Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The lonely libertarian's list of the smartest tv shows ever

Mensa had their list, so here's mine. The top ten smartest tv shows of all-time. I've confined myself to what I know, meaning a show like The Wire- which I've heard so many good things about- is off the table.

1. The Prisoner

The 60's era mini-series caught my eye in high school as a shining example of what could be done with the medium of television. Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 attempts to escape from the Village, fights a psychological battle of wills, and delves into philosophical notions of the individual.

2. Battlestar Galactica
I hope you all realize I mean the new series. It's bold in what it sets out to accomplish, dark in it's application, and downright thought provoking in it's execution. It's the rare the show that never talks down to it's audience.

3. South Park
Probably the most subversive show to ever grace the airwaves. It manages to delve into issues of human nature, explain economic theory, and question social norms, all under the guise of a show about four foul-mouthed fourth graders.

3. The X-Files
The show had it's good and bad moments, but the good moments were some of the best hours ever seen on tv. In a show that was supposedly about the search for the truth, the best moments questioned whether there even was such a thing. Probably the only show to ever be so self-reflective, yet go on to bigger and greater heights.

5. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Less madeup techno-babble and more beleivable geo-politics than the other shows in the Star Trek universe. The show delved into war, religion, friendship, and marriage, while showcasing a cast of well over 20 characters who evolved as the show went on.

6. Seinfeld
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld unraveled the traditional sitcom from the inside out, all while becoming a template for those interested in the unwritten rules of human interaction.

7. House

Not for the medical mysteries as much as for the show's stilted take on human nature and the almost Seinfeld-like obsession of Dr. House's refusal to accept social niceties.

8. The Simpsons
Or at least, the first decade of the show. In it's heyday the show was layered with cultural references and subtle in it's politics.

9. Arrested Development The show is so layered with inside jokes and call backs that it grows funnier on repeated viewings and your appreciation grows over time.

10. Carnivale HBO's attempt at telling a six-year story of good and evil along the backdrop of a dust bowl carnival was cut short after only two years. Critics thought the slow was too slow in developing, but I always had the impression of a novel brought to life.

Obviously, this list is by no means the last word. I'd welcome comments about other shows, but I'd be particularly interested in criticism of the shows I've included here.


Blogger McMc said...

The thing that struck me odd about the MENSA list was that the shows were more about smart topics, as opposed to being just smart with their writing and story telling. FRASIER, for example, was a show that involved smart characters, but does that necessarily make it a "smart" show? I say no because after you scratch away big words and witty retorts between characters, you just have another laugh track sitcom. Take a look at a few episode summaries...

"For Martin's 65th birthday, Frasier and Niles engage in their yearly competition to buy him the better gift. They keep one-upping each other, until Frasier makes the ultimate sacrifice and buys Martin a humongous big screen TV. Niles, however, trumps him by buying Martin his old patrol horse, Agides."

"In Acapulco, Frasier has a torrid affair with a model named Kelly. Since she's going through a divorce, she asks him to keep their relationship a secret, and he promises. Back in Seattle, though, he is needled when everyone takes his "discretion" to mean that he struck out and can't admit it. Indignantly, he reveals the truth about Kelly to Martin, Niles, and Daphne. When they believe that he's concocted an "imaginary friend" out of loneliness, he goes to increasingly insane lengths to prove it."

"Frasier dates Samantha, a high-powered attorney. He and his family become confused when it is clear that he is not the one "wearing the pants" in their relationship."

Some of these you could just replace character names and find as plots on TWO AND A HALF MEN. Of course, Frasier has better dialogue and sounds smarter, but it's not smart in its execution.

As for your list, I won't argue with shows I've never seen, such as THE PRISONER or BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. I can't argue with shows I love either like SOUTH PARK, THE SIMPSONS, SEINFELD, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE X-FILES. (By the way, while the X-Files may be over-the-top in aliens and monsters, but they at least try to offer scientific explanations). A few shows I would add to my list...

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Just an amazingly realistic show. The most authentic characters on TV that create realistic reactions and motivations.

M*A*S*H - Totally agree with MENSA. While the show was over before I was even born, I did watch re-runs regularly and found the show to be fantastic. M*A*S*H found a way to incorporate comedy into a war time setting while never losing the powerful emotions of a drama. It was the first show I ever saw use "gimmicks", like a documentary-style episode. M*A*S*H is still re-run today and I highly suggest watching it as it is still very relavent with a war going on in Iraq.

THE WIRE - Never seen one episode, but it just seems impossible to find a person who has seen the show and doesn't like it. It also seems to deal with a lot of hard hitting issues like drugs, law enforcement, corruption, the media and the similarites between criminals and normal people. I can't wait to watch it and I'm sure it'll exceed all expectations.

11:11 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I'll defend Frasier, as I used to watch it on occasion. I don't think it ranks as "smartest" but I would say it ranks ahead of shows like Two and a Half Men and even shows like Friends. I think part of the smartness of Frasier lay in it's ability to distinguish intelligence and culture from basic social skills. There also was a fair amount of psychological stuff going on- for instance, Niles relationship with his wife and later ex-wife, the never seen on camera Maris.

I do agree with you generally, that the shows on the MENSA list seem to be shows about smart things- CSI is forensic science, the West Wing is complicated politics, Frasier is about smart characters. Interestingly enough, Mad About You and Boston Legal are singled out for their characters. To put it bluntly, come again?

3:43 PM  

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