If there is one thing that the internet loves, besides cats, it is lists. And often sites (such as Screen Rant) will produce dozens of lists with titles like The 25 Best Films on Netflix Right Now or 25 Classic Pokémon Characters Reimagined As Villains. Of course, many of these lists seem to suggest that a subjective listing of best things is somehow validated by the fact that the list writer wrote it. Usually this is not the case, and the top 100 faulty lists of best things on the internet could probably be easily filled. Which is why the following is not a list of best things, but rather a list of favorite things, an admittedly subjective judgement of the whole of scripted television.
Scripted television as a medium was much maligned during the 2nd half of the 20th century, mostly due to comparisons with the more legitimate artistic forms such as film or literature. Never mind that the world is full of really lousy movies and badly written novels, it was all of television that was inferior due to the general widespread low quality of the medium. Of course, all of that changed in the current century. The emergence of prestige television, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and dozens of other high-quality programs shattered the old stigma of television as a lesser art form. And as the current superhero saturation in the cinemas exacerbates the decline of film, prestige television starts to look all the more prestigious.
My own relationship to television has been simple, I watch too much of it. I’m sure that it is literary sacrilege to suggest that a writer can learn anything from the medium, but television taught me a great deal about plot, pacing and dialogue. The universal truths of storytelling tend to be universal, a relatable protagonist faces a conflict in order to achieve a desired goal or avoid an unpleasant fate. Television explores this essence of story as well as Hamlet does. Well, maybe not as well, but as essentially.
The following then is a list of my favorite television shows, a definitive list of the top ten, followed by a secondary list of five runners up and a list of thirty contenders that I felt deserved consideration. There are several shows missing that would probably have been mentioned (The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood), but I never watched them, and am hesitant to add them now to an already overloaded watch list. So again, this is my list, and is not intended to be representative of anyone else’s experience of television. My intention is to follow-up on this list in future posts, explaining why each particular program was chosen for each of the top ten spots. Until then, the top ten are:
- Star Trek (the original, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine)*
- Breaking Bad (and Better Call Saul)*
- The Twilight Zone
- Battlestar Galactica (2004)
- Stargate SG1 (and Atlantis)*
- The Simpsons
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- The Six Million Dollar Man
- WKRP in Cincinnati
12. Game of Thrones
15. Babylon Five
Thirty Contenders: The Americans, The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Miller, Batman: The Animated Series, Black Mirror, Cheers, Community, Dark Shadows, Dead Like Me, Dexter, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Who, The Good Place, Hannibal, House of Cards, I Claudius, I Love Lucy, Land of the Lost, Lost, Mad Men, The Man in the High Castle, The Muppet Show, The News Room, Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, Rome, Smallville, South Park, Stranger Things, and The Walking Dead.
*Including spinoff and prequel series on the list with the original allows for more series to be recognized.