Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Favorite TV Shows

I don't hav any one "favorite" TV show. People often say, "I never missed FRIENDS" or "I'm totally a TREKKER" but I guess I'm just too picky to be able to say one particular show is my absolute favorite above all others. No, my favorites break down like this: shows that I love but also hate, and shows that I love.

aka Shows That I Will Check To See Which Episode It Is Before Deciding To Watch It

The best example of this type of show is MASH. The first three years with Trapper John and Henry Blake are good. The next two seasons with BJ and Frank are great. However, the last six years with Charles are, to put it mildly, uneven. So I can't very well say that MASH is my favorite show when I can barely sit through some of the melodrama of the later years. I understand why Larry Linville as Frank (right) wanted to move on, but when he did, he also took the heart of the comedy out of the show.  

The two shows created by Sherwood Schwartz, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and THE BRADY BUNCH, veer wildly between awesome (usually the dream sequences on GILLIGAN and the middle years on THE BUNCH) and the awesomely bad (most guest-stars on the island and the last year with "Cousin Oliver").

BATMAN was fantastically entertaining in its first year, but in its second year it went TOO far overboard and then it got repetitive and just plain silly. Even the addition of sexy Batgirl can't make several of the last season episodes worth watching.

Super spy shows like MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and THE AVENGERS have more than their share of great episodes. However, UNCLE suffered from the same "camp" over-reach that affected BATMAN, and after it stopped taking itself seriously it couldn't find its way back to its core. Patrick Macnee had played John Steed for several years on THE AVENGERS with several other partners before Diana Rigg came on the scene as Mrs. Peel. Yet, it just wasn't the same after she left. And when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain walked away from MISSION the producers could replace the roles, but not the characters. It, too, was never the same without them.  

THE JEFFERSONS started out incredibly fresh and topical: one of the only TV series in the 70s with African-American leads, it also had the first bi-racial couple, The Willises, as supporting characters.
The first few years were all about the characters, but as the show got older and more established it became more pedestrian (for lack of a better term). When it lost its edge, it lost a lot of its appeal to me.

STAR TREK is supposed to be about an international (and inter-galactic!) crew working together to investigate the unknown. However, there are just too many Kirk-Spock-McCoy episodes. All of my favorite episodes featured most if not all of the Enterprise crew. Also, how many episodes did we really need about Man's Over-Dependance On Machines, or set on planets oddly similar to Earth?  

I loved the premise of the Space Family Robinson LOST in SPACE. However, there are just too many episodes centered around Dr. Smith doing something stupid, usually accompanied by Will and The Robot but nobody else. There were six other great actors on this show, but too often they were wasted because the producers took the lazy way out. 

DEEP SPACE NINE is my favorite overall STAR TREK series. It has a great premise, a great cast of characters who shared the spotlight in various storylines, and a great cast of actors portraying said characters. However, in its later years it got bogged down in its own mythology and continuing storyline. If I happened to miss an episode (which I did, because I was living in Japan at the time) it was difficult to figure out what was going on. By the last few years it was less like STAR TREK and more like DYNASTY. 

I was tempted not to include my two favorite variety shows, The MUPPET SHOW and The CAROL BURNETT SHOW, because both were always entertaining enough; it just depended on who the guest star was if the episode was truly classic. Still, I would prefer even the dullest guest on either of these shows to most anything else out there, then or now.

aka Shows That I Want to Own on DVD and Watch Repeatedly

F TROOP is the one I guess I have to call my "guilty pleasure." Watching it now there are only a few laugh-out-loud scenes. The repetitive schtick characters (the bugler who can't bugle, the near-sighted guard, the Alamo survivor) get old. The premise of a post-Civil War fort manned by con men and nincompoops, surrounded by peace-loving Indians, doesn't sound all that entertaining. Yet somehow....I find myself enjoying it every time I watch it. Go figure. Maybe it's the fun leads: Ken Berry as Captain Parmeter, Forrest Tucker as Sgt O'Roarke, Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, and Frank DeKova as Chief Wild Eagle. Maybe it's the colorful surroundings (I heard later that the series was filmed on one of Warner Bros.' old "standing lots" which means it looked real cool. Whatever it is, I'm thinking I'll go watch an episode right now. Maybe the one with the Bed Bugs. :-)

THE ODD COUPLE featured the over-the-top sloppiness of Oscar and the persnickity cleanliness of Felix. This was a wonderful dichotomy to base a situation comedy on. Even now, years later, I find myself thinking of scenes or bits from this series. Did everyone learn the "don't assume because it makes an ass of u and me" lesson from this series, or was it just helpful in getting the message out there? Anyway, it was no accident that both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won Emmy Awards for their work on this show.

WKRP in CINCINNATI was originally supposed to be all about Andy (a great Gary Sandy) and his new life in Cincinnati as a program director at the least popular radio station in town. Pretty quickly, however, the show stopped centering on Andy's life and expanded out to all of his crazy co-workers. Blessed with fine writing and a wonderful ensemble cast, WKRP left us too soon. Plagued with royalty or copyright issues for all the real 70s and 80s music the show used, the DVD releases of this classic are also, sadly, delayed.

It took me about a year to get into the medical comedy/drama SCRUBS. The first few times I watched it, with JD's weird narration and surreal imaginary scenes, it didn't do anything for me. But then I saw a few "serious" episodes: one where the three leads each had to deal with dying patients and one where Dr. Cox has to deal with his best friend having leukemia. I finally got that what JD was doing was his defense mechanism agains the pain, fear, and sadness that surrounded him at Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital. After I "got" it, I  enjoyed it for its entire run.

I didn't know what to expect from MY NAME IS EARL. I'm pretty sure it came on between two shows that I already watched, so I kept it on and then learned to love it. The premise is great: Earl Hickey, perpetual bad guy, wins the lottery but then is hit by a car, causing him to lose the ticket. In the hospital he decides to change his life by writing a list of all the bad things he has ever done ("Lost Dad the election," "Pretended to be dead to break up with a girl," etc) and then going out to make them right. As soon as he leaves the hospital, he finds his lottery ticket, and thusly believes in Kharma. This show was one of the few where I could *not* guess what was going to happen every week. In one episode, Earl frets about having to tell an ex-con buddy that it was his fault that the friend has been sent to prison. The friend was an angry SOB so Earl was scared to confess to him. When they finally get together, however, what happened was something I never saw coming. For that sense of wonder so often missing from mainstream TV, it earned its place on this list.    

To me, the ultimate situation comedy is THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Bob was fun to be with, whether he was at home with his funny & affectionate wife Emily (a fantastic Suzanne Pleshette) or at the office with his crazy but also very funny mental patients. Jack Riley as angry Mr. Carlin was especially memorable. I always liked Bob's deadpan delivery style of comedy. So while my parents liked ALL in the FAMILY and my sisters liked MARY TYLER MOORE, I always liked Bob. I was very lucky to meet "Carol," Marcia Wallace herself at a Mid-Ohio Comic Convention, and she graciously signed one of my DVD covers. 

If you haven't seen all of these shows I've talked about here, I strongly suggest you go to your local library or to youtube or Target and check them out. They may not all be to your liking, but I am guessing that if you made it this far, you'll find *something* you'll like. If you want specific episode or seaons recommendations, just let me know. 


  1. While I think your assessment of MASH is fair (in terms of the show never quite being as funny post-Frank), I still love all 11 seasons whole-heartedly.

    F Troop?!?

  2. Russell, I sometimes watch the Traper John era reruns but the rest I don't care for. (It seems almost sacrilegious to post that right after Rob's post.) You may now me well enough to know the liberal slant of the show (imo) was too much for me. And Linville was the heart of the show to me also.

    I remember F-Troop, Gilligan's Island, the Jeffersons, Lost In Space and Newhart fondly (but not the Brady Bunch), but I doubt I would ever take the time to watch them.

    And if I knew you liked Earl, WKRP, and the Odd Couple we would have had a bit more to talk about on the way to Baltimore.

    Some I would add are Futurama, King of the Hill, The Unit, and Seinfeld. Finally both of my sons are fans of Scrubs but I can't get into it. But they did get me into Arrested Development. Don't ask m why but I'm watching the Walking Dead.

    The My Name Is Earl episode you mentioned (which also includes Earl quitting smoking) is one of my favorites. It brings tears to my eyes when Earl helps his friend's mom. Good show.

  3. Rick, I haven't seen most of the shows you are suggesting. I did watch a few FUTURAMA per your suggestion and I have seen about a dozen SEINFELD, but they wouldn't make it on my "favorite" list. The others I've never ever seen.

    That episode where Earl gives his buddy's mom a longer life was all sorts of awesome. Truly, that was a good TV show.

    We now know what we can talk about in our next cross-country jaunt, Green Lantern!

  4. Russell, I've got to say that this article could have just as easily been written about me or by me. I don't think you've made a misstep anywhere in your assessment. In particular, the impact of Larry Linville on MASH. I, too, loved all seasons but I never really realized the impact the departure of Frank Burns would have on the unit until after he was gone. Re-watching in later years, I also see the absolute comedy genius of Larry Linville.

    WKRP is/was simply my favorite of all time and I eagerly awaited the DVD release and lobbied and conversed with so many others online in anticipation of Series 1 release. The music issue is really bigger than many people think. It really added so much to the essence of the show that, without it, while still a great comedy, I'm afraid it might not have made my list of classics. Sadly, the DVD of Season One, for cost cutting and permissions wrangling reasons, was released with sound-alike music in place. There is something missing. I am in no hurry for Season Two. In one of the dvd extras, the producer talks about the issue and wanting to keep the package price low as prime reasons for the release in its now form. I think it ran around the $30 mark on side or another. I, for one, would have paid a premium price for the series even if it put it at the $50 or $60 dollar point.

    I can't say enough good things about the pure comic genius of Bob Newhart (easily my favorite comedian of all time) and everyone associated with that first series, especially. A dear friend of mine gave me an autographed promo photo of the gang signed by Marcia Wallace. It holds a treasured position in my house. People must think that it is a photo of my family (I wish it were). I sometimes think that Ms. Wallace might be bummed about being sort of an et al reference when it comes to The Bob Newhart show but I think everyone involved made it a true ensemble programme and without one of them (crazy psych patients included) would have left something missing.

    The only thing I might have added to your list is the Dick Van Dyke Show. I recently watched the pilot with Carl Reiner in the Rob Petrie role and saw how different the initial iteration of the program was. I think they made a good call to re-jigger it and place Van Dyke in the role along with Mary Tyler Moore (another classic comedy series).

    I probably would have left off Lost in Space. Some of the effects were great in a cheesy sort of way but I have found the acting and storylines too uneven for my liking. I haven't been able to warm up to it, although I do like Dr. Smith's over-the-top villainous portrayal.

    Scrubs was one I was unfamiliar with here in Japan but, again Dear Friend to the rescue, started sending me the series box sets. I loved it's stupid humor right from the start. Looking back, I see that I really identify with all (or most all anyway) of the Bill Lawrence headed comedies.

    In the future, I expect to add some of the Chuck Lorre-helmed series to my list of all-time favorites.

    I have a number of the above-mentioned series on newly-released Blu-Ray DVD or DVD and am anticipating some enjoyable holiday season viewing.

  5. Mike, I almost added Dick Van Dyke, but although I do enjoy it when I watch it, it's never been one of my "go-to" series. I think it's partly because I don't care for DVD's "over the top" style of acting.

    Rob, if you haven't watched F Troop in a long time, you should borrow it from the library and check it out. It's surprisingly entertaining.