The Best Television Shows Since 1990ish

screen-shot-2012-11-30-at-154239If you missed my preview of this list and the story behind it, check it out HERE

It’s time.

Time for this?


No. Everyone else can poke fun at Rob Ford.

It’s time for Giddy Up America’s list of the best television shows since 1990ish.


Ok, good. Thanks.

But first, let’s run through those shows that just missed the cut.

  • The Colbert Report
  • Band of Brothers (it’s a mini-series and a fantastical one at that, so it counts)
  • The O.C.
  • South Park
  • The Simpsons
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Friends

Why did those shows not make it? Different reasons. What are those different reasons? They’re mine, so don’t worry about it.

And now, how were these shows judged?

  1. Emotion: does the show connect with me on an emotional level?
  2. Continuity: is the show great from start to finish? If not, how close does it get?
  3. Characters: how many great characters does a show have?
  4. Legacy: what kind of legacy does the show have and how long will the show live on?
  5. Visuals: how great is the directing of the show?
  6. Verbiage: how great is the writing and/or dialogue on the show?
  7. Re-Watchability: would I watch the entire series again? If so, how many times? How likely would it be for me to watch an episode if it was randomly on?

Ok. Let’s get started.

10. Arrested Development

Unfortunately in life, you know what you’re only as good as?

How high you can jump?

Nope. You’re only as good as what you’ve done lately. Luckily for Arrested Development I’m a softy because if I wasn’t, that albatross of a fourth season they did would have bumped them from the top 10. As it is, it has them barely making it. But they do make it because the first three seasons, especially the second season and first few episodes of season three, are amazing, hilarious and are constantly re-watchable. You can find something new every time you re-watch an episode. Golf clap for that. Somehow GOB gets funnier with each viewing. Same with anything Tobias does or say and the wonderful absurdity of Buster. The show is full of wit and is one of the more clever TV shows out there. It’s timeless. The first three seasons are recommended viewing for anyone who enjoys comedy.

9. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

I talked about including shows that weren’t finished yet in my preview piece for this list and while I hesitated including The Daily Show for that reason, as well as the fact that it’s a variety show, and like Saturday Night Live it feels different, I just couldn’t keep it out of the top 10. The Daily Show is too important and too much of a cultural heavy weight to dismiss or omit it. And it’s also been on for over ten years, so I feel that there’s enough of a completed body of work to judge it fairly. It’s also be rock solid consistent for those ten years, never really having a significant dip in quality like Saturday Night Live has from time to time. It produced The Colbert Report and launched the careers of Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Rob Cordry, among others. Even this summer, with Jon Stewart on hiatus, it didn’t miss a beat with John Oliver covering for him. Stewart’s absence just proved what a machine the show was. True, The Colbert Report might be funnier now, but the fact that it only exists because of The Daily Show can’t be ignored.

8. The Office

This is the U.S. version, not the original British version, which come to think of it, should be included on the Just Missed the List List. The Office is a great example of how much a show can change- for the better, the not so better and eventually the better again, during it’s run. It’s crazy to think how both the show and the show’s characters evolved during it’s run. And not to mention it featured one of the best onscreen romances in TV history with Jim and Pam. The Office can’t be mentioned though, without praising the juggernaut of awesome that was Michael Scott.

The Office brought cringe-humor into the main stream, changed the way a workplace show can be done and gave the world perhaps one of the best running jokes ever.

7. Friday Night Lights

Oh Friday Night Lights. Coach Taylor. Mrs. Coach. Riggins. Vince. Landry. Tyra. West Dillon. East Dillon. Panthers. Lions. I’d be hard pressed to think of another show that has literally taken my emotions hostage like Friday Night Lights did. I can’t even watch reruns of it because the idea of jumping into the emotional octagon is too much. If not for the heavy hitters still out there, FNL would be ranked higher. Initially it was. Initially it was ranked as high as 3. But like with anything driven by emotion, reason started to prevail. Shit, I feel like I’m letting Coach down. Coach isn’t even a real person and I feel that way! Do you see what you’ve done to me Friday Night Lights???

Hey, clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Ok. You’re right.

Let’s move on.

6. Mad Men

Another show that isn’t done yet, but has done enough to make the list. Mad Men just feels important. When you watch it, it doesn’t feel like you’re just watching television. It’s big time; the real deal. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper has taken the idea of the anti-hero to a whole new level, especially in the show’s twilight. Episodes of Mad Men finish and I’m so confused- what do I want to happen, what do I hope happens, am I rooting for Don, etc? Episodes leave me with so many questions that I can’t answer. But come a week later and I’m right back in the saddle, watching intently and loving every effin’ minute of it. I have no idea how the show is going to end and I love that. Seasons of Mad Men end and no show has been harder to predict what is going to happen when they start back up again. Mad Men keeps you on your toes like a midget at a urinal and as a result, it’s one of the best in the business.

5. Seinfeld

How many comedies made after 1998 would even exist if Seinfeld had never happened? And that’s not even taking into consideration Curb Your Enthusiasm, a direct descendant of the show. So many great characters, lines, jokes, stories. It’s reruns never get old. Never. I noticed TBS started replacing Seinfeld reruns with Family Guy reruns and I was legitimately bummed. Even though I think I’ve seen every episode at least three times, the idea of fewer reruns was a major blow to my daily routine. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to watch during the week when it’s either not baseball season or it’s repeats of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? The seven o’clock hours feels naked without Seinfeld reruns.

One of the best aspects of Seinfeld is the way it relates to people and is no way dated. It lives in this ageless realm where it’s jokes and situations connect with people year after year. And it’ll continue to do so! It won’t stop. Years from now, people will still be laughing at Seinfeld and saying the words most commonly said while watching an episode- that’s so true.

It is true.

And it is a Titleist.

4. The Sopranos

Just like how without Seinfeld endless situation comedies wouldn’t exist and without The Daily Show shows like The Colbert Report wouldn’t exist, without The Sopranos, so many of the great dramas put out in the past ten years wouldn’t exist. The Sopranos kicked the door open and created the Golden Age of Television that sadly, seems to be coming to an end. If Oz were the Yardbirds, The Sopranos was Led Zeppelin. It was the show that changed everything and threw the whole notion of good and bad on it’s head. The only real knock on The Sopranos is not some of the spotty acting by the smaller characters, it’s the fact the show consists of too many episodes and as a result, featured plot lines that literally no one cared about (i.e. Vito’s gay adventures in New Hampshire and anything involving Anthony Jr.)

But in the grand scheme of things, those are blips on the radar. You could criticize the last two Led Zeppelin albums but what’s the point? They don’t take away from the genius of songs like “Black Dog” or “Whole Lotta Love.” Nitpicking can’t take away anything from The Sopranos and ultimately never will.

And for the record, I’m totally cool with how The Sopranos ended.

Totally cool.

3. Lost

There’s a trend here- shows that changed how we viewed television shows. Lost is next on the list and beats out The Sopranos because of the fact that we had seen mafia shows before. We had never seen anything like Lost before. A smoke monster. A polar bear on a tropical island and oh wait, a tropical island that effin’ time travels! Jack. Kate. Sawyer. Sayid. Jacob. Ben. Locke. Sure, Lost had it’s frustrating moments and tested our willingness to stumble blindly into the dark not knowing what was coming next or even at times, knowing what we had just seen, but much like the wasted episodes of The Sopranos, they were blips on the radar. Lost was TV as a science experiment and I think the further away we get from the first two seasons especially, the harder it is to remember just what a completely addictive mind sex romp the show was. Dude, Locke became the bad guy. Locke. The guy we all loved and rooted for, especially when we all realized that Jack was kind of effin’ annoying.

And as for being re-watchable? Lost is totally re-watchable because if nothing else, it helps you understand the show the more times you watch it. What the hell moments become Oh snap moments on a second time through the series.

Now granted I still feel like if all Jacob wanted was a new steward for the island, doing something other than crashing a plane and killing a bunch of people would have worked. But then we wouldn’t have Lost. So you know, sorry Boone, Shannon, Jin, Sun and like, a whole lot of other people. Since Lost ended, you can set your watch by the amount of times studios have attempted to replicate it. And none of those attempts have worked; none of them have stuck. Any kind of Lost intimation will never work because by the end of Lost, we were good with a show like that. It had literally kicked the shit out of us- leaving us spent in all kinds of different ways. Lost was a wild, drunken weekend with friends. It can never be replicated and the beauty of it exists in the fact that it exists as one-time fun time adventure. You only remember parts, you left confused and you’re pretty sure somewhere along the line you started questioning your sanity.

And yes, totally cool with how this show ended as well.


On these great shows’ endings…

They are a lose/lose situation. They’re never going to completely satisfy and they’re always going to leave you at least mildly disappointed. How do you put a bow on something so significant and culturally gigantic? You can’t. That’s why I like The Sopranos ending. No one really wanted Tony to die and even though in all reality he should have been arrested, we didn’t want to see that either. The fact the show just ended was perfect. It ended with the promise that in an alternate world, life continued for the Sopranos. It was a definitive non-definitive ending.

It was all you could ask for.


Now for the final two.


2. Breaking Bad

First, to everyone who kept tooting Breaking Bad‘s horn and proclaiming it was one of the best shows ever- a tip of the hat to you. You were right; very, very right. About a month ago I started the show; started it from the beginning largely because I felt it was my duty. Halfway through the first season I was almost mad at myself for taking so long to watch it. Breaking Bad is what’s up, dude. It’s the bees knees wearing cats pajamas while eating Jell-o pudding pops. I feel like it’s a perfect example of what a television show can be now in terms of story telling. It’s the perfect length and has a flawless narrative arc. I was sad when it ended because there wouldn’t be anymore episodes, but I was also excited it was ending because it A) felt like it needed to end and B) I wanted to know how it would end. Man, the way every thing is connected and how the entire show stems from Walt’s decision to provide for his family is amazing. And just think if they had killed off Jesse at the end of season one like they originally planned too? I feel like Jesse became a conduit for the audience. We were all victims of Walter White in some way or the other. Do you ever sit back and realize that Breaking Bad made you actively root against a man dying of cancer who was just trying to make sure his family would be cared for after he left? It’s crazy when you think about it.

So why isn’t Breaking Bad number one?

There’s plenty of reasons why it could be and I wouldn’t fault anyone for making it their number one show. I even thought about having a tie at the top of this list. That’s how strongly I felt about Breaking Bad.

But no.

In the end, there is still only one for me.


1. The Wire

There’s parallels here- between this list and my Greatest HBO Character of All Time tournament I did last March. With that tournament, there was an underlying inevitably to it. As if the winner was always going to be the winner. When it came down between Larry David and Omar, I kicked around the various ways LD could beat out Omar for a while before coming to the conclusion that no, there was no way the greatest HBO character ever wasn’t Omar.

It was always Omar.

And so when I found myself in a similar situation, internally debating which was better, Breaking Bad or The Wire, I came to a similar conclusion.

It was always The Wire.

The Wire is the gold standard for me. My favorite aspects and parts of Breaking Bad were my favorite because of how they reminded me of The Wire. I love the story-telling, the character development and the Shakespearean arc of The Wire. I just feel like there will never be better story-telling on television. Never. I’m still amazed by how things tied together during the show’s fifth and final season- how the Shakespearean fool got clean, how the Shakespearean tragic hero fell on his sword, how the Shakespearean dance of morals never really ended. In my opinion, good entertainment, whether it’s television, music or movies, stirs emotions, raises questions and forms connections with the audience. The Wire does all of this, does it even from the very first scene.

It’s all in the game, yo.

Where’s Wallace.


The game done changed.

A man must have a code.

World going one, people another.

You can’t even call this shit a war. War’s end.

It’s Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.

The quotes could keep going. There’s just so many of them. McNulty. Bunk. Stringer. Bubbles. Prez. Dukie. Marlo. Wee Bay. And of course Omar. The Wire is timeless. It’ll be watched and re-watched by generations, whether it’s strictly for entertainment or something more. Maybe it’ll live on as a sociological study. Maybe it’ll live on like Scarface. Maybe it’ll live on as a great cop drama.

Either way, it’ll live on.

Breaking Bad made a run and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no shame in finishing second.

But The Wire is number one.

It will be for a while.

The Wire: HBO
Tony Soprano: HBO
Breaking Bad: AMC

Categories: Television

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4 replies


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