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Friday, February 17, 2006
  television thoughts

For the last day or two SA and I have been having a really ridiculous conversation about television. It sort of started in earnest when Sean asked me if I agreed that we might currently be in the middle of a "television renaissance". I don't know if I'd call it a golden age, or anything, as like 90% of what's on tv is still awful beyond belief, but there does seem to be more good to great programs on than at any other point of the past thirty or so years. Of course, with cable's non-stop proliferation and expansion, it only makes sense that there's more worth watching; more channels should equal a greater probability of quality, right? Anyway, here are some excerpts from our conversations. I'm in bold, SA's in italics, 'cuz he's half-Italian hisself.

SA: do you think we're in the midst of a television renaissance? think about all the awesome shows that are on right now or have been in the last five years. compare that to any other five year period in the history of TV.

Dark: I don't know if I'd call it a golden age. there are only like three or four shows I make a point of watching. granted that number would maybe double if I could afford HBO. it makes sense, though, that as we have more and more channels we'll have more and more good tv shows.

...

Go back to '92-'93, though, and even though there are less good shows, overall, the greatness of two of them maybe eclipse everything happening today. Both Simpsons and Seinfeld came into their own in 1991, and for the next three years they were maybe the two greatest shows of all time. Seinfeld is questionable, but The Simpsons is easily the greatest show in the history of television, primarily for Seasons 3, 4, and 5, and parts of seasons 2, 6, 7, 8, etc. It's still capable of greatness today. I would say that, based solely on these two shows being at their peak, and the additional goodness of Picket Fences, X-Files, Brisco County, Bob (loves me some Newhart), last year of Cheers, Lowell and Antonio on Wings, the beginning of Beavis and Butt-head, etc., 1992-1993 might be better than today. I WOULD say that, if it weren't for the only show that comes close to the Simpsons at its best: Arrested Development.

...

Those early Simpsons are incomparably brilliant. I was about to say that I'd take today over back then, if only because AD is almost as great as those Simpsons, and we still have an occasionally hilarious Simpsons on the air. But damn, I don't think I can bring myself to vote against those years of the show.

Can we just agree that the last 15 or so years of tv is better than the 40 or so years that preceded it?


i think HBO really changes everything if you compare the present to 1995 (when did the sopranos start?).

I forgot about News Radio. Also the Kids in the Hall was really good, but that was pre-95, right?

This will probably piss you off, but I can't really think of the Simpsons in the context of Great Shows, similar to how it's difficult to think of Star Wars in cinematic terms. Simpsons, like Star Wars, is so embedded in my personal... culture, I guess, that I can't really compare it. I've seen the episodes so many times, plus in my opinion it really has gone dowhill over the last five or seven years. I haven't watched it regularly in many years now.

However, I can think of Seinfeld as a Great Show for some reason.

Let's put it this way: my favorite shows of all-time, in no order:

1. Seinfeld
2. the Wire
3. Freaks and Geeks
4. Arrested Development
5. Mr. Show
6. the Office (if you lump both versions together)

That's three shows from now. Plus, Veronica Mars is supposed to be awesome.


you really got me thinking.

I broke up the last fifteen years into three five-year blocks. They run like a tv season would, fall to fall, except for the first block, which starts with January 1, 1991. So it goes 1/1/91 through 8/96; 9/96 through 8/01; 9/01 through this fall, etc. I've included only dramas or sitcoms, no sketch or stand-up or talk shows or news parodies. Also excluded shows that weren't primarily one story told over at least a half-hour, so out goes Beavis and Butthead and everything on Adult Swim.
Okay, here's how I'm looking at it:

1991-1996

The Simpsons
Seinfeld
Twin Peaks
Newsradio
Get a Life
Picket Fences
The Larry Sanders Show
Cheers
Frasier
X-Files (only watched season one, but it was good)
Adventures of Brisco County Jr

1996-2001

Freaks and Geeks
Newsradio
The Simpsons
Oz
Buffy
Gilmore Girls
Seinfeld
The Larry Sanders Show

2001-2006

Arrested Development
The Office UK
Gilmore Girls
Lost
The Office US
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
The Simpsons
Buffy
Undeclared
King of the Hill
Firefly

Really, all three periods are not too far off from each other. 96-2000 didn't have many great shows, but it did have much excellence. Freaks and Geeks is my favorite drama / hour-long show ever, probably my third favorite program of all time. You also have the glory years of Newsradio, Buffy, and Oz, the first season of Gilmore Girls, a still-strong but notably deteriorating Simpsons, and a Seinfeld that I unfairly wrote off at the time. If you ease up my restrictions, amazing stuff like Mr. Show, Conan at its peak, the Kilborn-hosted Daily Show, and Space Ghost would maybe make the list. There's also the first season of the Sopranos, which I've never seen, but which some critics have called the greatest season of any tv show ever. Still, though, I'd say this is obviously the weakest of these three periods.

So it comes down to 91-96 and 01-06. And here's where the dilemma mentioned in my previous email pops up: there're more great shows overall these last few years, but their collective greatness might be less than that of the best shows from '91 to '96. As I've already established, absolutely nothing beats the Simpsons at its peak. From '91 to '94 Seinfeld was almost as great as The Simpsons, thus almost as great as the greatest tv that ever done greated. The first half of Twin Peaks is unassailable, the last quarter is almost as good (the stuff in-between sucks). Picket Fences was awesome for its two first seasons, at least. Easily the best show David Kelley ever made. You've got the first season of Newsradio, the last few years of Cheers, the beginning of Frasier (maybe the last of the great traditional sitcoms), the start of Larry Sanders, the only season of X-Files I ever watched (which was really great), etc.

The argument can be framed as such: would you rather have a rotation with two true aces, two Buehrle-type dudes who'd be number ones on teams without a true ace, a steady proven inning-eating veteran on the downside of his career and then a stacked bullpen; or one with the greatest pitcher of all time, two additional aces, a solid number two starter, a promising rookie who will develop into an all-time classic (before untimely tragedy ends his career early), and then a solid bullpen? The former being today, the latter being '91 to '96. It comes down to greatness vs. depth, and I can't really pick.


see, i never watched a lot of these shows, nor gave a shit about tv until now, even though the only shows i watch are/were AD, office, and lost. that would all change considerably if i had HBO, though. and showtime(?). and SKINEMAX.

here's how my blocks would look, while trying to include the Simpsons:

1991-1996
Seinfeld
Simpsons
Newsradio
X-Files
Twin Peaks (never really got into this for some reason)
ER (was really into it at the time, would never want to watch dvds of it)
Frasier (I watched this but didn't really like it that much)

1996-2001
Freaks and Geeks
Seinfeld
Newsradio
Sopranos
King Of The Hill
Buffy
Simpsons

2001-present
The Wire
Arrested Development
Office UK
Office US
Deadwood
Undeclared
Sopranos
Lost
Curb Your Enthusiasm (I only saw the first few episodes a while back and keep meaning to rent the dvds- so it could rank higher later on)
King Of The Hill
Buffy
Simpsons
Six Feet Under
Angel

And Rome, Gilmore, Battlestar Galactica, 24, the Shield, Firefly, and especially Veronica Mars are all supposed to be really great too.

Oh, EXTRAS!


Is Firefly good?

I had trouble deciding to rank the wire of arrested development on top. they are the opposite of each other, but both completely incredible.


Okay, yes, amazingbly boring reading. I'll follow up in another post.
 

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