Star Trek was already legendary and iconic by the time the first spin-off series, The Next Generation, arrived in TNG was also a trendsetter in the strange galaxy known as first-run syndication for dramatic series, helping to prove that television did not have to be constrained to the big three networks, long before cable dramas and streaming Emmy winners were the norm.
And finally, the adventures of the Enterprise-D stood as a testament to the enduring appeal and adaptability of the Star Trek concept. Few television endeavors are as culturally essential as Roots, the miniseries that spans more than a century, covering a generation of men and women subjected to slavery. With magnificent and important performances by LeVar Burton, John Amos, and others, the Emmy-winning Roots forces all Americans to take a long, hard look at the most shameful institution in the nation's history.
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It's gutting, it's empowering, and it's still tragically relevant all these years later. The balance between light and dark is an iconic one, but coming from the mind of cult filmmaker David Lynch, it took on new life in Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks is Lynch at peak quirkiness, but also, sometimes, his most sinister.
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While some critics lambast the latter half of Season 2 for needlessly dragging on unlikable arcs, Twin Peaks ultimately offered one of the most compelling murder mysteries in TV history. It both baffled and entranced cable TV audiences in the 90s with its unrelenting bizarreness, and its line-up of unforgettable characters.
It also sparked a cult following so strong that, 25 years after its heartbreaking Season 2 cliffhanger, it inspired a series revival that will continue the strange, supernatural crime drama with an upcoming and much-anticipated season 3. And not unlike its main character Fry, the show was something of an underachiever compared to its more famous, more successful sibling. But Futurama was a revelation for fans of comedy, animation, and sci-fi, combining its best elements into something completely unique, smart, and hilarious. Taking every genre staple under the sun s , Futurama would turn those often familiar but sometimes obscure concepts on their head with some weird and idiosyncratic touch involving any number of its main or supporting cast of crazy humans, robots, aliens and, of course, cyclopes.
Another hallmark of Futurama was its against-all-odds, sometimes graceful, and touching dose of humanity. Remember the one with the blackout? Or the one with Ross's wedding? Or the one in Vegas? Ironically enough, that last one also features Ross's wedding. Turn your television on at any given moment in the day, and you're bound to land on one of those ones.
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Over the course of ten seasons and well more than episodes, the Central Perk crew of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross earned their status as fixtures in the sitcom history books, and television at large. The cast of Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, and Jack McBrayer created a unique and memorable group of characters that were hilariously awkward, hyper Alpha, probably crazy, incurably vain, hopelessly jaded and possibly immortal.
The first and some would argue best of Joss Whedon's television endeavors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer smashed California valley and slacker comedy sensibilities right into the horror genre, resulting in a television experience unlike anything before or, arguably, since. As often a joy to consume as it was emotionally devastating there's a reason Whedon has a reputation for breaking fans' hearts through brutal character deaths, and the Scooby Gang is no exception , the Sarah Michelle Gellar action-comedy series was effectively epic and intimate all at once.
There's an old proverb that says: "A little bit of David Caruso goes a long way.
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Dennis Franz's abrasive cop Andy Sipowicz provided the anchor for a commendable cast of rotating players, including the likes of Jimmy Smits, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and more. Looking back at Cheers, it's almost staggering to consider the year comedy's incredible roster of actors. From Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman to George Wendt, John Ratzenberger and beyond, the faces that weaved in and out of the cozy Boston bar relieved the audience's end-of-day tensions just as much as the characters relieved their own. Among the many reasons to appreciate the series: its graceful and impressive handling of the tragic death of Coach actor Nicholas Colasanto and handoff to the new character who stepped up to fill the void: Woody Boyd, played by a little-known actor named Woody Harrelson.
Deadwood sits firmly in the pantheon of the greatest shows to ever air on HBO. Like so many great shows, it was canceled before it had a chance to wrap up, but constant murmurs of a movie follow-up have us craving one more round at The Gem Saloon. Fueled by beautiful performances from the likes of Damien Lewis and Ron Livingston, tightly written episodes, and spectacular direction capturing the literal and figurative explosions on the battlefield, Band of Brothers stands the test of time as one of the most moving and meticulously crafted explorations of war in any medium.
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Beginning as a humorous riff on the daily news with Craig Kilborn, The Daily Show morphed into a much more important and significant pop culture touchstone under Jon Stewart's tenure. With a sharp political focus and cutting humor, The Daily Show helped reshape how an entire generation consumed news. Stewart became a trusted voice from the early days of the election and the September 11th attacks through the end of his run in Beyond catapulting a huge number of stars from the show's correspondents — from Stephen Colbert to Steve Carrell to John Oliver to Samantha Bee — the Daily Show's transition from humorous news satire to reliable news commentary has changed the way news is presented and consumed.
As the grandfather of the modern late night television landscape, the virtues and successes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson are self-evident. For three decades, Johnny fueled American conversations with high-profile interviews conducted with humor and humanity. His was a generation and genre-defining reign, serving as a nation's late-night counsel through triumph and tragedy alike. The impact Carson's run has had on the modern comedy landscape — the nightly new scene especially — cannot be overstated.
Though the quality fluctuated in its final seasons — which also served as a surprisingly prescient take on what would be Barack Obama's historical presidential win — The West Wing at its best delivered brilliant dialogue, powerful performances, and an inspirational look at the American political system.
Aaron Sorkin's scripts were certainly liberal ideals of what government employees could be, but his cast of characters were so memorable not just for their wit but for their fallibility.
President Jed Bartlet's presidency faced many failures, but it was his and his cabinet's unfailing determination, which came to life thanks to Sorkin's singsong dialogue and the spectacular ensemble cast, that makes the show as politically stirring as when it first aired. One of the most loved comedies in British television history, the series stems from the mind of John Cleese and Connie Booth married at the time of the series' inception, divorced by its conclusion and focuses on the aptly named Fawlty family, doing their best to run a hotel… and their best isn't all that great.
Cleese somehow made the extraordinarily unlikable and hard-headed hotelier Basil Fawlty into a source of comedic gold; all the more impressive, as Cleese reportedly based the character and show on a real and really rude hotel owner he once encountered. But the highlight was the central trio of Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, and Rip Torn, who played beautifully off each other as three men barely keeping it together as they produced a new episode each weeknight.
There are those who predict history will eventually be evaluated by two periods of time: all that came before Big Bird, and all that came after. Seriously, it's tough to imagine a time without Sesame Street in the public consciousness. The amount of imagination and passion poured into the decades-spanning series not only resulted in an engaging and entertaining hour of television, but also resulted in pop culture icons who transcend the show itself: Elmo, Snuffaluffagus, and Oscar, to name a few.
They're more than just puppets on a TV show. They're practically family.
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Its willingness to skewer political leaders, pop-culture icons, and racial tensions in America brought a breath of fresh air and a new voice to the forefront. Impressively grounded and filled with terrific characters and performances, Battlestar Galactica is sci-fi at its best. It's difficult to reflect on The Cosby Show, and particularly challenging to return to the character of quirky family man and doctor Cliff Huxtable, given recent accusations against Bill Cosby. Putting recent revelations aside as much as one can, there's no denying the show's place in television history, and what it represented as a cultural moment.
Beyond Cosby, the show also features some performances that were instantly iconic. Phylicia Rashad as the inspirational Clair Huxtable and Keshia Knight Pullman as the impossibly adorable Rudy certainly rank among the single most iconic characters in family sitcom history. Trey Parker and Matt Stone's cutting cartoon satire requires no explanation for its place as one of the best shows of all time.
The reasons to tip your ski-cap to South Park are endless, whether it's because you're in the tank for brilliant low-brow humor a hallmark of the series from the first ever episode, the memorably named "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" , timely and biting political commentary the Turd Sandwich versus Giant Douche rivalry will always reign supreme , or simply wanting to watch an animated series pick a fight with any and every subject, no matter how controversial.
No Tom Cruises were insulted in the writing of this piece. Though the show struggled in its first season, trying to be too much like The Office, the Pawnee, Indiana Parks department went on to deliver six seasons of consistently hilarious, heartwarming comedy. Nearly every member of the ensemble, from Ron Swanson and the many Tammys of his life to Donna and Tom and their creation of Treat Yo Self, had a chance to shine as the series cemented itself in comedy history. But for those paying attention, few TV comedies reached the heights of this look at a narcissistic Orange County family in crisis mode after their patriarch is sent to jail.
Especially well-cast, Arrested Development also benefited from a fantastic ensemble of actors who each had a distinct — and distinctly funny — character to play, with all of them able to carry a storyline on their own or in various groupings.
Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television: Thirty Sitcoms That Faded Off Screen
America spent nine seasons and more than two hundred episodes with the Bunkers, one of the single most recognizable fictional families throughout television history. He's not the most politically correct protagonist, certainly not now, but actor Carroll O'Connor portrayed patriarch Archie Bunker as a rough-around the edges man unsatisfied with the state of things, longing for the older, better days — a character with lasting power and some fascinating modern relevance.
Yes, SNL will always have its unfunny sketches and episodes, but throughout the decades SNL has remained both a platform around which the nation can rally at major moments as well as a tremendous talent farm. It may not have a year perfect run and what show could?
Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television
Game of Thrones successfully revolutionized fantasy on TV. Whereas the likes of Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess were previously the pinnacle of fantasy's depiction on the small screen, HBO's Game of Thrones brought the grandeur of The Lord of the Rings with a heavy dash of the politics of The Sopranos, which together snowballed into a huge success for the network. It's easy to mark the late-Season 1 twist as the turning point for Game of Thrones' popularity — it prompted a deluge of surprise main character deaths across the TV landscape — but the show's greatness isn't just in its unpredictability.
From fantastic performances to gorgeous cinematography, an iconic score and stellar writing, Game of Thrones has raised the bar for the quality of genre television. In nine seasons on the air, Seinfeld took topics previously considered taboo on mainstream television and managed to not only put them in front of millions of people, but redefined what the modern comedy could tackle. Seinfeld eschewed every sitcom trope and instead focused on the bizarre misadventures of four flawed people and the collection of characters in their lives, and in doing so it became a cultural phenomenon.
Sitcoms were never quite the same after The Simpsons. Beyond putting Fox on the map as a network, The Simpsons injected sharp writing and insightful social commentary into primetime, proving that animated shows could be for adults too. The Simpsons has never shied away from covering real-life situations, and its initial seasons were a brilliant, subversive take on the typical dysfunctional family that quickly made the show a hit. With over 20 years under its belt, The Simpsons is the longest running American sitcom in history. The Simpsons will have to come to an end eventually, but when it finally does it will be remembered as one of the most important and funniest shows ever made.
Lost changed network television forever, and it looked beautiful and kept us all guessing doing it. Mythology-driven, sci-fi-tinged ensemble-cast TV is still dominant more than a decade after Lost got the whole country freaked out about smoke monsters and mysterious hatches. But Lost was more under-the-hood than that. It often felt almost impossibly gorgeous, with stunning island vistas that showed off its at-the-time unprecedented budget. And its emphasis on character-driven side stories, especially in its early seasons, allowed the writers to tell a surprising variety of high quality, self-contained short stories of love, loss, and longing.
The supporting characters, most notably Peggy Olson Elisabeth Moss , allowed Weiner to show what a time of change the s were and the obstacles that were constantly placed in the path of many looking to ascend higher than the society they were raised in was often comfortable with.