But in case you're playing dumb, here's Entertainment Weekly's top 10:
10. Your Show of Shows (NBC, 1950-54)
The best-written, best-acted comedy/variety show in history, this showcase for Sid Caesar’s fearless slapstick and endlessly inventive verbal frenzy was the first to perfect a now-lost genre.
9. Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present)
An exquisitely textured retrodrama, Men isn’t just about impeccably dressed ad execs selling the American dream — it’s about the perils of secrets, success, and the struggle to lead an authentic life.
8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997-2001; UPN, 2001-03)
Joss Whedon’s poppy, profound cult saga starring Sarah Michelle Gellar is the best coming-of-age fantasy…ever? Even Harry Potter wonders.
7. The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, 1960-68)
This is television’s consummate portrait of a rural idyll, with Griffith as the wisest, kindest, gentlest authority figure. Don Knotts’ jittery deputy helped pump up the laughs.
6. All in the Family (CBS, 1971-79)
The notion of a lovable bigot was unheard-of until producer Norman Lear and actor Carroll O’Connor brought us Archie Bunker, a man who was endearing in his love for his wife, Edith (played to dingbat perfection by Jean Stapleton), and a role model…in how not to behave.
5. The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007)
David Chase’s landmark mobster drama introduced us to what has become a ubiquitous presence on TV: the antihero. Whether you rooted for Mob boss Tony Soprano (the fearsomely intense James Gandolfini) or against him, you couldn’t help but be riveted by him, no matter which family he was battling.
4. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-77)
Only the greatest, most detailed portrayal of a single career woman in TV history. With laughs and guts, MTM established the paradigm of ”the workplace family.” Moore proved to be one of the medium’s finest straight-women as well as one of its most beautiful comedians.
3. Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998)
Less the famous “show about nothing” than a show about the amusing, stressful, neurotic intricacies of friendship, Seinfeld converted Jerry Seinfeld’s observational stand-up routines into hilarious universal truths about the banality of life, value-added with catchphrases (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The most endlessly rewatchable sitcom since The Honeymooners.
2. The Simpsons (FOX, 1989-present)
It became the gold standard of the subversive dysfunctional-family comedy — animated or live-action — when the focus was shifted early on from punky son Bart to dad Homer, an id-driven but bighearted man child whose IQ is inversely proportional to his cholesterol levels. “I’m in no condition to drive. Wait, I shouldn’t listen to myself. I’m drunk!” is stupidity at its smartest.
1. The Wire (HBO, 2002-08)
The most sustained narrative in television history, The Wire used the drug trade in Baltimore, heavily researched by creator David Simon, to tell tales of race and class with unprecedented complexity. (Perhaps that’s why the show never won a much-deserved Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series and earned only two nominations for writing.) Politics, the war on drugs, labor unions, public education, the media — these were among the big themes, all examined through exquisitely drawn characters, such as the brilliant yet broken detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and the great avenging thug Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), who will live on in legend.
See, in the online media business, we call this list the ole “Shit, we're 3 days from the end of June and we need several hundred thousand pageviews NOW” trick. Write up a familiar and easily arguable list, space it out over 10 slideshow-formatted pages, and $$$. Even the underpants gnomes could figure this out.
My point is that it's silly to quibble too much with a list that doesn't have an actual answer. HOWEVA, The Simpsons—an awesome show, no mistake—is now mainly lauded for its longevity, but that's all it's really had going for it over the last 12 or so years. Placing the show No. 2 over Seinfeld, the best written comedy ever, and The Sopranos, the most influential drama ever, is more debatable than Maggie's aging process.
Then there are the old shows: Maybe three people who've ever visited BroBible have ever seen Your Show of Shows, so there's no point arguing its merits, but if you're going to do the token old show, why not The Twilight Zone? Watch its reruns on Sci-Fi sometime; it holds up remarkably well. The thing was decades before its time for both its terror and social commentary.
But yeah, The Wire. You're going to be hard-pressed to ever argue against that show. It'll have a Citizen Kane clawhold over these rankings for years to come. You come at the king, best not miss.
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