I saw a recent article on Moviepilot where the author listed his 40 favorite TV shows of all time. So, I thought it sounded like a good idea. I won't go as deep as 40, but, I think 25 is good number. This wasn't easy to compile. I left a lot of TV I really like off the list. But, I think I have the 25 that have resonated with me the most over the years.
I had one rule for my list. The shows that are on it lasted for at least three seasons. So, that's why you won't see Daredevil, The Flash, or Gotham here. But rest assured, if those series keep going at their current pace, they will be on the next list.
Numbers 11-25 are in no particular order. The top 10 are my all-time favorites in order.
So, without further ado...
These juuuuuuuust missed the cut.
The Big Bang Theory
Real Husbands of Hollywood
Now on with the list...
This dark sitcom is loosely based on comedian and star Christopher Titus's life. Titus is the owner of a custom car shop who deals with his dysfunctional friends and family in his own dysfunctional and childish ways. The real treat on the show was Stacy Keach who plays Titus's heavy drinking, bigoted, womanizing, many times divorced father.
24. South Park
Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's subversive animated series is still going strong after almost 20 years. What makes it so great is their sheer fearlessness to lampoon absolutely any topic. If it's in today's headlines, this small animated Colorado town will find some way to skewer it and blow it to pieces unapologetically.
Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have ably played monster-hunting brothers, Dean and Sam Winchester, for a decade. While the series now in its later stages does feel a bit forced at times, the Winchesters have thrilled taking down everything from demons to rogue angels to Lucifer himself. Another thing that makes the series worthwhile is the snarky humor injected into most episodes. It has the same sense of humor as another show that you will see later on in this list.
22. Modern Family
This mockumentary sitcom follows the exploits of the diverse Pritchett-Dunphy clan. Sofia Vergara aside, this ensemble cast works extremely well with each other and rarely disappoints week to week.
Billed as a cop drama with a twist, Grimm follows the adventures of a Portland police detective who discovers he comes from an ancient line of guardians charged with keeping the balance between humanity and mythical creatures who can masquerade as humans. Part fantasy, part police procedural, Grimm is a unique mix of whimsy and the supernatural.
20. Criminal Minds
The Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI has chased down the serial killer of the week for a decade. It's a macabre series considering the subject matter. Does it still have the same type of jolt it did at the beginning? No. But, it still makes you shake your head at times of the depravity of humanity.
19. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
The current longest running non-animated series on TV shows no signs of packing it in anytime soon. It's a dark police procedural following an elite group of detectives from the NYPD tasked with investigating and apprehending perps who have committed crimes of a sexual nature. Some undoubtedly think this series has "jumped the shark" several times. But, it seems to reinvent itself ever so slightly every couple years to somehow seem fresh again. Is every episode equal? Of course not. But it is usually more than watchable.
18. The Bernie Mac Show
I miss Bernie Mac. He wasn't a comedian for everyone, but, I found him hilarious. And, while Bernie had to tone it down a bit to make his comedy palatable for a family sitcom, it was still a decidedly BERNIE MAC family sitcom. He definitely had is own unique ideas on child rearing ("Bus' 'em in their head 'til the white meat show").
One of the most underrated sitcoms of the last 30 years in my opinion. Wings followed the zany people who worked at a small Nantucket airport, the central characters being two brothers who own a small airline within the airport. Wings boasted an array of recognizable names including Tim Daly, Steven Weber, Thomas Haden Church, and Tony Shalhoub (pre-Monk).
16. Arrested Development
You want to talk about a crazy, messed up family? Look no farther than the Bluths of Arrested Development. Such a fitting title for this group. As you watch this madness, you seriously wonder how Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) keeps his sanity as the only "normal" member of the family. Answer? Not successfully. Arrested Development has an impressive comedic cast who weren't all household names at the time the series was first released. Aside from the aforementioned Bateman, the series starred the likes of Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, and David Cross.
15. The Following
Folks, it doesn't get any darker or more bizarre than this on network TV. The show caught a lot of flak during its second and final seasons for being too dark and implausible. Too dark? Matter of preference I suppose. Implausible? Yeah, probably, but what TV series isn't to some degree? In a series where you don't always know your friends from serial killers, FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) relentlessly pursues the followers of cult serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Twists galore and more than a couple shocking deaths kept me tuning in throughout its run.
14. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Well, meet the non-animated version of South Park. I say that in the sense that Sunny is always more than happy to offend. Don't let the photo fool you. Not one of these characters has one redeeming quality. It's just a matter of who is less despicable than the others. It's ridiculous and completely hilarious.
13. House of Cards
Pay close attention to that photo and watch House of Cards. You'll know how accurate it truly is. Kevin Spacey stars as Congressman Francis Underwood. A very capable and ambitious politician, Underwood starts the series as the majority WHIP in the House. He connives his way to the Oval Office without the benefit of an election through bullying, extortion, and even murder. The series is also injected with a wee bit of dark humor. When Underwood periodically breaks the fourth wall, it's usually classic.
A great cast is one of the things that made the exploits of the small Boston bar "where everybody knows your name" a classic for 11 seasons. So, many memorable moments. So many memorable characters. The show not only survived the departure of one of its most popular stars, it thrived! And let's not forget that in addition to being a great sitcom in its own right, Cheers spun off another great one I'll get to a little later.
11. Married...with Children
The incomparable Bundys shot holes in the concept of family gleefully for 10 years. The Cosby Show this wasn't! It's somewhat surprising to me how much I came to love this show. I really thought it was very "meh" through its first season. It became a little more Bundy-like during season 2. By season 3, the series had begun to hit its comic stride. Did it remain tight throughout? No. But, for 3-4 years, it was the funniest thing on TV.
And now, the top 10...
Dexter was a darkly comic and cheerfully bloody series. Miami PD blood spatter expert, Dexter Morgan, stabbed his way to infamy for eight seasons. Let's forget about the mostly forgettable final season where it was very obvious the writers were grasping at straws to try to come up with some decent material. Dexter never shied away from the fact that as heroic as Dexter may have seemed on the surface, he was still very mentally ill. The series also wasn't afraid to go to some very dark and unexpected depths. Case in point, the final 10 minutes of the season 4 finale. That was a WTH moment!
9. Breaking Bad
And, the name was Heisenberg, aka, mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Or, at least he was mild-mannered in the beginning. White is diagnosed with terminal cancer. In order to leave enough money for his family, he partners with a former student to cook and distribute meth. According to show creator, Vince Gilligan, his goal was to show a vivid transformation in White's character, "turning Mr. Chips into Scarface." It was a wonderful performance by Cranston as his character becomes the ultimate manipulator. He always has a justification for his questionable actions, and, while there may be some merit to them, the fact is Walter loses himself in the criminal life. In other words, he "breaks bad."
8. Burn Notice
Professional spies don't get fired like you or me. They get burned, meaning they are discarded by their agency and left with nothing to their name. Totally exposed to their enemies, burned spies have very few places to turn, if any. That's the premise of this espionage crime drama that was also wickedly funny many times. Burned spy, Michael Westen, returns to his hometown in Miami in an attempt to put the pieces together of why he was burned. Along the way, he helps many of the city's residents out of jams using his unique set of skills. Often aiding him in his exploits are his "trigger-happy girlfriend" and explosives expert, Fiona, and his ex-Navy S.E.A.L. friend, Sam (played by the incomparable Bruce Campbell).
7. The Walking Dead
This apocalyptic adaptation of the comic series is a slow burn for the most part. But, when it ramps up, it hits you straight between the eyes. Rick Grimes and his small group of Zombie Apocalypse survivors keep running headlong into one unfortunate truth. Human beings suck! The title of the series is more than just a metaphor for the zombies. It also can describe the living. In a world where the uninfected should be banding together, there are so many that have their own agendas and want to subjugate the remaining masses and take what little is left from everyone. Like I said, humans suck!
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy will always hold a special place for me. It was the first hour long drama I watched on a regular basis. High School student, Buffy Summers, is the chosen one, or, to the demon community, the Slayer. She's tasked with defending mankind against the supernatural, primarily, vampires, but that also came to include various types of demons, Hell gods, the 1st Evil, etc. Remember earlier I mentioned the snarky humor of Supernatural? Well, Buffy was the originator (at least for me). And, the show was so much more than a high school teen running around wielding an ax against bloodsuckers. It dealt with everyday issues like teen romance, STDs, addiction, alternative lifestyles, and loss in its own unique, subversive way. The series was a bit of an innovator.
To be honest, numbers 5 and 6 are really interchangeable depending on my mood (or which one I'm watching). Same type of humor, same type of atmosphere. The series follows Buffy's former vampire lover, Angel, after he has left Sunnydale for Los Angeles. The main nemesis for Angel and his allies is the demon law firm of Wolfram & Hart who later hires Angel and company in order to keep tabs on them. Pretty much the same things I loved about Buffy, I loved about Angel.
4. The Shield
I'll admit, I only began watching this show out of anger. I was mad because Michael Chiklis won an Emmy award (I think it was an Emmy) over another actor I'll get to later. There was absolutely no way Chiklis was better in his role than this other actor was in his. Come on, Chiklis was "the Commish!" I had never even heard of The Shield before he won. Then, I watched episode one and said to myself, "This definitely ain't the Commish!" I don't know that Chiklis was better than this other actor, but, I understood why he won the award afterwards. For seven seasons, Chiklis's, Detective Vic Mackey, rampaged his way through Farmington, CA with his Strike Team. A highly effective, but, totally corrupt unit, their actions eventually lead to dire consequences for each member. You know from the very first episode that you're going to be in for a wild ride due to what I call "the unforgivable act."
When it started, some thought Frasier wasn't the right Cheers alum to star in his own series. But, to that I say, why not? He was the only character that really had a life outside the bar. Well, thankfully the powers that be saw it the same way and the rest is history. This Cheers spin off incredibly lasted as long as its predecessor following the life of Dr. Frasier Crane after he moves from Boston back to his hometown of Seattle. The joy of this series is the cast itself. The five main cast members are so seamless in their interactions with each other it was like they were born connected, even down to the little dog, Eddie. For me, it was as close to a perfect sitcom as there ever was.
And then there were two. Drum roll please!
2. Sons of Anarchy
Again #1 and #2 could be interchangeable for me. I don't really like one over the other as I think of them kind of 1 and 1A. But I'm not going to cheat and tie anything. I'll pick a lane and put the bad boys from Charming, CA in the 2-hole. What can I say about Kurt Sutter's magnum opus? Well, I could say I want SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original if you were ever wondering) back after watching a few episodes of Sutter's far inferior Bastard Executioner. But, I guess that wouldn't make a lot of sense considering the finale would it? Anyway, SoA is the story of a criminal motorcycle gang who runs guns out of their small town. Jax Teller, the club's VP at the start, comes to want to move the club away from all illegal activity and into more legitimate concerns. However, he meets every obstacle imaginable from forces who want to destroy the club including the Aryan Brotherhood, rival biker gang, the Mayans, the ATF who forever wants to bust them on RICO charges, etc. He even faces opposition within the club itself from SAMCRO's President, Clay (his stepfather), and his mother, Gemma. But Jax is formidable. He's no stupid thug. You underestimate him at your own peril. And, he's somewhat of a magician as the series goes along. The series isn't all doom and gloom. If you haven't guessed by now, I love comedy. SoA offers a fair amount of sardonic humor with its main courses of mind-shattering violence. That's right, the Sons live in an extremely violent world. And Sutter unflinchingly serves it in your face no matter what it is or who the victim is even if it's SAMCRO themselves.
So, Kiefer Sutherland getting beaten for the Emmy by Michael Chiklis is what forced me to watch The Shield. How could anyone have given a more kickass performance than Sutherland as counter-terrorist agent, Jack Bauer? Well, I'm glad it happened otherwise I might have missed out on another great series. But, we're here to talk 24 now, right? For eight seasons and one Summer mini-series, Jack Bauer defended America against every type of terrorist threat imaginable. Even when his job cost him everything and he essentially becomes an enemy of the state after season 8 (long story), he's still working undercover to quell a threat to the President when the mini-series starts a few years later. Loyal to the country that has taken so much from him to a fault. If you aren't familiar with the structure of the show, each season takes place within the span of one chaotic day (hence the title). There's a ticking clock throughout which adds context to the sense of urgency Jack faces. And remember when I said, Jack becomes an enemy the state? That has a lot to do with Agent Bauer's methods. He has a willingness to do whatever is needed without regard to his own well being. That includes field executions, attacking a foreign embassy as a one man gang, and even kidnapping a former President to get the information he desperately needs. Jack is the man. In fact, on many an occasion I echo the sentiment of Rick Schroeder who guest starred as another counter terrorist agent one season right after Jack took out an entire warehouse of terrorists by himself, "Damn, Jack."
Whew, finally done. This was work, but it was fun. Again, please feel to leave comments or your list of favorites in the comment section. Always interested to know what other readers think.