With nothing much in the cinematic universe taking my fancy this week, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to delve in to TV Corner and share my ten favourite television shows of all time. I will admit that being a cinephile, there are significant and deep holes in my TV experience. I have yet to binge acclaimed shows like The Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men and Six Feet Under, always meaning to but never quite summoning the will power. I would, however, consider my taste in television to be of an acceptable standard, give or take the few questionable nostalgic favourites! In loose order, here are my favourite ten televisions shows of all time.
1. The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
The utter genius of Aaron Sorkin is on its finest display in The West Wing, for the first four seasons at least. Martin Sheen in President Bartlett is the POTUS that we can only dream of, and the engrossing drama and biting satiric humour of the White House staff provides intellectual stimulation and blockbuster intrigue and enjoyment all at once. Haters accused the show of being an over zealous left wing dream, but those of us who would rather enjoy living in such a world revelled in its liberal attitudes and atmosphere. Supporting roles by Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford remain some of best character creations in TV history, and although the show did suffer from a change of ownership in its latter years, it still remains my favourite of all time.
2. The Wire (2002 – 2008)
The Wire is one of those very rare shows that are almost too good to be true. With exception of a slightly off target and shortened final season, David Simon’s social drama masterpiece is as gritty and believable as The West Wing is idealistically liberal. Each one of the show’s five seasons depicted a certain area or aspect of the underbelly of the city of Baltimore ranging from the drug trade to human trafficking to politics to the bleak outlook for children. The Wire is painful to watch at times but boasts some of the most interesting and memorable characters ever, most notably Omar Little, the shot gun wielding murderous gangster who just so happens to be openly and unapologetically gay. Though the Baltimore portrayed is one we never want to inhabit, it is impossible to tear your eyes away.
3. Friends (1994 – 2004)
Anybody who grew up in the nineties and doesn’t rank Friends among their top ten shows of all time is, quite frankly, no friend of mine. It is one of the few shows that can still make me laugh out loud on repeated viewings, often in shared anticipation and memory more than anything else. We all instinctively knew which ‘Friend’ we were (Monica, by the way), and I can honestly say I have never and probably will never tire of watching any episode over and over again. Friends truly was a cultural phenomenon, gaining a world wide viewership that may never be rivalled. The clip shows probably my favourite episode of them all, but the top spot trophy is prone to change on a weekly basis!
4. Game Of Thrones (2011 – present)
I seem to have been swept up in the most recent monster cultural zeitgeist that is Game Of Thrones. Included is a clip from the very first series that surely everyone will have seen by now, as being ruined by spoilers is one of the biggest pitfalls of this crazy show. I made the choice some time ago to consciously avoid the novels and stick to the week by week unfolding of what is arguably the most unflinching and unafraid stories plot wise that there has ever been. No character, big or small, is safe, and that is what makes Game Of Thrones such a joy to watch. Yes, I enjoy some story lines more than others but it certainly deserves a place in my top ten.
5. Sex & The City (1998 – 2004)
Sure, Sex & The City had its fair share of critics over the years but growing up I developed a lasting fascination with the group of ladies from the Big Apple. I was certainly too young to be watching the show but somehow I did, and I found myself equal parts entertained, confused and intrigued. Much like Friends, as you grow older you begin to assign character identities to yourself and to others (Miranda, I’m totally Miranda), and with my increasing age came a whole new appreciation for Sex & The City. I’m not denying that it is trashy, sometimes cliche and actually incredibly dated upon revisits, but at the end of the day I feel the same way about the show as Carrie did about Big, I just can’t quit.
6. Orange Is The New Black (2013 – present)
Orange Is The New Black came out of absolutely nowhere back in 2013 to rocket straight in to my top ten of all time. The show, inspired and loosely based around the memoir by Piper Kerman shows viewers the micro-environment of a New York women’s prison and all of the eccentric and sometime upsetting goings on behind bars. The show has what is undoubtedly the most varied and talented group of actresses on television today, with all races, ages and sizes being displayed not only in small bit parts but in three dimensional, rounded characters with real stories that we care about. Being a Netflix creation, the only downside is that I do not have the will power to ration out the episodes and end up devouring an entire series within fifteen hours of release!
7. Gilmore Girls (2000 – 2007)
Gilmore Girls has the unique quality of being a guilty pleasure and actually a rather good show all in one. The fast talking comedy drama about a young mother and her teenage daughter is full of pop culture references that nobody understands and familial situations that could only occur in the fictional New England town of Stars Hollow, but the show feels like a warm hug on a Winter’s evening and I absolutely love it. Sure, it went off the rails a little when Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were separated in the later seasons by Rory’s leave for college and an on going feud, but the first four seasons of the Gilmore Girls are some of the most enjoyable easy viewing ever.
8. The Newsroom (2012 – 2014)
It would be fair to say that Aaron Sorkin’s most recent project The Newsroom has just as many critics as it does fans, but I absolutely, unequivocally adore it. Never has my pulse raced so fast whilst watching a television show that doesn’t involve a prison escape or full on shoot out sequence. Shades of early West Wing are present in the acerbic, intelligent wit spoken by all the actors involved, and Jane Fonda is a revelation as the sharp shooting, volatile television network that produces the new show anchored by Jeff Daniels and created by Emily Mortimer along with a long list of fine performers. The show can turn from laugh out loud humour to heart wrenching drama in a second, and in my view deserved more praise and much longer run than it got.
9. Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
Breaking Bad was a slow burner for me. It was one of the first shows that I binge watched after getting a Netflix account and I have to admit that it took a good few episode for me to adjust to the anti-heroic nature of protagonist Walter White played by Bryan Cranston. But wow, did it win me over! The tragic tale of a terminally ill chemistry teacher who decides to go in to the crystal meth business to raise money for his unsuspecting family turned out to be one of the most engaging narratives in recent times a true modern masterpiece. The show visit many more dark places than light, but gives the audience one hell of a ride along the way, you won’t be able to rest until you have devoured the entire series.
10. Oz (1997 – 2003)
Oz was a hard hitting prison drama from the earlier days of HBO that made shows like Prison Break look like a holiday retreat in the Hamptons. The years long narrative covered all aspects of the gritty, dangerous life of a prisoner in the experimental ‘Oz’ unit of New York State correction facility, and was often hard to watch but completely captivating. The cast list is filled to the brim with a number of HBO favourites who went on to star in The Wire, and the quality of performances all round helped to give depth to the show and its diverse group of characters. An absolute must see for fans of unapologetic, volatile drama that is not afraid to take the audience down incredibly dark paths. Definitely not one for a family fun afternoon!