A few days ago, the Writers Guild of America published their comprehensive list of the top 101 best-written shows in all of television history–a follow-up to their 2006 list of best-written films. It’s a long list, and comparably small to the sheer amount of television shows that’ve been broadcast over the decades, and as such, it’s caused a pretty significant amount of discussion across the interwebs since its publication.
Because it’s a list that’s purely subjective, the many placements are wide open to endless discussion and debate, of which I will contribute to in this post. Some placements make sense, others are a little bizarre, and some are just downright ridiculous. But if there’s one thing you can’t accuse the WGA of, it’s not creating a list that’s at least controversial, therefore sparking debate. And debate we shall have!
If you didn’t click the link above, you can view the list in its entirety right below, with some of my thoughts on it further down:
1. “The Sopranos”
3. “The Twilight Zone” (1959)
4. “All in the Family”
6. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”
7. “Mad Men”
9. “The Wire”
10. “The West Wing”
11. “The Simpsons”
12. “I Love Lucy”
13. “Breaking Bad”
14. “The Dick Van Dyke Show”
15. “Hill Street Blues”
16. “Arrested Development”
17. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”
18. “Six Feet Under”
20. “The Larry Sanders Show”
21. “30 Rock”
22. “Friday Night Lights”
25. “Saturday Night Live”
26. “The X-Files”
29. “The Cosby Show”
30. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
31. “The Honeymooners”
33. “Star Trek”
34. “Modern Family”
35. “Twin Peaks”
36. “NYPD Blue”
37. “The Carol Burnett Show”
38. “Battlestar Galactica” (2005)
39. “Sex & The City”
40. “Game of Thrones”
41. (tie) “The Bob Newhart Show”; “Your Show of Shows”
43. (tie) “Downton Abbey”; “Law & Order”; “Thirtysomething”
46. (tie) “Homicide: Life on the Street”; “St. Elsewhere”
49. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
50. (tie) “The Colbert Report”; “The Good Wife”; “The Office” (UK)
53. “Northern Exposure”
54. “The Wonder Years”
55. “L.A. Law”
56. “Sesame Street”
58. (tie) “Fawlty Towers”; “The Rockford Files”
60. (tie) “Freaks and Geeks”; “Moonlighting”
63. (tie) “Everybody Loves Raymond”; “South Park”
65. “Playhouse 90”
66. (tie) “Dexter”; “The Office” (US)
68. “My So-Called Life”
69. “Golden Girls”
70. “The Andy Griffith Show”
71. (tie) “24”; “Roseanne”; “The Shield”
74. (tie) “House”; “Murphy Brown”
76. (tie) “Barney Miller”; “I, Claudius”
78. “The Odd Couple”
79. (tie) “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”; “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”; “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; “Upstairs, Downstairs”
83. “Get Smart”
84. (tie) “The Defenders”; “Gunsmoke”
86. (tie) “Justified”; “Sgt. Bilko (The Phil Silvers Show)”
88. “Band of Brothers”
89. “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”
90. “The Prisoner”
91. (tie) “Absolutely Fabulous” (UK); “The Muppet Show”
93. “Boardwalk Empire”
94. “Will & Grace”
95. “Family Ties”
96. (tie) “Lonesome Dove”; “Soap”
98. (tie) “The Fugitive”; “Late Night with David Letterman”; “Louie”
As you can see, the list is rather diverse with plenty of variety in the various genres on display. It’s also pretty clear that there was some degree of cheating with at least a dozen placements having multiple shows occupying their ranks, but hey, I’m not exactly averse to doing the same thing when I create lists of this type, so I won’t lambast them too much for it.
- I’ll start my thoughts off with the show right at the top of the list–The Sopranos. I can certainly see why this show was ultimately voted the best-written in all television history, but whether I agree with it or not I am unsure of. I adore the show, that much is for certain, and when I watch it I’m in awe of how deep and complex the various characters are, but this is a very competitive list of shows. That being said, it’s not a placement I’m necessarily disappointed with, which, considering the calibre of the shows in this list, I have to consider somewhat of an achievement.
- I have only watched 20% of the shows in the top ten list (The Sopranos and Mad Men), so I cannot confess to being completely knowledgeable about whether the remaining 80% deserve to be where they are. I can still see that it’s a rather diverse set of shows, however, with a decent mixture of old classics with newer, established successes.
- Now we get to the fun stuff, starting off with The Simpsons (#11) placed above shows like Breaking Bad (#13) and Arrested Development (#16). Now, I have only seen the odd episode of The Simpsons dotted around various channels at various points in time, but it seems extremely odd to me that it gained a position higher than two shows considered to be pinnacles of their genre–even more so when I consistently hear about The Simpsons’ dwindling quality in its most recent seasons. As I said, my experience with the show isn’t–and will never be–significant, but I find it difficult to agree with it being in such a high position against tremendous competition, both of which I consider far superior.
- I’m happy that Friday Night Lights (#22) managed to make it onto this list. I’ve only just started watching the show merely days ago, but I am already seeing the signs of a truly excellent television show bubbling beneath the surface. I hear it only gets better from here on out, too, which makes me glad that it got some recognition here.
- As much as I adore The X-Files, and certainly consider the show to be a landmark achievement for television, I’m a little surprised it gained a position so relatively high on this list (#26). It had some fantastic episodes, and it has always been considered a staple of its genre, but I expected it to come much further down a list of this type. It’s even more surprising given how inconsistent it could sometimes be, with the latter seasons of the show being particular offenders in this case. I have an inkling that the show is so high because of what it managed to achieve at the time it was originally broadcast, and I’m fine with acknowledging that, but I’m not okay with some of the shows it managed to beat, which we’ll get to momentarily.
- Can we just pretend that Modern Family never got to such a ridiculously high position (#34) on this list? Look, I’ve never considered the show unfunny or failing in its comedic efforts, but it’s still way too overhyped. The attention it gets at the Emmys every year goes above and beyond what it actually deserves, and calling it better than something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (let’s not even go there) is something I find unfathomable. UNFATHOMABLE.
- Twin Peaks (#35) beating the likes of Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Good Wife and so forth is absolutely ABSURD. I get why it’s often so adored by people, and I, too, found the first season to be a quirky, unique piece of television, but the second season was an absolute clusterfuck that I couldn’t even finish because it was too terrible. Putting it on a list like this is fine by me, if only to recognise its achievements in its first season, but such a high position is totally unwarranted given how it ultimately devolved into an enormous sloppy mess.
- Are we really going to pretend that Sex and the City (#39) deserves to be in the position it’s in? Are we supposed to accept that Game of Thrones (#40) is a lesser show than that, even if it is relatively new compared to the age of some of the shows present in this list? I’m not okay with this, you guys. I’m not okay with this at all.
- Downton Abbey (#43) is the highest-placed British show on this list, therefore implying that it’s the best show this side of the Atlantic has ever had to offer. IT IS NOT. I like Downton Abbey but there is absolutely no way we can ever pretend that it’s the finest show the UK has offered to the television landscape. It’s a good period drama, yes, but it’s barely anything more than a soap when you really delve into it, and it just doesn’t deserve to be where it is.
- At #48 we have Homeland, which I, again, have a problem with. The first is that it’s not even two years old, and I find it difficult to label it one of the best-written television shows because of its age. The second is that while the first season was excellent, compelling and exciting, the second was, to be very blunt, poor. It had moments of excellence, but the second half of the season was a mess. You can’t just ignore the failings of its most recent offering, and that’s why I don’t think it should be so high on this list, if at all.
- And now we get to easily the biggest injustice in this entire list, namely Buffy the Vampire Slayer being so low down (#49). This from a show that’s provided episodes like “The Body” and “Once More With Feeling”, both incredible achievements in their own rights and some of the finest television moments I’ve ever seen. This from a show that managed to achieve so much in the time it spent on the air, creating exquisite character arcs and stories to push the genre beyond its limits. The show never got the attention it deserved from the various award ceremonies back in the day, and it seems that it’s still upsettingly underappreciated by some even today. This deserved to be much, much higher. Easily in the top twenty at the absolute minimum. The fact that it isn’t frustrates me immeasurably.
Overall, I definitely had some issues with this list but if it didn’t managed to achieve some degree of controversy, it would’ve failed in its efforts. Some of the choices make sense, and as I said previously, I’m not completely against The Sopranos being named the best-written show of all time (I would find it difficult giving such a gigantic accolade to any show, just because choosing one out of such a thriving landscape is impossibly hard), but other choices were just…crazy.
Nevertheless, I’m curious to hear what any of you think about this list and what you would/wouldn’t change about it. Let me know in the comment section below, and please make yourself be known if you share my absolute OUTRAGE (yes, OUTRAGE) at Buffy being so under-ranked on this list, because I need to know it’s not just me feeling upset about this.