bit of it doesn't hold up quite as well nowadays, but quite a lot of it holds up damn well indeed.

25 Miami Vice

I watched an episode or two. I didn't get it.

26 Chappelle's Show

Huh? Don't know it.

27 Law & Order

Not a big fan. I tend to see an episode a year, and I'm good.

28 The Larry Sanders Show

Heard good things, but never saw it.

29 The Shield


30 Late Show With David Letterman

I love Letterman, although I don't watch him often anymore at all because it's hard for me to stay up that late. I've always liked his off-kilter sense of humor. True, he was probably funnier ten years ago than he is now, but so's anybody.

31 The Civil War

I never watched this, mainly because I've never been terribly interested in the Civil War. I know that it's a period of history that commands immense fascination for many people in America, but it leaves me cold. (Civil War enthusiasm also seems to run hand-in-hand with Confederacy fetishism, which is always something that confuses me since the Confederacy was, by definition, treasonous.)

32 Gilmore Girls

I never watched it, but I've been told repeatedly that it's very well written, so I want to check it out one of these years.

33 My So-Called Life

I adored this show, even as ambivalent as I was about my own high school experience. MSCL was brilliant work, but even though it's better remembered now for its single, nineteen-episode season, I tend to view it as a dry-run for the deeply brilliant Once and Again that would come along six years later.

34 24

I saw seasons Two and Three, and I haven't much bothered since then. I admire the show's production values, but from what I hear the last couple of years the writing has suffered. I also find the Jack Bauer fetishization that you see in the commentary of the political Right in this country astonishingly creepy. "Jack Bauer has to torture people!" goes the refrain. But I'd like to see a show that details what everyday life in Jack Bauer's America would be like after the country has witnessed nuclear terrorism, a President declining to run for a second term after a scandal, his successor dying aboard Air Force One, his successor being removed from office after criminal activity, the assassination of that first President after he's left office, and the rise to power of that first President's own brother. I think the country would be really messed up if that stuff all happened.

35 CSI

I used to be a big fan, but kind of fell by the wayside the last couple of years. The original show's the best, but the one I watch faithfully now is CSI: Miami, mainly because I like looking at Emily Procter and Eva LaRue, and because I derive enormous entertainment pleasure from David Caruso's overacting and posing. It also featured my single favorite "Oh, bulls***!" moment in CSI crime investigations: in one episode, the killer had taken a photo with his finger partially covering the lens; they were able to resolve that smudge into a readable fingerprint. Yeah, right. This last season ended beautifully, though: since the iconic image of the show is Horatio Caine putting on his sunglasses, they did a cliffhanger where Horatio is shot on an airport runway, and as he's lying on the ground bleeding profusely, the camera pulls back away from him...and through the broken lens of his sunglasses!

36 thirtysomething

Never saw it, but want to, seeing as how it's by the same creative team as My So-Called Life and Once and Again.

38 Beavis and Butt-head

I loved it and found it terribly funny. Thing is, there really are kids like this in our schools. Kids who aren't really dangerous, who don't pose much of a threat to anyone, but who also just aren't ever going to amount to anything much at all and who don't really care about that either. Their antics can be hilarious, as this show demonstrated. My favorite episode had the boys participating in their school's fundraising candy sale; they have to sell candy bars for two bucks each, but they don't want to do the legwork to sell these things, so their elegant solution is to sell candy bars back and forth to one another for the same two dollars. That cracks me up just to think about it.

39 Six Feet Under
40 Mr. Show

I don't know either of these.

41 Frasier

I loved this show for a long time, too. I think it went on too long, but I don't think it slid into badness the way so many shows that outlive themselves do; it just kind of settled into a bit of routine for its last two or three seasons where it was dependably amusing but never as good as in its earlier years. Still, it provided many, many wonderful moments in the time it had, and I do think it went out on a very strong note, with Frasier's romance with Laura Linney and one of the best series finales I've ever seen.

42 L.A. Law

It was a really good show for a few years, and then it started to bog down, much in the same way that ER did: cast bloat, interesting characters swapped for not-interesting ones, increasingly bizarre storylines, and one of the most staggeringly awful moments in teevee history (the death of Rosalind Shays, of course). I hung with it until the end, but man, was that last season bad.

43 Late Night With Conan O'Brien

I see it so rarely that it doesn't even make sense to discuss it. I have a DVD of highlights from it around somewhere; I should watch that one of these days.

44 Jeopardy!

Yeah. Ken Jennings? I coulda taken him. I know this because on at least twenty of the seventy-eight nights (or however many there were), from the non-studio lit and no-audience and no-cameras friendly confines of my living room, I whipped his ass!

45 Curb Your Enthusiasm

Never saw it.

46 Homicide: Life on the Street

I watched a couple of episodes and was uniformly underwhelmed. It felt like BaltimorePDBlue to me.

47 30 Rock

I'm not sure if it's been around enough to be a "new classic", but it's one of my favorites of shows on now. Not only do I think Tina Fey is one of the cutest women on the planet, but I think it speaks greatly of her that this, her big moment on teevee as a creative force, cheerfully makes her the butt of many, if not most, of the jokes. (Contrast with the same season's Studio 60, in which Aaron Sorkin created a monument to Aaron Sorkin.) I actually wrote a bit of rant here first, having misread the title as 3rd Rock from the Sun, which I didn't like very much.

48 Ally McBeal

Bleeccchhhh! I hated this show, as I tend to seriously dislike anything David E. Kelley does. I don't like his writing.

49 Twin Peaks
50 Baywatch
51. Melrose Place

Didn't watch any of these.

52. Felicity

More "Meh" from the pen of JJ Abrams.

53. Will & Grace

Funny for a season or two. After that, just shrill and repetitive.

54. Moonlighting

I never understood the fuss over this show.

55. Pee-wee's Playhouse

Or this one.

56. Desperate Housewives

I actually liked the first season. Everything since was dull, and I stopped watching entirely last year.

57. The Amazing Race

My current favorite reality show! My only wish is that they'd put in a new rule that when you get to a locale, you are forbidden to get locals to either drive you to your destination, ride with you to show you the way, or drive ahead of you so you can follow them. Had this been the case, there's no way the loathsome Dustin-Kandace duo would have ever been near-winners twice on the show.

58. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

I like Letterman better. I also found it appalling that The Tonight Show was Arnold Schwarzenegger's forum of choice for announcing his gubernatorial run.

59. Battlestar Galactica

I've got to see this. I was highly impressed with the pilot TV movie.

60. Xena: Warrior Princess


61. The Office

Also not sure if it's a classic already, but I sure like it. But how much of that is Jenna Fischer's presence? Hmmmm.

62. House

Like it. New classic? Dunno, but I like it.

63. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Loved it, once I figured out what the concept was. Like everybody, I spent a year channel-surfing past MST3K and wondering why these crappy movies were always on with these shadows in front.

64. The Osbournes

Never watched it.

65. Family Guy

I hate this show. The only times it's made me laugh were in moments involving the evil-plotting baby; everything else is stupid Simpsons retread crap.

66. Grey’s Anatomy

Now here we have the opposite problem with ensemble shows: the ensemble isn't big enough, which led this past season to some real dramatic constipation on the show. They added two new characters of consequence, but that wasn't enough since they only replaced another character who'd already left for spin-off heaven. I still think that Grey's beats the pants off ER right now, but I can see it seriously falling from grace if it doesn't add some spice next year. They've been playing the same storylines for too long now.

67. Planet Earth
68. Jackass
69. The Colbert Report

I've never seen these. Colbert's on too late.

70. Everybody Loves Raymond

Now, it was often a very funny show. It really was. Its characters were quirky and played off each other in fun ways, and the cast had real chemistry which helped. But the show was just a well-done sitcom. Maybe it stands out because it was just about the only traditional sitcom that was being done well (aside from Friends) in the time it was around. When it went off the air (it too had a well-done finale episode), someone on a message board I wrote described it was "the show that changed the sitcom forever". That could only be uttered by someone who'd never seen any other sitcoms before.

71. Friday Night Lights

Never watched it.

72. NewsRadio

Obviously it wasn't as good after Phil Hartman's death. But then, my favorite character was always Stephen Root as the owner of the station. Maura Tierney was also a standout.

73. Oz
74. Wiseguy
75. Project Runway
76. In Living Color

Never watched these.

77. The Golden Girls

Ick. Never liked it.

78. I'll Fly Away

Saw it occasionally in college. Nice, but forgettable. The cute blonde girl would later do a couple of seasons of ER, which ended when a crazy patient stabbed her to death.

79. The Comeback

Never even heard of this.

80. King of the Hill

I think this show is underrated, or was in its prime. I haven't seen a new episode in several years.

81. Murphy Brown

Funny for a while, then became boring.

82. The Hills
83. Absolutely Fabulous

Never saw them.

84. Northern Exposure

It took me a while to figure this show out. The Girlfriend (later The Wife) loved it, so I watched it by proxy, but it really took me a season or two to get into it. Then I loved it.

85. The Kids in the Hall
86. Prime Suspect
87. Deadwood

More in the "never watched" category.

88. Malcolm in the Middle

Now this was a funny, funny show in its first few seasons. I fell away from it after a while, but it was a favorite for a while. It had this habit of being mildly amusing for most of an episode, with one truly inspired moment that would make the entire show.

89. SpongeBob SquarePants

Weirdly amusing, in my opinion. I can totally understand why some people hate it.

90. Dawson's Creek

Crap. Total crap. Kevin Williamson's writing annoys the hell out of me.

91. Mad Men
92. The Ben Stiller Show
93. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Yet more that I never watched.

94. Married...With Children

Meh. Amusing, but not great.

95. Designing Women

Didn't like it.

96. The Arsenio Hall Show

This was very popular in college; it was always on at that timeslot in the dorm lounges. I don't remember why.

97. Party of Five

Aside from letting me look at Neve Campbell, I don't remember much about this show.

98. MacGyver

This was silly, silly fun. Years ago The Girlfriend (later The Wife) and I visited The Future In-Laws at their home, and I discovered that The Future Sister-In-Law was so big a fan of MacGyver that she could, using the satellite dish, watch the show for four consecutive hours on weekday afternoons, on teevee stations from all over the country, and she often did. (BTW: xkcd from the other day. Heh!)

99. The Bachelor

Stupid, stupid, stupid crap, this is. Remember when everybody was in vapors over FOX's one-off Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire? Well, now The Bachelor is in its eighth year or something like that. WTF?

100. Saved by the Bell

Oh, come on. Just because we all watched it because TBS had it on for two hours solid each day during the mid-1990s, when we were all being slackers because it was cool to be slackers and all, and thus because of that we all know who Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowsky are, doesn't make it a great show. Watch it now, and try telling me it's not complete crap. I dare you. I double dare you!

So Saved By the Bell is on the list. But not Once and Again or Firefly? NYPD Blue? Scrubs? Millennium? What about cooking shows? Like him or hate him, Emeril Lagasse's shows put Food Network on the map in large part, and Alton Brown's show is really good. This list stinks.


Kellie said...

I'll agree that the list stinks. First, 100 shows as "new classics" seems gratuitous. Second, it seemed to go for wildly popular over quality several times.

RE you Civil War comment (Civil War enthusiasm also seems to run hand-in-hand with Confederacy fetishism, which is always something that confuses me since the Confederacy was, by definition, treasonous.)

These here United States started much the same way, in an act of treason. That's probably why the Confederacy gets fetishized. Part of our cultural veneration of the underdog, no matter how problematic or unworthy.

Anonymous said...

Like the AFI lists, the only real value of these things is to get people talking and maybe rent and/or sell a few DVDs. The quality of any given show is entirely subjective, and really a lot of these titles are still too new to be considered for "classic" status. (A movie/book/TV series/piece of music is only a classic in my mind if people still want to actually experience it 20-25 years later. Not talk about how important it was, but actually sit down and watch/listen/read the thing again and still find some value in it. Then you can call it a classic.)

Anyway, I just wanted to note that one can be a Civil War enthusiast without fetishizing the Confederacy. One can even respect the Confederacy's military accomplishments or debate the intellectual arguments it espoused without endorsing those arguments or the actions of that government. I know there are "fans" of the Confederacy out there, but I'll bet there's also a whole lot more people who, like me, are simply interested in that period of history.

redsneakz said...

I can't even begin to imagine which albums you have from the 'new classics' list. Hm. That said, I agree with Jason's definition of Classic, and I find myself listening to Three Feet High and Rising with some regularity (De La Soul, somewhere near the top of the list), and not thinking that there was a damn new thing at all in anything Van Halen did ever.

So much for my tastes.

Aaron said...

I know one. The rest are all wild guesses based on things I think I remember...

1984, Van Halen
So, Peter Gabriel
Home, Dixie Chicks
Synchronicity, The Police
The Joshua Tree, U2

Anonymous said...

The last 25 years, so from 1983. How is Cheers not on this list?