The 32 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time
Everyone is doing NFL mock drafts right now. Sure, I could have done another mock draft — becoming the 1 billionth mock draft on the Internet — but instead I had an interesting thought, what if I was stranded on an island and could only pick 32 television shows to take with me for the rest of my life?
What would my draft look like?
So I decided to do my own first round draft of the greatest television shows of my life. I may revise my rankings every year on the day before the NFL Draft. In fact, let's plan on it.
I'm 35 years old and like most of you I've watched a ton of television in my life.
There were only two rules to be included in my first-round list:
1. I've watched every episode of every season of a show.
2. The shows have aired for more than one season.
That means this is clearly a biased list — I haven't seen every television show of all time, stop with your "Breaking Bad" and "The Wire" e-mails, you people are like a cult of overeducated white people obsessed with TV — but that notwithstanding, if you disagree with any of my rankings you are a total idiot whose opinion is completely wrong.
With that in mind, here are the 32 greatest television shows of all time:
1. Friday Night Lights
The greatest drama to ever air on network television. Unlike premium cable dramas that could rely on cursing or sex or plot points that were untouchable, "Friday Night Lights" was consistently extraordinary and accessible, even for the most prudish viewers around. Most people didn't watch it which kept this show from airing forever, as it should have.
Eric and Tami Taylor have the greatest marriage in television history and Tim Riggins is the only man I would leave my wife to marry. And I'm straight.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. Texas forever.
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm
The funniest show in television history. You can argue for another show being funnier, but you will be completely wrong.
Larry David is my favorite human on earth and Larry taking in a Hurricane Katrina refugee family might be the greatest season idea for a show of all time. Every single person who heard this idea immediately said, "That's genius."
3. The Dukes of Hazzard
When a contract dispute resulted in Bo and Luke Duke being replaced with their cousins, I wept. I was so young that when I was watching this show I actually remember my parents having a conversation with me about the fact that the actors couldn't see us in our house through the television screen.
My mom saved my "Dukes" t-shirts from when I was three or four years old and we let my own boys wear them.
How badass is that?
The funniest show to ever air on network television. Go back and watch these episodes today and marvel over what they got away with. How in the world did they make entire episodes about masturbation contests and oral sex moves? They played the censors like a fiddle.
5. The Wonder Years
Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper had the most tumultuous relationship of any preteens ever. And Paul — who didn't love Paul? This show is a pure treasure. I can't wait to break it out for my own boys to watch.
6. Game of Thrones
Do you like sex and violence? Then this "Game" is for you.
But it's also much more than that: political intrigue, fantastic writing, a Dickensian plot that leaves you totally forgetting entire parts of the world. You must watch.
7. Mad Men
In the beginning, I loved Don Draper. But now Roger Sterling has become my favorite character in television. "Men" is limping towards the finish, but I have confidence that the show can still finish strong.
Come on, pick it up Matt Weiner.
8. Saved by the Bell
If you're in your thirties and don't like "Saved by the Bell," I have no interest in speaking with you. None. If you hear the names Zack and Kelly or "the Max" and don't immediately sigh with pleasure, I hate you.
9. Dawson's Creek
I may or may not still sing along to the "I don't want to wait...," theme song whenever it comes on. The Dawson, Joey, Pacey love triangle was the greatest teen love triangle of all time.
And how hot was Joey Potter before Tom Cruise married her and made her crazy? When she climbed through that window, we all fell in love with her. Plus, this is still the smartest teen drama of all time. People actually criticized this show for being too smart.
10. The Cosby Show
Now that I'm married with kids, this show is even better. Rewatch the episodes today and see the subtext of the entire show. All Cliff Huxtable ever wanted was for his kids to leave the house and his wife to sleep with him. This is every dad in America's secret dream, too.
11. The West Wing
Oh, Jed Bartlet, why can't you be the real President?
(I love you too, Aaron Sorkin.)
Just a hot mess of a show. There was so much potential here — like a drunken party featuring a house full of the hottest sorority girls on campus. The problem was, there were so many issues here. None of it really made sense. They lied to you about plot points that were nonsensical and then made you feel bad for calling them out on the lies.
And then that ending.
But if you just watch every episode, tell me that this show, episode for episode, isn't fabulously creative — maybe the most creative show of all time. You can't.
Tell me the Smoke Monster isn't the baddest ass creation in TV history.
Nothing else comes close.
The fact that this show just disappeared and something called "John from Cincinnati,' took its place on HBO is one of the great travesties of television history. It's the TV equivalent of when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and then Andrew Johnson took over.
We all lost here.
How in the world did Al Swearengen just disappear? The man turned profanity into an art form.
14. Growing Pains
Every guy wanted to be Mike Seaver and every girl wanted to be with Mike Seaver.
The fact that Kirk Cameron now only appears in Christian movies about the rapture — and that Leonardo DiCaprio (LEO!) showed up on the late seasons — doesn't detract from the fact that the Seaver household was the place everyone wanted to be.
By the way, what odds could you have gotten back in 1990 on Leonardo DiCaprio becoming the greatest actor of his generation and on Alan Thicke (Jason Seaver) fathering one of the most popular R&B artists of all time?
Infinity odds, right?
15. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Tell me when Will Smith finished his rap with "I looked at my kingdom / I was finally there / To sit on the throne / As the prince of Bel-Air," you weren't ecstatic to see what was going to happen next with Will, Carlton, Hillary, Ashley, Mr. Banks and the two Mrs. Banks.
How about the DJ Jazzy Jeff appearances? Has there ever been a worse sitcom actor than DJ Jazzy Jeff?
I don't think so.
I was really young when "Dallas" was on. So young that I remember having this conversation with my mom.
Me: Why is he taking her clothes off, Mom?
My mom: Because he wants to see her without her clothes on.
Ah. It all makes sense now.
I would have put "Homeland" much higher had this been just after Season 1, but Seasons 2 and 3 were not as good. And Season 3 ended in a way that convinced me this show has nothing left.
After Season 4 I may have to pull it entirely off the list.
But for now it's here.
18. The Sopranos
Yeah, yeah, I liked "The Sopranos," too, but are you really telling me that you think it's better than every other HBO show that's ever aired? Please. "The Sopranos" gets credit for being great before all television was great.
That's fine, but don't forget all those scenes with Anthony Junior.
19. The Andy Griffith Show
You can make an argument that "Andy Griffith" is the greatest comedy sitcom of all time. Even today, over fifty years after it started, you tell me that you don't still enjoy this show and laugh.
It's that good.
Barney Fife will still be funny four hundred years from now. If an alien life form took over our planet and translated these shows one thousand years from now, I think they'd laugh, too.
20. House of Cards
This may be too high for a Netflix original drama that many of you haven't even heard of, but you need to watch it.
Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood has the potential to be the greatest TV role ever.
I'm nervous about putting a show that has only been through two seasons this high, but so far it delivers.
21. I Love Lucy
Yes, it's ancient now. But damn if Lucille Ball in a chocolate factory isn't still funny.
Go back and watch some of these episodes. They'll still make you laugh.
22. The Americans
Potentially too high given that it's also only two seasons old, but this show flat-out delivers in every episode. Seriously, it's extraordinary. Most of you aren't watching it, but you should be. It's on FX on Wednesday nights and Season 2 is just about to end.
Meaning it's easy for you to catch up now.
The funniest show currently airing on television. (Assuming "Curb" is not returning for a new season).
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the greatest female comedian of all time.
And this may be blasphemy, but Selina Meyer is an even better role for Louis-Dreyfus than Elaine Benis on "Seinfeld."
24. The Office
One of many shows on this list where the writing was so good, you felt bad eating chips or popcorn while it aired because you might miss a joke.
Steve Carell's Michael Scott is a work of art.
So was this show — up until the moment he left.
25. Beverly Hills, 90210
In 7th grade I had a "Beverly Hills, 90210" poster up on my wall (and would spend the next decade of my life denying it had ever been there). That was early in the show's history, even before the guy in the cowboy hat accidentally shot himself. And long before Dylan McKay's wife, the Noxzema girl, blew up in a fiery car explosion.
How many of you have the soundtrack to the show playing in your head as you read this?
If you didn't beforehand, you do now (ba-dum, ba-dum, ch, ch).
26. Modern Family
A truly hysterical show that everyone enjoys.
Many of the shows on this list are admittedly idiosyncratic. That is, there's a niche that loves them, but they might not have mass appeal. But everyone likes "Modern Family."
When they write the history books, they're going to point to "Modern Family" as the single most instrumental cultural event to legitimize gay marriage.
27. Chappelle's Show
If Dave Chappelle hadn't gone to Africa, what might have been with this show? It was like a comedy meteor streaking across the night sky. You know the show only had 28 episodes? That's barely more than one season of "Modern Family."
Still, it sneaks in on the quality of those 28 episodes.
When this show debuted in the summer of 2004, I was 25 and studying for the bar exam.
I loved it instantly. Later it became fashionable to not like this show and pretend you secretly didn't wish that you and your three best friends were living in Hollywood, making movies and sleeping with whichever hot girls you wanted. "That would be an awful, materialistic life," these TV hipsters all said to the girls they were trying to sleep with. The same girls, I might mention, who secretly liked "Entourage," too.
Sure, there were guys who claimed this wasn't their dream life.
But you know what I call those guys?
29. MTV's The Challenge
I don't know how long I will keep watching this show, but the answer might just be forever. Especially if they keep bringing back the "Real World" and "Road Rules" guys and girls competing for challenge championships even as they approach forty.
CT ought to still be doing this show when he's fifty.
30. Family Matters
That's all I need to see say here.
You know I'm right, too.
31. The Brady Bunch
Every afternoon I'd get home from fifth or sixth grade and switch on the TV to TBS, where I'd sit around and watch "The Brady Bunch" all afternoon. How do you fall in love with Marcia Brady despite the fact that she's thirty years older?
You watch "Brady Bunch" reruns.
Marcia Brady's like fifty now and there are still 11-year-old boys falling in love with her every day.
32. (tie) Who's the Boss?
Fact: Every man between the ages of 30 and 45 has had a crush on Alyssa Milano's Samantha Micelli.
Every single one of you.
And a bunch of the women reading this right now would sleep with Tony Danza.
Don't lie to me, ladies. I know it's true.
32. (tie) USA Up All Night, hosted by Rhonda Shear
This is what we lived for before the Internet existed: Late night edited B-movies on the USA Network. Well, that and the scrambled Playboy channel. Which would have been my top pick in the second round. "Look, a sideways blue boob!"