In my continuing effort (two days long now!) to post more often, Tuesdays are now Tuesday Top Tens. This week: a countdown of my favorite TV shows of all time.
Something I've noticed about my list: it's a little sci-fi/fantasy heavy. But hey, it's me we are talking about here so what do you expect?
10. Babylon 5
Ever plan so far ahead you knew exactly where you were going? Ever do that for five years in advance? With an epic storyline about dark and light, saving the universe and finding your purpose in life?
If you answered "yes" to all those questions, then you are J. Michael Straczynski and you created "Babylon 5," writing 92 of the 110 episodes, including all 22 of the third season. Dealing with a station on the outer-reaches of space, its commander tries to create peace among alien races when an even older and more dangerous threat emerges. As the races take sides in the coming war, it becomes evident that more than the fate of the Babylon station was in jeopardy.
It's brilliant storytelling from a masterful writer. It's tackles tough issues straight on and offers a hopeful view of where mankind is going. It's a story on a massive and personal level.
What can I say about "Lost" that hasn't been said (or bitched about?)
Personally, I felt the ending worked and expected the mystical close to the show. I mean, the pilot episode had a healer named Shepard with a side wound and an old man named Locke with a scar across his eye - plus a speech to an innocent boy about light and dark using the pieces of a backgammon board. Where else was a show with that much opening symbolism supposed to go?
Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse took this ball and ran with it. A twisting plot, solid characters and dialogue, deft direction in a beautiful setting and a heart-wrenching soundtrack made "Lost" something hard to forget.
8. Fawlty Towers
Take one of the most hilarious comic actors of all time (John Cleese), give him a cantankerous character with a nagging but smarter wife and a bumbling hotel staff of character actors and you are left with one of the funniest series of all time. One of two British series on my list, "Fawlty Towers" focuses on Basil Fawlty who can't seem to catch a break in life, mainly because he keeps getting in his own way.
7. The X-Files
Ah, Mulder and Scully. "I want to believe." With a mix of engaging mythological stories and stand-alone episodes, "The X-Files" tackles the supernatural in a way that hadn't been seen since "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (an influence admitted by creator Chris Carter.)
She was the scientist for which everything had an answer; he was the believer who was looking for the truth. They made a balanced team each week while exploring the unknown with bone-chilling or unnerving scares.
This may not seem like my typical fare but "thirtysomething" was influential on me as a younger writer. It was a show about typical suburban family life with all the concerns like work, mortgages, kids and relationships. The plot flowed seamlessly and was intermixed with creative story structures. The characters didn't feel like characters. They were more like people whose lives we looked in on each week. Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick are geniuses in my book and made the mundane into dramatic and compelling.
5. The Prisoner
The second British show on the list, "The Prisoner" is mind-blowing television with a message. A secret agent resigns, is immediately abducted and is taken to an unknown island where everyone is happy and known by a number. "The Prisoner" (as played by series creator Patrick McGoohan) is dogged by the island's leader, No. 2, about why he left his post. The 17 strange stories build to a crescendo where The Prisoner finds out who is the true leader of the island.
I made a conscious effort to not pick duplicate shows from the same creator. That's what made this choice difficult in the category of Joss Whedon series. "Buffy," "Angel," "Dollhouse" were all viable options but I think as a whole "Firefly" is the one. The mix of character and plot and dialogue create what I think is Whedon's best work and most complete world. Follow that up with an unprecedented movie based on a quickly-cancelled show and it's something I have to stop and watch whenever I catch it on in reruns.
A show doesn't last 11 years without being something special. It also doesn't last without great writing, memorable characters and innovative direction. A comedy about a war and the people involved, it really doesn't get better than "M*A*S*H."
2. Sports Night
Again, how to make a choice from a brilliant creator's work? Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night" stands out for me because of many things but mainly for the writing. The cast was phenomenal, the direction was exciting and the plots were emotionally moving. You get wrapped up in the characters of this fictional sports show and, even though it's listed as a comedy, you learn about life with the poignant dramatic moments. The only thing not perfect about this show is that Sorkin decided to stop the show to start "The West Wing," leaving an unresolved cliffhanger.
1. Twin Peaks
I don't think that any series has influenced me more than "Twin Peaks." It is a dizzying mix of everything television should be. From writing to originality to score to direction, "Twin Peaks" turned the form on its head and showed what was truly possible. David Lynch and Mark Frost create an all-encompassing world with rich personas and wild mythology. You had to watch to see what was next because it was so unpredictable and engrossing.