Maybe some people don’t even realize it, but TV series are with us practically all our lives. Be it in the form of cartoons, soap operas or the American format of weekly episodes divided by seasons, it almost certain that, at any given time, each and every one of us will be following at least one TV series. My memories of the matter start around the mid eighties, with He-man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats, Dungeons and Dragons e the distant Japanese live-action series (the first ones I’ve followed were Jaspion and Changeman – as called in Brazil – and I remember playing with my friends after each episode). The first memories I have of American TV series come from this time too: MacGyver and Lady Blue.
Years go by and what we look for on TV changes. In the 1990s, I went through the most intense spell of dedication to TV series. Eventually I got to be in front of the TV from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., watching everything I could. The series that were part of this period were Party of Five, Married with Children, The Nanny, Mad About You, Dawson’s Creek, Friends, as well as the reruns of The Wonder Years, Who’s the Boss, Full House and Step by Step. Around this time, the biggest TV channel in Brazil, Rede Globo, started showing E.R. By the end of the decade, already in college, I set aside my devotion to TV series. The exceptions were Buffy – The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons, watched when possible.
The 2000s brought some ups and downs in terms of TV. Friends and Angel in their final stages, and Smallville beginning, kept me in front of the TV for a while. 24 captivated me , but the speed used to turn off the TV after each episode was the same used to turn it on before. I only started following TV series on a regular basis again after moving back to the city of Porto Alegre, upon completing my master’s degree. But there was an obvious change in focus: mainly adult-themed series replaced sitcoms, teenage and “family” ones. Namely, I’m talking about House, Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Dexter, Justified, among others.
All that having been said, I believe I’m no expert in TV series. There are plenty which are considered excellent and that I haven’t watched, such as M.A.S.H., Lost and The Shield. Besides, TV series were only my favorite form of art for a brief period in the 1990s. Still, faced with all this history that has been with me since childhood, I’ve decided that it would be nice to make a list of my favorites. And the criteria, bottomline, is this: my favorites. So let’s get to it.
10. The Wonder Years (1988-1993) – following the childhood and teenage years of the boy Kevin Arnold, his family and best friends, The Wonder Years may have been the most sublime portrait of this beautiful and conflicting part of life. The setting in the 1960s helped create the atmosphere for all the doubts, discoveries, victories and defeats that slowly shaped Kevin’s character, and which he tells through the episodes, in which he narrates, as an adult, the events that left their mark on him. Even the opening was beautiful, to the sound of Joe Cocker’s version to the Beatles’ immortal With a Little Help from My Friends.
09. Angel (1999-2004) – started out as a spin-off of Buffy – The Vampire Slayer, with silly characters and unfunny comic reliefs, the worst of which brought from the original series. I’m talking about Wesley. The evolution of the series can be evaluated through the change in this character. From a clumsy assistant, Wesley becomes a killer of dubious morals, tormented by an impossible love and surrounded by demons – metaphorically, since it’s obvious in a show about vampires that everyone is always surrounded by demons. Angel counts, also, on one of the most wtf – in a good way – endings I’ve ever seen.
08. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-present) – created to take advantage of the success of the original Law and Order, SVU was able to do something really hard: exceed its source. The “special victims” from the title are those who suffered sex crimes, abuse, domestic violence and so. A hard and complex theme, but which was and has been portrayed with the correct mix of emotion and sobriety through 11 seasons (the 12th is being shown in the US). One thing the adds a lot to the success of the series is the presence of Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in the cast – hre being very recognized by her part, him not so much, unjustly so. They play the main pair of detectives, and have stared anthological scenes while confusing and hoodwinking criminals and suspects, both in interrogation rooms and out on the streets, in dangerous situations.
07. 24 (2001-2010) – a series in which each minute corresponds to one minute in the events, in which each season represents one day in the lives of the characters. Impossible? No, it was done, and very well done in 24. Or maybe very well done to a certain point. After becoming the most acclaimed TV series in the world, 24 lost force and started being very criticized, especially after season six. But that doesn’t change the fact that the first, second and fifth seasons are masterpieces of television art.
06. Married with Children (1987-1997) – a dysfunctional family, loser dad, screw-up kids, television addiction… The Simpsons? No, Married with Children, the series that portrayed the daily life of the Bundy family. The father, played by Ed O’Neil, is maybe as emblematic as Homer Simpson of the flaws in American society. But even more important is that some jokes nearly knocked me off my chair laughing.
05. Party of Five (1994-2000) – five siblings need to survive on their own after the death of their parents in a car crash. That was the series that awakened my passion for American shows. The first episode I watched was the one in which the man who caused the parents’ death gets out of prison. Each of the kids ends up confronting this man, for different reasons, but with similar results. I was extremely impressed by that. Then came problems with alcoholism, sex, drugs, college, marriage, without ever splitting the family. Until the final episode, in which they finally complete their family journey and go out in pursuit of completing their lives, each in their own way. A model of sensibility.
04. House, M.D. (2004-present) – possibly one of the most emblematic characters in TV, doctor Gregory House leads a team whose purpose is to diagnose pacients other doctors can’t help. The combination of hospital drama with investigative suspense guaranteed the great success of the series, which is currently in its seventh season. It no longer has the strength it showed in the beginning, but it’s still capable to impress and captivate, largely due to the work of actor Hugh Laurie, who brings the main character to life. The dialogues are amongst the best in TV.
03. Dexter (2006-present) – kicking off the podium, the most fantastic anti-hero on TV, the nice serial killer Dexter Morgan. A psychopath who was trained by his own father – a police officer – to kill only criminals that Justice let slip, Dexter tries to fit in the world without raising suspition, while at the same time satisfies his need to kill. Headed by the excellent Michael C. Hall, the cast of Dexter surprises: at first sight, it looks like a collection of second line actors selected for physically fitting the roles. When bringing to life the good scripts, the cast offers performances above average. Dexter counts also with great directing and cinematography, creating aesthetically impressive scenes. It is possible, that the most impressive feature in Dexter is the sense of urgency that is brought by each episode. As trivial as some subplot might seem, there’s always the feeling that the sk may fall, that a misstep will doom someone to perdition – and in Dexter’s universe, perdition can mean many things. If all of that weren’t enough to guarantee a place in the top 3, the opening is magnificent.
02. Friends (1994-2004) – possibly the second most popular show of all times, Friends accomplished that for many reasons. Despite the light sitcom tone – with very good jokes, one should add – Friends managed to portray the spirit of a generation, with its doubts and problems, and always showing the positive message that everything can be overcome when you have true friends. It is virtually impossible not to identify with the mosaic represented by the six characters, so different from each other, and yet so alike. Friends is one of those cases of the right idea at the right time, with the right actors. Maybe it couldn’t have worked in any other way. But it happened this way, and it worked. It worked very well, indeed.
Well, can you guess who won my preference? It’s kind of an obvious choice.
01. The Simpsons (1989-present) – what t say about The Simpsons? That it’s the most famous series? The longest? One of the most awarded? All that and then some? The fact is that, many years ago, the idea of showing a family that symbolized and at the same time satirized the “American way of life” came to TV and changed everything. Political incorrectness, metalanguage, deconstruction, constant expectation inversion, the ability to laugh at others and itself, all of that makes The Simpsons not only a work to be appreciated, but also one to be analyzed and studied. More than that, it’s likely that Homer Simpson is the biggest icon in TV, a pop symbol with representativeness similar to that of Superman (about what, by the way, the first teaser for The Simpsons Movie joked). Do you want another reason? It’s funny as can be!