Ranking the best-written shows

20:09, Jun 05 2013

The Writers Guild of America released their list of the 101 Best Written TV Shows of All Time on Monday. Based on poll results of its members, the list encompasses American sitcoms and dramas, as well as British sitcoms and dramas AND American/British talk shows.

Naturally, in addition to honouring some of the greatest television ever made, a list like this is partly intended to stir up debate. And I couldn't help myself - I had to weigh in with a few thoughts of my own. So here are seven shows that I think were ranked way too high on their list - and five that were ranked way too low.

67. Dexter
One of many instances on the list where an interesting lead character is mistaken for good writing - and even if you accept that logic, Dexter should still be below My So-Called Life (68), The Shield (71), and House (75), all of which had lead characters that were more interesting (and better written) than the lovable serial killer.

55. LA Law
I guess you could defend the show by pointing out its realistic portrayal of the legal profession. But c'mon, wasn't this just hour after hour of late-80s excess, with a sprinkling of topical issue coverage?

43. Downton Abbey
Not only is Downton Abbey the highest ranking British show on the list, it fended off Brit-made luminaries like The Office UK (52), Upstairs Downstairs (81), Monty Python's Flying Circus (82), The Prisoner (90) and Doctor Who (which didn't even crack the list). The notion that Downton Abbey is written better than any of these shows, let alone better than the other 58 shows on the list, is just ridiculous.

27. Lost
Maybe - maybe - it lands this high if you pretend most of Season 2 and all of Season 3 never happened.


22. Friday Night Lights
The second season of FNL was far below the quality of the first season and I don't think any show that suffers such a severe sophomore slump should be included in the Top 50. See also: Homeland (48).

3. The Twilight Zone
I can't put my finger on why, but this selection just makes me scratch my head in confusion. The Twilight Zone stands as the highest ranking show to air pre-1985, and the highest ranking science-fiction show on the list - but it isn't the best of either. Isn't Star Trek: The Original Series (33) a better sci-fi show? Aren't All in the Family (4), M*A*S*H (5) and I Love Lucy (12) better pre-1985 shows? I say yes.

1. The Sopranos
At this point, even Sopranos creator David Chase is shaking his head. The Sopranos is clever, but the writing on a show like The Wire (9) is more authentic and thrilling, while Mad Men (7) and Breaking Bad (13) are more entertaining. Yes, I realise this paragraph means I'm ranking The Sopranos fourth among the Big Four. I'm comfortable with that.

By the way, here are five shows that I think are ranked way too low:

52. The Office UK
The Office's popularity - both in England and abroad - kick-started a subgenre of situation comedy. Three comedies came later but ranked higher: Arrested Development (16), 30 Rock (21), Modern Family (34). Of those, I think only AD was better written than the original Office series.

82. Monty Python's Flying Circus
Downton Abbey somehow lands at 43 on this list, while Monty Python's Flying Circus - arguably one of the greatest comedies of all time - sits at 82? This travesty makes me want to put on a precision display of bad temper: My goodness me, I'm in a bad temper, two three, damn damn two three, I am vexed and ratty two three, hopping mad!

93. Boardwalk Empire
If the last season of Boardwalk taught us anything, it's that Terence Winter has figured out his show and is ready to make a serious run at the Big Four (Sopranos, Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad). Judging from some of last season, he might already be there. Yet somehow House (75) landed ahead of it. Go figure.

99. Louie
Probably the funniest, most auteuristic, and most thought-provoking show on television in the past few years, I just don't understand how anybody could believe that The Golden Girls (69) or Will & Grace (94) - let alone the horrible Absolutely Fabulous (92) - should be ranked ahead of it.

101. Oz
It's pretty simple: without Oz, shows like The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire never get made.

What do you think of the WGA's list of Best Written Television Shows of All Time (check it out here)? Any shows you think were ranked too high? Or too low?

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