Just a simple list of my top ten all-time favorite TV shows.
1. Scooby Doo (1969-1975)
I’ve tried to turn my kids on to all kinds of pop culture that I loved from my childhood, from comic books to kaiju movies. Some worked, some not so much. However, one of two unequivocal successes (the other being Godzilla) is Scooby, and that’s why it tops my (admittedly very personal) list. I loved it as a kid, I loved re-watching it with both of my kids (and Wanda!), and I hope someday I’ll get to watch with my grand kids as well. It may have been formulaic, but it was also different (if there was another horror themed cartoon, I certainly don’t remember it) and showed more craft than the typical fare in terms of the artistic detail that went into the backgrounds, the voice acting, and the music. Honorable mention goes to the 2015 series, Be Cool Scooby Doo, which is easily the best thing to happen to the franchise in decades.
2. Sherlock Holmes (1984-1994).
Sherlock Holmes too makes my list for personal reasons. It’s the first show Wanda and I both really, really liked and watched together. TV shows more so than movies lend themselves to shared experience, and there’s nothing like finding another fanboy to geek out over a show with. When that person happens to be your significant other, it just levels the whole thing up a notch. Oh, yeah, and it’s an incredibly well-done show, so there’s that too. The series jumped the shark a bit in ’93 with “The Last Vampyre,” but, nevertheless, Brett is the definitive Holmes.
3. Kung Fu (1972-1975).
You guessed it. Another one I watched with Wanda. We watched Kung Fu right after Carson was born, mostly during the two weeks I took off to stay home with them, so I guess technically we watched it with him too. One of my jobs was to change the disc out at feeding time. Kung Fu is the only show I can think of that’s closely related with a particular philosophical viewpoint. According to the Wiki entry for the show, “many of the aphorisms used in the series are adapted from or derived directly from the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Taoist philosophy attributed to the sage Lao-tzu.” What’s amazing about the show is not simply that they integrated Taoist philosophy, but that it integrated it so seamlessly. Carradine sold it very well. Unfortunately, Lao-tzu isn’t the only one they stold from. Evidence suggests that they stole the idea for the show from Bruce Lee and then left him out in the cold because they couldn’t have an actual Chinese guy play the Chinese guy. A sad and pathetic circumstance, yes, but one that seems like it should lie more at the feet of the TV execs at ABC than the artists who actually made the show happen.
4. Twilight Zone.
Kung Fu made me think, but the one show that really knocked it out of the ball park in that regard is The Twilight Zone. For my money, it’s the best written show in the history of TV. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is as good as it gets and probably the most highly regarded, but my own personal favorite is “The Obsolete Man.”
5. As Time Goes By (1992-2002)
It stars Judy Dench. I mean, that’s enough, right? No? Well then, it’s an absolutely charming romantic sitcom about a couple who meet in 1953, fall passionately in love, and then because of intervening circumstances do not see each other again for thirty-eight years, during which time life has happened to both of them. It’s an interesting premise.
6. Foyle’s War (2002-2008)
Foyle’s War is a detective series set against the backdrop of WWII. Like Columbo, Foyle is frequently underestimated, not because he appears bumbling and disheveled but because he’s slow, methodical, and absolutely dedicated to doing his job despite the fact that “there’s a war going on.” Written by Anthony Horowitz, Foyle’s War episodes run an hour and a half or so long. Consequently, the stories as well as the characters have time to develop, and the viewer becomes vested not only in Foyle but in his driver Sam and other characters as well.
7. Miss Marple
The BBC, man they can pick ’em. If Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes (and he is, no disrespect to Basil Rathbone), then Joan Hickson is the definitive Miss Marple. Like Holmes, Marple succeeds simply because the acting is that good and the stories are that good. There’s very little room for improvement.
8. Columbo (1971-2003)
The car, the coat, the dog–Columbo has got to be one of the most lovable TV detectives of all time. The show turned the mystery series on its head by showing who the murderer is from the git go. With no dots to connect, the viewer instead gets to revel in watching the frequently affluent, smarty-pants, entitled murderers get their comeuppance from every-man detective first name “Lieutenant” Columbo.
9. Kino’s Journey (2003)
I don’t like anime. I just don’t. It seems so cool that I keep trying, thinking that I’m missing the boat, and perhaps I am. Clearly, dismissing an entire genre out of hand is myopic and indefensible. I don’t know enough about the topic to make overarching judgments about it, but for the ones I’ve tried, the frequently shrill voice acting and repetitive themes grate on me. But then there’s Kino’s Journey. The steam-punky look is different from most anime, but the big difference lies in the theme. The title character has a back story, but it’s secondary. Mostly, the stories are simply about exploration. It’s more open-ended, less defined than so many overt ones that are just about defeating the bad guys or succeeding socially.
10. Shaun the Sheep/Wallace and Gromit
Quirky. Funny. Awesome. Those three words pretty much sum up the Aardman Animations catalog, which includes both Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit. There’s no dialogue at all in Shaun the Sheep and very little in Wallace and Gromit. It’s all about the sight gags. Jolly good stuff!