Monday, May 11, 2009
The Best Shows Of The 1990's
So after that best of the 2000's post, my TV list-making jones wasn't quite satisfied. Naturally, I got thinking about what my favourites of the 1990s and 1980s would be, and an hour of reflection and cross-referencing Wikipedia later, I had my answer. I'm not going to get into any big analysis here, but I'll just restate my criteria that the 'best' years of the show had to take place in a particular decade, though there was no rule against a show or actor appearing in two different decades.
The 1980's list will be coming sometime soon. As for the 1990's, enjoy!
p.s. Wow, I totally forgot about 'Survivor' in the best of the 2000s list. Just a total braincramp. That would've taken Angel's spot in the top ten. So, as a bonus, stay tuned and try to guess which 1990's show I've cluelessly forgotten about!
Batman: The Animated Series.....Best cartoon ever? Quite possibly. Incredibly, for all the thousands of comics and for Christopher Nolan's two movies, it might be the animated series that provided the best representation of the Batman character. Given all of the crap that Christian Bale took over his 'Batman' voice (a criticism I still don't quite understand), maybe Nolan should bite the bullet and have Kevin Conroy do a voicever for the inevitable third Batman film. You might also argue that pre-Ledger, Mark Hamill's Joker was the best representation of THAT character as well.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.....Two and a half of Buffy's three best seasons came in the 1990's, so it gets the nod in this decade. But enough about that, time for the greatest Buffy-related anecdote of my life. Around 2003, my buddy Trev is sitting around reading the paper with his dad, and one of them notices an ad for (I think) Coles advertising a Buffy episode guide. Trev mentions that I'm a fan, and (once he and his father have a chuckle about my liking a show ostensibly aimed at teenage girls) notes that the book might be a good gift idea for my upcoming birthday. So Trevor's dad, being a retiree, says he'll go and pick it up the next day. Lo and behold, Coles doesn't have the book in stock. A mortal man would've given up at this point, but Trev's dad isn't the kind of man who would take an affront like that lying down. He DRIVES AROUND THE CITY to three different stores before he finally tracks down the Buffy reference guide in question. Now that's a fucking birthday present to hang one's hat on. Trev's dad = personal hero.
Frasier.....You could argue that 'Everybody Loves Raymond' was the last true old-school sitcom, but I always considered 'Raymond' to be more subversive than it let on. No, I'd say that 'Frasier' is the last high point of the old three-camera, studio audience type of show. Still holds up extremely well in reruns, too.
Friends.....After years of being on the 'oh, come on, Friends is a good show, what's your problem?' bandwagon, I may be wavering. It may be a case of overdosing on reruns between the years of 2005 and 2006. I'm currently on a cold turkey break, and come 2011, we'll see where things stand. Insert your own 'we were on a break' joke here. Also, this quiz is surprisingly hard. I topped out at 54.
Law & Order.....The only police procedural I'll ever watch. That's the problem with being an L&O fan; after it, CSI, Criminal Minds, and all the rest just seem like pale copies. Before they started splitting the franchise up along specific types of cases (i.e. SVU handling sex crimes, Criminal Intent handling more investigation-centric cases), the beauty of L&O was that any given week could see any type of crime that led into all manner of interesting directions or examinations of moral or ethical quandries that cops and lawyers face in prosecuting suspects. The whole thing just had layers that today's procedurals can't match. L&O was a legitimately great show for about the first nine or ten years of its run. That's tough to beat.
Newsradio.....Also makes the top ten in the 'great shows canceled too soon' list. Funniest show of the decade past the Simpsons/Seinfeld/Frasier big three. Favourite random Newsradio fact: several episodes in the second season were named after Led Zeppelin albums for no reason whatsoever.
Saturday Night Live.....It started out strong, cratered badly in the legendarily terrible 1994-1995 season, and then rebounded with the Ferrell/Shannon/Hammond/Kattan/Oteri/Macdonald cast. Can you believe that Darrell Hammond is STILL on the show? He's in only about 20 sketches a year, but he's there. At this point I can only guess that Lorne Michaels is keeping him on the show to monitor his sobriety.
Seinfeld.....Duh. I'm curious to know what a tween would think of this show, watching it fresh today. Would they think it was funny? Or has the Seinfeld/David observational style of humor become such an innate part of modern comedies that a new viewer wouldn't even find it particularly clever?
The Simpsons.....Duh. I'll do you one better. The Simpsons, from about 1992 to 1998, had the highest-quality run of any show in TV history. Just take a look at the list of episodes between those years and count the number of weak entries on your fingers. You won't even be able to fill up one hand.
Star Trek: The Next Generation.....The first Star Trek TNG episode I ever saw was the finale, which is something of an ass-backwards way of doing things, but still, it got me to go back to watch the rest of the series in reruns and started off the brief span of my life when I could legitimately be called a Trekkie. ST: Voyager officially killed that spark dead, but TNG was a legitimately tremendous series.
Jason Alexander, Seinfeld.....Does the success of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and the fact that Jason Alexander was basically just doing an impression of Larry David for all those years on Seinfeld detract from the greatness of George Costanza? Nope.
Will Ferrell, Saturday Night Live.....If you had told me in 1995 that the irritating guy from the Cheerleaders skit would go on to be one of the all-time great cast members in SNL history, I would've said you were crazy.
Dave Foley, Kids In The Hall/Newsradio.....Foley squeaks onto the list due to his combined brilliance on both KITH and Newsradio. I once performed Foley's "I have a positive attitude towards menstruation" monologue as part of my audition for my high school's production of Blood Brothers. Needless to say, I didn't get cast. I blame sexism. If the play had been called Menstruation Sisters, I would've been a shoo-in.
John Goodman, Roseanne.....Dan Conner probably wins the 'which character on this list would you most like to have a beer with' contest. I mean, the Cranes and Bill McNeill would get insufferable after a while, Lennie Briscoe can't have a beer due to being a recovering alcoholic, Dave Nelson would have coffee over beer, George and Kramer would get me involved in some zany scheme and I'd end up suffering like every other tangential character in their lives. I guess Chandler would be cool to hang out with, though he and I would inevitably get into a one-liner contest that would end in bloodshed and tears.
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier.....No-brainer. Fun fact: Grammer is the only guy to ever be Emmy-nominated for playing the same character on three different series (Frasier, Cheers, guest shot on Wings).
Phil Hartman, Saturday Night Live/Newsradio.....Hartman would've probably made it onto the list for either individual performance. Combined, he was a no-brainer. Sort of like his skull after his crazy wife shot him in the skull. Yikes, too soon?
Jerry Orbach, Law & Order.....The oddest L&O episode of all time is that one in the second season where Orbach (before he joined the cast as Detective Briscoe) played a sleazy defense attorney. It's legitimately jarring. You keep expecting him to hint that he's undercover or something. Oh, and note to David Caruso: you can put on as many sunglasses as you like, but Lenny Briscoe will has you beat in the sardonic-wisecrack-before-the-opening-credits sweepstakes.
Matthew Perry, Friends.....Like I said, tears and bloodshed. Even later-years Chandler (after he had been effectively neutered by Monica) was still pretty sardonic. I think I could take him, though. If it gets rough I can always bust out jokes about starring in 17 Again. I could also go with the drug addictions, but honestly, he's probably more embarrassed about being in a Zac Efron vehicle.
David Hyde Pierce, Frasier.....No-brainer. Apparently DHP played the Eric Idle roles in the original Broadway version of Spamalot, alongside the likes of Hank Azaria and Tim Curry. What star power! (Besides Tim Curry.)
Michael Richards, Seinfeld.....Too bad about the whole racial epithets thing, eh? It's like the Manny Ramirez steroid suspension; it casts a pall over an otherwise great career. We should've seen this coming; Jackie Chiles always seemed so upset at Kramer. Now we know why.
Jennifer Aniston, Friends.....Yeah, as the series went on, she was basically playing herself. The next time I deign to watch Friends reruns, I'll try to pinpoint the exact moment when she started phoning it in. I suspect it was midway through Season Five. You might think is kind of a critical paragraph about someone who's nonetheless on the 'best' list, but Aniston herself is just happy that I didn't mention Angelina Jolie. Oops.
Christine Baranski, Cybill.....Remember 'Cybill'? That was Cybill Shepherd's short-lived vehicle in the late 90's. To cover the fact that Shepherd is an average at best actress, the network built an experienced supporting cast around her, most notably Broadway veteran Baranski. As the borderline alcoholic friend (in a role that, yeah, probably borrowed a lot from Absolutely Fabulous), Baranski stole the entire show to such an extent that noted egomaniac Shepherd insisted that scripts be rewritten so that most of Baranski's zingers went to her instead.
Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown.....No-brainer. When your performance is so notable that it attracts the attention of a U.S. vice-president, you know you're doing something right. Well, wait, it was only Dan Quayle....meh, let's pretend it's still impressive.
Ana Gasteyer, Saturday Night Live.....A hugely underrated member of that late 90's/early 2000's SNL cast. The Delicious Dish skit alone was almost enough to get her a spot on the list. Gasteyer is also notable for being one of the few SNL cast members that I can recall never seeing break character in anything. She was the exact opposite of Jimmy Fallon.
Madeline Kahn, Cosby.....Bill Cosby's follow-up to the Cosby Show didn't set the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination. But it at least succeeded in providing one last outlet for the late, great Madeline Kahn. 'Cosby' actually was kind of an underrated show. It was no 'Newhart' or anything, but as far as follow-up shows to major hits go, it held its own. Having the likes of Kahn in the cast was a big reason why. Having the likes of Doug E. Doug in the cast was an also big (but much lesser) reason why.
Lisa Kudrow, Friends.....Okay, I mentioned earlier about how I got burned out on Friends reruns. One thing I did glean from them before the fatigue set in was noticing just how much better an actor that Lisa Kudrow was than arguably anyone else on the show. She took the ditzy blonde archetype and took it in a bunch of different directions over 11 years. Kudos to Kudrow. Did you know she used to have a live-in relationship with Conan O'Brien? If they had procreated, that kid would've had the best comedy genes of any child since the offspring of Jackie Gleason and Bea Arthur. Can you imagine them doing it? Eww.
Jane Leeves, Frasier.....I busted out one Monty Python-inspired fun fact for David Hyde Pierce, and thus it's only fitting that another Python tidbit be used for another 'Frasier' star. Leeves had a bit role in 'Meaning Of Life,' but I'm not sure if she was a) one of the topless models who chase the convict who gets to choose his method of execution off of the cliff or b) one of the dancing angels wearing fake plastic breasts in the 'Christmas In Heaven' closing number. There were breasts involved in some fashion, but I just don't know if they were Leeves' own or just fakes. This may require some research.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld.....The no-brainer to end all no-brainers on this list. Her only downside was that I had to remove 'Elaine' from my list of potential daughter names since JLD's performance has taken over that name for all time. I'll just have to go with the next name on my list, Chick From Alias.
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne.....No-brainer. This is the last time I'll be mentioning Roseanne on the list, and it was actually somewhat close to making the 'best series' category. Its first three seasons were okay and its last three seasons were pretty poor, but the middle three years of its run were legitimately great. One of the highlights was the episode where Metcalf's character, Jackie, is comparing sexual history with her new boyfriend and suddenly realizes that she has him outpaced in sexual partners by a score of 60-4.
Bebe Neuwirth, Cheers.....Yet another no-brainer. Lillith Sternin never failed to crack me up. I would've loved to have see her become a full recurring character on 'Frasier,' but still, her guest appearances (the ep where she and Frasier try to get Frederick in prep school or the one where she and Niles sleep together) were gold. And she was a huge part of the last couple of seasons of Cheers. Essentially, what I'm saying is, Lillith was more than Fair....man, is that really the last joke of the post? That's terrible. Talk about leaving on a down note. If only I had a story about Trev's dad driving around London in search of a Bebe Neuwirth autobiography.