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The Greatest TV Shows of All Time (Kinda): The Top 10

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Greetings and recriminations, and welcome to a very special edition of the Snarf's Musings about the Media. If you haven't seen the posts leading up this, they are located here:

...and here:

You might ask yourself, “Self, why is this being shared? Who cares what Snarf thinks about TV, anyway?” And the answer is twofold- one, I feel like sharing, because sharing is caring. THE MORE YOU KNOW(tm). Two, when I am the boss of everyone, my personal top ten listicles will be required reading. So ... get in front of the curve. 39 Things You Must Do Before Snarf Zagyg is the Evil Overlord of us All!

Without any further buildup or my usual throat clearing, here are the rules to the TOP TEN GREATEST TELEVISION SHOWS OF ALL TIME THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE WATCHED AND WILL FEEL MOAR STUPIDER IF YOU HAVEN’T.

1. The show must be complete. In other words, maybe you like that Expanse. Maybe you just can't wait for another episode of Barry. Well, sorry bud. Not eligible. I call this the Dexter Rule. Any promising first season of a television show can be thoroughly destroyed by ensuing seasons, until the last season is just a fiendish attempt at trolling the remaining viewers. Like any Hall of Fame, we can’t prematurely judge a show. To channel Johnny Cochrane, you can't be the best, until you're laid to rest.

2. It must be American. Or American-y (productions that are shot abroad that are mainly for American audiences and in English count as well). There is so very much good television from so many parts of the word, that the inclusion of some shows would lead to endless chaos. Call this the Borgen/BBC Rule, with the “Look kids, it’s Vancouver” exception.

3. It must be a drama, or a dramedy (mainly a drama). This is not because comedies are unworthy, or less than dramas- but they are different. It is exceptionally hard to rate them against pure dramas, and I’m not even going to try. This is the Arrested Development Rule.

4. It must be a series that is not only complete (see rule 1), but must have ran for two seasons or more. That means no miniseries, and no shows, no matter how beloved, that were cancelled too quickly. Call this the Firefly Rule.

5. The show will be judged from all episodes holistically, but sticking the landing matters. As you will see from my top ten list, I like shows with both finite endings, and ambiguous endings, but sometimes later episodes of the show make the rest of the show not quite worthy of the list. You can call this the X-Files, Game of Thrones, or Lost Rule. In addition, a show will be docked if it was ended prematurely. See also, Deadwood.

6. Shows are not given special bonuses for being ahead of their time, for the most part. That means that this list will be mostly full of recent shows. It’s unfortunate, but true. Call this the Twilight Zone Corollary. (An excellent show that would make this list if given any kind of bonus).

7. I am not trying to be a hipster; shows make it on their merit. I would love to say, “Hey, the Wire isn’t all that. Treme is really where it’s at, man.” But that would make me a lying liar.

8. A show has to be, you know, thoughtful and good to be one of the Greatest Shows. I like binging Spartacus with the best of them, but it’s not ... a great show. It’s fun. Fun is good. But fun doesn’t make a show top 10. This is the Inevitable Law of CW. Another way to think about this is that this is not simply "Snarf's No Cannoli List of Shows Snarf Thinks Are Awesome" but a list that attempts to take into account the general quality of the shows beyond simply my enjoyment of them.

9. I have to have watched the show. Is Six Feet Under good? Maybe! Did it have an amazing, all-time ending? Quite possibly! Some day, I will know. That day is not today.

So, here is the list. This Hall of Fame/Top 10 list is the product of maths, and therefore cannot be argued with, although you are welcome to make a case for other shows in the comments. Also? This is not an ordinal list; the rankings are not in order.

1. The Leftovers. Perhaps the best finale ever, and the best show no one watched. Very few shows are as ambitious, well-written, and well-acted as this show. Simply put, a tour de force.

2. Rectify. Rectify looked at the Leftovers’ terrible ratings, and said “Hold my beer.” Their tagline should have been, “Just as depressing as that other great show you don’t watch, but with less magical realism!”

3. The Americans. The show that consistently delighted in denying viewers the show that they wanted, and instead giving them the show they deserved. In addition, the show contained some of the best musical moments of any TV show, ever. From the beginning, with the use of Tusk immediately dropping you into this world, to the end (the obvious, yet perfect, use of With or Without You), to everything in between (Yellow Brick Road, We Do What We're Told), few series have paired music as perfectly with the visuals as the Americans.

4. The Sopranos. The all-time classic, and the show that started the good TV revolution. And the ending was perfect- fight me.

5. The Wire. The great American television show. Some might say the greatEST American TV show. The Sopranos might have started the quality TV revolution, but the Wire is the show that proved that television could be the new Great American Novel.

6. Halt and Catch Fire. A first season that was uneven quickly re-focused its attention in season 2, and told one of the most moving stories of our time.

7. Mad Men. Mad Men is to television what Chekhov is to plays.

8. Breaking Bad. Perhaps the most exciting show on this list; it is one of the few shows that not only maintained a propulsive sense of forward momentum, but the velocity continued to increase with each season and episode until by the end, you could feel yourself hurtling past the point of no return.

9. Buffy/Angel. Cheating and putting this in as a twofer. The shows still hold up, and codified many of the concepts (from "Big Bad" to the season-long arcs) that became such a feature in TV.

10. The Shield. The most vulnerable show on this list, and it isn’t aging as well. That said, I wanted to have one procedural, the last few episodes remain perfection, and the acting remains top-notch. It's probably the most overlooked "great TV" show.

Honorable Mentions:
Banshee: perfect genre TV.
Mr. Robot: the closest to Kubrick we have gotten on the small screen.
The Deuce: Shockingly good, but not as good as the Wire.
Hannibal: Stylish. Makes me hungrier than anything on the Cooking Channel.
Justified: Timothy Olyphant, barely missing out.
Deadwood: And barely missing out again.
Legion: Maybe my favorite show in terms of watching it, but the style sometimes wrote checks that the substance could not cash.
Oz: Shocking, and shockingly good at the time, but has not aged as well as some of the others.
Game of Thrones: Tough omission; a better last season (or last two seasons) would easily have put it in the top 10.
X-Files. Too dated.

And there it is. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect, IMO, is that there is a strong prevalence of anti-heroes on the list. Arguably, starting with The Sopranos (which kicked off our current craze), the Wire, Breaking Bad, the Americans, and the Shield are explicitly about anti-heroes. Mad Men, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, and the Leftovers are, at best, ambiguous. Of course, the Twilight Zone Corollary keeps me from going too far back and comparing shows (how important was Hill Street Blues?) which is why there is a strong bias to more modern shows- then again, in fairness, the vast majority of TV was really bad for a very long time.

So ... thoughts? Novelties? Party tricks? What show did I absolutely whiff on? And which of the top 10 shows is you cannoli?

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The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
Lost had a great ending, it just required you to care more about the characters than the worldbuilding.

Which I'll grant is a tough ask.

e: They still did Locke dirty though

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