The Bodacious Belgrade Blog

October 8, 2008

TV is progressively getting better: Best shows of 80s, 90s and now.

Filed under: Uncategorized — bunitingi @ 2:33 am
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TV is getting better and better. I usually don’t hear those words spoken. However, i submit to you this exact statement as clear, unarguable fact. I often hear a lot of bitching and moaning about how everything is always getting crappier and crappier. This may be the case, but not with television shows. No, TV is getting better.

Granted every…. phenomenon has it’s ups and downs. There are good and bad seasons and atrocities like  reality shows come and go. But overall, when we look at the history of television, it is an art form that continues to evolve into greater and greater manifestations of entertainment. It may be mind numbing, it might make you drool like a lifeless, beached whale, bloating on your couch, the only movement in the room being your robotic hand reaching for more chips or another swig of beer while outside the universe spins around in a explosive dance of natural beauty, but damn it, this art form is doing it better and better with each decade, and i for one think it’s awesome.

Oh, you do not believe me? You think i am being ironic? No, i’m serious. I shall now prove this beyond a doubt.

Let us begin with the 80s, as it is a decade i know most of my readership knows. Okay, quick, name 5 great 80s shows.

Go ahead….

Okay, let me be clear for a minute. A great show does not mean a piece of crap that you thought was great because you were really young and would watch any swill that was broadcast. If you can go back and watch it now and with NO nostalgia kick still think it’s great, then you can name it. I don’t care that you loved the A-Team or McGuyver or Dallas and watched it every week. You know, i know, we all know it sucked.

I, for instance adORED moonlighting. I STILL think it did some incredible things to conventional storytelling. But they play it here in Belgrade, and fond memories or not i just can’t sit through it with any real interest. No, a great show has to still be watchable.

THE 80s

I will name 5 great 80s shows:

1. Cheers.

It just goes to show that the 80s sucks so hard that i am reduced to naming Cheers one of the best shows of the entire decade. However, it WAS a good show as sitcoms go, and it IS still watchable. What else am i supposed to put, the bloody Golden Girls? No, of all those 80s sitcoms, Cheers still holds up.

2. Hill Street Blues.

This show set the standard for nighttime drama which has continued to this day. Before this, dramas were always either 1 episode storylines, like Kojak, or straight out soap operas like Dallas. It was gritty, had great characters and didn’t pander to the masses like everything else in the stupid 80s did. Total respect.

3. St. Elsewhere.

Once again, invented the prime time hospital drama. i got into this in the mid 90s when i was living in Chicago and it would come on at 1 every morning. It was damn fine writing, and of course we have discovered through ER and Grey’s Anatomy that the formula can go for DECADES. St. Elsewhere began it.

4. Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

This was a bloody great show. Like other funked out children’s shows that had preceded it (namely H.R. Puffinstuff) it was beloved by both children and stoners. I knew tons of college kids that watched it on weekend mornings, and i must say, it was really creative and a total blast. Best kids show that came out of the 80s. It is a DAMN shame that it got canceled just because Pee Wee got caught pleasing himself in some nasty theater. Thank you internet for making this danger a thing of the past.

See, now it gets really hard to come up with other great 80s shows. I know some will say a show like Quantum Leap should be mentioned, and look, i have fond feelings about it and all those others that come to mind, but in a quirky cheesy way. It’s just not a great show. The Young Ones is English and doesn’t count. Miami Vice? Please. I want to say The Day After, but it’s not a series. I didn’t say it had to be a series, but i’m making the rule now. It’s a blog and i’m essentially talking to myself and you’re reading it in the future. I get to make the rules.

No, i’m gonna go with

5. The Wonder Years.

You know, this was a damn fine show. i don’t know if its aged well as i haven’t tried to watch it, but i don’t have many choices here so i’m going to call it. Wonder Years. Everyone has to shrug and admit, pretty good.

And that’s the 80s. Not much to choose from. Sure you remember a bunch of cheesy crap fondly, but you DO know it’s cheesy crap, right?

THE 90s

As we move up a decade it gets easier.

1. X-Files.

This show was AWESOME. You either watched it and thought so too, or you didn’t but everyone ELSE you know did.

2. Seinfeld.

I can’t really avoid mentioning this. I was never a huge fan, but it WAS cutting edge sitcom stuff, made a mark on pop culture the size of a nucular explosion, and IS perfectly watchable. It’s Seinfeld.

You know, on second thought:

2. Simpsons.

Which would i rather watch right now? Simpsons. Yeah. Simpsons are better.

3. South Park.

It was so original and outrageous, i nearly pooped myself laughing. I used to go around singing Chef’s Songs non stop. (Jana, remember: “Oooooo cathy lee, how i loooove to lay you down…..” Some seasons have gone up some down, but the show is a staple of edgy comic goodness.

4.

Twin Peaks.  I also wanted to say Northern Exposure. But maybe i’ll just have to go with Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel.  It’s a dork thing.

5. ER

I have never cried so hard watching television as i did when Bob Green died. I mean i wept like a little girl whose lollypop has just killed Santa Claus. ER rocked.

6. Did i say 5? See it’s a sign of how much better TV got that not only do i not have problems coming up with stuff, i can’t STOP. LAW & ORDER

i don’t care how many spin offs they have now, or how it should have stopped when Lenny died, i used to be able to watch back to back to back episodes of this FOR HOURS. EVERY NIGHT. Its little formula works SO well.

2000s

Now let’s retake this quiz. Quick, name 5 great tv shows of the past 8 years. it’s easy! (“But paul, that’s because they’re still fresh in your mind”) No, it’s not! Read down this list and tell me which show is not better than the 80s.

1. Grey’s Anatomy.

Inside me is a total girl and this is the show she loves. We do not speak of our affair with Gilmore Girls in public. Grey’s Anatomy is totally, totally awesome. After the the 3rd season finale devastated me beyond words i’ve had difficulty getting as back into it as before, but who knows. Still, AWESOMENESS. St. Elsewhere Mach III.

2. Lost.

Blah blah second season was crappy blah blah. You know what, seasons 1, 3 and 4 rocked. And only 1 more to go. See, TV has new sensibilities. They actually PLAN END DATES. This is crucial. TV has EVOLVED. In the old days, TV shows ran forever and the producers would try keep airing them long after they expired. Laverne & Shirley, Laverne LEFT! The show continued. Welcome Back Kotter, KOTTER LEFT!!! The show continued. Happy days literally invented the phrase “jumped the shark”.

Lost, on the other hand, to avoid this and to help focus after the 2nd season declared there would be 5 seasons and then the story would wrap up. Brilliant. I am addicted beyond my power to control myself and will watch with bated breath until the end.

3. Battlestar Galactica.

I’m a fantasy, sci-fi likin’ guy. Except that i don’t like most of it. A tough conundrum to be sure. When i find stuff that thrills me, China Mieville, Neal Stephenson, (George Martin stop reading this and go back to writing the next book) even the X-Files back in the day, i REALLY like it and wish there was more good sci-fi stuff. There’s a lot of stuff, it’s just all lame. Sorry Star Trek people. Some of my best friends are trekkies. I just can’t follow.

But Battlestar Galactica, FINALLY, a REALLY GOOD science fiction show on television. There are NO others that can hold a candle to it. It proved there is audience out there if someone wants to get down and actually do some intelligent sci fi. It ALSO showed that there is a huge FEMALE audience for sci fi if someone with half a perspective can actually write some complex, ass kicking female characters. And it too has built in end date. Smart move. Especially after sitting through the entire middle to late season 4. Season 5, back on track.

4. Sopranos?

In the 2000s when reality shows dragged TV down a new market emerged which brought TV up to new heights of intelligence. HBO and now Showtime are rocking. Sopranos, Weeds, Dexter…. bless them. And HBO also gave us:

5. The Wire.

Probably the greatest show ever made. Seriously. Get the first season and just watch it back to back. They take their time developing the plots, trusting that their audience has some intelligence and patience to watch a brilliant story carefully unfold. It looks at all sides of the drug war from junkie to dealer to cop to mayor. It is just so damn good. If you are reading this now and want to know which of all these shows mentioned you should go get if you haven’t seen it, it is The Wire. And please just be patient. It’s worth it.

6. Mad Men.

Another exercise in intelligent writing for adults. It’s unbelievable that i can even use the phrase “intelligent writing for adults” in a sentence while talking about TV. What about Damages? The first season was pretty cool.

7. Nip/Tuck.

The writers of this show are crazy. Really crazy and truly disturbed. And the show’s plot lines move through every aspect of modern culture i can even think of. The writers have got to be either on drugs or schizophrenic. And i mean that in a good way. This show is dark, watchable, and fascinating.

And let’s not forget, 24 was revolutionary for those first 2 seasons. (it can go now, though.) Robot Chicken is the funniest thing on television and does what south park used to when it was fresh. The Shield?

Shows are more daring. They’re better written. They use continuity better. No series of yesteryear is better than the series of today. You might argue that perhaps sitcoms were better (MASH would be a case in point. Good Times, All in the Family, the 70s were the decade for great sitcoms no doubt) but where sitcoms have died, new stuff has risen in its place.

I tell you, television is getting better. Now go outside and get some fresh air.

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