Last week The Age named its top 25 TV shows from the past 25 years and, as with any list of this nature, it has caused some serious uproar. The West Wing better than The Simpsons? Mad Men number 1? Homeland???
It feels like a knee-jerk reaction and somewhat of a pointless exercise for me to be doing this, but I simply must offer my rebuttal and point out some credible alternatives that were somehow shockingly omitted from this list. And before you go pointing out the irony, I’m fully aware that by crafting my own list I’m merely fanning the flames of controversy. Get over it, and make your own gad damn list!
South Park (1997 – current)
Plain and simply a game-changer, South Park examined the grey area of social norms and painted it black. It pushed the envelope further than was thought possible, and continues to do so today. It is arguably responsible for the phrase ‘too soon?’ as it makes light of controversial subjects not weeks after they occur. Most importantly, it asks serious questions of where we are at as a society and what is or is not acceptable in this world. The answer it offers is simple: either all of it is okay, or none of it is.
Married… With Children (1987 – 1997)
Illustrating the obvious – that lower-middle class suburbia will break even the brightest of young stars – Married… With Children offered an escape for anyone who could identify with it. “My life’s shit but at least it’s not THAT shit”. At the centre of it all is Al Bundy, an aging, balding, overweight shoe salesman who once showed promise as a budding football player. And never has there been a more pathetic character ever imagine.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1999 – current)
If all it took to engage the youth with politics was introduce the element of satire, Julia Gillard would wear a fake nose in the style of Pinocchio and Tony Abbott would get around in naught but his budgie smugglers. But they don’t. Thank Christ for Jon Stewart, whose political commentary over the past decade and a bit has been second to none. He effortlessly makes fun of America’s shambolic political system and the pitfalls of the 24-hour news cycle. His wit is sharper than the knife in Kevin Rudd’s back and his analysis more insightful than a Gonsky report. Stewart simply flies the flag of political satire and does a better job of reporting the news than anyone else on TV.
Skins (2007 – current)
One for the Gen Y-ers out there, Skins gives a shocking and confronting portrayal of teenage life in the 21st Century England – like A Clockwork Orange 30 years into the future. Sex, drugs, violence, suicide, depression, anorexia, abduction, murder – it’s all in there, although unlike other teen dramas of its ilk, Skins isn’t coated in sugar as much as a fine dusting of cocaine. The scripting is somewhat fantastical and even unbelievable at times, but the themes, emotions and issues expressed are alarmingly familiar to the show’s key demographic. It’s an uncompromised and unapologetic slice of adolescence and because of that, it’s absolutely brilliant.
I’m Alan Partridge (1997 – 2002)
The Age was right to point out The Larry Sanders Show as the groundbreaking entertainment industry satire of the era, but I’m Alan Partridge is the often overlooked missing link before The Office. Following the life of its titular failed chat show host, the show created a whole new genre of character – the endearingly repugnant. But all rights you should despise Alan Partridge for all of his latent character flaws, but you just can’t help but love him at the same time. It’s a blueprint that was heavily borrowed from by Ricky Gervais and Larry David but, given the show’s largely cult status, its omission from the list is begrudgingly understandable.
Parks & Recreation (2009 – current)
Anyone who says women aren’t funny hasn’t seen Tina Fey in 30 Rock (which also probably should have made the list) or Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation. This brilliant mockumentary-style sitcom is perhaps what the American Office should have been – taking a similar premise and format but making it totally original. Poehler’s portrayal of Parks Department Deputy Director Leslie Knope is simply stand-out, but so is Nick Offerman’s gruff and surly Ron Swanson, Aziz Ansari’s sleazy Tom Haverford, Aubrey Plaza’s apathetic April Ludgate…and I could go on. The characterisations in this show are so unique and authentic, it feels like actors themselves played a big part in crafting them.
The Late Show (1992 – 1993)
Before Enough Rope, Kath & Kim, The Panel, Frontline, The Castle, Thank God You’re Here and Before The Game, there was The Late Show, a now-legendary sketch show that somehow managed to band together the names that would dominate Australian television for the next two decades, if only for two seasons. It was like the Australian Saturday Night Live, or Full Frontal if it was funny. Its flavour was distinctly and intrinsically Australian, yet it managed to pull it off without the slightest hint of cultural cringe. A classic for anyone who can remember it.
Game Of Thrones (2011 – current)
A relative newcomer to the scene, Game Of Thrones has already done much to cement its place as a classic television series of the modern era. Its mix of sex, violence, fantasy and drama is like none we’ve ever seen before and its cinematic production and near-perfect casting make for some extremely pleasurable viewing. Maybe a few more seasons in the bag and this one will start edging its way into these lists.
Flight Of The Conchords (2007 – 2009)
If you take away the All Blacks, pristine snow fields and white wine, New Zealand doesn’t have a lot to boast about. This notion wasn’t lost on Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the masterminds behind Flight Of The Conchords, who created possibly the best musical comedy show of all time featuring fictionalized versions of themselves trying to ‘make it’ in New York. Equal parts deadpan and irreverent, Conchords contained countless classic moments and characters across its two short seasons. It also gave New Zealand something they can forever be proud of.