Through good and bad, thick and thin, there’s always been one constant in my life. Something that is stable and reliable. Something that showers me with unconditional love. I’ve laughed with it. I’ve cried with it. I’ve cheered with it. I’ve screamed at it. But through all my experiences, it’s always been there for me.
And that one thing is: TV.
I have so many important people in my life, but the one thing that’s always been there for me is TV. When I had mono, I didn’t hang out with friends and family. I watched TV. When a date flaked on me, I could always go home and watch TV. When I needed to procrastinate from writing a paper, I just clicked the button on my remote control, and there was the warm, glowing love of the TV.
Some may think my fondness for television is a bit much; that I probably don’t have much of a life. I’m a couch potato. I’m lazy. I have no motivation. But that’s not true. I don’t see TV as my life, but instead as a safety net. Something I can always turn to.
Television gets a bum rap because it has only been around for about 50 years. When one compares TV to film or books, it doesn’t stand a chance. Film is almost 100 years old, and books have been around forever. It’s like television is in preschool while film is in high school, and books just finished up there medical school degree.
My point is that TV needs more time to prove that it is an important source of entertainment in our society. I’m tired of people calling it the “idiot box.” I’m tired of people focusing on all the garbage it produces. Because when you think about it, both film and books have plenty of bombs as well.
My Tufts Experience
My sophomore year at Tufts, I took a creative writing class. Our first assignment was to bring in a great piece of writing. We went around the class sharing our works. The first student brought in something by Mark Twain. Then it was a piece by Tolstoy. Then, Shakespeare.
Finally, it was my turn. I presented a script from an episode of Seinfeld. The professor looked at me with shock. My classmates stared at me with confusion. “That doesn’t count. You can’t do that,” the professor announced. Why not? She couldn’t articulate an appropriate answer.
I’ll never forget that. That’s when it occurred to me that some people just don’t understand television like I do.
Here are my 10 favorite 30 minute TV shows. My definition of a classic is when…
I have a personal connection to the show and its characters.
I can reference or quote the show.
I can watch the show over and over again.
The show (new or syndicated) has been around for a long period of time, and is not outdated.
To narrow down the top 10, I’ve also created a few rules:
The show must have aired on network television i.e. no cable programming. (Sorry Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, Entourage, South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, etc.)
The show must have been on air for at least 4 seasons (sorry 30 Rock, Arrested Development.)
The show must only be 30 minutes in length (sorry Quantum Leap, Lost, 24, Law & Order, Beverly Hills 90210, SNL, etc.)
Honorable Mentions (just missed my cut):
Family Guy, Family Ties, Night Court, Newhart, Perfect Strangers, Doogie Howser M.D., The Office, Married with Children, Different Strokes, Silver Spoons, Boy Meets World
Without Further Ado, Here is My Top 10:
#10 “GROWING PAINS” (1985-92)
The Seaver family: Maggie, Jason, Ben, Carol, and Mike brought the laughs week after week. The episodes were cheesy, but they were goofy and funny. The show was on a roll until Kirk Cameron became a born again Christian and basically ruined the fun. But Growing Pains had a number of good episodes. The show also must be recognized for one of the best theme songs of all time (“As long as we got each other”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liFmMcmigsQ), It's also where Leonardo Dicaprio got his start as Luke, and features two of the best sidekicks ever: Boner and Stinky Sulivan.
Favorite Episode: “Do you believe in magic?”
Mike gets conned into buying a magic rock.
Which Character I’d Like To Meet: Boner.
Because his name is Boner.
#9 “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” (2005-?)
This is the only new show that makes an appearance in my top 10. I wrote about it last month so I’ll include a brief summary and the link if you’d like to read more.
How I Met Your Mother finally got an Emmy nomination for best comedy series. It’s about time! Does that mean it’s still underrated? I think so.
I first started watching HIMYM 3 years ago. My roommate J-M turned me on to it. I expected nonsense like most modern day sitcoms, but the show was funny, original, clever, and poignant. Although it appears to be a Friends-like show, it actually reminds me more of an R-rated Wonder Years. HIMYM is told in flashbacks and this time Bob Saget is the narrator instead of Daniel Stern. When I watch Wonder Years, it reminds me of my childhood; when I watch How I Met Your Mother, it reminds me of my life today. HIMYM discusses topics such as dating, relationships, sex, drugs/alcohol, food, work, getting older, living in NYC, sports, and pop culture (one of the best compliments I ever received was that my blog was reminiscent of How I Met Your Mother.)
To read more, click on: http://thecorner33.blogspot.com/2009/08/underrated-part-ii.html
Favorite Episode: “The Third Wheel” (narrowly defeating “The Naked Man”)
Ted is on the verge of having a threesome. Did I mention one of the girls is played by Danica McKellar? (Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years!)
Which Character I’d Like To Meet: Barney Stinson.
He could teach me the bro-code, and how to suit up.
#8 “CHEERS” (1982-93)
Cheers used to be in my top 5, but it hasn’t really stood the test of time, and has since dropped a few spots. But Cheers is still a classic: it’s where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. It’s also one of the first shows where the setting (the bar) is a main character. The fact that it takes place in my hometown of Boston definitely scores it a few points as well.
I remember watching every Thursday night with my family. I didn’t get all of the jokes as a kid, but I learned quickly. I still recognize Cheers occasionally by making a reference to the Screaming Viking, or calling a fictional girlfriend a Vera. If you know what I’m talking about, you’re definitely a big watcher as well. I was more of a fan of the later episodes so I’d take Woody over Coach, and Rebecca over Diane, but to each his own. Add in another amazing theme song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD8ljNobUys), and you got yourself a classic.
Favorite Episode: “The Bar Wars.”
A classic prankster episode pitting the Cheers bar versus Gary’s Old Town Tavern. Check out the great cameo by Mr. Wade Boggs before he defected to the hated Yankees.
Which Character I’d Like To Meet: Norm.
Sitting around all day drinking beer sounds like fun to me.
#7 “THE COSBY SHOW” (1984-92)
Bill Cosby is unbelievably talented. Not only did he speak at my Tufts graduation, but he also created one of the best 30 minute shows of all-time (not Fat Albert, but that was pretty good too.) The Cosby Show was great because it was so simple. The episodes were as basic as Rudy gets sick, Theo fails a test, or Cliff tries to fix the dishwasher. But they all worked because of Bill Cosby’s charm, humor, silliness, and crazy sweaters.
I watched The Cosby Show with my family every Thursday night. I loved being with the Huxtables and all of their friends: Cliff, Claire, Denise, Vanessa, Sondra, Elvin, Rudy, Kenny/Bud, Theo, Cockroach, and even Smitty (played by Adam Sandler in a few episodes.)
The show faded once Rudy got older, and she was basically replaced by the “That’s so Raven” girl. But I’ll never forget the great memories I had from the first 6 seasons.
Favorite Episode: “I’m In With the In Crowd.”
Vanessa gets bombed, and the Huxtables play drinking games.
Which Character I’d Like to Meet: Cockroach.
I’d love to hang with him and write a rap song about Shakespeare.
#6 “FRASIER” (1993-04)
Some might not know, but the character of Frasier Crane spanned the airwaves for nearly 20 years. He was a side character on Cheers, and then started his own spin-off show, Frasier. Not many characters have succesfully pulled off the spin-off show. Joey (Friends) was a bomb, Just the 10 of Us (Growing Pains) never really took off, and neither did Joanie Loves Chachi (Happy Days.)
There were a lot of skeptics when Frasier first came out. I still remember my brother Jon being repulsed by the plot: “Fraiser moves back to Seattle to live with his father. What’s funny about that?”
Frasier defied odds with brilliant writing, great acting, and clever humor. I didn’t appreciate Frasier until 2006 when I dvr’d every episode. I could not stop watching and although my roommates were annoyed, they eventually got hooked as well.
Favorite Episode: “Frasier’s Imaginary Friend”
Frasier meets a supermodel, but has to keep it a secret.
Which Character I’d Like To Meet: Bulldog, the sports radio personality.
He loves sports, women, and being a wise ass. I think we would get along.
#5 “FRIENDS” (1994-04)
Chandler, Ross, Joey, Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe changed the face of the modern day sitcom. If the 1980’s were about family, the 1990’s were about singles, friendship, and dating. The first 5 seasons of Friends are up with any show ever created. The dialogue was fresh and witty. The episodes were provocative and fun. The characters played off of each other like they were real Friends.
Chandler and Joey brought us one of the first television bro-mances while the tension between Ross and Rachel was reminiscent to Sam and Diane. The characters complimented one another and every viewer had someone to connect with.
Unfortunately, Friends eventually jumped the shark. Chandler got fat, and he wasn’t funny anymore. Monica went from neurotically funny to just neurotic. Phoebe went from strangely funny to just strange. And Ross went from annoying to well, even more annoying. The actors stared at the camera way too long after a stale joke, and waited for the applause. But it only came from the laugh track.
It was frustrating because the first five seasons were near perfection. Despite the lazy finish, Friends is still in my top 10. There are several laugh-out-loud episodes that can be re-watched daily, it’s got a fun theme song, and the characters are unforgettable.
If you’re bored, try playing fu*k, marry, kill with the cast.
Favorite Episode: “The One with the Embryos.”
This is the classic episode where Joey and Chandler battle Monica and Rachel in a trivia game. The winner gets the unrealistically huge NYC apartment. “What was Monica’s nickname when she was a field-hockey goalie?” If you know this, you’re definitely a fan of the show.
Which character I’d Like to Meet: Joey.
Because I love eating sandwiches too.
Jumping the shark is a colloquialism coined by Jon Hein and used by TV critics and fans to denote the point in a television program's history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations. This usually corresponds to the point where a show with falling ratings apparently becomes more desperate to draw in viewers. In the process of undergoing these changes, the TV or movie series loses its original appeal. Shows that have "jumped the shark" are typically deemed to have passed their peak.
The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series Happy Days, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the third of the three parts of the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark while water skiing.
#4 “SAVED BY THE BELL” (1989-93)
Saved by the Bell is easily the cheesiest show of all-time. It breaks every single rule in TV. It’s outdated, the plots are predictable, the characters are one-dimensional and break the 4th wall by speaking to the camera, the one-liners are painful. But somehow this show is still amazing. It’s about as explainable as Stonehenge or the success of Dane Cook or David Hasselhoff. Nobody knows how it happened or why it happened, but it just happened.
The weirdest part is that Saved by the Bell appeals to every demographic despite the fact that the characters are all wealthy yuppies. Whether you live in the city or the suburbs, if you’re old or young, grew up rich or poor, support democrats or republicans, almost everyone agrees on one thing: Saved by the Bell is awesome.
I watched Saved by the Bell on Saturday mornings and after school on TBS. I memorized every episode and can compete with just about anyone in trivia. (A.C. stands for Albert Clifford. Violet Anne Bickerstaff was played by Tori Spelling. Mr. Belding’s younger brother is named Rod.)
Saved by the Bell was brilliant because of its characters. The smartest thing they did was cast some of the hottest chicks in TV with Kelly the Cheerleader, Lisa the Gossip Girl and Jessie the brainiac. Then they balanced it with A.C. the jock, Zack the preppy, and Screech, the nerd. It was almost what Friends did years later. Every viewer had someone to connect with or dream about.
Some people will never understand Saved by the Bell. But those who do will support it forever. To be honest, I still don’t understand why I love the show. But I just do.
On a fun note, I met Mr. Belding at a “Jurassic 5” concert years ago. Yes, I met him at a rap concert. And I once saw AC Slater at a club in Vegas. I still haven’t met Kelly Kapowski yet, but hopefully one day.
Favorite Episode: “Jessie’s Song.”
Jessie gets hooked on caffeine pills and delivers one of the best lines of all time: “I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m so…scared!” It scores very high on the unintentional comedy scale. Click here for the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljtuGoIIKGs
Which Character I’d Like to Meet: Kelly Kapowski.
Because she is the hottest girl that's ever appeared on TV!
By the way, have you ever noticed the amount of hot TV characters named Kelly: Kelly Bundy (Married with Children), Kelly Boyd (Cheers), Kelli Taylor (Beverly Hills 90210.)
#2B THE SIMPSONS (1989-?)
Here’s something that I wrote last December:
In 1990, when the Simpsons first aired my buddy Greece suggested that I check it out. I was 12 at the time. I remember sitting in the basement, glued to the TV. The episode was titled “The Call of the Simpsons.” Homer and Bart were starving and lost in the woods.
HOMER: This is a trap. It's gonna catch us our dinner. Come on, boy. Shh. Just watch.
They patiently wait for their prey. A cute bunny steps into the trap and is catapulted high into the sky until there is a “thud” off screen. My buddy and I burst into laughter. After that, I was hooked.
When my parents asked me how many hours of TV I watched a day, I mimicked Bart Simpson: “6! 7 if there’s anything good on.” I watched hours of the Simpsons; the new episodes and the re-runs. In 7th grade history class, someone taught me how to draw each character; a tool which still comes in handy today when I’m bored. My parents continued to nag me asking how I could spend so much time watching a cartoon.
To further my obsession, I recorded all of the classic Simpsons episodes on one tape. When my Mom accidentally taped it over with Murder, She Wrote, I flipped out. I finally calmed down, forgave my Mom and Angela Lansbury, and convinced myself to start again. After 5 years, I compiled Volumes 1-8, and close to 200 episodes. It gained me mass amounts of popularity as people from college and high school would come over just to watch.
My parents finally accepted my obsession when Time Magazine voted The Simpsons “The best Show of the 20th century.” I knew it since I was 12 years-old.
Something also has to be said for the longevity of the series. It’s been on for 20 years and counting. The show has clearly become weaker, but every time it seems to have jumped the shark, the Simpsons come back with another good episode.
To read more, click on: http://thecorner33.blogspot.com/2008/12/happy-holidays-from-matt-groening-and.html
Favorite Episode: “Homer the Heretic”
Homer creates his own religion.
Which Character I’d Like to Meet: Homer Simpson.
Because we could drink a case of Duff, and then let the hijinks ensue.
#2A SEINFELD (1990-98)
Here’s something that I wrote last December:
Seinfeld was one of the shows that brought my father and me closer. Our relationship revolved around sports, but we also had another thing in common; we loved to laugh. The discovery of Seinfeld strengthened our bond. We split our sides over the expressions Soup Nazi, Mulva, Sparing a Square, the Bubble Boy, and These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty. At social functions, my Dad and I could integrate a Seinfeld reference into almost any conversation. When my Dad met my friends, he immediately earned their respect by slipping in a line about Man Hands or Vandelay Industries.
It’s still the same routine when I return home. We finish dinner, head to the living room, and watch a re-run of Seinfeld. We know what’s coming, but we still laugh.
Seinfeld insists that it's a show about nothing, but it's a lot more than that. The show gracefully pulls off 3 or 4 sub-plots at the same time, and then smoothly blends them together as one. Seinfeld can focus on the stupid and inane, but it does so with brilliance and originality. Every single day something happens to me that reminds me of Seinfeld. After a while, the show slowly becomes a part of your everyday life. The show is pure genius, and will always be one of the best ever created.
To read more, click on: http://thecorner33.blogspot.com/2008/12/happy-holidays-from-matt-groening-and.html
Favorite Episode: “The Contest”
Masturbation has never been discussed with so much fun.
Which Character I’d Like to Meet: Kramer
That’s assuming he doesn’t take on Michael Richards’ persona and starts dropping “N” bombs.
#1 “THE WONDER YEARS” (1988-93)
I connected with The Wonder Years like no other show. It’s the only show on this list that’s not a sitcom. Instead, The Wonder Years is a coming of age story. And for me, the story feels like my life. When I watched it growing up, I felt like Kevin Arnold. When I watch it now, I feel like I’m looking back on my childhood.
The Wonder Years tackles everyday life in the early 70’s discussing such issues as school, dating, puberty, family, and on a bigger spectrum: politics and the war. Within a 30 minute clip, I found myself laughing, crying, and finally reflecting.
The characters were perfect. Wayne was a classic big brother/bully. Karen was the hippie big sister. Jack was the stern, grumpy Dad with a heart. And Norma was the sweet house maker that held the family together. Paul Pfeiffer was the quintessential dorky best friend. And of course, Winnie was the brown eyed dream girl.
The Wonder Years taught us lessons, but it was never preachy or too on the nose. There were never ads promoting a "very special episode" like Blossom or The Facts of Life. Instead, The Wonder Years was subtle with its storytelling. Many times the characters would make the wrong decision, and the endings were not happy. As a result, it seemed like real life. This was cutting edge because very few 30 minute shows had ever done that with so much success.
I personally connected with Kevin and his relationship with his father; sometimes Kevin would just snap at him for no reason and vice versa. But the underlying factor was love, but they just didn’t know how to show it sometimes.
The Wonder Years also has the best soundtrack of all-time. The show features hits from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan amongst many others. The music captures the magic of the show. Unfortunately, because of the music, The Wonder Years cannot be released on DVD; it’s just too expensive to pay for all of the music rights again. But that doesn’t stop people from buying bootleg copies online.
I’ll leave you with the last monologue from my favorite 30 minute show of all time:
” Growing up happens in a heartbeat--One day you're in diapers... Next day you're gone--but the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards on a street like a lot of other streets, and the thing is--after all these years--I still look back with wonder.”
Favorite Episode: “Hero”
Kevin fights with his father, and turns to the captain of the basketball team as his new role model. At the end of the episode, Kevin learns the true meaning of a hero. It makes me cry every single time.
Which Character I’d Like to Meet: Winnie Cooper, all grown up.
Her brown eyes would melt my heart.
Trivia Q&A: June 21
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