Over New Year’s weekend, HBO re-aired the entire run of the critically acclaimed show, The Wire. Quite often hailed as “the greatest show of all time.”
For those of you, like myself, who have not seen The Wire… have probably grown tired of friends, family and complete strangers looking at you like you’re crazy right before exclaiming: “I can’t believe you HAVEN’T seen The Wire?! You HAVE to watch The Wire!”
Many years ago, after several people annoyed the fuck out of me, I sat down and gave The Wire a go. I made it through the first season no problem. It was interesting and compelling, but hardly “greatest ever” quality… but I continued anyway.
I bailed half way through the second season because, well… to be frank… it was fucking boring as hell.
For years after, when The Wire came up as a topic, I relayed this story to friends, family and complete strangers. I figured, “giving it a go” would have been enough to keep the “I can’t believers” at bay.
Instead their arguments switched from “I can’t believe…” to “Oh! Well you have to give it until the third season… THAT’S when it REALLY gets good.”
(For the record, I’m not being hyperbolic, this statement was literally said to me verbatim by three different individuals, on three different occasions, months apart… in one case, over a year apart.)
Third season? That’s a lot of work required by a show. Granted, I watch WAY more than the average TV watcher, but with the sheer amount of shows available to watch… my time is still limited. I don’t have time to give a show three seasons to grab my attention.
For this reason, I walked away from ever completing The Wire. Fuck that. You have 3-5 episodes MAX to get me… or I ain’t got.
That is… until now. Thanks to HBO’s marathon (and a lack of anything else to watch). I decided, finally, to start from scratch and watch the entire run of The Wire and find out, truly, if it is indeed the “greatest show ever.”
The answer: It’s not. Not even by a long shot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but “EVER” good? I wouldn’t even put it in the race.
Which got me thinking… what ARE some of the shows that would be on the short list for greatest ever? It was pretty easy to come up with a list, which surprised me. Titles quickly jumped out at me.
Before we begin, I should mention… I didn’t include sitcoms. That’s a different list, one that would look VERY different. Shows like MASH, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sex and the City, Cosby and Friends would easily overtake some of the shows listed below. It wouldn’t really be a fair fight. Let’s face it, Friends is rarely a show that would be mentioned in the same breath as say, Breaking Bad.
Also, no procedurals. Yes, shows like CSI, NCIS and Law and Order have been on for eons and have spawned WAY too many spin offs, but they’re hardly in the same category as The Sopranos. They are what they are and we’re all okay with that.
Another thing, I should add that I only used shows I’ve seen, in most cases, all the way through. Sorry fans of 90210 or Veronica Mars. I’m sure they’re great watches, but I wouldn’t be able to fairly comment.
Although, there IS one honorable mention, but more on that later.
Okay, Got it? Good.. let’s get to it… (in no particular order)
– THE WALKING DEAD
Whether you’re a fan of zombies or not, you can’t deny the juggernaut that is The Walking Dead. Each year their numbers not only INCREASE, a rarity in TV land, but are also astronomical. Okay, sure… they’ll never hit MASH numbers, but given the amount of choices there are now compared to the three channels that existed in MASH’s day? They’re pounding the competition.
And look, you also can’t deny why it has the appeal that it does. There are enough zombies to lure in the hardcore horror fans, but not too many that it puts a bad taste in the mouths of the average lame middle American.
The story line is compelling, the characters are great and you never know where they’re going to go… well, unless you read the comics. Then you have a little idea of where they’re going.
Not only has the Walking Dead been able to survive the airwaves, but its also been able to survive the behind the scenes drama. Multiple showrunners and budget cuts haven’t been able to slow it down. Sure, it’s had its downfalls (farmhouse anyone?) but it always seems to bounce back when it needs to. Now that Scott Gimple seems to be in for the long haul as the show’s showrunner, maybe it’ll find it’s true, story telling legs. A funny statement when looking at the fact that we’re moving into the back half of the fifth season.
More than anything else, The Walking Dead deserves to be on this list due to its social impact. What other show in TV history has ever been able to actually create ANOTHER show, in which people sit on a couch and talk about what they just watched? That’s right… none. The Walking Dead has been able to bring the “Comic Con” part of nerd culture into your living room… and based on the numbers, you’re eating it up. With a spinoff debuting in 2015 and the comic still going strong, it’s not a show that will be going anywhere any time soon.
– BREAKING BAD
Are you surprised? Here’s a show that seemingly came out of no where to become, easily a front runner for “best show ever.” A show that faced cancelation due to poor first season numbers, ended up dominating both ratings and casual party chit chat.
Whether you liked it or not, you can’t ignore the fact that the show was smart. It knew what it was doing and where it was going. Only ever going to be 5 seasons, Vince Gilligan planned out shit so precise that there are open ended Easter eggs in season 1 that get answered in season 5 and only the biggest fans caught every detail.
So what was the appeal? Simple. The setup. An average, white, middle classed, teacher… gets cancer and has to provide for his family. There’s no person in America hasn’t thought about a life of crime after getting a hospital bill for the simplest of things.
It’s this foundation that solidified its audience. We wanted Walter White to beat the system and by the time he became “out of control” we were already on board for the ride. We, like him, went down the rabbit hole.
But let’s face facts, we didn’t tune in each week to see Walter’s latest conquest, we’d tune in to find out how he’d get out of the latest “oh shit” moments that HE created.
Another fair point, much like its AMC counterpart The Walking Dead, characters weren’t precious. Any one could go at any time, even Walter White himself as proven by (SPOILER ALERT) the series finale.
Breaking Bad was one of the few shows to air where you legitimately did NOT know what would happen from episode to episode. A rarity in television land. A land that thrives on predictability week to week.
– THE GOOD WIFE
Okay, yeah… I get it. I’m an old fart. It’s no secret that CBS has a long history of catering to, how should I say it, an “older demographic” and The Good Wife is no exception.
I mean it does’t have zombies OR meth. How can the 18 to 35 demo possibly relate to any of the characters?
I have to be honest, I resisted The Good Wife for years for a few reasons. I was never a fan of ER (was only forced to watch a few episodes thanks to a girl I was dating at the time…hence why its not on this list) which means I was never a huge fan of Julianna Margulies. Her association with a show I was forced to watch left a horrible taste in my mouth. Childish… I know.
I was, however, a HUGE Chris Noth fan. He was one of the best detectives on Law and Order and he was the only reason to ever truly watch Sex and the City. His characters defined cool.
It was this fact, that when the show was first advertised before airing, I was sold on watching… until I found out what it was about.
Chris Noth played a politician disgraced by a sex scandal… a topic that was, and sadly still is, hot. Hell, if I wanted to see that shit, I’d just watch the news.
That and the above mentioned actress were just too much for me to handle… so I never tuned in.
I was an idiot.
Years later, left in a TV dry spell and looking for something to watch on Netflix, I decided to give The Good Wife a shot.
I was hooked from the pilot.
The Good Wife finds a way to combine drama, comedy and thrills every week. The best part about the show is that you’re not sure which you’re going to get each week. I’m not talking about storyline, but genre. One week there might be an episode that’s funny from start to finish, some might be serious all the way through or some might find the perfect mix. Regardless of what you get, you never lose the over all thread of a seasonal storyline.
There’s also an issue on content. Being a person that does’t care much for people telling me what I can say or not say… let alone how I say it… I’m always a fan of the show that gives me something that I’ve never seen on TV before.
The Good Wife does not fail to deliver in this department. Early on in the series there’s a scene where Chris Noth’s character tries to get it on with his wife, Julianna Margulies’ character, who at this point has made it clear she just needs to get laid. An act that, alone, would be a victory for feminists everywhere. While women are often the objects of sex in TV and movies, a woman exerting her sexuality, is often labelled “a slut,” but the show doesn’t stop there.
They end up in a bathroom for a quickie and Noth goes to do his thing, but Margulies stops him, grabs his head and pushes him down between her legs. Gasp if you’d like, but let’s take a look at the facts: Oral is NEVER a discussed practice unless talked about or depicted as a crude act, by men… So for a woman, confident and well-spoken, to “get hers?” That should make you stand up and applaud everyone associated with the show.
But yes, I get it… a woman “gettin’ some head” hardly makes a show one of the “greatest ever.”
Sexiness aside, the show has never slowed down and it has remained interesting from the beginning. I have never found it to get boring or run a storyline to the point where I have yelled at the screen “okay, they need to wrap this shit up.” (A phrase I yell a LOT at my TV).
It’s this reason that I urge everyone to at least give it a shot before passing it up. Even IF you’re males in the 18 to 35 range. And if you are… let me just say this…
The show has lesbians. Really hot ones. And they get it on. A lot.
So you don’t have to make the popcorn or set your DVR, but maybe the next time the wife says she’s gonna watch The Good Wife, linger in the background “cleaning something.”
Your secret is safe with me.
– THE X-FILES
I’m not going to lie, I struggled adding this to the list for several reasons. First, even the die hardest fans in the world can’t deny… the show overstayed its welcome. I myself, who was everything X-Files, bailed somewhere in he 5th season and still haven’t seen the last four.
It took a bit of weird turn with the cases and tested the line of “suspension of disbelief.”
And this is the show that focused on alien abductions… so that’s saying quite a lot.
That being said, lets give it its fair due. The X-Files was really one of the first shows that brought “nerd culture” into the main stream. It was cool to like The X-Files and many did. You didn’t have to hide in the closet about it like Star Trek fans did. I mean even Stephen King wrote an episode. How cool is that?
It was also one of the first shows that I can remember EVERYONE watching. Back before DVR’s, when you had to “set a VCR,” The X-Files was the ONE show no one missed. In fact there are a few friends, when pressed, will probably admit that there’s still a box of episodes on VHS in the garage. Commercials and all.
But why was it so popular? Easy.
David Duchovny. Pure and simple.
He made being a nerd cool. So cool that the cool kids didn’t think he was a nerd and the nerds wanted to be as cool as he was.
Fox Mulder was a character EVERYONE could idolize. Whether it be his dedication to finding his sister, his vast knowledge about everything, his humor, his good looks, his rebellion against authority or just his overall charm.
Fox Mulder embodied a lot of things for a lot of different people.
But just like there would be no X-Files without Fox Mulder, there would be no Fox Mulder without Scully.
The ever realist, shitting on his boyish optimism every chance she got, Scully kept the show in reality. Most of the time by tripping and falling RIGHT before the cool shit happened, thus making it easy for her to deny said cool thing ever took place.
Still, Scully made things interesting and kept Mulder on his toes. Much as a source of the show’s comedy.
And let’s be honest… Gillian Anderson was pretty hot doing it too. Mole or no mole.
While the show stuck around and spawned two movies, it’s still much a part of culture. So much so that people STILL get excited when the Hollywood rumor mill whispers hints at Duchovny and Anderson donning the suits one more time for another flick.
Unfortunately, its shows creator never did much else. Probably why a new movie gets mentioned every few years. Gotta tap the well dry. The X-Files did however, act as a breeding ground for two very talented individuals who, to no surprise, also have shows on this list.
Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad fame and Howard Gordon of 24 fame.
Much like some of the other shows on this list, 24 has had its ups and downs. It hasn’t always knocked it out of the park and probably has never really lived up to the hype of the first season.
You can’t deny, the whole ‘real time” thing got old and often became a parody of itself. Still, you tuned in each week to find out what Jack Bauer would do next. More importantly, who would end up double crossing who because there was ALWAYS someone who pulled a double cross.
Regardless of it’s ebbs, when the show flowed, it flowed. The show runners always gave you JUST enough at the 57 minute mark of the hour to make sure you tuned in next week to find out what happened. This ensured that, even when the show wasn’t at its best, that you tuned in to find out what happened.
24 also was the first show to bring true action to people’s living rooms each week. Whether it was a suspenseful car chase or a bullet ridden gun fight, 24 delivered action that was usually reserved for the biggest budgeted Hollywood movies.
Action aside, let’s not forget its hero… Jack Bauer. He was dirty, he was rough and for every hit he took, he delved out ten. Most of all, he was a patriot. Doing what he had to do to protect America. Something this country needed in a post 9-11 world.
Jack Bauer gave his life to protecting our way of life from enemies foreign and domestic and people loved it. More importantly, people needed that.
Bauer served his purpose, much like Captain America did for Marvel comics during World War II. Nowadays, when our government is taking hits for its tortuous ways, Bauer’s “bull-in-a-china-shop antics” aren’t really all that favorable. Much of the reason why he was given his hero’s swan song in a limited series years after the show went off the year.
Maybe one day, much like Captain America, Bauer will be dusted off and brought back into the fold. We are, after all, getting another Rambo… so anything is possible.
– The Sopranos
There’s a lot of people who haven’t seen The Sopranos. In fact, there are a lot of people who absolutely REFUSE to watch The Sopranos. Why? Because, and I quote: “I’m not really into gangsters.”
These are also the same people who claim: “I’m not really into Zombies” when it comes to The Waking Dead.
To those people I say: “You’re missing out.”
Yes. Tony Soprano makes a living in “Waste Management.”
And Yes. Tony Soprano MIGHT, POSSIBLY, do things a little… um… criminally.
But the actual heart of the show isn’t really about the gangster life. It’s about the people who live it. Even further it’s a psychological study of individuals who have the life thrust upon them.
Not only figuratively, but literally… as a major part of the show, Tony faces his issues in therapy after dealing with a panic attack. And while the similar storyline was tackled by Harold Ramis in Analyze This (and subsequently Analyze That), The Sopranos takes a much more serious tone. Delving into issues stemming from his “in the life” father and “less than caring” mother.
It’s these relationships that make the show such gripping drama.
Let’s be honest though, for most of you it’s about the lifestyle of the gangster and The Sopranos doesn’t disappoint in that department. You do get plenty of “whacking,” but with enough drama that it never seems “senseless.”
The Sopranos is not without its faults though. Mainly the beginning and the end. First, and this is a personal thing, it took me quite a while to get sucked into the world of The Sopranos. If I remember correctly, it took me the usual “HBO 5” to get sucked in. (For those that don’t know, HBO shows, for the most part, usually take a few episodes to REALLY get going…at least for me…hence the term “HBO 5.”)
But, after those 5… you’re hooked and, even when the show has its low points, it’s still extremely watchable.
And then there’s the end. If you have’t seen how The Sopranos ends, then you’ve probably heard about it or seen it spoofed on another show. No other show’s ending has created such water cooler bitching than The Sopranos with the exception of maybe Lost, which was more confusion that outright complaint.
Regardless of what you might think happened to Tony in the end, you fell into the trap of the show runners. You talked about it. A LOT. Like a lot a lot. In my case, to the point of where you started to hate the show, the subject of the show and the idiots that didn’t agree with YOUR point of view. I mean come on, some people were so desperate for closure that their brain actually heard a gunshot after the screen went black.
If you don’t believe that this is an actual thing, try talking to someone who heard the spinner topple at the end of Inception.
Anyway… More than anything, was the cultural impact that The Sopranos had. Let’s face it, before The Sopranos, HBO was a hyper expensive addition to your cable package. Its only purpose was to show movies that you could no longer see in the theaters and movies that maybe haven’t hit VHS yet.
Then HBO delved into original programming. Remember all of the articles about Netflix diving into original programming when House of Cards came out? Pretty sure authors just dusted off their old HBO articles and then did a find and replace.
HBO came out swinging with both The Sopranos and Sex in the City (also the lessor popular OZ.)
Can you even phantom a world without HBO now? It’s such a titan now that HBO is no longer an addition to your cable package, but a necessity. One could also argue that it was shows like The Sopranos that made it okay for film talent to be okay with TV… a fact that was not the case prior. TV was often a place film actors’ careers went to die.
Today HBO has paved the way for AMC, FX and Showtime to enter the fray. Even the much spoken about Netflix wouldn’t be able to draw in the talent it has without HBO breaking free of TV’s “network model.”
Shit on it if you will, but it’s because of The Sopranos that we have original programming like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead rather than the network trilogy of cop, lawyer and medical shows.
Speaking of original programming…
It shouldn’t be any surprise that Lost is on the list. For six seasons, Lost was successful at capturing the imaginations of its viewers.
Yes. Lost… got a little… weird.
But regardless, people tuned in. Mainly for one reason and one reason only: Would they or wouldn’t they get off that frickin’ island.
That’s right, not since Ross and Rachel, were more people concerned with a show’s “would they or wouldn’t they.”
Of course, when they DID get off the island, they really didn’t… or wait? Did they? I mean in real life? Or was that a parallel reality? Oh wait, did they even crash in the first place? Or have they been dead the whole time? Or maybe this was a dream inside the head of a special needs kid? (see St. Elsewhere.)
Who knows? It was one of those.
It doesn’t really matter what you believe did (or didn’t) happen, it was almost guaranteed that you knew SOMEONE that believed something completely different than you did and had no shortage of breath when it came to arguing why YOUR belief was wrong and stupid.
That’s what Lost did best. It got you talking. It got everyone talking. For its die hard fans, Lost created passionate debates. Not something you can say about most shows.
Unfortunately, Lost’s originality was also it’s downfall. It became too smart for the dumb people watching and too dumb for the smart people watching. Simply put: Dumb people were confused and smart people saw the glaring holes in its plot.
And holes… there were a plenty.
Holes aside, fans of Lost ultimately made up their minds on what the show was and stuck to it. Even after years of being off the air, people who watched can still argue what the show was and “explain why they’re right.”
Then we come to the finale. If The Sopranos caused debate around the water cooler the next day, Lost’s finale caused debate for about a week after.
Personally, I fall on the side of disappointment. My education in existentialism was immediately applied and wouldn’t allow me to see any other possibility. Read Dante’s Inferno and Sartre’s No Exit enough and Lost becomes very clear in your mind.
And I’ll debate anyone why… what THEY think… is wrong and stupid.
Plot aside, Lost gave us great characters. Characters you cared about. Characters you wanted to see find some sort of happiness, whether it was by getting off the island or finding some sort of peace in their life. (or afterlife… who knows.)
Yeah yeah… there was also the typical love triangle but that was for the plebeians watching. That shit hardly interested you… the “smart viewer.”
– BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Sure, Buffy was hardly for every one. In fact, in the ’90’s, fans of Buffy were mostly women. Women with a lot of cats. Women with a lot of cats and some social awkwardness.
But if you use that as a reason to not watch the show, you’re missing out.
The things that Buffy did, Buffy did amazingly. This was mostly due to one thing and one thing only: Joss Whedon.
Whedon knows how to perfectly blend action, comedy, romance and horror. All of which Buffy delivers a plethora of.
Buffy knew when to take itself “serious” and knew when not to. Regardless of which way they went, it always seemed right, never forced. In the world of Buffy, it was okay to have a completely musical episode right after a more serious toned one and Whedon always came up with a plausible reason for it to happen.
Maybe it’s better to put it this way: Even with the most ridiculous premise of a teenage vampire hunter living in small town suburbia, never once did I ever say “Okay, that’s ridiculous.”
You bought into it. Hook. Line. And Sinker.
Story lines aside, you can’t deny that the characters that Whedon created were all kind of like family. You cared about them enough, that when shit DID get weird, you were kind of okay with it.
You can’t really overlook the cultural impact Buffy had either. Buffy practically made The WB network back in the day. Plus, let’s not forget, it started as a movie. A movie that hardly anyone saw. It’s not very often that anyone can say: “the show was better than the movie.”
Buffy was also the breeding ground for so many beloved actors. Sarah Michelle Gellar aside, Buffy is literally a who’s who of today’s actors. From Nathan Fillion to Eliza Dushku.
Speaking of a breeding ground for actors…
– THE WEST WING
I can’t lie. I’d vote for Jed Bartlet in a heartbeat. I’m sure fans of The West Wing would agree.
The West Wing had it all. It had great characters, great story lines, great cliff hangers all well tackling the issues of the time. Issues like abortion, racism and gun control… issues that have long been resolved. Hang on… wait a sec…
The thing that was so fascinating about The West Wing was that it opened the doors to a world that’s largely closed. What IS it like to work in the White House? It was really the little things that interested me the most. Little things like: Sunday’s. It’s not like the world takes a day off every week. In fact, the world never takes ANY time off. So when the show delved into things that happened on off days or after hours, that’s when the show grabbed my attention the most.
And let’s face it, The West Wing seemed pretty real. The West Wing got it so right, that even Washington insiders loved the show. It’s easy to understand when the show humanized politics. So much so that it even made ME want to work in the political scene. Which, if you knew me, you’d know was an insane notion.
It’s rare for a show to have such an ensemble of actors that ALL are worth their weight in screen time. Every character was given their proper due and you were happy when they did.
Largely due to one man: Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has never really had the same success in TV as he did with The West Wing, but that’s okay. Unfortunately, after Sorkin left the show after its fifth season, it was clearly obvious that he was the glue that held the show together.
It just wasn’t the same.
I dare anyone to try and find fault in those first seasons though. The West Wing was a very tight show that never wasted viewers’ time.
– HOUSE OF CARDS
If The West Wing was the Norman Rockwell of politics, House of Cards is the darker, “I-cut-myself-to-feel” street artist of politics.
Some would say, depending on your jaded view of Washington, the more realistic view of politics.
What’s beautiful about House of Cards is the complexity. Every move has a reason. Every play has been thought out. Calculated. And we don’t know… so when it’s revealed? It’s pretty amazing.
It’s too easy to point to the story line or the acting or the style of House of Cards as to why it’s great… let’s, instead, focus on the true IMPORTANCE of WHY House of Cards is on this list:
The death of cable.
Okay. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if Netflix does to cable, what HBO did to the networks, than it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.
The simple fact is this: You don’t have to pay for cable to get quality, original programming… and that should scare the shit out of the “TV” guys.
It should also scare the shit out of the FCC… mostly because Netflix falls under the umbrella of “The Internet” and doesn’t follow the traditional bullshit censorship guidelines that cable and the networks do.
Having the success and the freedom that Netflix has, we can look forward to even more to come. We already have Orange is the New Black and comic book geeks can look forward to our favorite Marvel superheroes as well. “Off-brand” characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage and The Defenders.
Netflix has proven that it is a force to be reckoned with. A force that wouldn’t have been had House of Cards failed.
Thank God it didn’t.
Well folks that’s that… I’m sure most of you have your favorite shows that didn’t make the list and I get it. To each their own.
You’ll notice that nothing before the mid-nineties made the cut. While some might blame my age, that wasn’t a factor. I’m such a TV consumer that I’ve seen a LOT of shit that was way before my time.
The problem with those shows is that they’re pretty dated and don’t really hold up well. Whether it be because technology has changed or because times have changed. You can get away with a lot more than you can today.
Shows like The West Wing hold up because (sadly) the issues they tackle are STILL happening today. And Buffy is fantasy… fantasy is always relevant. Buffy also does a good job, for the most part, of keeping technology out of it.
Try showing kids today The Wire and explaining what a beeper is. Actually, can you even explain what a beeper does without sounding stupid?
In the beginning, I spoke of an honorable mention I wanted to make. While I have never seen one full episode, I have to give credit where credit is due. None of these shows above could have existed without one show:
Purely from a censorship level. NYPD was the first show to show bare ass and have full out swear words uttered. Not only that, but made events out of it. As any South Park fan knows: “they’re gonna say shit! On television!”
Say what you will about nudity and naughty language, it’s really hard to believe mainstream TV when they don’t act like REAL people.
Real people get naked and swear. That’s just fact.
Okay, that was my list. What’s yours? Begin…