You may remember a few weeks ago when I put together a list of what I thought were the five best TV sitcoms of all time.
A few of you were mad I omitted “Taxi,” and “Mad About You,” and M-A-S-H,” and on the first two I see your argument, but I just never got the appeal of Alan Alda and crew working to save lives during the Korean War. I mean, I get why people loved it, but it just never did it for me.
Now, since dramas deserve equal time, I present my five favorite one-hour shows of all time.
5. L.A. Law: The greatest show of my childhood, and one I used to beg to be allowed to stay up late for. Sleazy but lovable Arnie Becker. Straight-laced legal wizard Michael Kuzak. Tough-as-nails prosecutor Grace Van Owen. Crotchety old Douglas Brackman. Tax attorney Stuart Markowitz and his bride, Ann Kelsey.
These were the brilliant legal minds of Mackenzie Brackman, and they brought the funny, the serious and the heart-tugging emotions every week. Thursday nights at 10, I felt like I was getting a glimpse into “grown-up world” television. “L.A. Law” never patronized its viewers, always brought interesting cases, and was the forerunner of so many of today’s legal dramas.
It’s entirely possible that my friends Marc, Andrew and I were the only 12-year-olds in America debating Arnie’s sex life and Abby looking for her kidnapped son, but man did we love that show.
I miss it still.
4. Friday Night Lights: One of three shows on my list that I didn’t discover until very late in its original run, or after it was over, the tribulations, joys and heartache of the Dillon Panthers, and everyone around the West Texas football team, was simply sensational. I’ve never seen a show beloved by such a cross-section of people as this one; Kyle MacLachlan as Eric Taylor, and Connie Britton as Tammy (aka Mrs. Coach) led an incredible cast, the writing was sensational, and it pulled on your emotions like few others.
The scene that hooked me for good was early in the first season, in the third episode, when Taylor had his team run up and down a hill in the rain while screaming at them.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
If you’ve never seen it, the whole run of the series is on Netflix. So good.
3. Breaking Bad: I’m cheating a little here because my wife and I aren’t finished with all five seasons of this glorious show (right now we’re three episodes away from the end of season 4), but it’s been so incredible, living up to all the hype so many people in my life have promised, that it’s already No. 3 on my list, and quite possibly moving up.
A high school chemistry teacher stricken with cancer, his troubled but good-hearted (mostly) protege, and an indelible cast of drug dealers, lawyers and family members have made this probably the best piece of television made in the past decade.
Just as everyone told me, Season 1 was really good, Season 2 was better, Season 3 was even better, and Season 4 blows them all away (yep, it’s incredible).
There isn’t a single flaw in this show, and it’s so beautifully constructed that most of the time when the episodes end my wife and I are both open-mouthed, jaws dropping, uttering “Wow.”
2. The West Wing: I’ve always told myself that this and my No. 1 choice were dead even in every way, but if I absolutely had to choose, the Jed Bartlet administration comes in second. Loved this show from the minute I first started watching, at the start of season 2, and its first four seasons were so incredible I could (and have) watched them on reruns dozens of times.
The casting was perfect, especially Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), and Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet. Aaron Sorkin’s writing was cracklingly brilliant, the storylines were fascinating, and the humor and drama blended beautifully.
The last two seasons weren’t quite as magical, but as a whole “The West Wing” was still better than any other network drama ever.
1. The Wire: Nothing I can say here except that “The Wire” is the greatest piece of pop culture entertainment I’ve ever experienced. I’ve proselytized about this show to so many of my friends and family that many have watched it just to shut me up, I think.
David Simon, over five seasons on HBO, created a masterpiece, weaving the lives of drug dealers and police officers in inner-city Baltimore into a coherent narrative that stands up to anything else that’s ever been on TV.
“The Wire” treated you as an adult, forced you to pay attention, and rewarded you for watching all the way through.
I bow down to you, David Simon, and me and millions of others are grateful that you created such a fantastic show.