Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

List: Mr. Feeny’s 10 All-Time Favorite Shows

Posted by Mr. Feeny on January 7, 2010

Since I’m in a list-creating mood, I decided to finally finish what I started months ago. My Ten Favorite Shows. Period. (Note that only two of my all-decade shows are on this list, compared to pretty much every one from CJ and Moltisanti…I’m not saying, I’m just saying)

I never realized until putting this list together how completely random my tastes can be. I’ve got hokey sitcoms, serious dramas, action-packed adventures and goofball comedies. Although I do go back to the 50s, it turns out that most of my favorite shows actually aired during my lifetime, which really surprises me. Their start years are 1951, 1965, 1984, 1997, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1999, and 2001. But only one is still on the air. And if I were to expand this to my Top 20, most of that second batch would be sitcoms from the 60s and 70s.

There’s one common theme with every single one of these shows, though. Each one I watched in re-runs. Even the most recent ones I either caught up with in syndication or on DVD. I did watch the last few seasons of Frasier and 24 live, but that’s it.

Also, FYI. Making lists like this is very dangerous. I’ve been tempted to buy at least one season of each of these shows on Amazon. Bad idea.

1) Get Smart – No show holds more of a special place in my heart than Get Smart. I often tell people how when I was 5, I wouldn’t let my mom go to the hospital to give birth to my sister because  I needed to watch it. My grandparents came over to watch me, so everything worked out. But that’s how obsessed I was with this show in re-runs at age 5. I’d constantly pretend I was Agent 86. Everything became a secret weapon. At my First Communion, I pretended my cumberbun was bullet-proof. The highly quotable sitcom (one of the most quotable ever) often slipped into my conversations. Don Adams was pure brilliance in the lead role. Simply hilarious. I especially loved his interactions with Siegfried, played by Bernie Koppel. Would you believe I own all nine books, which were written after the series, and that they’re just as enjoyable? How about 1 episode guide that’s a quick read? A transcript I wrote of an episode? Sorry about that, reader. Just had to throw in some of those quotable lines. Looking at it now, it is a cheesy sitcom. But just as funny. And if your only point of reference is the movie with Steve Carell, forget it. Terrible.

2) Quantum Leap — The first episode I ever watched of Quantum Leap is the worst possible one to start with. The Season Four premiere, where Sam and Al switch places. Talk about confusion. It took me weeks to figure out who was actually who. But once I did, I never looked back. My love of history first attracted me. Sam’s brushes with the past were always intriguing and helped me learn more about the eras. But the stories were always unique little mysteries. How to solve this problem and set someone’s life on the right track.Plus, it was funny. Dean Stockwell’s charming and loveable Al made me laugh on a regular basis. But he also had some great dramatic moments. I love learning more about each of their lives, investing completely in the show’s only two characters. Plus, Scott Bakula sang often, which is a special treat. And like Get Smart, I have most of the books that came after the series. That’s when you know I liked a TV show. Enough to make me read.

3) The West Wing — I was highly skeptical of this show for years. When it was actually on the air, I didn’t watch much modern television. And I kept hearing about how liberal it was. Why would I want to watch a political show about politics I disagree with? But senior year of college, two of my friends (CJ included) convinced me to give it a shot. And I fell in love. It turns out Aaron Sorkin did a surprisingly good job balancing arguments on the show so the liberalism wasn’t overwrought. But more importantly, the characters, dialogue and situations were all incredibly interesting. As a political and historical junkie, there couldn’t be a better television program. So realistic and intriguing. The multitude of storylines each episode kept you interested for the whole hour, while long-running archs kept you coming back. And just when you think the show had jumped the shark (the lesser seasons 5 and 6), it roars back with a phenomenal campaign season, pitting Jimmy Smits against Alan Alda. I felt for each character more than any show on this list. And, I’m pretty sure I would actually vote for Jeb Bartlet. Martin Sheen not winning an Emmy is the second biggest Emmy tragedy in history (for the first, see #6). Here’s my favorite clip from The West Wing. CJ thinks it’s overdone, but I love the passion. For a translation of the Latin, see the YouTube page directly.

4) Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Also a recent newcomer to my list. It doesn’t mean I’m wishy-woshy, though. I just never got to experience these fantastic programs when they were on. And frankly, why would I try a show about a girl who fights vampires? Not my thing at all. The closest I’d come to watching that is Abbott and Costello. But I never expected it to be so gosh darn funny. That’s really what kept me coming back this summer. The dialogue was witty and hilarious. As the series progressed, I cared more about the characters as well, and finally I was hooked. Joss Whedon’s development of those characters throughout the series with fine-tuned detail was very impressive and immerses you in the show. Two episodes from the later seasons — “The Body” and “Once More with Feeling” — are two of the greatest episodes of television ever created. And, my favorite part, is the attention to detail. Constantly recalling occurrences from previous episodes, years ago. That’s the type of mythology I can sink my teeth into. The only thing that would make the show better would be more Giles in the last two seasons. He’s painfully underused. I need my British professor.

5) I Love Lucy – The classic sitcom. The magic that new sitcoms still hope to replicate after more than 50 years. In truth, this probably should be my favorite show of all time. I’ve seen every episode, and can probably give you almost every summary right now. I can recite the Vitameatavegamin speech from memory. Some of my favorite songs are Babalu and Cuban Pete. But the mix of sentimental favorites and recently viewed dropped I Love Lucy down to fifth. I know many people love The Honeymooners, but for me, it never compared to this work of brilliance. Lucille Ball was a comedic genius, with three stellar co-stars. Every situation Lucy got herself into had me in stitches. Just to understand the significance of the show, look how many huge movie stars made guest appearances (especially in the post-series Comedy Hours). This show truly stands the test of time and will continue to make audiences laugh until people no longer watch television.

6) Murder, She Wrote – Speaking of huge guest stars…anyone who’s anyone appeared on this show during its extended run. I’ve mentioned how I’m not much of a reader. The only books I ever really enjoyed were mysteries. The Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Mrs. Pollifax. I ate them up. So when I discovered Murder, She Wrote in reruns on A&E, I was in heaven. A new solvable mystery every day in just an hour. The key there is “solvable.” Unlike so many modern crime dramas, Murder, She Wrote allowed you the viewer to guess who the killer was. All the clues and motives were presented and you had 50 minutes or so to figure it out. That alone wouldn’t be enough to make the show one of my favorites, though. The key was Angela Lansbury. She has since become my favorite actress, across all mediums. But her classy, grandmotherly ways instantly had me hooked. I alluded to the greatest tragedy in Emmy history. Lansbury was nominated every year the show was on the air (85-96) and never won. Inconceivable. At least she has 5 Tonys. I love JB Fletcher. She was a strong, clever and often humorous leading character, driving the show mostly on her own. Every now and then, she had complimentary characters in Cabot Cove. But the writers cleverly made sure she left the small coastal Maine town often so as not to suspend belief on how high murder rates were there. Just from top to bottom a perfect show. And my favorite aspect: it’s predictability. At about the 25-29 minute mark, there’d be a dead body, the first suspect would be taken in around 36min, Jessica would clear him/her at about 46min, she’d have a revelation at 51min, and the murder would be solved at 55min. That’s the way it work 85% of the time. But that just provided consistency; it didn’t hurt the stories or mysteries. Lastly, because this might be my last chance to talk about Angela Lansbury, enjoy this, along with Golden Girls star Bea Arthur:

7) 24 – You’re probably sick of us talking about 24 at this point. We’ve established that it, Jack Bauer and Keifer Sutherland are all some of the greatest things about this decade. But I’m going to go into why it matters so much to me. It’s the first show I caught up on with DVD. This is significant because it’s how I’ve spent my life since. Without my month-long marathon to finish four and a half seasons of 24, I may have never watched LOST, The West Wing, Buffy, Rescue Me or whatever I tackle next. And really, it’s the best way to watch 24. No waiting a week for cliffhangers. I distinctly remember nights in college that I stayed up until 4am because I couldn’t go to sleep until an storyline was resolved. The fact that I had finals was secondary. 24 is action-packed, filled with surprising twists and stunning moments. And its durability over seven seasons is highly admirable. Rarely did a character only appear in one season, keeping some level of continuity. And each person had a little story arc separate from the main plot, to give you a more personal connection. The fact that it’s all set in “real time” and pioneered a new style of filming really takes a back seat to how great the stories and acting were/are.

8 ) Frasier – Rarely does a spin-off exceed the success of its originating show. Most just flop. But Frasier, in my opinion, was far more entertaining than Cheers, a great sitcom in its own right. Frasier’s pacing was more my style. The clever scene titles, the sardonic wit, the compulsions. The longest running television character transitioned perfectly into his own show (and doomed Kelsey Grammar to never play anything else). Maybe it’s because of the radio backdrop. Maybe it’s the high-brow references that I often miss but still catch more than most viewers. Maybe it’s the excellent supporting cast, led by David Hyde Pierce. Whatever the reason, I can watch episodes of Frasier over and over again and laugh new each time. Even more than the other sitcoms on this list. Although the writers did sometimes use slapstick (with great success), the core of this comedy was its original punchlines. No easy jokes for Frasier. And that’s what I enjoy most. You don’t feel like your watching something tired.

9) Boy Meets World – I know. You’re thinking to yourself “well, this show was at its heigh while you were a kid. You must have at least watched this show when it originally ran.” Nope. Even Boy Meets World was viewed in reruns, on the Disney channel, during my high school days. Clearly, I’m a big fan. (the “clearly” is in reference to my user name…just in case you needed a nudge). Kid shows are extremely difficult to maintain success because children grow. They get older. The cute characters from when the show premiered eventually have to go to high school. And if the show is still going strong, look for the college years. But Boy Meets World managed to pull it off, with its later seasons taking a quality dip, but still relatively entertaining. The high school years were actually my favorite. When Eric became a little more of a goofball and Cory and Topanga’s romance blossomed. And Mr. Feeny was…Mr. Feeny. He never changed, God love him. Boy Meets World tackled the biggest social questions of the day for kids and families, taught lessons, did so without the Full House happy ending sometimes, but still managed to keep it funny when needed. A well crafted show worked on multiple levels. I wish Disney or Nickelodeon ran shows like that now, instead of inane cookie cutter comedies.

10) Early Edition — This one might not belong on my list. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve seen an episode. My love of it is purely based on memory. I know my tastes have matured quite a bit in 10 years, so maybe Early Edition would lose its magic. But I loved it in junior high. What’s not to love about a regular old joe getting tomorrow’s newspaper and going around to save people? I often dreamt that I could do the same thing. Of course, the show being set and filmed in Chicago didn’t hurt its place on my list. And every time I watch Friday Night Lights, I just think about Kyle Chandler as Gary Hobson. I wish this show were still in syndication, even though the last season or two did lose something. Once Fisher Stevens left. I’m pretty sure Early Edition fostered my love of similar shows, like Quantum Leap, LOST, or failed attempts, like last year’s Journeyman. Clearly, I love correcting history.

Honorable Mention: Arrested Development, The Golden Girls and LOST were incredibly close to being on this list. But there are about 20 other shows I’d be tempted to include in my next 7 slots. Apologies to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore, Monk, The Bob Newhart Show, Bewitched, Full House and many others.

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4 Responses to “List: Mr. Feeny’s 10 All-Time Favorite Shows”

  1. CJ Cregg said

    Interesting List. I’m definitely going to be revising mine, as well. Like you, I think Buffy should probably be on mine.

    I now have an itch to watch Get Smart…

  2. Blu said

    There are several shows that can be on the all time list that didn’t make your list.
    All time and in no particular order: Twilight Zone, The Bob Newhart Show, Get Smart (certainly up there), Stargate: SG1, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Babylon 5, Mary Tyler Moore, The Shield.

    That’s a healthy list and shows how subjective a list can be as my list is weighted towards Scifi and I’d wager that if CJ, and Moltisanti create an all time list not one Scifi show would be present. I don’t really count Buffy as Scifi as it is more of a drama with vampires in it.

  3. Mr. Feeny said

    Wow. You left off the Star Trek that I’d put in my Top 20. Next Generation. Hands down. Is Babylon 5 that good that it needs two spots on the list?

  4. Blu said

    Yikes….typo on the B5 twice but yeah it is an amazing show!
    It was planned out in advance, all five seasons and is basically a epic novel for TV.
    Stuff in the first season was a foundation for the seasons to come and not a house was built but a mansion of complex storytelling! It is more serialized than episodic which I enjoy.

    Great show!

    Star Trek: TNG was a great show, in fact it is the only ST series I have complete on DVD. You are right it is deserving and I can’t think of why I didn’t put it on the list.

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