Alright, after this, the final installment in my 20 Years series. And I know it's unorthodox but we really can't help but acknowledge TV series as a form of cinema - in some facets expanded, in others limited, but always engaging when it's done well. I have a lot more shows that I hate than I love, so the fact that these are the ones that were able to hold my interest among the many people have recommended and I abandoned shortly after should mean well.
After all, if a show does it's job right, you get attached, you feel like you are more involved in a lengthy matter portrayed on the screen. You can find escapism easier with the familiarity. You can go with the story at your own pace, to allow each element to sink in, like reading a fine novel.
Otherwise, watching some forms of brainless television kind of ruins you after a while (*cough*fanservicerealitytv*cough*). With some exception, such as these, I avoid the television as much as I can, save for sports and news.
So here's my ode to the television worlds I willingly and gladly inhabited - I don't hesitate in recommending any of these for anybody else out there and I'd go back to these shows anytime I'm in the mood.
NOTE: This article was written in the middle of the night so bear with any grammar or inconsistencies...
20. The Shield (crea. Shawn Ryan - 2002-2008) - As much as we can enjoy the mystery of the murder being solved, one can find it more tense and exciting to find out if the killer will get away with it and The Shield did that so well - Many thanks to an electric cast headed by Michael Chiklis giving a charismatic anti-hero/anti-villain (wot?) performance and a writing style that sometimes got itself into corners, but just as quickly got itself out.
19. South Park (crea. Trey Parker & Matt Stone - 1997-Present) - To say this is not one of the most intelligent shows on television is a blatant lie for which you will go straight to Hell. While its humor is hilarious in its own right, it is when Parker and Stone interject - sometimes subtly, other times not so subtle - their observations of pop culture, politics, social issues and other factors of the world outside the tv screen, that interest and keep South Park always running fresh.
Also, Primus sucks. The more of their music, the better.
18. Star Trek: The Next Generation (crea. Gene Roddenberry - 1987-1994) - I was introduced to this before I was introduced to the original series as a very young child. It was the make-up and the space travel that interested me. Later on, in my high school years, I came back to The Next Generation (I spent the time in between as a snobby Original Series elitist) to find the real appeal and freshness that the changing times have allowed the franchise to evolve in as opposed to the numbered days and limited abilities of the 60s. The other spin-offs (Voyager; Deep Space Nine; Enterprise) were cool too, but this was a major step up.
17. Seinfeld (crea. Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld - 1989-1998) - Is this show maliciously biting, vicious and scathing at times? Absolutely. Does it's insincere nature make it a bad show? Hell to the fuck no, in fact, it quite frankly makes it better. David and Seinfeld know how to use their comedic stylings and the gift of storytelling to give individuals in their lives and unsavory events and encounters the goddamned middle finger and it never stops being funny.
16. Quantum Leap (crea. Donald Bellisario - 1989-1993) - Once again, as a child, I'd be pressed to the screen every time an episode would come up to find where Dr. Beckett stopped next. Before Back to the Future was discovered by me, I had this to travel through time with. And I went to more places in this show than the BTTF trilogy - no disrespect intended. It was an adventure with every episode and the extra special presence of Al just to keep Beckett's journey not lonely and every once in a while interject humor was what kept me coming back and looking forward to this show.
15. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (crea. Andy and Susan Borowitz - 1990-1996) - First, tell me that theme song was not catchy. But second, the show was a lot more deeper than it gave off, as well as being extremely hilarious. It mixed well the urban and bourgeois appeal and especially more so showed that both classes have a lot to learn from each other. It is one of the more effective sitcom families I've even seen (Come on, we know you pretend to like Full House, but deep down you know it sucked...) with James Avery and Will Smith giving powerful performances at moments while the rest of the cast just joins in on the fun.
14. Neon Genesis Evangelion (crea. Hideaki Anno - 1995-1997) - It got cheesy at points and unbelievable, even for an anime, but it never faltered from its original ideas and themes and was quite the expressive work of art as a series for Anno's identity. And the artwork and design was just captivating, especially around the end of the series.
13. Deathnote (crea. Tetsuro Araki - 2006-2007) - On the other hand, this is the kind of anime tale I enjoy following most. A cat and mouse chase with the fate of a city in the middle of it. An unclear definition of morality and an arrogant dispute to what the role of God means to Man. It is so badass not to watch.
12. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (crea. Joss Whedon - 1997-2003) - Anybody who was ever a teenager cannot disagree with the central thesis for the first three seasons: High School IS Hell. You're going to have to find your grounding and then keep shifting it if you're going to survive in the end. Except Buffy Summers and her friends had it worse because they had to deal with the forces of darkness with it. So yeah, for all of our social suffering, we got to have fun knowing it could be worse.
11. The Simpsons (crea. Matt Groening - 1989-Present) - I know a lot of people aren't fans anymore and there is no doubt this show is overrated, but even way past it's heyday, I never get tired of it. The classic episodes are masterpieces of sitcom television, but even despite their jumping the shark, I still at least crack a smile at the jokes of its worst episodes. It's just at it's best when it is most touching or most intelligently humorous.
10. Firefly (crea. Joss Whedon - 2002) - Okay, guys, Firefly is cancelled. Get the fuck over it. That said, man, it was a really awesome show while it was around. Not one lead character in the ensemble cast seemed extraneous, though some were kind of two-dimensional. They didn't hammer any mystery of the series, but they showcased enough to keep us interested. And it's central idea was to keep moving no matter what.
Unfortunately, it ran out of gas...
9. Star Trek (crea. Gene Roddenberry - 1966-1969) - Avast, but the superior space exploration show is right here. Rich in its cultural identity, humor, sex appeal and just plain fun, this show started a true phenomenon in science fiction imagination. It's undeniable in it's intrigue and ability to keep each episode fresh and running until the end of the show when a new musing on a new discovery is made by Kirk and company. Goddammit, Star Trek, you cool.
8. Tales from the Crypt (crea. William Gaines - 1989-1996) - I'm a horror buff. It is rare for me to find a decent horror show these days, however. American Horror Story is alright. Whedon's stuff is not really that scary, Twin Peaks and The X-Files can only fill that void for so long. Tales from the Crypt completely introduced horror to me as one of my most vivid childhood memories and the terror still holds up today (though at points dated and at other points very very cheesy).
There's another point, a set of paragraphs - one meant for a unfinished article - that I want to use: One in regards to my absolute favorite television character of all time.
There is absolutely NO film character, not one, so far in my 20 years of living with a screen entrance in my life that has made a bigger impression than the Cryptkeeper (Voice of John Kassir; Puppeteered by Van Snowden) from HBO's anthology series Tales from the Crypt, created by William Gaines and running from 1989-1996. The closest to come so far were Sherif Ali from Lawrence of Arabia and Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds, but not one of their entrances could hit me as hard as the Cryptkeeper. I cannot remember how old I was when I began watching it, at the ill-thought companionship of my mother (at the time, a devoted fan of the show), but it was very young and the moment that decrepit puppet popped out of the coffin in the corner of his crypt, I lost it...
I could not even look at a picture of the Cryptkeeper without having a heart attack until I was at the age of 15. I had to mentally prepare myself for his brief cameo in Casper every time I watched that children's movie. I had nightmares of him. When the Kids WB channel had him hosting the show, I *beep* dreaded that I'd have to deal with him to watch Jackie Chan Adventures. I didn't watch the kid's game show based on him. I avoided Halloween stores or costume catalogs because I feared the idea of seeing his face right in front of me. I don't remember how I felt when he was (twice!) the mascot of Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, but I doubt I liked it. The most I'd do is watch the cartoon series Tales from the Cryptkeeper, but even then I hated his laugh... it in itself gave me terror.
The best story was that, couch potato that I was, I still watched the show with my mom everytime she did... I'd just book it the moment the intro came on and come back to watch the story and then leave before the Cryptkeeper appeared again trying to keep out of earshot.
7. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (crea. Jeffrey Boam & Carlton Cuse - 1993-1994) - Bruce Campbell is an absolutely pimpdaddy McBadass and don't you dare fucking forget it. This is one of his most pimping performances - up there with Ash Williams, Carl Matushka and Elvis Presley. And this show was not meant to be anything philosophical or culturally significant or anything - though it had some philosophy to it. It was just a really good time and it sucks to see it's a show that ended so damned quickly. I mean, it was epic.
Special acknowledgment to the late Julius Carry for providing a memorable character alongside his legendary Sho'nuff - Lord Bowler's appearance always meant another great moment in the series.
6. Veronica Mars (crea. Rob Thomas - 2004-2007) - Like one of my previous articles explained... I had such the crush on the title character. But other than that, it's got to be hard to have to create original and interesting mysteries for a whole season, while still patiently progressing the season's full arc. It also helped that each major mystery of each season (saved for the last one) was very important to defining Veronica's character and growth as a real Billy Badass. And, as usual with the rest of these entries, blahblahblahwittyblahblahinterestingblahblahblahfun.
5. The Sopranos (crea. David Chase - 1999-2007) - This show is the definition of character development on a show. It goes through every level of Tony Soprano's life - psychological, personal, business - conflicts, doubts, fears. It's kind of hard not to be attached when this show basically forces you to see life through his eyes in all the bad and good ways. The first season alone is worthy enough of memory - His battle with his own Uncle Junior is shocking and intense.
4. The Wire (crea. David Simon - 2002-2008) - The writing on this show is so patient, so detailed, so well-paced and exciting. But a great script means nothing without a perfect cast and this show has that too. I cannot think of a single bad actor in this show. Maybe a few lackluster ones, but never bad. But moreso, once you start this show, you are involved in the Baltimore city until the end. You will know everything about this world you have inhabited. You will witness the true growth of America through the synecdoche of a single city and the life that breathes through it.
3. Arrested Development (crea. Mitchell Hurwitz - 2003-2006; 2013) - I can't say I'm extremely excited for its return (I thought the ending was actually the best thing about it), but it doesn't matter, because as far as those three seasons in its initial run went, this show is PERFECT. The characters, the setting, the referential jokes, this entire show was too ill-fated to have planned it all out so well, but it just comes out so well. It rolled with what it was given and in effect became the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds of television.
Which is surprising because other than Michael and George Michael, the Bluths are some of the worst people ever... like ever. They are bad people.
2. Twin Peaks (crea. David Lynch & Mark Frost) - Is it for everyone? No way, and nobody could blame another for finding it cheesy or unappealing. But man, when it has you hooked, it has you hooked. Within two seasons, philosophy, terror, melodrama and atmosphere have never been so better interweaved. Much like The Wire, by the end of Twin Peaks, you feel like you've lived there all your life. It's haunting in all the best and worst ways, which is what you ought to expect from David Lynch really.
The mystery of Laura Palmer may be in the foreground, but you won't be able to keep your eyes off the background characters, there's too many for you not to love one of them.
1. The X-Files (crea. Chris Carter - 1993-2002) - Well, first off, it's a horror show, so it had huge odds. But also, everything I said about the above shows... tenfold for why I love The X-Files. It's scary, it's fun, it's sexy, it's mysterious, it's intriguing - philosophy, conspiracy, romance - this show, despite losing steam once David Duchovny left, was my favorite show for being a piece of entertainment that still attempted to open minds and make you question everything.
Killer BOB can't touch how frightening The Cigarette Smoking Man is, BOB is only close second to him. BOB may have been fear itself, but the CSM represented what you feared, the idea that the universe is playing its odds against you. Agents Mulder and Scully, while not as cool as Cooper, really have a chemistry you can't find many directors eliciting without a true acting mindset. And man, was it always important to believe with Mulder - his story about his sister and feeling alone amongst his peers is audience-baiting sympathies, but it worked for me.
You don't know character arc until you know the story of Walter Skinner. That was an integral part of the show. Or the comic relief/occasional intelligence on the part of the Lone Gunmen. And so much more... 'Home' is an episode that will stick to your mind, or the appearance of Tooms. Alex Krycek and all... UGH!!!! THE SYNDICATE!!!
And Gillian Anderson is hot. The end.
HONORABLE MENTIONS - There's a huge amount, so bear with me...: The Twilight Zone (original); Lost; Breaking Bad; Dexter; Angel; Aqua Teen Hunger Force; The Boondocks; Prison Break; Batman: The Animated Series; Civilisation; The Civil War (PBS miniseries); Tanner ’88; Spawn (HBO original animated series); Babylon 5; Clerks: The Animated Series; Hey, Arnold!; Community; Boy Meets World; Mr. Bean; Sherlock; Mythbusters; Bill Nye: The Science Guy; The Honeymooners; Masters of Horror; Spongebob Squarepants; Malcolm in the Middle