Sunday, 5 September 2010


When I was in eighth class, Krishna Chitti bought Thatha the third season of a television show about the White House. It was clear from the back of the box that this was no ordinary television show, in fact it was clear that it was a television show of outstanding quality. Which would explain why it was with more than a little reluctance that I joined Thatha to watch the first episode. But within the first fifteen minutes, I was hooked. Between eighth and tenth classes, usually just as my exams were going on, another box would arrive, and I would forsake any and all pretensions of studying to watch what must be the most realistic portrayal of politics I've ever seen. If you know anything about TV, you'll know that there is only one show about the White House that stands head and shoulders above the rest: The West Wing.

There began a love affair with good television. Good television is much, much better than a good movie, and much, much harder to make. A movie is two and a half, three, even four hours long, at the most. Just one good season of a television program is about 20 episodes in length, each episode being at least 20 minutes long, forty in the longer cases, and thus is at least six hours long, and is usually about twelve hours long. Add to that the fact that good television shows tend to run for several seasons, tend to have smaller budgets and are much more affected by executive meddling, and perhaps you can see why I respect the people who make TV programs so much.

The West Wing was one thing, we watched it and devoured it, and I frequently watch it again and again, but that isn't the only good program I watch. I have waxed poetic about The Wire in a previous post, and I stand by my words. Together they hold, quite easily, first place for best television show ever. They have their weak points, The West Wing drags in the fourth and fifth seasons, and the last season of The Wire is nowhere near as strong as the one before it (or indeed, as happy), but they are nonetheless the best out there.

But there are other TV shows that I watch on a regular basis. Comedy in television is nowhere near as sparse as comedy in cinema. How I Met Your Mother, which is a much, much better written version of Friends, and 30 Rock, a TV show that is about a TV show (have I blown your mind? I think I have), both regularly achieve laugh out loud moments which justify any and all impossible plot problems. The earliest seasons of House were terrific, with Hugh Laurie as Greg House, a sarcastic doctor who, in a nutshell, cannot be arsed. I first watched Scrubs with Sita, in my first long summer holiday after tenth class. It would come on at midnight, after Seinfeld and Friends, and watching Zach Braff be neurotic is a pleasure in life I do not get very often anymore. 

On the other hand, there's the drama. And it's just as good. There's Fringe, created by JJ Abrams. JJ Abrams created Lost, which is highly overrated, and made the new version of Star Trek, which was so much fun. Fringe is pretty much (X Files + Lost)/2, but it is very well written, has some great plots, and is worth watching. The first season of Prisonbreak. Just the first season. Rather obviously, it revolves around a prison escape. Genius tries to break his (wrongly accused, on death row) brother out of prison. The first season was so good. Everything after that was rubbish, but the first season was excellent. I've only watched one and a half seasons worth of Damages, and I love it. It revolves around a ruthless lawyer who will do anything to win, and her protege who alternates being clueless and extremely smart. Every episode takes place both in the present and six months in the future, and the knowledge that the seemingly innocent girl who's just been introduced is going to be running around New York City covered in blood makes the entire experience deliciously frightening.

There are also a few shows which fits somewhere in the middle. Specifically, one. Glee. Outrageous song and dance performances set in high school. Bollywood in America. High School Musical done right. SO MUCH FUN!

If you've been paying attention so far, you'll notice one thing. All of the above TV shows are American. This is because I feel British television should have it's own separate slot. It's own separate slot of awesomeness, that is. All I will say is that each of these programs is worth ten of any other show in British television. QI, a quiz show (hosted by Stephen Fry, no less) where contestants get points not for right, but for interesting answers. Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You both lampoon the news and current events, but the cake for this sort of show goes to Charlie Brooker's Newswipe. The award for best general comedy TV show ever in the entire world (BGCTSEEW for short, or not so short as the case may be) goes, of course to Monty Python's Flying Circus. I will not describe it, I will merely ask you to go and watch it. Watch their movies, too, but their TV is much better, in my humble opinion.

No description of British television would ever, ever, ever be complete without a homage to the longest running sci-fi show ever: Doctor Who. In a nutshell, it is about an alien who looks human (though he's a lot older than us, so if anything we look like him) who time travels in his time travel machine. Which, by the way, looks like a blue box. (My summary does not do justice to it. Simply take my word for it, and watch it.)

Despite my best efforts, this isn't an exhaustive list. I know, in the back of my head, that I've forgotten some shows. I also know that I haven't watched a few that I have to watch. The two most glaring examples would be Mad Men and The Sopranos. But for now, this list is basically everything I wanted it to be: a celebration of terrific television.


Sharan said...

Great List. It'll surely come in handy sometime. Not only when I watch them, but also during conversations: "You must watch QI. Its hosted by Stephen Fry!"

To think I've watched a handful of those is shameful.

Suhas said...

Full agreement on the movies vs TV points. Somehow comedic talent lends itself better to TV shows than movies, Tina Fey and Steve Carrell in 'Date Night' was a recent example.

I've seen about half a season of the west wing, and yes it is no ordinary show. For me the point at which I turned into a more discerning TV viewer was when a friend got me into 30 rock and arrested development, while in the US.

And yup, British TV is a different goldmine altogether, but still a goldmine. Pity that most of it is unavailable or unheard of here.

ditzie said...

Okay Hi,
I definitely just stalked your blog off of parth's blog and I didn't really read your post but I DID see you had a moment talking about The Wire.

Which is probably the most intelligent TV show I've ever seen.
You're the first person I've ever met who's seen it too!

Okay thats it, random comments because I feel like I bonded with your blog.

s said...

@ sharan this list is nothing more than the product of having too much time on my hands. as such, i suspect it's a good thing you haven't watched entire seasons of shows like glee :P

@ suhas replied to your post, but i also wanted to say that date night really shone only when fey and carrell were the only people on screen, something that the producers didn't realise

@ ditzie i stalked your blog also, so i guess that makes us even :P i also think i should say you're also the first person I'VE met who's watched the wire! OMG! :P