I had insomnia over the weekend, so while I lay there, listening to the cat in his box, I came up with my list of Top Eight Television Shows. This is utterly useless information, so of course I’m passing it along to you. I don’t have access to all the triple-A cable shows that make the news these days, so all my picks come from hulu. But then, you already know about Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood and The Sopranos. Here are some other shows that reveal that not all television is a waste of time.
8. Hillstreet Blues: Oh, it’s old and grainy and full of wide hair, ties, and tire walls. But its writing is understated and unflinching. And from what I hear, it was one of the first shows whose scene-shifts jumped around in all the subplot puddles, the way most everybody does these days.
7. The Shield: Wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for Hillstreet Blues. But if the Hill is the complicated high ground, The Shield goes where decisions are gray and dark, and ultimately inevitable. The realism of that last bit is the scariest part of the program. The Shield is not for the faint of heart. But somehow it still makes me wish that CCH Pounder was my auntie.
6. The Good Wife: Kalinda Sharma and Eli Gold are two of the best characters on television–and the surrounding lawyers anchor the show enough to let these other two exist. The writing is excellent. It’s fast and smart, and it isn’t afraid to leave things unsaid. It works so well that even when you do see the plot twists coming, you can’t wait to watch the characters’ faces when everything hits the golden fan.
5. House: Science and sarcasm enough to fit a valedictorian’s dream. The show is about doctors, yes, but it also points toward patience. And in the end, it pushes through to straight-up loyalty.
4. Downton Abbey: I avoided this show for a while, because I thought it was another toot at Sense ‘n’ Sensibility. Actually, it’s a wide story about even wider changes. Oh, it has a soapy plot that keeps everything moving along–but you also get Maggie Smith staring at Shirley MacLaine with such petrified rancor that you can actually read Avada Kedavra on her thinning lips.
3. LOST: My sister and I rented the first season of LOST when we had three days to move me out of my old farmhouse. Each day, we worked for twelve hours, ordered pizza, and then watched LOST for four hours. We were absolutely exhausted–and I still don’t know where my potted fern got dumped. But in my mind’s eye, it’s sitting somewhere in the jungle, splendid and plump, atop a titanium hatch.
2. Twin Peaks: There is so much to love about Twin Peaks. In all my life, I have never been so disturbed by a person wearing in a horsey suit, or a person chewing gum, or a person sitting in a wheelchair. And I’ve never been so convinced that evil could find such visceral symbolism in a guy who would otherwise just need to wash his hair. Yes, the show meanders a bit. But for those who say it doesn’t end, I say that it actually does–if not in the way that you wanted.
1. Battlestar Galactica (the second): I don’t care if you don’t like sci-fi. I don’t care if you think that “frak” sounds like a word that a middle schooler invented so he could cuss without getting a detention. BG investigates what it means to be both human and humane. And it’s got one of the greatest, slow-burning love stories of all times. That, and from beginning to end, the show invites enough wonder that it culminates in nothing short of a scary, inclusive, heartfelt hymn.
That’s it. I don’t have another two shows, because I fell back to sleep.
(Originally posted October 14, 2013)