Top Ten TV Roundtable final standings:
five questions for pondering and answers
Bode: Whose Line Is It Anyway? might not be thought of immediately as essential programming, but the rotating set formats combined with the points that do not matter (but are there) created the best improv comedy television show in history. Whether relying on the stalwarts of Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles or the longtime performers in Wayne Brady and Greg Proops to the many rotating guest appearances, the comedic showcase stands tall.
Gerbs: I could make a plea for Scrubs being included, as it’s probably my favorite comedy, even over Seinfeld, but I’ll go Newsroom. Peak Sorkin at his best, writing about writing, only this time, the news! With long-winded speeches about giving a crap about other people and the call for more civility, the show is as relevant now as it was then, but I also understand why it’s not on the list. Plus Charlie Skinner is one of the best characters written and performed by Sam Waterson.
Andrew: I would argue for The Newsroom, but Gerbs beat me to it and I wouldn’t have much different to add. I was surprised Curb Your Enthusiasm didn’t make it, though. Perhaps for many, it’s too close to Seinfeld, but there were important differences. Seinfeld generally tried to maintain an air of realistic scenarios, while on Curb, Larry David tends to push society’s peculiarities to the furthest extremes. Also, Seinfeld was largely about the main group of four, whereas Curb was more about the crazy cast of memorable rotating characters such as Richard Lewis, Leon Black, Wanda Sykes, Marty Funkhouser, Jeff Greene, and on and on.
Mitchell: HBO’s supernatural mystery The Leftovers shows more humanity during its 28 episodes than most longer series. The show depicts a parallel universe, just like ours until October 14th, 2011. That’s the date of the “Sudden Departure,” on which 2% of people, 1 out of 50, disappeared out of thin air. Much like in Damon Lindelof’s previous show (Lost, which I’ll get to in a bit), the viewer is tempted to seek answers and “solve the puzzle,” so to speak, but beware! The Leftovers is not about the mystery, but about how the rest of humanity, the “leftovers,” grieves its fallen brothers and sisters. The first season introduces several residents of a town in New Jersey, including a police officer, a preacher, their families, and a death-obsessed cult, but the series really takes off when they relocate in season 2 to Jarden, Texas, a magical place where none of its 6000+ residents disappeared. If your ideal TV watching experience involves laughter, crying, amazement and/or, I insist you watch The Leftovers.
Frank: Cheers. I view it as the seminal sitcom of the era directly preceding mine with a host of unforgettable characters, Coach chief among them. While perhaps not as timeless as a show such as Seinfeld I regard it as its direct predecessor and nearly as iconic. I still laugh out loud and its eminently rewatchable.
Colosimo: I’m going to stay true to my inner-nerdiness here and go with The X-Files. This was the original internet message-board show, where fans posted incessantly in between episodes and seasons, giving the series an extensive life beyond the television set and time slot. Every plot point and character was dissected and discussed, and fans had boundless theories to present and criticize. In this way, it was the Lost before Lost, and will always hold a special place in the TV show pantheon for sci-fi/mystery fans.
Craig: I could make the case for many shows here, but I’m going to take a current favorite that could easily rise in the future. Billions is still a relatively young show, but it’s working its way up my list. The pedigree of the actors is nearly unbelievable with Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman, Asia Kate Dillon, and one of my favorite comedians Dan Soder. It’s well written. The story is engaging. It isn’t just one style as it can make you sad, mad, laugh, and pretty much everything in between. If it continues on its current pace and doesn’t try to go on too long, it’s destined to be one of the best shows ever created. It won’t be easy, but they’re through three seasons and still putting up HOF stats.
Pat: I recognize that hardly anyone watched Happy Endings during its short three-year run on ABC, but it’s an absolute crime that no one watched it. It was as smart, hilarious, and quick-witted as Arrested Development, and no, I am not kidding. Damon Wayans Jr. and Elisha Cuthbert were somewhat known quantities to the public before arriving on this show, and they were part of a glorious six-person cast of main characters. I suppose many people could have looked at it as a modern attempt at recreating Friends due to the three males and three females setup, but the comedy was very different. Adam Pally brought a fresh twist playing a gay character who was the beer-swilling, sports-loving, bro-like guy on the show. I pop in these DVDs any time I need to smile.
Bode: People can enjoy whatever programming they want and obviously my selections differ quite a bit from the group. I will continue to refuse to even give The Wire a chance as nothing good comes out of Baltimore.
Gerbs: I’ve been out on The Simpsons for so long I forget they are even on TV anymore. I could have cared more if they didn’t keep the cartoon trope of never aging, as it would allow for deeper storylines into some of the characters, rather than having one-offs of plot points that should be fleshed out. It’s a show of incredibly smart people writing about dumb people trying to be smart. I’m just out.
Andrew: I enjoyed Breaking Bad immensely when it was on the air. I long considered it one of my top three shows of all-time. However, I re-watched the series last year and it did not hold up well for me at all. I actually found most of the characters so much more unlikable the second time through and their flaws annoyed me a lot more. I actually now consider it to be a highly overrated show.
Mitchell: I wouldn’t say any of our choices are embarrassing, so I’ll use this space to say: I’ve never seen Lost, and I have no intentions of ever doing so. It’s one of those things that I’ve heard more bad things about than good. Even Lindelof himself has stopped trying to defend the ending. It’s far more likely that, if I’m ever craving that kind of sci-fi human drama, I revisit The Leftovers long before I try Lost.
Also, maybe Game of Thrones deserves to be here just because of scope and popularity, but it wouldn’t touch my top ten.
Frank: I don’t have a huge problem with any of these shows making it but I could do without Game of Thrones. Anything sci-fi generally doesn’t do much for me and the show, in general, is a bit too ambitious. In a moment of honesty, I could probably get most of my friends to admit that they really have very little idea of what the hell is going on. I do however understand the appeal. With a lack of a strong opinion, I will be content breathing a sigh of relief that there is no sign of Friends on this list.
Colosimo: None of the shows on this list fits that harsh a description, so I’ll just go with the one that seems the most out of place. It pains me to say this because the show is easily on my personal top 10, but Arrested Development is not a wide scope top 10 TV show of all time. It was a mainstream flop after 3 seasons for a reason, the humor doesn’t land with a large swathe of the population. While I find it completely hilarious (at least the original seasons), I still struggle turning people on to the show at times. It’s a cult classic, and that qualifier is earned. Arrested development is a far better fit on the lists that have Freaks and Geeks, Kids in the Hall, Better off Ted, and Upright Citizens Brigade than it is on one with The Sopranos and Mad Men.
Craig: I don’t find any of them embarrassing per se, but many of them are like the Dave Matthews Band where I respect the band, but I grow tiresome of the fans and their undying and forever spoken love. Like, please don’t ever give me another Seinfeld reference for the rest of my life. I watched the show too and I enjoyed it, but it’s been a long time. Shut up. Same with The Wire. It’s a great show, but the amount of extrapolation that people do with that show comparing everything to Stringer Bell or whatever drives me insane. It was a good show. Get over it already though.
Pat: I don’t have a strong dislike for any of these shows, so I’m going to convince myself that I have a big issue with The Sopranos. Yes, I know everyone loved this show and everyone is infatuated with mob culture, but I couldn’t get past the fact that I was watching some disgusting human beings do disgusting things. I don’t want to promote the ideology that this kind of lifestyle is a real choice that people should aspire to live. The show wasn’t particularly smart and it didn’t have anything particularly salient to say. It was basically just trash TV.
Bode: I have two active shows on my list. The comic book nerd in me enjoys the character development and storylines of Gotham despite not having read much of DC Comics inventory. However, I was a bit surprised no one else had This Is Us on their list. The drama is over-played in some episodes, but the over-arching character development is top-notch with a great display of how complex people can be.
Gerbs: Is none an answer? As much as we are in a Golden Age of Television, we are talking about GOAT shows and while there are some great dramas out there, none really come close that aren’t already on this lost. Even with a great third season thus far, True Detective can’t outlive its second season. This Is Us is good drama, but it’s drama for drama’s sake. The Shonda express of Grey’s Anatomy, a show that had promise is too busy meet-cute-ing and killing off roles. You also have one-offs (or should be one-offs) like Big Little Lies that are great! but won’t get to the prestige of that top 10. If I had to answer a show though, I would say Stranger Things. With a hit third season, you can feasibly say they hit enough home runs to warrant replacing someone in the bottom tier.
Andrew: For me, this answer is easy: Stranger Things. It killed me leaving it off my list, but I felt two seasons wasn’t enough to measure up to these titans of TV series. But make no mistake, I have absolutely loved every minute of these first two seasons and I feel it’s been every bit as strong as many of the above series’ first two seasons. I worry a bit about the longevity of the show, and they are racing against time as the kids in the show will be growing up very quickly. But if they can make it five seasons or so, I’d be pretty surprised to see it not get some consideration on a list like this.
Mitchell: Amazon Prime just released the stellar second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in early December, and already, it has the makings of a classic. Sharp dialogue and legitimately-funny stand-up comedy are brought to life by the fantastic performance of Rachel Brosnahan in the title role, as well as an extremely strong supporting cast. Set around 1960 in New York City, stereotypically Jewish and lovably charismatic Midge stumbles onto a grimy downtown stage, after a long night of relationship drama washed down by debauchery, and performs comedy for the first time. Hilarity, drama, and more hilarity ensues.
Frank: There is only one obvious answer to me and it has already marked its place on my own personal Top 10 list: Billions. Flawless acting from industry titans, enough plotlines but not too many, taut dialogue and exceptional writing every week. Very few wasted moments in each hour of riveting television. I particularly enjoy the skillful in-weaving of relevant pop culture. This show has all the makings of a classic with immense staying power.
Colosimo: I hate to have an answer like this, but I don’t see any current series cracking an all time top ten.
Craig: I already gave my vote in this category to Billions, but I think it’s possible the answer is none. There are just too many damn shows. I’ve always subscribed to the theory that even if another band like The Beatles came out tomorrow, they have zero chance of becoming as big as The Beatles, I think the same is in television. No show will ever be able to dominate the attention of the nation the way Seinfeld did in such a smaller field. If any show ever does rise above it, it would have to be on a platform like Netflix and then the way they release all the episodes at once ends up diminishing the ability for that show to have that weekly water cooler moment. It’s probably never going to happen.
Pat: I’m with Andrew, the answer is Stranger Things. There’s a fairly large backlash against this show from people who think that it needs to be more than what it is, so it’s not actually good. That just seems silly to me. It’s a perfect show for what I want it to be. I want heavy nostalgia from growing up in the 80s, and I get that without the overt attempts to make sure everyone knows it.1 I want interesting/unique characters and plot lines. I want some thrills. I want my heart to get tugged at a bit. I want actors from my youth to show up. This is a really fantastic show and will definitely deserve to be on the list if the Duffer brothers can keep it going.
Bode: If The Simpsons had ended after 10 seasons, then it would likely be much higher on this list. The watered-down writing and refusal to satirize the whole of popular culture has created a void where even most former appointment-viewing fans have given up on the show.
Gerbs: I’m as big a Thrones stan as there can be. The show has everything: action, drama, comedy in parts, plus a bevy of adult only situations that make it weird for me to suggest the show to family members as such. Yes, there are hard parts, such as the brutal violence HBO is able to get away with, but you take the bad to get all for the great storytelling. With a rolling cast of no less than 25 people you’re attempting to keep up with, they never go too hard on any one story. Just when you think “hey, I haven’t heard from Bran in awhile”, they flash to him.
Andrew: I can’t argue with much on the list, to be honest. While I disagree with some placement, these are all shows that have had a huge, profound impact on pop culture. But I guess if I had to pick something, I would move Lost up on the list. I have it first on my own list. I certainly understand the problems people had with the show, but telling an ensemble story like this in a challenging setting was an impressive feat. I connected with the over-arching message of the show and I thought the writers did such an amazing job of giving us fully fleshed-out characters that had equal parts flaws and redeeming values. And while I think a lot of people misunderstood the final season, Lost was a show that I couldn’t wait to watch every week and it kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat for the entire ride.
Mitchell: Mad Men would be number one on my list. Long, successful dramas need amazing characters, but most of them have some other appealing theme to draw viewers in. Breaking Bad is about drugs. The Sopranos is about organized crime. Mad Men is about…advertising? The fate of the agency doesn’t exactly have the draw of blue crystal meth or murderous mothers. All Mad Men has is the most impressive character development of any fictional creation I’ve ever consumed, and for that, it’s the greatest television program I’ve ever seen.
Frank: The Wire is the greatest drama ever made, PERIOD. This is an inarguable and completely objective declaration, Bode’s Baltimore hatred notwithstanding. Seinfeld is the pinnacle of comedy and The Wire is the same for drama. It only needs to be moved up one spot on this list but anything less than second is an unimaginable crime. Sometimes there are no proper words to describe greatness. You just have to go experience it for yourself. Get moving Bode!
Colosimo: The Sopranos would move closer to the top if I had control, but when it comes to a group like this, it’s making a mountain out of a molehill to argue about a few spots up or down.
Craig: I’d move up Game of Thrones. It’s going to end up being one of the most rewatchable shows of all time, and as they continue to “expand the universe” (Yuck. I know. That phrase is gross.) the original series will continue to gain traction.
Pat: Arrested Development is far too low. I know that the fourth season was disappointing, but the original three seasons are masterful in their execution and downright hilarious. You can watch each season ten times and still pick up on jokes that you had missed.
Bode: History Channel’s The Bible was a fantastic portrayal and, unlike many modern depictions, stayed true to the overall spirit of the text.
Gerbs: Not a big miniseries guy, tbh.
Andrew: By default, I’ll say Band of Brothers. I don’t watch many (any?) miniseries, honestly, but I saw this one and thought it was pretty good.
Mitchell: The 2016 American League Championship Series.
Frank: Haven’t seen many but the original Roots was groundbreaking, revolutionary and acutely uncomfortable. Truly exceptional.
Colosimo: I’m not sure exactly where to draw the line on what is/isn’t a miniseries – If I’m allowed to stretch the boundaries, maybe the BBC’s Sherlock is my favorite. Yes its 4 seasons long, but it had a total of 13 episodes. I think Westworld would have been great as a miniseries had they just ended the show on the season one finale. The same goes for True Detective.
Craig: Band of Brothers is the greatest mini-series I’ve ever seen. It’s not even close.
Pat: I thought I might try to be original here, but in the end, I’m going with Band of Brothers, too. It’s the only miniseries that I rewatch every couple of years. It gives you a great blend of action, drama, and comedy. The interviews with the real living survivors from Easy Company are the icing on the cake.