My 10 Fave TV Shows

#1 – The Sopranos

01 The SopranosIf you are seeing this post at the Music City Mike blogsite, please know that it comes from a guest-blogging “draft” of favorite TV shows by a collection of ten fellow bloggers. As a “draft,” a show once picked cannot be repeated. Well, the luck of the draw gave me the second overall pick. Therefore, while I consider The Sopranos to be my second, not first, fave show of all time, I picked it first given that this incredibly popular show would likely not survive the first round.

Operating like a wise general manager of a pro sports team, I took the risk of saving my top choice for the second round since I have a good hunch it will still be available. Unlike our blogging collective’s previous efforts at drafting record albums, movies, and songs, I think that there also are some other shows in my top five that won’t survive the first round. I doubt that I will get the chance to pine about my love for Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The West Wing and Friday Night Lights, but I’m glad that I get to spin some of my thoughts about The Sopranos.

I must first confess that I did not watch The Sopranos in real time when it ran on HBO. Raising a young family and working on my business career at the time just didn’t leave enough room to view a regular TV series back then in those pre-binging days.

After hearing so much about the show, as soon as time became available (and before streaming was a reality), I bought the series on DVD (one season at a time) and binged it. I soon found myself loving every episode and planned ahead to make sure that I never ran dry of disks. I later renewed my interest in the show through snippets on YouTube which led to my inevitable re-watching of the entire series for a second time.

Of course, I know I am not in a minority when I rave about creator David Chase’s masterpiece. But folks, as remarkable as it is as the best criminal drama of all time, I can’t help thinking about how this show is a textbook example of anti-herodom at its extreme best where we find ourselves unavoidably rooting for the bad guys.

These characters steal, extort, sell drugs, and even worse, kill lots of people! But seeing things from the side of the evildoers in shows like The Sopranos and films like the Godfather series somehow finds us putting these things somewhat aside and living in their lifestyle. I’m not sure that I can completely explain why this happens, but I too was drawn in.

I grew up in New Jersey where The Sopranos is set and there was never any denial that organized crime existed. I’d seen it in action, thankfully not to the extent of some of the violence this show portrays. One thing that likely happens is that we get distracted by the virtues of their comradery and loyalty to each another and the riches they gather and enjoy. Can you believe that these guys even get away with having girlfriends that their wives know about and begrudgingly accept? We all somehow let these things overshadow the nasty stuff that goes on. Be honest, while watching The Sopranos, did you ever once hope that Tony got arrested and sent to prison?

And how about how these guys justify their lifestyles? They even attend Church and believe that they will still get into Heaven under their premise they are simply “soldiers” providing the world with necessary justice. They are not like other far worse criminals such as serial killers who they see as the really the bad people in the world.

What else attracts us to this show? In some ways, we share in family miseries together since the Sopranos (Tony, Carmela, and their two kids) have their ups and downs like the other television families we love to commiserate with. But Carmela’s woes are much different than Mrs. Cleaver’s. Instead of the Beaver being sick in bed with the flu, she worries instead about her husband getting “whacked” or if that knock on the door she hears is the FBI. The kids also eventually grow up to find that Dad really isn’t in the sanitation business and must come to terms with the once hidden reality of what he does for a living.

And then Tony, played by the amazing late James Gandolfini, has issues running his mob family just like some of us have problems with our jobs. In addition to this and the normal family stuff, he’s also got Mommy and Daddy issues as well as both marital and girlfriend problems. All this leads him to the brilliant character foil available to the writers though his recurring secret and “mobster-taboo” counseling sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, adeptly played by Lorraine Bracco.

The entire cast of characters in this show is simply amazing, and I’d feel remiss if I left someone out, so I won’t go down that road.  I also don’t want to give too much away if you have yet to see the series. Not only are the shows well written as drama, but there are also so many funny bits that fans love to quote. (I can’t think about the “Joey Peeps” funeral without laughing out loud.) And if you are from, or wish you were from Jersey, there’s plenty of mouth-watering Italian food (including pizza, “gravy,” yummy desserts and everyone’s favorite “gabagool”), Sinatra and Springsteen references, as well as many familiar sites in the Garden State.

Then there’s the controversial series ending which I won’t give away. Dismissed by many as a cop-out, it took a YouTube video analysis for me to realize its true brilliance.

Recently, some 14 years later, we got the movie, The Many Saints of Newark prequel, which was great if you have seen The Sopranos but not so great if you have not. It was exciting to see these characters at a younger age and I’ll gladly take another movie to reveal more. I also know that I’m getting closer to when I will watch the entire series again for the third time.

The Sopranos is without a doubt the greatest TV drama series of all time. Taking advantage of the mysterious mobster lifestyle that draws us in, David Chase followed up with a perfect cast and brilliant writers to create some of the finest moments in television history. Maybe one day our blogger group can draft their favorite Sopranos’ episodes.

PS – One final thought that always goes through my mind while watching a show about mobsters. At the rate they get “whacked,” how did they all manage to live past their thirties!

#2 – The Odd Couple

Scene From 'The Odd Couple'

Let me start off by saying that I am not talking about the 2015 Matthew Perry remake which you couldn’t pay me to watch. My pick is the 1970 TV sitcom developed by the legendary Garry Marshall (his first series) starring two of the greatest actors of all time: Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.  

The success of this sitcom was no easy task for those involved. The Odd Couple storyline comes from the 1965 play written by super-legend Neil Simon and the 1968 film set the bar high featuring two immortals, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, in the lead roles of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.

Although for some reason the five-season run of this ABC-TV series was never a smashing success while it aired, syndication took it to classic level. It also eventually earned the reputation of being one of the few shows to meet, or in my opinion, top the standard set by a great film. While the show itself never rated high in the Nielsen’s or received any “Best-Of” Emmys, Tony and Jack had a perfect score which each getting nominated for Best Actor every year of the show’s run. (Klugman won two and Tony nabbed one.)

I was too busy of a teenager to watch the show when it ran in prime time from 1970-75. But I later fell in love with the show while watching re-runs daily on a local New York City channel at home after dinner. This continued until I had seen every episode more than once and there soon was never any doubt that this was my favorite TV show of all time.

About 15 or so years ago, I bought the show on DVD to binge, enjoy, and relive the Felix and Oscar experience. While I enjoyed seeing it all again, it was a major disappointment to see that the DVDs were issued on the cheap and Paramount chose to cut out all of the many musical segments rather than pay the royalties.

One more fact to get out of the way is that the first season was done with a laugh track. Let’s just say that it was such a joy to hear each show in the following seasons begin with Klugman saying, “The Odd Couple is filmed before a live audience.”

If this now iconic plot scenario is foreign to you, The Odd Couple is about two divorced men living together in a Manhattan apartment. Their differences make for conflict and generally it’s the crossing of their contrasting lifestyles and habits that drive the plots.

Felix, a commercial photographer, is an obsessive neat freak, who loves arts, opera and theater and enjoys a Beef Wellington served with the proper bottle of wine. Oscar, a noted sportswriter, is a total slob, loves only sports and is more than happy just opening a can of Garbanzo beans for dinner or eating a leftover cold slice of pizza found under his bed washed down with a can of beer.

But the pair gets through their differences each and every episode, and it’s the warmth of their friendship and seeing grouchy Oscar revealing his heart that always brings joy in the end.

And along the way, there’s just so much funny stuff and a great cast of characters and famous guest celebs playing themselves along the way. Kudos to Marshall’s sister Penny as Oscar’s bumbling but lovable assistant Myrna, and Al Molinaro as Murray, the likewise lovable but bumbling police officer. Both would of course go on to bigger fame in other Garry Marshall sitcoms. (Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days).

So, while I’ve got The Odd Couple here in my second slot, it really is my #1. I just wanted to pick The Sopranos before someone else in this draft I am involved with could. But I was not gonna take a chance on missing on writing about my love for not only Felix and Oscar, but Tony and Jack, who repeatedly won over my hearts while filling me with laughs. I miss them both.

#3 – Seinfeld

03 SeinfeldI must begin by saying that I’m puzzled as to why it took me so long to decide what my next pick in the TV series draft would be. The number of Seinfeld YouTube clips I’ve watched should alone justify making the “show about nothing” my #3 overall pick.

My history with Seinfeld however is odd in that I did not watch a single episode in real time until I viewed the underwhelming series finale at a private corporate event on their then-expensive big screen. By then though I had at least seen some reruns but had yet to become passionate about the show. But not too long after the series ceased, I got hooked by watching many more reruns and running through my Dad’s DVD collection when I visited my folks. Watching Seinfeld soon became highly addictive for several reasons upon which I will elaborate.

Seinfeld ‘s obvious attractions are of course that it is very funny, all the characters are incredible, and like my prior two series picks, it is set mostly in New York City. And to that last point, the show’s brilliant production never once makes you think that it’s all done in a Hollywood studio. It really feels like it’s all happening in the Big Apple.

Remarkably, I have always been fascinated by how timeless Seinfeld is. Despite the lack of cellphones and the presence of Jerry’s dated haircut and his old Macintosh computer visible in the background, the storylines just seem so relevant to whatever decade you are watching them in. Relationship issues, comical character failures and the unabashed selfishness exhibited by the four main characters are things we can all forever relate to and laugh about.

Seinfeld’s impact on popular culture is also unprecedented. For a show that is now more that 20 years expired, there are so many expressions that are now accepted vernacular. Aside from the obvious “Yada Yada” and “No soup for you!”, quite often, personal situations have made me recall and reference old episodes. One recent example dealt with someone who was perpetuating an obvious lie until when like George Costanza, “He finally reached the end of the Hamptons!” Amazing how many people I said this to remembered that car ride ending in a walk when George didn’t admit to his fiancé’s parents that he didn’t have a house in the Hamptons until they all reached the Atlantic Ocean.

Each Seinfeld episode typically had three or four concurrent storylines and we often forget the classics that intersected with one another.  One was when the injured squirrel, for whom George paid for surgery to impress a girlfriend, got snatched away by a hawk during Kramer’s mock Merv Griffin Show. (After he found the old TV show set props in the trash bin.) On the same “show,” Jerry also was outed for drugging his girlfriend so that he could play with her rare vintage toy collection.

Being a baseball fan, having George work for the Yankees and seeing some real-life Yankees and Mets playing themselves on the show was something special. In fact, if I had to pick my favorite episode, it would be the one in which George suggested the Yankees wear cotton uniforms since cotton fabric breathes. Then came the problem when the non-polyester uniforms shrank making play difficult. This was also another great multiple story line show in which the gang watches the hapless Yanks from an Atlantic City hotel room where Jerry also accidently drowns the trained doves from Miss Rhode Island’s talent act. (Kramer was coaching Jerry’s girlfriend for the pageant.)

Writing about this show makes me want to watch it right now. It also makes me ponder where did Kramer get the money to live on and how many girlfriends did Jerry have? It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the ability to go back and visit Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer on a regular basis.

Finally, while there never was an official Seinfeld reunion show, there was a short segment on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm where we did see the show’s main four characters in the future. Here’s a look at those snippets all combined in a clever update that makes you long for some more new Seinfeld. Maybe someday.

#4 – Breaking Bad

04 Breaking BadLike many other TV bingers these days, there are few, if any, series that I watch in real time. After all, who has the patience to wait a week (or at a season’s end, over the summer) for the next episode to see what happens next in a suspenseful show. However, I did make an exception for the wild escapades of high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine maker Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad.

Why? Well, the plot was just so unique and more so, its production, especially in terms of camera work, was nothing short of spectacular. The ways that producer Vince Gilligan found to use the camera were ground-breaking. Come on, who would have ever thought of filming from the inside of a refrigerator!

Before I get to the tragic tale of Mr. White, there’s also the music. I don’t think I have ever been so taken by the impact of soundtrack songs like I was in Breaking Bad.  There are two magic moments that come to mind. I still get chills running down my spine when I think of how Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” were used to such stunning effects. For the unfamiliar, it may help to know that Mr. White’s “product” had a unique-to-meth blue color. And the Badfinger song’s opening line of “Guess I got what I deserve” show appropriately set the show’s final scene. (Kudos also to local Nashville band The Silver Seas for getting their fab song “Catch Yer Own Train” into Season One.)

As with my fave series, The Sopranos, here we go again with White and his former student and now partner-in-crime, Jessie Pinkman, falling into the unavoidable anti-hero role. However, seeing all this suspense and drama from a first-person perspective was the only way to go for Breaking Bad. And how could you not resist rooting for a guy who simply was trying to get some extra money together for his family before he died of cancer.

What really makes the show so habit forming is how what starts out as such a simple innocent way to make a few bucks steamrolls into a monster enterprise attracting a cadre of despicable characters. This includes the metamorphosis of meek Walter into the evil Heisenberg. Even his demure wife gets into the act to help when the couple finds itself with an accumulation of cash larger than most banks. While the show is full of violence galore, it’s these same things that also gives the show more laughs than you’d ever expect in a crime drama. For me, the funniest moment was when screwball meth-head Badger explains how the pizza place they just ordered from passes on the savings by not cutting its slices.

But, Breaking Bad also uses the often employed, but head-scratching literary device of coincidence.  What are the odds that a guy who takes up making meth in Albuquerque, New Mexico would also have a brother-in-law who is the local head of the DEA who heads the task force hunting down the guy behind the new blue meth showing up on the streets! I’ll save the spoilers as to how these two end up.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, as Walter and Jesse respectively, both put in career-defining roles. And the supporting cast was just as spectacular, including Bob Odinkirk as sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman, who would wind up with his own spin-off show, Better Call Saul, which is just about to start airing its final season.

I hope that all fans of the show did get to see the enjoyable El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, a Netflix sequel to the show that continues the story of Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman character. And as for the prequal of Better Call Saul, we fans look forward to hopefully seeing White and Pinkman appear on the show as its timeline moves forward and the show runs its course. And on a possible sad note, maybe we will find out why Saul’s lady friend, Kim Wexler, never made it to the Breaking Bad days.

In concluding, let me just say that this show is just so darn good that it is no surprise that in 2013 it entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed TV show of all-time. That’s no surprise since how many shows have ever achieved the success of having each episode followed by a live recap and analysis show every week!

#5 – Mad Men

05 Mad MenAs was the case with my previous draft pick, Breaking Bad, AMC’s Mad Men was one of the few other shows in recent memory whose brilliance found me watching regularly as it ran every week. Mad Men also undoubtedly holds the record for the show generating the most morning after talk in the office.

If the show is unfamiliar to you, the “Mad” is short for Madison Avenue and the series is a look at the high-pressure world of advertising centered in Manhattan in the 1960s. Pun intended, “mad” is also an apt description of the behavior the “men” in the show exhibit.

In assessing Mad Men’s appeal, there are several reasons for my loving this show. The first no doubt has to do with my age and having lived through its period setting of this historic decade. Visually, through the styles of dress and the décor of both home and office, the show brilliantly captures of the feel of the era. Like another current show that I enjoy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I am just captivated by the vibrant imagery that so captures the visuals of the 60s. Perhaps it’s just my long-lost nostalgia for those days?

Although I had yet to join the work force until the late 70s, Mad Men also so accurately depicts the office politics as they were back then. First and foremost were the ways men treated women and the way alcohol was a primal part of the business world back then. It was also a time when it seemed like everyone smoked and without ever getting a mean look, they smoked everywhere.

Front and center was Jon Hamm’s lead role as Don Draper, a man whose behavior was as easily despised as his creativity was admired.  The train wreck of his career from his puzzling self-destructive behavior, fueled by his booze-driven lust for women, was inevitable. You see it coming and wonder when he will hit bottom and whether he will recover.

The rest of the cast is equally appealing, and the ladies really steal the show in terms of presenting the evolution of women through the decade. This was true both at home through the character of Draper’s wife Betty played by January Jones and at work by the sexy but savvy Joan Harris played by Christina Henricks and the naive but otherwise smart, Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss. Joan struggles and eventually attains success despite having to overcome the beauty nature has given her while Peggy ultimately overcomes the hand she was dealt from her sheltered upbringing.

As for the other guys, John Slattery’s Roger Sterling was akin to Draper in terms of despicability while Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell faults took the cake due to the massive layer of immaturity that he could never overcome. And what a delight to see Broadway legend Robert Morse come out of hiding with a recurring role and even gift us with a dream sequence musical number!

The top appeal of Mad Men however though may be how actual history gets interwoven into its storylines. It was fun to see notable events and figures pass through as it was for emerging fashions and changing trends. All this also created great viewer anticipation as the years flew by. You knew that sooner or later we’d see JFK, The Beatles, and the space program.

And without spoiling anything, actual advertising history makes its way into one of the greatest endings in TV series history. Mad Men also featured one of the most infectious opening sequences of all time combining slick instrumental music to a clever graphic animation.

Kudos to show creator Matthew Weiner for seven brilliant seasons. Deservedly, Mad Men won 16 Emmys. It’s another show that I look to repeating in its entirety.

#6 – The West Wing

06 The West WingBinge-watching The West Wing (1999-2005) was the best Social Studies lesson I have ever received. Episode-after-episode, I learned more about the inner workings of the US Government through the realism depicted in this series than any classroom lecture or textbook could ever have taught me. It’s been a while, and with all of the crazy politics our nation has recently seen, maybe it’s time for a revisit to see how this television series seemed to make it work better than it has been lately!

Created by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin, the show gives such a detailed look inside the working wing of the White House that you feel like you labor there along with the all-star cast. It also doesn’t take long to realize how dedicated and committed of a profession it is and why many staffers fail to survive the full four-year (let alone eight) term of their president. I know I wouldn’t buy too many tickets for concerts or baseball games since it’s a given that some foreign or domestic crisis is gonna have you working late or on the weekend.

However, giving credit where it’s due, as well-written as each episode was (especially the Sorkin ones), the true success of The West Wing came from its incredible roster of talented actors.

Marin Sheen is absolutely perfect as the much-loved President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. Playing a Democrat, he never shows an overt partisan disdain for the “other side” that is too commonplace in Washington these days. It’s said that he was modeled somewhat after Bill Clinton who is often claimed to be our last true “moderate” in the White House. On the silly side, I also just loved how Jed would step outside onto the patio and relax with a smoke. It somehow made him seem more real. Was this inspiration for Barrack Obama who was said to have done the same?

Over the show’s seven seasons, we see the nation and the world go through all sorts of wild stuff and watch how the president and his team get into action. Voting matters were most interesting. There’s usually first the strategy for developing the solution followed by creating to the path to get the necessary votes in Congress. How the staff keeps the tabs on the later was always fascinating. Then there is the communications part where we see the influence of the communications director adeptly played by Richard Schiff who works with his lead speech writer, first played by a surprising at the time, amazing Rob Lowe, and later by an equally fine Joshua Malina. Seeing the speech writer in action reminds the viewer that some of those great presidential quotes came from someone else’s pen.

Actor John Spencer plays the chief of staff and gives insight into what is likely the most important role in the White House. Sadly, his untimely real-life death had to be worked into the storyline. He was replaced by actress Allison Janey’s character who we previously got to know in the equally important, and highly visible role of the press secretary.

And you will also love the First Family, albeit a small one, with Stockard Channing as the First Lady and Elisabeth Moss in her television debut as their daughter Zoey. The young lady gets a good share of screen time when she gets into a relationship with her dad’s aide Charlie played by the delightful Dulé Hill who would later star on the series Psych.

Since we are dealing with politics, there are of course a scandal or two as well as everyone’s favorite time of year, the elections! After making it through Bartlet’s eight years, we do see someone new get into the Oval Office, but I won’t spoil that for you. But be sure to watch for one of my favorite television scenes of all time when the unrecognized losing candidate of the Presidential Election on the morning after his loss is asked to give them his first name at Starbucks! The series then ends on the hopeful reconciliatory note whereby this member of the opposing party’s cup of coffee is followed by an offer to join the new Cabinet. If things could only be more like this today in the real D.C.

#7 – Friday Night Lights

07 Friday Night LightsBack in the 1960s when I attended high school in New Jersey, high school football was important, but as I would later realize when I moved to Texas in the 1970s, maybe just not that important. While we went to all the games and rooted for our friends on the field, outside of a pretty lame pep rally at school on Friday afternoon, there wasn’t that much more to it. And if you looked hard the next day, you probably could find the box score in the Sports pages of the local morning paper.

Although I was warned, I still could not believe it until I saw it myself, that in Texas, the local TV stations showed filmed highlights of high school football on game nights. It also seemed that locals talked more about their favorite high school team than they did about the Cowboys or the Oilers. Then there were these large football fields all over town where on Friday nights in the fall and winter you would get stuck in traffic and yes, see those stadium lights!

This Texas phenomenon was dubbed Friday Night Lights and first memorialized in a 1990 non-fiction book that chronicled a small-town team in Odessa, Texas. In 2004, it was adapted for the big screen and was later made into the fictionalized television series that ran five seasons from 2006-2011. After the television version captured my heart on several levels, I went back and watched the movie only to quit after about 15 minutes. It was no match for the television series, and I just could not let it spoil my love for what I had seen on the small screen.

It goes without saying that having a love for football will make Friday Night Lights a more enjoyable experience, but the show does more than just portray Texas high school football. It features one of the best television families of all time with Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton playing parents to both their own child as well as the high schoolers they coach and counsel, respectively.

The show includes just about everything those high school years were about in addition to football. You see all the ups and downs of being a teenager in the 1980s brought on by social pressures and challenging relationships and of course the inevitable interference from sex, drugs, and alcohol. In addition to the coach’s family, there are several other family dynamics in play with storylines to follow.

Then there’s the football! As far as fictionized sports go, the drama of each season as well as of individual games is expertly depicted creating both the excitement of victory and the heartbreak of defeat. The show also works in all the behind-the-scenes stuff very well including the interfering influence of the local community and the pressure felt by the players, some of whom dreamed of playing in college and beyond.

Like any good show, Friday Night Lights is packed with emotion and runs us through cycles of bringing us down with setbacks later lifting our spirits through redemption. It’s a roller coaster ride for sure and features many great young actors who shine throughout the series. The show also deserves acclaim for its filming technique where most scenes were shot in a single take giving it a more natural feel.

Although it never scored a touchdown in the ratings, Friday Night Lights was a critical success, and it eventually received some Emmy nods in its final two seasons. The show is a must if you like football but don’t mind remembering how tough it was to go through high school. I’m glad I gave it a try because it was well worth it despite bringing back some old memories I’d rather forget.

PS – There is one quick personal story that is too memorable for me not to share. While in the middle of obsessively streaming this show on-line, I took a respite from the annual East Nashville Tomatofest event on a hot summer’s afternoon to watch an episode in a coffee shop. Can you imagine my surprise when I walked out the door and immediately came upon actress Connie Britton, then star of the Nashville TV series, walking by pushing a baby stroller!

#8 – Star Trek: Voyager

08 Star Trek - VoyagerLet me begin by saying that I really don’t care much for science fiction. My family can confirm how I am on record for falling asleep in the movie theater for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies. I guess my brain finds little appeal for fantasy. So, what is it about Star Trek: Voyager that makes it different?

Well, this attraction started with Star Trek: The Next Generation which my family and I watched together and which I would likely pick as a favorite should there be a second round to this draft. Together, we binge-watched all of TNG on DVD, and in true geekiness, kept a spreadsheet where we rated each episode on a 1 to 5 scale. Our watching continued with Voyager, but our nerdom didn’t include the spreadsheet after Mom dropped out.

So, this leaves me to try and explain both how Star Trek overcome my disdain for sci-fi and why I favor (ever so slightly) Voyager over The Next Generation.

I guess what makes me somewhat of a Trekkie, is how these shows extend the history of our planet into the future and explore the unknown expanse of our galaxy. We see the development of technology (some of which has since come to pass) and experience the remarkable acceleration of the speed of travel (unlikely to ever happen). As a child, I always enjoyed books about the future and Trek provided me with a continuation of this fascination. Perhaps my attraction takes root in the fact that there is some probability to some of what is presented in Trek.

On the other hand, as the name itself implies, Star Wars focused more on wars and battles with much more emphasis on alien fantasy rather than the evolution of Earthlings.

As for The Next Generation, everything about it was fabulous and more than satisfied my needs. The casting was perfect, the technological advances were exciting and sometimes realistic, and the stories were fantastic. However, while the same can be said for Voyager, there was just something about it that attracted me even more.

As brilliant as Patrick Stewart was as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on TNG, so was Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Voyager. Let’s just stop there and call it even. Likewise, both casts matchup well with Data on TNG and Seven of Nine on Voyager getting the nods as my favorites. Touché again.

But perhaps what puts Voyager over the top is simply the passage of time, both fictionally in the scripts and, as to the tools available for filming. As to the former, Starfleet technology advanced especially in the use of the Holodeck, a recreational device in which crewmembers freely interacted in an imaginary setting of their choice. To the latter, TV special effects just got better and for the first time in the Trek series were enhanced through the use of CGI (“Computer Generated Images). TNG had made a giant leap however in this regard when compared to the original Star Trek series which at times often completely lost the feel of traveling through outer space.

Voyager lasted seven seasons (1995-2001). It started just after and ran concurrently with Deep Space Nine which failed to catch my fancy along with the other subsequent Trek series that have maintained the franchise. So, if like me, sci-fi is not your thing, like me, you might find enjoyment in Voyager. On the other hand, if you regularly attend Trekkie conventions, where do you rank Voyager amongst the Star Trek canon?

#9 – Suits

09 SuitsYes, it’s that show that featured Prince Harry’s American wife, actress Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex if she’s not yet been sent to exile for being so gripey. Let me just get it out of the way and say that she handled her acting duties about as well as she has her time as a member of the British Royal family. Nuff said.

After that odd intro, I’ll further confuse everyone by adding that I am also selecting a series that I quit on after Season 7 of its nine seasons. While that had to do mainly with the exit of some of the show’s best lead characters, it also can be said that Suits was a show that was great when it was good and awful when it was bad.

Suits is a New York City-based legal drama that follows the pursuits of Harvey and Mike. The former, played by Gabriel Macht, is a handsome, uber-confident, high-powered corporate attorney.  The latter, played by Patrick Adams, is a young man with an eidetic memory who despite lacking the necessary credentials, works as an attorney alongside his boss Harvey. Keeping the truth about Mike hidden becomes as interesting to the story lines as do the cases and settlements that these two gents win together.

If reading this at all interests you in Suits, I highly recommend that you at least watch the fabulous debut episode whose storyline shows how Mike manages to get where he is working at a major NYC law firm without having a law degree or passing the Bar Exam on his resume.

Down the road however, the show’s writing had its ups and downs, likely due to the host USA Network’s inability to sport a steady team of writers. But great characters and strong acting really made this show what it was. Among the strong roles were Rick Hoffman as the eccentric but loveable attorney Louis, Sarah Rafferty as the drop-dead gorgeous and highly competent legal assistant Donna, and Gina Torres as the cunningly clever and insightful managing partner Jessica.

I guess Macht’s Harvey character is what I enjoyed most about Suits. He’s the kind of guy that’s easy to look up too. Highly driven and devotedly adept at his occupation, he doesn’t like to lose and usually doesn’t. And even though he works just about around the clock, he has this admirable wholeness to his personality. He’s the consummate New Yorker who knows the best hot dog cart and where to get a great cup of coffee. There are autographed Michael Jordan (presumably a one-time client) basketballs in his office along with a turntable and a huge collection of vinyl, Let’s just say that Harvey depicts “corporate cool” at its best.

Of the show’s flaws, it’s easy to spot that the Suits is not filmed in NYC (it’s Toronto) and it dove me crazy how in just two seconds flat someone is able to get the gist of a legal brief shoved in their face. These peeves aside, the legal squabbles are interesting as are their solutions. There are also interesting plot lines involving partnership in-fighting, Louis’s many neuroses, and Mike’s romance with Rachel (played by the future Duchess). However, every so often there was a script that was a dud, and after Mike left, the show lost its appeal.

So, while not a series I recommend watching from start to finish, there’s enough greatness in Suits to poke around a bit. I’m sure that my love for all things NYC and my once desire to be an attorney have something to do with my love for the show. Give it a try if you haven’t.

#10 – The Time Tunnel

10 The Time TunnelFor my final pick in these ten rounds of fave TV shows, I gave in to my childhood memories and selected The Time Tunnel, a show that had me spellbound as a ten-year old during the 30 episodes of its single season 1966-67 run. After seeing the 1960 film version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine on television, I became fascinated with the concept of time travel which made The Time Tunnel the perfect show for me.

The Time Tunnel was the product of the legendary Irwin Allen who had previously produced and directed two other highly acclaimed TV series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. Allen, who would also go on to produce two film blockbusters with The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), cited The Time Tunnel as his favorite television production even though the previous two were deemed more successful.

The sci-fi storyline deals with the U.S. Government’s creation of the technology to allow a person to travel through time. The series follows two of the lead scientists, played by actors James Darren (then still a young handsome heartthrob) and Robert Colbert. After an unplanned initial time transport, the two are stuck travelling back and forth in time while the team at “Operation Tic Tok” are able to hear and view them through the scientific wonder of the Tunnel that sent them on their journey. The team struggles to bring them back, and instead, somehow manage to grab them at the end of each episode, sending them somewhere else in time, just in time, to thwart some kind of danger they got themselves into.

Many years later, I did a revisit to The Time Tunnel via DVD and was surprised how well it held up for a show produced in the late 60s. And, after a recent rewatch of the debut episode, I found the special effects rather impressive for those days, including the recurring graphic segment employed when they were spinning through time. However, I did feel that the show was full of some unnecessary exaggerated nonsense. Would it at all be logical that this project would be so massive to necessitate an underground desert complex that went 800 stories underground and employed a team of 12,000 with Fort Knox level security?

Then there was the overuse of the Hollywood device of coincidence. How could it be that their uncontrolled random time travels would always land them at famous historical event at such precise locations and moments? For example, landing on the deck of the Titanic during its maiden voyage or inside a rocket being launched into space during its final countdown? Wouldn’t they have had as much of a chance to wind up in a bathroom in the Bronx?

Nonetheless, seeing them interact with history obviously made for great suspenseful plots although there was no respect for time travel’s cardinal rule of not altering history and thereby changing the timeline for the future. Allen also made for better television by economically embellishing the historical references with existing footage from feature films. Another interesting aside was that one of the technicians was played by actress Lee Meriwether, the winner of the 1955 Miss America Pageant.

As I young child, I was fascinated with The Time Tunnel and couldn’t wait to see where they would wind up going in next week’s episode. Unfortunately, the one place these two time travelers never made it to was back home since despite the show’s success, it’s future did not include a second season.

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