Too Much Television: My Top Ten Shows of All-Time
With the school year starting to get hot and heavy, I’m sure a lot of you have begun to send/receive those classic excuse texts, the old reliable “can’t hang, got a test later this week” or the shady “Sorry, can’t go out, gotta study tomorrow.” If you’re anything like me those texts really mean “Sorry, I got completely railed by school today, drank enough caffeine to give a horse a panic attack and if I wake up hungover one more time my head might explode, so I was planning on watching a show I’ve already seen a couple hundred times and getting blitzed until I can be legally classified as a part of my own couch,” or something along those lines. So, just in case you want something new to waste your time with while you mentally prepare for another day of mind numbing lectures, tedious homework and memorizing facts you’ll never use, I thought I’d share a list of my Top 10 personal favorite TV shows.
Now just to be clear before I get started, the most important phrase in the last sentence is “personal favorite.” All of these shows have hollowed out a little corner of my brain for different reasons. Some of them are objectively amazing, some I love for sentimental reasons and some of them I love for no reason except the fact that I enjoyed the hours I spent watching them. I’m not IMDb, I didn’t try to take every aspect of these shows into account and if you want to tell me I’m wrong, swipe up, I’d love to hear about it. No more questions? Sounds good. Let’s get goin'.
Some shows, for example Twin Peaks and Big Little Lies, were perfection on a screen until they hit a bad season or two. On the other hand, I’m still waiting to see if shows like Barry can sustain their incredible quality into later seasons. Since I still think these shows are exceptional works of TV (and because my top ten favorite shows has changed more than the Browns's head coach) here’s a list of shows that didn’t quite make the cut, but have been on my top ten list before and eventually might be again.
Big Little Lies
Avatar The Last Airbender
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Available on Hulu
Yeah, Yeah, I know I said I was doing ten, sue me.
One of the earliest creations by famous Sci-Fi writer, producer and director J.J. Abrams, Lost follows the survivors of the crashed Oceanic Flight 815 as they struggle to live on a jungle island full of monsters, hostile people and dark secrets. Lost had over 16 million viewers in its initial season, won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Show in 2005 and is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest shows of all time. Although Lost was a confusing, badly ended show that overstayed its welcome (6 Seasons and 121 Episodes), Lost was the first show I ever binge watched and it opened my eyes to good drama television. For that it has been on my favorites list since the finale in 2010 and I just couldn't bring myself to take it off for this article.
10. 30 Rock
Available on Hulu
Tina Fey. Alec Baldwin. Tracy Morgan. Do you need to hear more? The 2000’s comedy, created by Tina Fey and based on her time as a writer for SNL, follows the cast and writers of a failing fictional sketch show as they struggle to keep their slot on NBC. According to the The Atlantic magazine, the show has the highest amount of jokes of any TV show at a staggering 7.44 per minute and it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy three years in a row, 2007-2009. With a run time of just 22 minutes, it's the perfect show for a quick laugh between classes.
9. The Sopranos
Available on Amazon Prime & HBO Streaming Services (HBO Now and HBOGo)
Alright, I held out as long as I could. Let's get into some HBO shows.
I could sit here for hours listing all the awards The Sopranos has won and how many professional critics have said it's the greatest show of all time. Even if you don’t put it at the top of your list, you have to respect it as the most influential TV show ever. A mob show that was filmed like art, written like gangster poetry and that dealt with issues outside of crime like mental health, gender and dysfunctional families, The Sopranos completely changed what a TV show could be. Without The Sopranos all the modern shows we love like Succession, Barry or Euphoria, series with weird premises that deal with real life issues, wouldn’t exist. And if that’s not a good enough reason to watch, then watch it because Tony Soprano busting his way through the New Jersey underground with his band of merry mobsters behind him is some of the most addicting storytelling and action I’ve ever seen.
8. Rick and Morty
Available on Hulu
Seeing as Rick and Morty is one of the most popular shows of our generation, this one won’t take much explaining. The show follows Morty, a self conscious and endlessly pubescent teenager as he joins his megalomaniac, genius grandfather Rick on adventures through the universe. Although it is only three seasons in, creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have proved that they know how to make a comedy that is as dark and smart as it is hilarious, and I have no doubt the show will stay top notch for the next 11 seasons Adult Swim has renewed it for.
Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime
How do I even describe Atlanta? The word that comes to mind is surreal.
Atlanta, created and written by Donald Glover (who also wrote for 30 Rock), focuses on Earn, a young Princeton dropout looking to support his daughter by managing his Cousin Al, an up and coming Atlanta rapper known as Paper Boi. The show is funny, but it’s not a comedy. The show deals with tough, real life issues, but it’s not exactly a drama either. That's why Atlanta is so incredible.
Donald Glover doesn’t follow any classic TV rules, instead using short satirical episodes to paint a bleak portrait of each individual characters struggle to make it in the southern city. The dialogue may be my favorite aspect of the show, lines like, “If she got over 3000 followers she might have an unrealistic view on how the world works,” which rakes in a good laugh but also makes a poignant, relevant point about the culture we live in. Atlanta may only be two seasons in, but it is so far so flawless that it earned a spot on my list.
6. Breaking Bad
Available on Netflix
We all know the story of Breaking Bad. A nerdy high school chemistry teacher gets cancer, decides to make meth with an angry man-child and runs into lots of trouble along the way. The show is amazing for its unique story and incredible acting, but what always impressed me is how Breaking Bad was able to stay consistent from Walter White's first pants down panorama to its final bloody shoot out.
The show was initially placed under intense pressure because it was only AMC's second original drama. Then the pressure was doubled down on when critics started to rave about the strange New Mexican saga, saying it could be TV's new greatest show. Yet somehow Vince Gilligan and his crew were un-phased and managed to keep up the show's good quality to the very end, many still considering it to be TV's greatest ever.
5. The Wire
Available on Amazon Prime and HBO Now
To me, The Wire has always felt like The Sopranos' weird younger cousin standing in the corner at the HBO party. The guy you avoid making eye contact with and whisper about like, “Yeah, he seems like an interesting guy, but I don’t want to actually go talk to him.”
Released three years after the debut of The Sopranos, The Wire tells its story from the streets of Baltimore, splitting its screen time between corrupt cops and crack dealing criminals. Every character is complex and captivating, from Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), the West Baltimore gang’s second in command who also takes business classes at his local community college, to Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), the drunk Irish cop who repeatedly shits on the police officers in charge of him. Told from multiple perspectives and lacking a true main character, The Wire may have come after The Sopranos, but it takes far more risks.
While The Sopranos was still a formulaic show with a rising action, climax and resolution every episode, The Wire was written like a novel, always moving forward and unconcerned with the classic cyclical TV episode structure. The result is a narrative that never stops or looks back, but instead adds new story lines and characters every season that kept me emotionally invested over the course of its five season run.
4. Peaky Blinders
First 4 season available on Netflix
This edgy BBC show may be fourth on my list, but if I could choose any of these shows to spend the next several weeks re-watching, it would be Peaky Blinders. The show follows the Shelby clan in post World War I England, a back alley razor gang of Irish Gypsies whose only rule is family first. Except for The Wire, Peaky Blinders has the most interesting set of characters I’ve ever seen on TV, ranging from the war traumatized, savage, suicidal anti-hero Thomas Shelby (Cilian Murphy) to his second sight gifted “Gypsy Queen” Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory). Each six episode season is phenomenal and the story is far from done.
The darker, politically oriented fifth season delivered easily the show's best villain to date with Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), a real historic figure who led the 1930's Fascist party in England, along with a phenomenal finale last Sunday that left us on a disturbing, gritty cliffhanger that is gonna have me biting my nails until the release of the sixth season.
3. Game of Thrones
Available on HBO Now and HBO Go
Do I really have to talk about this show? Because I think we can all agree we're tired of talking about it.
If you know me, you know I used to have a strong enough Game of Thrones obsession to get me locked up in a mental asylum. I read the books before I ever watched the show and then compulsively re-watched the first seven seasons before the last one came out. Did I like the ending? Nah. And I know if you haven’t watched it by now, you probably never will. But for what it's worth, most folks say the journey is more important than the destination and the journey Game of Thrones took to its final destination was incredible. Every actor and actress is a master of their craft. The complicated politics, war and family dramas will leave you an addict craving for more, and the dialogue is smart and natural while the plot twists will majorly fuck you up. For those reasons, plus the fact that I’m a huge fantasy nerd, Game of Thrones will always have a spot in my favorite shows despite the (loud gagging in the background) final season.
2. True Detective (Season 1)
Available on HBO Now and HBO Go
For a very long time, the first season of True Detective was first on this list. The show takes place in rural Louisiana and follows state detectives Rustin Cole (Mathew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they track down a cult of serial murders over the course of their lifetime. This show was written and created by Nic Pizzolatto, a Louisiana native himself, and you can feel his connection to the state through every beautifully composed shot and strange, backwater bumpkin character.
However, Cole and Hart are the real draw, creating an uncanny buddy cop relationship through their curt dialogue and constant mutual death stares. Two deeply flawed men, you can never quite tell whether they love each other or want to toss the other out of their moving squad car. The result is like watching two best friends get in a fight at a bar, god this is uncomfortable, but I’m gonna keep watching.
And if you want another reason to watch, below is my favorite long shot action scene ever (mostly spoiler free) from Episode 4 of this phenomenal series.
1. The Leftovers
Available on HBO Now and HBO Go
Usually when I tell someone my favorite show of all time is The Leftovers they go “Oh, that HBO show about a bunch of people disappearing, right?” Yes and no. The Leftovers' premise is that 2% of the world’s population randomly vanishes in an event they call the “departure.” But that’s not what the show is really about.
The Leftovers is really about people, people living in a world where the rules have fundamentally changed, where everything they believed is suddenly thrown into question. The show mostly focuses on the Garvey family led by Sheriff Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) who slowly loses his marbles as he falls in love with a woman who lost her whole family in the departure, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon). Beyond that, the show is almost indescribable, bordering on avant-garde.
There’s full length episodes committed to Kevin’s dreams/hallucinations, men who can hug your pain away, cults where smoking cigs is required, reincarnation and (maybe) nuclear fueled doors to other worlds, all with a backdrop of intense classical music. The Leftovers is one of those shows you just have to try for yourself. It may be for you, it may not, but personally I think it’s the greatest masterpiece to grace a TV screen.