The Greatest TV Shows of All Time…and a few others

By Benjamin Baruch Woody

As each year ends we are all bombarded with “best of year 20– lists”. As I received my requisite number of lists that are designed to make one ashamed of all the “art” one has failed to consume, I thought to myself “I’m going to make my own list, and it’s going to be amazing.” And so, here we are. This is a list of my top five TV shows of all time. This list only includes shows that are on DVD (or Blu-Ray) because I live deep in an area that does not have internet, like any proper mountain man should. After an explanation of the Top Five, I will list many other shows that I love and that you can check out from the Library, and I will list them by genre.

The greatest TV show of all time is The Wire. There is a small argument to be made for The Sopranos, but you know the saying: there are no small arguments, only small people. The Wire is the brainchild of David Simon and it examines, over 5 seasons, the city of Baltimore. I have heard it said that The Wire is like a sprawling Russian novel. This is true, as long as the novel is written by Leo Tolstoy. It covers racism, crime, the failed war against drugs, the collapse of the middle class and their industrial/manufacturing jobs, corruption in state and local politics, the failure of the inner-city education system, the consequences of “sensationalist” journalism, and, most of all, the pressures, triumphs, and failures of the Baltimore (or any city’s) police force. The TV show sprang somewhat fully formed from Simon’s outstanding book Homicide : a year on the killing streets. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. This show is amazingly written, well-acted, and has some of the greatest, most interesting characters that will stick with you well after viewing. The Wire has a gay stick-up artist (he robs drug dealers), the most beautiful man on earth as a sophisticated kingpin, a crazy, but effective Irish detective, the hard newcomer, the female detective that, along with the addict with a heart of gold, is the heart and soul of the show, and so much more. I cannot wait for you to watch it and let me know what you think.

So let’s be clear; being the second best show of all time is no small feat. The Sopranos has nothing to be ashamed of. It is magnificent. I am sure most of you know about it. The Sopranos is largely credited for introducing the “anti-hero” into the public consciousness, but those of us who are readers know that this concept has been around for hundreds of years. That being said, Tony Soprano is the single greatest character in film history. I believe that the reasons are two-fold. The first is that James Gandolfini gives one of the great performances of all time. Tony is not a good man but he is infinitely interesting. Tony’s wife (played by the equally magnificent Edie Falco) and he just have one heart-wrenching scene after another. The other reason is the way we see Tony change over the years. It is rare, in film, to stick with one character that long. The Sopranos can be very intense and violent. It is a show about the Italian Mafia and it is bloody. However, my overwhelming memory (confirmed after many re-viewings) is just how funny this show is. I mean, Paulie Walnuts. Everyone should watch this very American saga.

My third favorite show is the western saga Deadwood. Now, I must admit that I am biased. Sylva’s own Sean Bridgers is one of the stars of this show and he is great in it. The real star of this show is the amazing writing of David Milch. Famous for Hill Street Blues and creating NYPD Blue, my favorite story about Milch is that he studied under and collaborated with the great Robert Penn Warren. I have heard Milch’s dialogue described as Shakespearean and since that term describes his verbal genius perfectly, I am stealing it. This show is gritty, grimy, and real. It is just simply amazing.

My fourth favorite show is Mad Men. This show is a fascinating look at the advertising business on Madison Avenue, NYC in the 1960’s. The show is brilliantly written and well-acted. It examines race, the new influence of TV on America, rather new gender roles (in fact, the amazing Elisabeth Moss, showcases the arc of a female character in the workplace), the power of secrets, and much, much more. Most film about the 1960’s concentrates on the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture/hippy movement, and those big events we think of as associated with the 1960’s. Mad Men does touch on these subjects but that isn’t really the thrust of the show. I’ll let you decide what the theme really is. I have my theory.

The last show I will cover is The Office (American version, although the British version is also great). I don’t think I need to say much about this show. It is ubiquitous. The show is, of course, hilarious. Steve Carell and John Krasinski are outstanding, but the real star of the show is Dwight Schrute. I refuse to learn the actor’s real name. He is Dwight Schrute. Yes, this is a comedy, but I think this show’s real legacy is its heart. Each viewing just makes you feel better, and that is a precious commodity in these times. This show has a heart as big as Niagara Falls.

British Isles Mystery Shows- consistently the best of any TV:
Shetland
Broadchurch
Endeavour
Keeping Faith
Hinterland
Line of Duty
Loch Ness
Happy Valley
The Tunnel
Hidden

Foreign Shows:
BBC Wallander-set in Sweden
Wallander-the Swedish version
Borgen-Danish
The Bureau-French
The Missing-French/British

Comedies:
Extras
The IT Crowd
Parks and Recreation
Arrested Development

Random Other Shows I Love:
Fargo
Freaks and Geeks
The Detectorists-***
The Americans
Billions
Game of Thrones
The Affair
Homeland
Westworld