Yes, yes, I know -- this seems like a ridiculous question. After all, a blog is a place for people to write, so Blogspot must love the writers, correct? Well, let me ask you something: what's your favorite TV show? Check my profile, or check yours; that question isn't there. Go ahead, I'll wait.
The reason I bring this up is that there is an old adage (and I'm paraphrasing here): movies are the domain of the director, the stage is the domain of the actor, and television is the domain of the writer.
(Then there is my more current codicil to that: music is the domain of the marketing directors, record producers, sound engineers, video directors, makeup artists, stylists, sequencers, programmers, choreographers, drug dealers, Hennessy salesmen, ClearChannel, Simon Cowell, iTunes, MTV, and only very occasionally the musicians - but I digress.)*
As a rule, the best television shows have the best creators, and the best creators are the best writers. When the writing drops off, the show suffers. See Heroes as an example. When it left the big-picture DC Comics ideas of the first season for the navel-gazing, meta-time-traveling Marvel Comics shifting philosophies of everything later, it suffered. The writing went from good to bad, and took the show with it.
So why is it that Blogspot has a spot for your favorite books, music, movies, and hobbies, but not television shows? It seems a bit short-sighted to me to ignore a form of mass media which is developed and shaped by the writer. Yes, books are listed, but in a world where children under the age of 18 are failing to learn to read and write because they are learning to text instead, listing favorite books is tantamount to asking what their favorite alchemical process is.
I've left my list of favorite books vague because it changes every day. There are some constants, but most of them change with the wind. Right now I'm reading the David McCullough's John Adams biography, and enjoying it greatly. I recently read Terry Pratchett's Making Money and loved it. I've reread a dozen books I liked, but none of them are on the list, simply because I don't have the room, time, or inclination to figure out which books are the tops of my list. (Doing the music list cured me of that - it took almost 8 hours. It started at 5,500 characters, and had to be cut to 2,000. It took a while to edit my music down, and I feel about books as I do about music, but at a factor of ten.)
My television choices are easier, though. There are much less to choose from and the quality is much, much lower. For no other reason than a desire to share my points of view, I've put together my list of my Favorite 17 Television Shows of the Past Decade or So.
17. Life - I like this one for a combination of the characters and the quirky writing (and by quirky, I don't mean 'wacky', which I hate). This show is dark, but with a light touch, and Charlie Crews is one of the more endearing characters on TV. So his partner simply doesn't look like a cop, and so this is one place I've seen Donal Logue that I hate him? I'll overlook it all for that parakeet turn of the head that Crews uses to unnerve a perp.
16. Doctor Who - I like the new one. I like David Tennant and liked Christopher Eccleston. I like all the companions so far. I love the dialog, the writing, and pretty much everything about it. Why isn't it higher? Because when they get something wrong, they get it wrong. The whole Doctor-Who-clap-for-Tinkerbell-to-save-the-world thing nearly made me hurl my TV through a wall. I'll forgive them that for the "Blink" episode, which was one of the best episodes of any show ever aired, but inconsistency plagues this could-be-great show.
15. Friday Night Lights - Another show that I really like. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are the best couple on TV and they've got a great cast of unfamiliar faces and good writing. I'd rank this one higher, too, except for the fact that I sometimes think the writers aren't trying that hard. Events tend to slide into laziness when you know they're capable of better. But when the writers are on, and the cast is on (which they always are), this show turns job interviews into the best television out there.
14. The Amazing Race - I hate reality TV. I love this one. I don't have much to say, except that it's nice to see different places and that host Phil Keoghan is the best reality host out there, because you don't hate him after each episode. And they have, thankfully, seem to have come away from having some terrible human beings on the show each season.
13. Farscape - Muppets in space, man -- no show ever looked like this one, and none ever will. Anchored in the whipcrack pop-culture dialog between Ben Browder, Claudia Black, and Anthony Simcoe, this dark fish-out-of-water tale was disguised as a romp and fooled people who couldn't get beyond its very thin skin. If you did, you were rewarded with a complex, nuanced story of friendship, independence, love, and most of all - loyalty.
12. Scrubs - Yes, the fantasy sequences can be overdone and repetitive, and yes, some of the jokes can be seen coming over the horizon, but I personally love the way that the show takes you from belly laugh to melodrama in a moment. The show also has given us Dr. Cox, Dr. Kelso, and the Janitor - three of the best malevolent characters in television history, all of them mean-spirited in their own way, and all of them surprisingly layered and emotional. Plus, Scrubs really helped Elizabeth Banks break big (as J.D.'s baby's mama), and as far as I'm concerned, that's a very good thing.
11. Torchwood - Argue with me if you want, but I prefer this to Dr. Who. I think it's even more inconsistent and shaky at times than its parent series, but it also takes many more risks. It's visually unique, the writing can be excellent (particularly in the second season), and the world has got a new matinee leading man in Captain Jack (John Barrowman). The fact that Captain Jack is bisexual would seem like a deal-breaker for most television, but considering that even that retirement-home standby, TV Guide, has written about him and the show demonstrates that the world maybe becoming ready for a ladies' man who is also - in no uncertain terms - a man's man. But I will join the chorus of those folks who hated the events of the last episode of the second season. Feh.
10. Eli Stone - It seems really strange to me that Trainspotting's Sick Boy can be television's greatest prophet, but he is. This one gets my Most Uplifting Award. I enjoy watching the show, and I hate schmaltz. I love the cast, the characters, the dialog, and the situations. I hate ABC for canceling the show, and I hope that the network exec responsible for it is in a debilitating car wreck. In Eli's world, the exec would actually be saved, there'd be a musical number, and at the end, I'd not hate the exec. That's how good the show is.
9. Deadwood - I wanted to do this one like Al Swearingen did, but...I'm trying to keep most of the blue language out. I love David Milch, I love Milchspeak, and I love the idea of transplanting it into Deadwood. The stories were great, the plotting was unbeatable, and the laughs came often, and often when they did, it was too help shake off the horror of watching Swearingen or Dan brutally murdering someone. Plus, the show gave us a holy trinity of badasses: Ian McShane's Swearingen, Timothy Olyphant's Seth Bullock, and Keith Carradine's Wild Bill Hickok. There were others, but it was the actions of those three that set everything in motion.
8. Two and a Half Men - Laugh if you want at me, but you'll laugh at the show. This one makes my list, simply by being the funniest sitcom of the last 20 years. I don't care what you throw up against it, I'll argue that you get 6 or 8 belly laughs every episode, and no other show can touch that. Plus, this one gets bonus points for being the most profane show on TV. No other network show has gotten laughs from lines about Tijuana donkey shows. The creator, Chuck Lorre, is like a sick, dark, mean-spirited god to me.
7. The Sopranos - Guess what? I loved the ending. I don't care if you didn't. This is one of the best shows of all time. I'd rank it higher, but for the fact that I believe that so many of the shows, particularly toward the middle and end, were just filler. You could have removed 20-25 shows out of the entire run and nothing would have changed. This strikes me as padding a storyline that didn't need to be padded - or of trying to keep something going longer than it should go. Plus, like some other shows, when it got it wrong, it blew it. Christopher's run through the music industry? Please. The Big Gay Romp Through New Hampshire? Spare me. That said, this is one of the best casts ever assembled for TV, some of the best writing ever put to paper, and without question this show uses music better than any show ever has or will. It's great, but not the greatest.
6. C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation - And by that, I mean only the first one. I don't like the New York version and I hate the Miami version. The Las Vegas version is the original and still the best. Another great cast, with great directors, and outstanding writers. This one is on the list also because of how influential it is, and also because it's the oldest show out there I still watch - it's still excellent, eight years after it began. Last night, Gil Grissom (William Peterson) left the show, and they had to get Lawrence Fishburne to take over for him. I'll miss Grissom (as will my girlfriend, believe you me), but we'll keep watching.
5. Firefly - Though I don't wear a brown coat, I love me some Firefly. For all the fun little things about the show (the setting, the six-shooters, Adam Baldwin), this one is on here for one reason - the dialog. Firefly's sarcastic, witty, oddly-accented, brutally nasty dialog flew between the characters like .45 rounds, often striking with the same impact. There has never been a more quotable show with as few episodes. It was a magnificent experiment that fell to Fox's executioner early, like so many others. But it left us with pleasant memories and the knowledge that it never had a chance to go wrong. Now, why the hell hasn't someone given Nathan Fillion another massive leading man gig?
4. Lost - This is one of those shows that really is as good as you've heard. It's dense, intelligent, complex, and well-written. It has a huge cast of talented actors and a completely original concept. It's given us John Locke, Desmond & Penny, the black smoke, and the world's most lovable Iraqi Republican Guardsman, Sayid - who is also network TV's baddest dude. I've knocked it down 2 spots, though, because it has also subjected us to "Benjamin Linus: International Man of Mystery," which seemed ridiculous from the beginning and has only gotten worse over time. Ben Linus almost made up for it with last season's finale, but frankly, I hope the character dies off and we never have to see him again. Two spots, people; I hate him that much.
3. House, M.D. - Officially the best cast on television. This show is nearly flawless, the dialog is fantastic, and the storylines are great. I love the fact that the characters are separated into triads: House, Wilson, & Cuddy; Foreman, Chase, & Cameron; Taub, Kuttner, & Thirteen. I think House is the most complex character on TV and I fully admit to madly crushing on Lisa Edelstein's Cuddy (which is okay - girlfriend has an even madder crush on Wilson), and I think bringing the younger team in was a stroke of genius. This is probably the best-made show on TV. Why isn't it higher on my list? Just because of the ones that are already there.
2. Battlestar Galactica - This is the greatest reboot ever. As much as I love science fiction television, and I do (a scan of my list demonstrates that), this is the best one ever made. But it's not really a science fiction show. It is simply the most densely-plotted, tersely-acted apocalyptic drama ever made; it's just wearing science fiction clothing. This show had much going against it to start off with, and it has literally beaten every obstacle. Fanboys hated the reboot idea ("Starbuck can't be a woman! He's a man!"); there was only two cast members Americans knew, Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell; it was a science fiction show on Sci Fi; it was a remake of a Star Wars ripoff; and it had a basic cable budget. Now fanboys who once blasted the show hail it as the greatest thing ever, it is the flagship show of Sci Fi (which has begun to look respectable), it is loved by the critics (except by the Emmy people, but they still watch Boston Legal, so what the hell do they know?), every episode looks like a feature film, and people all over the world now know who Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, Aaron Douglas, and Donnelly Rhodes are. And we love their characters (Apollo, Number 6, Chief Tyrol, and Doc Cottle). The producers also set the stage for shows to follow:** they announced that they would do 4 seasons and that was it. They're done. They're going to go out on top, and unless they really start to screw things up tonight, they will go out on top.
1. The Wire - This is the best show in television history, bar none, I will brook no argument. As a writer, I simply cannot except that there has ever been a better show, and frankly, I don't think there will ever be a better one. This one is here simply because it is the best-written show of all time. There was never anything done wrong. Sure, some people may say that Season 5 was a drop-off in quality, but I'll argue that that must have been. I believe that The Wire's Season 4 (the season of the schools) is the single greatest season in television history. When 4 is the best of all time, 5 cannot be as good.
The Wire had as many obstacles as BSG: a vast cast of unknown, mostly African-American faces; a storyline that branched out again and again, leaving no plot ever truly ended; a tendency to use philosophy juxtaposed with violence to shock truth into the viewer; and an insistence on refusing to cater to the lowest common denominator. The producers and creators wrote this show, assuming the public to be smart enough to get it. Those that watched it, got it. Critics loved it. Writers loved it. Thugs loved it. All kinds of people loved it. Emmy people don't, but we already know they're idiots. This may be the only show ever written to assume that the viewing audience would be smart enough to get it, and then give them a show to reward them for doing so. It was television's masterpiece.
It also gave us some of the greatest characters ever on the small screen: Snoop, Marlowe, Proposition Joe, Frank Sobotka, Kima Greggs, Avon Barksdale, Bunny, and Detectives Bunk and Freamon. It also gave us an unholy quartet of great television characters. Any list that doesn't include these guys isn't a real list: Detective McNulty, who would do anything to anyone to do the right thing; Omar, the master of roguish violence who arrived in a location 30 seconds after his reputation did; Stringer Bell, the farsighted, intelligent, pragmatic, loyal drug dealer and budding real estate mogul who almost left the streets behind; and Bubbles, the heroin addict, snitch, and newspaper hawker who was finally able to do just that.
I once wanted to write for television. I've since put that idea away. It's the fault of The Wire. I realize I would never be able to write anything nearly as good as that. Instead, I'm going to rewatch an episode or two on DVD, get ready for tonight's episode of BSG, and bask in the glow of the masters.
*Thanks, Chris! I've officially stolen "but I digress" from you.
**Both Lost and Desperate Housewives have followed this concept since BSG started it. It's a great idea.