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1 | 100.00%
Okay, bad news first: Darren Star’s Sex and the City was not a perfect show. Most of us who watched could not relate to the very specific demographic of women who were showcased. And, for a series whose beating heart was NYC, the show did not do well in its presentation of gay characters or characters of color (whenever they showed up). Hell, even the main character was problematic and difficult to root for at times.
Whatever class issues, or race issues, or gender and sexuality issues Sex and the City might have swept under the rug (or addressed in a problematic way), it still functioned as a loud, oft-obscene call for agency among the marginalized. And it did all of this with some of the funniest dialogue and sex talk we’d ever heard.
2 | 100.00%
The geopolitical drama that unfolds in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is so epic in scope that it can make Lord of the Rings feel like Cliff’s Notes. Even after it’s been pared down for television, nearly every hour-long episode can only cover stories from a portion of the key characters. Highlighting its fantasy elements only sparingly, each of these are very human tales, as inhabitants of Westeros and Essos try to survive in a very cruel world and often, very often, fail.
3 | 100.00%
For eight years, James Gandolfini crawled deep inside the complexities of Tony Soprano—loving father, son and husband, goodhearted friend, master of sardonic one-liners (“How do you vandalize a pool?”), troubled psych patient, serial adulterer, mob boss and brutal, remorseless killer, inspiring as much dumbfounded loathing and shuddering sympathy as any character in TV history. Murderers aren’t one-dimensional; they have feelings, aspirations, justifications, families. The Sopranos brilliantly and believably explored this dynamic, turning the crime-drama on its head and taking dysfunction to the extreme in the process. As unfathomable as their world was, the characters of this tragic, beautifully arcing modern epic were so real that they became like family to us, too.
4 | 100.00%
Set aside the recent revival for a a moment: Larry David pulled off the rare successful second act in television comedy. Curb Your Enthusiasm was Seinfeld-ian in its rhythms, with David basically playing the George Costanza version of himself as an eternally perturbed and self-defeating schlemiel who just happens to be fantastically wealthy after creating a show called Seinfeld. A lot of cringe comedy forgets to actually be funny, but that was never a problem for Curb, which remained as funny (and cringeworthy) as ever over the eight seasons of its original run.
Curb can be hard to watch at times, but it was always hilarious, and was HBO’s trademark comedy throughout the last decade
5 | 0.00%
Veep satirizes the political world by distilling it down to what the public likes to watch most: the screw-ups. From foot-in-mouth moments to missent documents to squeaky shoes, everything Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) does is scrutinized, turned into an offense, and spit back at her through the distorted prism of Twitter and never-ending public opinion polling. They never specify Meyer’s political party, and it’s no surprise that its fans span the political spectrum. Through and through, it’s a comedy nerd’s dream team. Erica Lies
6 | 0.00%
Before HBO established itself as a dramatic powerhouse with The Sopranos and Oz, Larry Sanders was their flagship scripted program. It was literally a decade before its time, prefiguring shows like The Office and Arrested Development with its lack of a laugh track, a single camera setup and a roster of unlikable characters. It blurred the line between reality and TV show, with real-life actors playing themselves on the talk show within the show, and often sending up their public personas. It also featured three unforgettable performances from Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn, who were all as good at revealing the desperation and futility of their characters as they were in the comedic moments. Despite its inside showbiz setup and caustic humor, its characters were fully-formed, believable people. It was a very smart and human show. Garrett Martin
7 | 0.00%
Amy Jellicoe (an unforgettable Laura Dern), once enraged by circumstance, sets out in Mike White’s Enlightened to remake herself, rebuild her relationships, and reinvent the world. Buffeted by moments of bitterness, suffused with the conviction that change (personal, corporate, social) is possible, the result is a series that resembles a collection of short stories—18 episodes that contain life’s full complement of disappointment and failure, satisfaction and hope.
8 | 0.00%
Sure, Deadwood does a fine job within the revisionist Western sub-genre’s traditional trappings, but ultimately it’s less concerned with its setting and historical accuracy (though it has plenty to spare) than it is about accurately portraying humans. Why do societies and allegiances form, why are close friends betrayed, and why does humanity’s best seem to always just barely edge out its worst? These are the real concerns that make Deadwood a masterpiece. David Milch created a sprawling, fastidiously detailed world in which to stage his gritty morality plays and with it has come as close as anyone to creating a novel on-screen. With assistance from some truly memorable acting by Ian McShane, Brad Dourif and Paula Malcomson, Deadwood’s sometimes over-the-top representations never veer far enough from reality for its inhabitants to become just characters.
9 | 0.00%
Six Feet Under is a television show that attempts to find reason and order in death, but then every episode totally fails. Through the eyes of the Fisher family’s proprietors and operators of a funeral home in Los Angeles, death is an inevitability stripped of all romance, and yet the series, as it follows the lives of eldest brother Nate Fisher and his loved ones, can never escape the fear at the core of even the most jaded people’s relationship with mortality. Opaquely funny, tender, heartrending and sometimes deeply uncomfortable, Six Feet Under balks, down to the marrow of its bones, at the idea that there is reason in death and in turn, every episode begins with a functionally freak fatality, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to binge watch the series without concluding that death will find us when we least expect it, no matter what we do, or no matter how we hide.
10 | 0.00%
Series mastermind David Simon conceived The Wire as a modern Greek tragedy, a morality play set in a drug-infested urban war zone where conventional good guys and bad guys barely exist. Everyone is conflicted and compromised. We didn’t need The Wire to remind us that the system—the criminal justice system, the political system, the education system—is broken. But no other cultural enterprise (and certainly no television show) has shown us precisely how the infrastructure has collapsed, forcing us to consider the impossible decisions required for repair. Amidst the rubble of a failed city, Simon created an engrossing human drama about the eternal struggle between aspiration and desperation, ambition and resignation, in other words, the fight for the American Dream.