TV (the Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time
by Alan Sepinwall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Of course with any book like this you are going to disagree, sometimes heartily. And I do. But, overall, I enjoyed reading it and engaging the perspective of these critics, who have an amazing breadth of knowledge and experience.
I particularly recommend the essays on Roots and the Cosby Show. The latter is a deep examination of the legacy of the show in light of Cosby's later reputation. They ultimately decide that the series, for all of its importance at the time, has become unwatchable, and not just because of his reputation, but because with retrospect some of the situations and storylines seem to be Cosby making light of his sexual predation (read the essay for the details).
I was further moved by the fact that the Cosby Show essay was followed by one on the Andy Griffith Show, which they laud for holding up over time and recommend continue to be watched for its moral lessons.
My biggest complaint about a ranking was how low they put Six Feet Under, which I think among the very best shows I've ever watched.
Another strange facet is how many of the shows I haven't seen. Back in 1999 when all the list-making was going for the 20th century, I had seen at least some of almost every show that would have appeared on a list like this, precisely because most of them appeared on broadcast with the old ones in reruns (I did make my own list at the time, lost to the pre-blogging era). But for much of the golden age of cable TV shows, I have not had cable, and so many of the highly regarded shows of the last two decades, I have not seen.
But a further point on that. In 2015 I began watching The Wire, which ranks third on their list. I admired the quality of it, but eventually quit watching somewhere in the third season because I decided that I simply didn't want to watch such violence--I didn't want the negativity in my life.
High on their list are the series of cable shows in recent decades which have been about antiheroes or violent situations--The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc. But often such shows hold little appeal for me. I really don't feel the need to repeatedly encounter the darker sides of the human experience.
Now, in my twenties, I would have criticized my mother for saying something similar. I guess I've changed as I've aged and become a parent.
But one thing I noticed in their criteria of ranking is that nowhere were they considering whether the story was a good story. And by good I don't mean high quality in the writing or directing, I mean morally good, a story that helps to convey virtue, excellence, well-being. I frankly don't think that all of the shows high on their list will be stories told over the ages, because they aren't those types of stories.
You see, I appreciate highly shows like Little House on the Prairie and the Waltons. I also greatly admire Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a good story, in the way I mean it. I long believed M*A*S*H to be the greatest show in the history of TV. Six Feet Under is good story, in the way I mean it (something they seem to miss in their review of it, mentioning primarily matters of technique).
The select The Simpsons as the greatest show. I probably agree. The Simpsons is a good story.
View all my reviews