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I read some interviews with Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy online yesterday after all my chatting about MST3K. One of the articles I read was asking Mike Nelson what his top ten favorite TV shows of all time were. I started reading them and thinking, “Hey, yeah! I really liked that show, too!” Then I got to the bottom of the list and realized that I had been reading the questionnaire for Sofia Mansfield, a television critic for the San Francisco Examiner. Turns out Mike’s list doesn’t look anything like mine. Oh, well - at least now I have a fair idea of whom to read if I want to read a critique of something on TV.

Now, I’ve got this thing about television. I generally don’t watch TV. I found that most people will substitute television for conversation, which isn’t healthy, the advent of "reality television" has ushered in an even lower standard for television than what existed before (though I think The Restaurant was a refreshing change from this, for the most part), and I am completely unable to focus on anything else if a television is on in the room. It doesn’t matter what’s on - it could be showing a test pattern and I’d still have to ask you to repeat what you just said to me three times because I wasn’t really paying attention. For my own sanity and productiveness, I decided to forego television for the most part. I haven’t regretted that decision. My decision was bolstered by reading a book by Neil Postman called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. While I don’t think I’m actually any more productive than I was before, at least I feel more productive now. I read a lot more. I feel more relaxed and less irritated all the time. I’m not as often subjected to inane advertising and gratuitous titillation. Every time someone mentioned a television show to me, I got to reply snootily, “Oh, I don’t watch television.” I was saving money, too. The only reason we have television now is because my wife spends the entire afternoon home by herself every day without a vehicle and she fears she’ll go stir crazy otherwise, or needs to just turn her brain off once she gets home. While I have my own dubious feelings about this idea, it’s her decision to make. Anyway, I was afraid I’d start watching it constantly again, but that hasn’t happened. Yay!

Having said all of this, I started thinking about what my all-time favorite TV shows were, the shows that I had made an effort to watch instead of just seeing them via inertia, being too lazy to change the channel or turn off the TV altogether. And here’s my list:

My Top Ten Favorite TV Shows of All Time (Aside from MST3K) In No Particular Order

I’m excluding shows I haven’t seen since I was a kid, because I honestly don’t know if they would be as good as I remember them being (as a sterling example, Battlestar Galactica). While I was tempted to include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which featured some of the best writing in Hollywood, I didn’t really watch enough episodes to consider myself as much of a fan as my friends in L.A.; similarly, I left out 24, which I’ve only seen the first season of, though I watched it religiously when I was in L.A. I didn’t mention either of the Star Trek series I watched - Next Generation and Deep Space Nine - because I think that it’s a given for geeks, and I wanted to make room in my list for shows people might not immediately think of. But I liked these two shows, also.

Perhaps inappropriately (especially following my tirades about lust), I’ve also noticed that most of these shows featured a woman I found both attractive and interesting to watch (not in that way, you lech - okay, well, that’s not what I mean to emphasize). I’ve included mention of them in each case, because I can and because my wife already knows about most of them.

So here we go:

The Simpsons. Always funny, even the heavily teen subculturally-referential Lollapalooza episode, most of which showed me how out of touch I am with the generation after mine. Rife with obscure references, non sequiturs, surrealism, and, well, pratfalls, I usually don’t stop laughing until the episode ends. Women of Interest: You may find it odd, but I can’t think of any.

Twin Peaks. Creative, surreal, quirky, and possessing that atmosphere of foggy mountain town strangeness that also draws me to the Silent Hill series of games for PlayStation (perhaps I should be nervous that both of these things remind me of home), not only did this show have me and a number of friends in high school utterly hooked every week, it had me believing David Lynch was some kind of artistic genius until I was told that he was basically making it up as he went along. This and Dune are actually the only David Lynch productions I have any interest in, which perhaps says more about my own artistic depth; I dunno. Extra neat because I actually lived next to a foggy mountain town called Twin Peaks when it was on the air. Women of Interest: While I cannot claim to have been unaffected by the obvious sex appeal of Sherilyn Fenn, I was more drawn to the mysterious loveliness of Joan Chen.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Pretty much granted if you’re a geek. Weird, funny, and quoted by far too many people not to be considered a major revolution in pop comedy. Women of Interest: The Pepperpots. Especially Terry Jones. Oh, yeah.

Babylon 5. Once I accepted the fact that one of the alien races are a bunch of Napoleonic French people with hair shellack, I found out that this was a really good show. It doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before in science fiction, but it did what it did better than any other science fiction show I’ve ever seen. It had an ongoing storyline with characters who were dynamic rather than static (that is, they changed over time), and along with a beginning and middle, it had an ending that was planned from the start. This is my primary example of how to do a good science fiction series. Women of Interest: Patricia Tallman, who played the Telepath Lyta Alexander. There was an episode where everyone (for various reasons) had turned their backs on her when she needed them most, and she ended up going back to Psi Corps, the Evil Organization that she promised she’d never work for again. The episode ended with her wearing her old Psi Corps uniform again and crying while looking at herself in a mirror. I wanted to give her a hug.

Law & Order (and Law & Order: Criminal Intent). I think it’s fair to lump these two shows together, since the format and theme are so similar between them. I love that it’s just about the investigation and the trial; the fact that you don’t follow the characters home and get involved in their personal lives not only makes it more accessible to the casual viewer (and allowing them to be shown out of sequence, of course), but removes some of the soap opera element that diminishes my interest in such shows as The Practice or NYPD Blue. Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and Vincent D’Onofrio make these shows for me. Women of Interest: Angie Harmon, who tragically left the show long ago. I know that these shows are kind of an ensemble cast thing, but really, I think most people realize that it boils down to the Big Three I mentioned already. ADA Abbie Carmichael was the only other character I felt really operated in their league. She’s also stunningly attractive.

Alias. This show, along with the two Law & Orders I mentioned, is the only show I make an effort to watch these days. With an ongoing storyline, cliffhangers aplenty, spy action punctuated with groovy music, and, well, okay, Jennifer Garner, this is my current favorite. My wife and I do a little dance to the theme song, too. Every time. Women of Interest: While Jennifer Garner is the obvious answer, I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s Sydney Bristow that I like so much. I’ve seen interviews with Jennifer, and, as is the case with Gillian Anderson and Dana Scully, I find that I’m usually disappointed when confronted with the actress apart from the character. Sydney, Dana - you have my admiration.

Blackadder. The other British show I really like. Rowan Atkinson is funniest when he’s caustic, though he’s no slack at physical humor (in a fight with Jim Carrey, my money’s on Mr. Bean). I also have to credit this show with introducing me to Hugh Laurie and Stephen Frye, who are also very funny (if you get the chance to see A Little Bit of Frye and Laurie, do so). Finally, I admire anyone who can pull off a historical sitcom. Before you mention Covington Cross, notice I said “pull off,” not “attempt.” Women of Interest: Miranda Richardson (Queen Elizabeth) is the obvious choice, but I think Patsy Burne (Nursie) is even funnier. She’s just bizarre.

Fillmore. One of two cartoons that made my list. This is probably the best cartoon ever made for kids, because it introduces them to the world of ‘80s cop shows like Hunter and Cannon. What kid doesn't need such an introduction, I ask you? Following the same three act-and-an-epilogue structure of those shows, it manages to capture every nuance and quirk of those shows through the filter of a team of hall monitors (“Safety Patrol”) in a sprawling middle school. I can watch episode after episode of this show and not get tired of it. Women of Interest: Ingrid Third. She’s the vaguely creepy girl you knew in school, but without the bad parts.

The Upright Citizens’ Brigade. A sketch comedy show in the style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (in that it's surreal, sure, but more importantly, in that the sketches all link together in each episode) and The Boys In The Hall, I found this show more consistently funny than the latter show I mentioned. This show used the device of a conspiratorial underground organization known as the Upright Citizens’ Brigade to link all of its sketches together in usually rather tenuous ways. It was also fun because it would make references to things from earlier episodes, such as the Robot Heads installed everywhere to warn colorblind people "these are urinal cakes, not real cakes" and the recurrent Ninja Throwing Star theme ("Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt your Throwing Star sitcom..."). It’s tragic that it didn’t last very long at all - it deserved better. While the Colorblind sketch sticks out in my head (“Pig anuses! Yaghck!”), my favorite episode is the one in which we learn that all of the bizarre people featured in each sketch are being collected by the UCB to star in the next season of MTV’s The Real World. Women of Interest: Amy Poehler, who you can now enjoy on Saturday Night Live. She’s easily the funniest of all the women on SNL; I wish she got more screen time.

Robotech. The other cartoon on my list, it’s also the only anime that makes my list. Perhaps it’s telling that the only anime which makes my list is one which was seen through a heavy American filter? Three separate Japanese shows linked together into a single universe, telling the story of a series of alien invasions centering around the energy source known as Protoculture, which can only be produced by the alien Flower of Life. Everyone in the known galaxy wants it, which is why it’s unfortunate that it holds special spiritual and biological significance for an alien race which is willing to kill anyone who possesses it. While I credit the show for introducing me to anime (while I had already seen Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets, I never really took notice of anime as separate from American cartoons until Robotech) and to the idea that Giant Robot stories could and should revolve around the characters in the show and their relationships with each other rather than The Robots Fight!, I later came to realize how brilliantly Carl Macek and Harmony Gold managed to link these three shows together. Some people prefer the original Macross; some people think Harmony Gold is the Devil (I could have been persuaded of that when I bought their version of Windaria after seeing the original Japanese), but I still think of Robotech as my all-time favorite anime show. Women of Interest: Well, Lisa Hayes, of course, and Nova Satori always intrigued me, but on reflection, Claudia Grant was probably the best-written, strongest, and most realistic character on the show.

Now, if I haven't established myself as a geek in this entry, let me know and I'll reveal some more sordid tastes - like LARPing.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 at Friday, October 17, 2003 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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