So when I come across a TV show that gets it right, I'm excited and become a devoted fan. The shows I feel warrant making it onto my list is sadly short.
Forget the fact that we're keeping up with four versions of the same characters living in their respective universes. Let's focus on the fact that the writers know they don't have to explain everything or explicitly point out every nuance. And they aren't in-your-face things. They're subtle. Example: Walter, a main character, was at one point considered the most hated man in the world. He was taken out in public wearing a protective vest in a quick scene. They didn't linger on it and no one mentioned it. It was a subtle reminder of his status.
All in the Family
This was without a doubt a ground-breaking show. It was a comedy that dealt with serious real world issues without apologizing or trying to soften the message. The audience was given credit for being able to handle what they were offered. I'll never forget the episode where Edith opened the door to a man who raped her. What other comedy would do that to a beloved character? It was a tough episode to watch. I'm not sure a show like All in the Family could be done on network TV now. We'd have to watch it on HBO or Showtime.
The Twilight Zone
It's a shame this one didn't last longer. It often managed to deliver a social message, masked as sci-fi; something that was done quite a bit in the 1960s and 70s. Each episode led us down a twisting path, keeping us guessing about what was really going on, and giving us credit to understand it in the end. Sometimes what we didn't see was more important than what was on our screen. At times, not hearing dialogue at all was extremely powerful. If you've never seen an episode called The Invaders, you should. Not a word is spoken until the end.
Alas, this one was just canceled. It's a shame because it featured a smart female cop who wasn't trying to look like a supermodel in hooker heels and a low-cut shirt while chasing bad guys (I'm talking to you, Poppy Unforgettable Montgomery). Maria Bello played Detective Jane Timoney, and was my favorite female cop since Cagney and Lacey. She was blunt, dedicated, and had a realistic relationship with her male counterparts. I wish more people had given the show a chance.
The 1960s were an interesting time in American history, and Mad Men gives it to us in all its ugly glory. They don't try to pretty it up by playing down racism, sexism, alcoholism, smoking, homophobia, etc. Instead they embrace it, and tell us this is what was happening during the times and the characters are flawed. They've made me appreciate what the women before me did to make my life in the work world better. It's been fun watching Peggy rise through the ranks of a male-dominated business. Somewhere there are more than a few real Peggys that deserve a thank you.
Those who know me knew I had to comment on my favorite. Even if it weren't my favorite, it had to be on this list. On September 24, 2004, millions watched a plane crash on an island. Before the end of the program, it was clear this was no ordinary island. We were given mysteries to unravel and debate. Titles of books seen on the show became must-reads, just in case they contained clues about our Lostees or The Others (Watership Down, A Wrinkle in Time, Of Mice and Men, Fountainhead, The Third Policeman, and many more). The creative team rarely made mistakes. But when they did, they copped to it and were quick to correct by, for example, giving James (Sawyer) Ford glasses or swiftly and diabolically killing two very unpopular new characters (buh-bye Nikki and Paulo). Theories in science were introduced, and fans argued the possibilities. Religious themes set off more debate, as did questions of morality and the ever-fun choice vs. destiny. Viewers paid attention to all the details and the creative team paid attention to the viewers. Both were rewarded with a show that was fun, interactive, and had excellent writing, acting, and directing. It remains, as you can probably deduce, my number one show...for now.
Of course there are so many more...
- Person of Interest
- The Good Wife
- The Killing
- Hill Street Blues
- Flash Forward (canceled way before its time)
- Mad About You
- White Collar
- Modern Family
- Once Upon a Time
- House (until it jumped the shark)
- The X-Files
- The 4400 (also canceled before its time)
- Star Trek (the original series)
- The Big Bang Theory
- Lie to Me (another canceled too soon)