I know you usually expect something lightweight and entertaining when you come here, but today I think we need to discuss a matter of vital importance to the well-being of society. It’s a question that has plagued mankind since the early 1950’s. It won’t be easy to come up with an answer we can all agree upon, but we have to try. If we don’t figure this out, the world we leave behind for our children and grandchildren just plain won’t be worth living in. So, as distasteful as it may be, let’s get to work.
What are your top five all-time favorite TV shows?
In order to go about this task in an orderly fashion, I have formulated a set of rules. To qualify as a top five all-time favorite TV show, a series has to meet the following criteria:
1 – Every time it is listed, you watch it. The only exception is if another of the top five is playing at the same time. In that case, you watch the one higher on the list, but flip to the other during commercial breaks.
(Another good test of how much you like a show is if your spouse says, "Are you insane? You're watching [fill in the blank] again?", and you seriously weigh the merits of slamming him or her over the head with a tire iron because... well, because he or she thinks you might be insane, anyway, so why not?)
2 – Reruns are swell. If you say, "Oh, I’ve seen that one already...", then it’s not a top five show.
3 – You probably know the names of all the actors, even those who only play incidental parts such as waiters and deliverymen.
4 – You have a favorite episode (or two, or seven.)
5 – It may have jumped the shark at some point, but you still found enough worth, in the episodes that followed, to keep you tuning in.
(By the way, I think Jon Hein, who originally came up with "jumping the shark", should be knighted, or at least given a two-for-one at Pizza Hut. Pure genius. Also, just so we're clear, I don't think anybody ever actually "tunes in" anymore, but I am ancient of days and unwilling to change my verbiage.)
6 – You would unashamedly recommend it to someone who has never seen it.
(Of course, your level of shame may differ from mine. I’ve recommended Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp and felt no shame whatsoever.)
7 – You immediately know if bits have been cut out of the reruns.
(It's best not to point this out to others who may be watching the show with you. You'll spend too much time explaining what is missing and, if you're anything like me, by the time you finish the explanation, the show itself will be over and the folks you explained it to will not be impressed beyond thinking you probably have some gentle form of autism.)
8 – You think of favorite scenes and smile – possibly even laugh aloud – if it’s a comedy. If it’s a dramatic show, scenes bear up under scrutiny.
(Is it just me? Or does "scrutiny" sound like a disease of the testicles suffered by British sailors?)
(Wow. That was pretty random. It's been, what, like a week-and-a-half since I last posted anything? You waited that long for a bad joke about balls? Sorry!)
(Enjoy it while you can. It's probably softball and reruns from here on out for the next three months.)
9 – You would probably like to see a reunion show of some sort; one that tells how the characters have fared and what they’ve been up to since the show went off the air.
(If there has been a reunion show already, and it sucked, you know the characters well enough to use your imagination and make up your own alternate reality. Never tell it to anyone, though, unless - as outlined in Rule #1 - you're on trial for bapping your spouse on the head with a tire iron and you've decided to plead insanity.)
10 – You quote from the show, often. Those quotes are sometimes met by a blank stare, but that doesn’t deter you.
11 – It does not have an abundance of “dated” scenes which make you ashamed of your generation.
(I think of this as The Mod Squad Rule. I could have called it the Three’s Company rule. Basically, any show that ever had the main characters wearing dashikis and/or leisure suits, sporting platform heels, showing off big gold chains embedded in copious chest hair, or which featured a white guy with an Afro, is disqualified. Here's a rock-solid fact concerning television: There has never been a show that tried to be hip that actually was. There have been hip shows, for sure - Monty Python comes immediately to mind - but they weren't that way because of any overt attempt at inclusion of what some network idiots thought might appeal to the younger generation.
(I suppose I should make it clear that if the thing you love about a show is the very fact that it is outlandishly dated, then skip rule #11 for that show. For instance, if you like to positively wallow in bell bottoms, bad hairstyles, and polyester clothing, then go ahead and put The Brady Bunch on your list. I won't kick you out of bed over it. Also, if a show consciously made an effort to be over-the-top and campy right from the outset, it can qualify. That's known as The Batman Exemption.)
12 - It cannot be a show in current production. Why? Because then you can't tell if rule #11 will apply. The show has to have withstood at least some little test of time, and that's why all of the shows that follow will be older than dirt.
Now that we’ve set the ground rules, here are my top five:
1 – Leave It To Beaver
I’m sure some of you think I’ve slipped a gear naming this the best TV show ever, but it was a seriously good bunch of television. The acting was honest, the relationships between the characters realistic, it was always emotionally correct, there was at least one strong laugh in every episode, and it featured both the best TV father AND the best “character you love to hate”, those being, respectively, Ward Cleaver and the unctuously oily two-faced Eddie Haskell.
Hell, Eddie Haskell by himself is enough to make any show the best TV show ever. I'd even watch re-runs of old Providence Steamrollers basketball games if Eddie Haskell showed up every so often.
(By the way, here's your daily trivia that might win you a drink in a bar bet: Nat Hickey, of the Providence Steamrollers, was the oldest player in NBA history. He was two days short of his 46th birthday when he played a game for them in 1948. He missed all six of the shots he attempted, and had five personal fouls, so it wasn't a great game, but it was still a game.)
2 – The Dick Van Dyke Show
Strong comedy. Always well-written, and performed by an ensemble of comic actors unmatched in American television history. Nobody came close to Dick Van Dyke, at his peak, for fluid grace while performing physical schtick, and Carl Reiner, as viciously overbearing boss Alan Brady, was almost as much fun as Eddie Haskell telling Beaver to go eat his Maypo.
3 – One Foot In The Grave
Brits will be more familiar with this one than Americans. It was the story of the perpetually put-upon Victor Meldrew, a man given to uttering “I don’t believe it!” when presented with life’s latest indignity. Small detail heaped upon small detail until everything comes crashing down via belly laugh. Truly inspired, and definitely worth seeking out if you’ve never had the pleasure.
4 – The Honeymooners
"One o’ these days, Alice, one o’ these days… Bang! Zoom!"
Blustery blowhard Ralph Kramden, one get-rich-quick scheme after another, aided and abetted by his great pal, sewer worker Ed Norton, and alternately confounded and consoled by his ever-patient wife, Alice.
No other television show that aired for only ONE YEAR has been in reruns continuously for more than 57 years since then. Case closed.
5 – Bilko
The actual title was “The Phil Silvers Show”, but nobody called it that. It was always just “Bilko” to those who loved it. The first television comedy to have as its protagonist an anti-hero, Ernie Bilko was a self-serving, greedy, conniving, egotistical master sergeant in the United States Army. When not defrauding his platoon out of their last dollars by promoting crooked dances and raffles, he would make every attempt to become wealthy and famous via more outlandish schemes such as having the entire camp transferred to California because he had found a map showing that gold was buried on the land where the new base would be located. Phil Silvers was superb as Bilko, full of fast patter and double-talk for his always-befuddled commanding officer, Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), and, like many a hero of olden times, he had an Achilles heel – a conscience, which he was able to keep at bay most of the time, but which prevented him from ever really doing harm (and was the secret to the audience being able to root for such a louse, as he would use his considerable brain power for good purposes once every few episodes.)
OK, so now it's time for you to make your list, and...
Oh, hell, I have to name one more show.
5a – The Lone Ranger
The only non-comedy I chose, it makes the list because... well, just because. I love the simplicity of it. There is nothing at all complicated about this show. It's just good action/adventure, earnestly acted, with a hero so squeaky clean you could erect a statue of him inside a church and most priests wouldn't object. In retrospect, some of the dialogue seems insensitive (lots of calling Natives such things as "redskin", "injun", etc.) but The Lone Ranger never says those things, mostly just the evil guys so it gives you another reason to dislike 'em. The relationship between the principles (Clayton Moore as The Ranger, Jay Silverheels as Tonto) is sincerely friendly, and there are a few instances wherein Tonto is verbally defended by his friend when another white man belittles his ethnicity, something far from common during the late 40's and early 50's time period of filming. The production values - that is to say, the tactile feel, the sets, the costuming, the filming techniques, the cheesy sets - are similar to old Columbia short subjects (Three Stooges, etc.), which is a plus for me, but maybe not for you. Hugh McCollum, who was producer for much of the later Columbia output, also manned these half-hours, so no surprise.
OK, that's that, I promise. Now, why not go and do thou likewise, at your place? Or in the comments here, if you wish. I've certainly given you enough room to argue endlessly by those shows I didn't name as my favorites.
Soon, with more better stuff.