If you’re the type of person who gets his rocks off getting mad at lists of the greatest whatevers of all-time, you’re going to PLOTZ or get black out drunk, depending on whether you’re more #10 and #9, at Entertainment Weekly‘s ranking of the 10 best TV shows ever. As far as these lists go, it’s not that bad. The Andy Griffith Show is the obligatory “over-ranked old show” and Breaking Bad is preferable to Mad Men, but otherwise, all the classics are represented: The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, and The Wire, just so EW can say they have a black friend.
I actually kind of hate that The Wire is always going to top best-of TV lists — it’s easy to rip on movie critics for putting, say, Citizen Kane or Some Like It Hot at #1, because BOOOOO get with the times old man, but The Wire? Yeah, tough to argue with that. Eventually, there’ll be a backlash, though, and some contrarian will leave off The Wire and The Simpsons in favor of Boy Meets World and Dog with a Blog. And that little contrarian grew up to be…us.
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.