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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mount Rushmore of TV Shows

So you know how Mount Rushmore is supposedly a monument of our 4 greatest presidents (pre-WWII)? Well that is the basic premise of this blog post, I am ranking my 4 favorite TV shows as if they were to be carved into the side of a mountain and to be ogled at for the rest of recorded history (or at least until 2012 when the mountain range is forced below sea level and Kevin Costner and his gills and webbed feat saves himself). 

This idea was adapted from one of my all-time favorite writers (Bill Simmons) who applies this to just about anything, whether it be the Mount Rushmore of Fast Food Joints (Mine would be: Arby's, Quiznos, Wendy's and In-and-Out Burger) or Crazy Celebrities (Charlie Sheen, Joaquin Phoenix, Rob Lowe and Lindsay Lohan). His writing style heavily influenced my own and I can't steal his idea without giving him credit- I wanted to, but it didn't feel right...

The qualifications for making this list are pretty straightforward: They have to be one of my top 4 favorite TV shows ever (duh), they have to have finished more than one season (so no Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Justified, Archer, Modern Family or Treme) and I would go out of my way to defend it anytime someone trashed talked it. Pretty simple. However, since I had trouble coming up with ONLY 4 shows I decided to make two Mount Rushmores, thereby doubling your money, and adequately sharing my opinions. So without further ado:

Mount Rushmore of Drama

MAD MEN (2007- Present): So, two things about me: I love Jon Hamm in a completely platonic sort of way (debatable), and Matthew Weiner is my hero (now me loving Jon Hamm makes more sense right?) Weiner created this iconic show about life in 1960's New York City for 'ad-men.' All the drinking, smoking, random sexual encounters, and brilliance of these men is perfectly scripted and the realism with which it is portrayed makes me jealous of the actors for landing on such a great series. This show isn't perfect (unlike one of my next choices) but it remains the staple for how a TV show should be done. On my Mount Rushmore, 'Mad Men' is my Teddy Roosevelt. Like Teddy we consider this to be a great show that no one really knows much about (go ahead, tell me something about TR's presidency off the top of your head), it will probably go down as a show that was indeed great but for reasons no one can remember unless they were there.




THE WEST WING (1999-2003): For those of you who know something about this TV show you may be shaking your heads right now. WW ended in 2006 not 2003. Please allow me to explain. Aaron Sorkin created this series in 1999, he then left in 2003 because of network budget cuts and production delays. Really NBC? This is a guy who wrote every episode of this series for 4 years, who basically carried your network at a time when network shows were garbage, and who's genius as a writer is largely unparalleled in his current generation (with a few exceptions: Terence Winter, Matthew Weiner and David Simon coming to mind). The heart was ripped from one of TV's most evocative dramas ever and left it sputtering along before it ultimately died. The first 4 seasons are classic TV and while you should certainly watch all 7 seasons, don't let the last three sour your opinion. The West Wing is clearly the Lincoln of the Mount Rushmore because it was killed before we got to see the full potential of it. What a shame.




THE WIRE (2002-2008):This is probably the greatest TV drama of all time, at least in my opinion but my opinion is the only one that matters anyway. The characters are complex, the plot and story lines are filled with so much depth that it makes me salivate just thinking about watching an episode or four. If you are looking for a gritty, no holds barred look at life in the inner-city is like, look no further than this. It was created by David Simon (show runner of the new HBO show 'Treme'), a former journalist turned novelist who knows exactly how to make things realistic. The show reads more like a book than a film and it is this space to explore ideas and characters that allows the show to succeed. If you haven't seen this show, you need to. It will change your perception of what TV should be. Back to the Rushmore theme, 'The Wire' is a Jefferson type. It didn't set the rules for what the TV drama was supposed to be like (or in Jefferson's case, the presidency), but in many ways it improved from its predecessor and changed the future of TV




THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007): Clearly this list would not have been complete without the show that spawned a thousand imitators. Influenced from the gangster movies of the past 40 years, 'The Sopranos' didn't not redefine the mobster genre as much as it refined it. Watching this show as a kid (against my parents wishes) it was clear that something special was on TV, something like this had never been attempted before it was truly the first of its kind. It was the first realistic show on television, and without it there  would be no 'Wire' or 'Mad Men' or even the newer 'Treme,' 'Boardwalk Empire' types. 'The Sopranos' continues to dominate pop culture discussions and can always be found somewhere in the top 5 of every 'Best Show's Ever' debate. However, its biggest flaw is also its greatest strength. It is the premier example of a pioneering TV show and through the years others have taken its few flaws and perfected them (See: 'The Wire'). This is clearly the Washington of the group. It was the first and although maybe it wasn't the best, it certainly set the standard for what to expect.






Mount Rushmore of Comedy




ENTOURAGE (2004-2011): What can only be claimed as the coolest show in the history of TV, Entourage gave fans a hyperbolized look into Hollywood stardom. Nothing about this show is even remotely realistic, other than the fact that its the image every aspiring actor has of their life after moving to LA to explore a career in show business. But realism doesn't matter in TV comedies, what matters is the level of funny. And Entourage nears the top of that level. In recent years it has lost some of its comedic sheen and instead turned into more of a 'dramady' (which is clearly the worst sort of genre for any type of TV show or film). It sold itself short over getting cancelled and now is putting a below average product on the air, but hell, the first 4 seasons of this show were so funny and so awesome that I'll definitely watch the final season (and the subsequent film that follows). This one is in the Teddy mold, a show that is not destined to be remembered fondly unless you personally witnessed its awesomeness. 


30 ROCK (2006- Present): All I really need to say about this show is that Tina Fey's comedic genius is astounding. Wait, you need more reasons? Well, this little gem of a show is/was based upon Fey's experiences working on SNL as a writer/ cast member until 2004, and all the zany antics, the crazy cast members and political incorrectness that occurred. Really the shows strength lies in the relationship between Liz (Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) as a weird mentor-ship of sorts. The situational comedy is augmented by loose cannon Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) who is as crazy and out-of-control as any actor working in this fictional world. Like Entourage (whoops I forgot to mention this) the show is really bolstered by guest stars and cameo appearances from Hollywood stars playing fictionalized versions of themselves. An absolutely hilarious show with great, memorable bits of dialogue, 30 Rock is our Jefferson for its ability to improve on everything that has come before it, and even make fun of it.


PARTY DOWN (2009-2010): Chances are, you've never heard of this show that ran on the Starz network for two glorious seasons. And that's the whole point. In my opinion this is the best 'showbiz' show in existence (better than Entourage) because it combined conflict with humor but at no times did ever come across as a 'dramady.' The show follows a group of hopeful LA newcomers, and one LA wipe-out, who work at a catering company while they assume their big break will be right around the corner. It was a great show, axed right when it was getting good, the Lincoln of this list, but it still survives today in its entirety on imdb.com. A sad fate for a great show. 


ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003-2006): Widely considered to be the greatest comedy show of all time, and as much as I wanted to disagree and form my own opinion I found it difficult to disagree with that notion. Arrested Development follows the dysfunctional (dysfunctional x 100 maybe, this was like if the Jersey Shore and the Osbourne's had offspring) Bluth family as they lived in California. It doesn't quite bear the same resemblance to Washington as my Sopranos pick did, however, considering the fact that it has to be in the discussion for best comedies of all-time I think it's deserving of my Washingtonian selection.