My Top 10 Television Shows of All Time… in This Top 10 List

This blog post has basically nothing to do with Magic: The Gathering. To find out why you can skip way ahead to the “Irony” section (ctrl+f “irony”). But it should still be a super cool blog post simply because — let’s be honest — your old pal michaelj penned (and by “penned” I mean “typed”) it.

Part I: Laying the Blame

Blame Brian David-Marshall.

One of my best friends.

My podcast teammate over at Top 8 Magic (buy Deckade at Top 8 Magic!)

This is a man with 13-17 favorite movies in his top 3 favorite movies. So as embarrassing as it may be to have started plotting out this blog having forgotten completely about The Wire ain’t gonna stop me. Yes, The Wire is probably better than most of the television shows outlined below, but like I said, blame Brian David-Marshall.

Part II: My Top 10 Television Shows of All Time… In This Top 10 List

People are always asking me “what to watch next” so I put together this blog post. This Top 10 list is going to focus more on shows that aren’t on the air any more. For the most part you can get them all on DVD or in some cases you can watch all the eps online via Hulu, YouTube, or the WB (or in the middle of the night on the Disney Channel).

Number Ten – Robotech

Robotech was the first cartoon I ever saw that, despite being a cartoon, dealt with adult themes and more complicated storylines. Characters — even majort characters — died, people’s houses got thrashed when there was a battle, women got pregnant. I watched Robotech largely around age 9, but when I moved to the Cleveland area from western Pennsylvania it played at a terrible time slot relative to when I could, you know, watch tv / cartoons / etc.

Adult themes, and the trials and consequences of war were not the initial hook, of course.

Robotech was about transforming robots blowing up aliens. The main character of the first 1/3 — Rick Hunter — was the quintessential candidate for the Level Up. He went from stunt plane pilot to admiral over the course of a couple of years, and not only got the girl but had every looker from the naive pop star to the jaded older woman fawning all over him.

I was completely obsessed with Robotech for years. Keep in mind this was during a time period when there was no public adoption of the Internet, but involved really cool foreign transforming robots and interesting characters. I bought tons of art books as a kid and consumed every possible Robotech-related tech I possibly could until my sister bought me the complete saga on DVD around 2001 or 2002.

Luckily for you (if you haven’t watched it), all three arcs of the initial Robotech saga are available on Hulu!

I am including a relatively accessible ep; the saga as a whole is an involved, multi-generational, one with plots rebuilt from multiple different Japanese sources. The first part has a brief space battle and some story advancement, but the reason I chose the ep is the last part. The beautiful (and green haired) alien infiltrator Mirya is sent to the good guy space ship to learn more about us earthlings, and mistakes a video arcade for a training ground.

Young hero Max Sterling battles Mirya in a video game (Mirya is the best pilot the bad guys have) and… You’ll have to watch the ep to see what happens next. Rest assured that if all gamers had Max’s skills, we’d all be a lot happier. The internal monologues are priceless.

Number Nine – The Tomorrow People

The Tomorrow People is basically the opposite of Robotech. Rather than a cartoon that dealt with more serious themes, The Tomorrow People was basically the first show I was ever interested in that had actual humans / actors / etc. rather than cartoon characters. The tragedy of The Tomorrow People was that it came on on Nickelodeon about 6pm, i.e. when my Dad was trying to watch the news. So I basically never got to watch my favorite show circa 1984.

To be honest The Tomorrow People — being British — just reminded me of my favorite tv show circa 1980, Dr Who. The fact is that it was just a more terrible version of Dr Who, with worse special effects.


The Tomorrow People was about the next step in human evolution… back in 1974

Number Eight – Disney’s Gargoyles

Gargoyles is basically the best cartoon of all time.

It blends everything from Shakespeare to Iron Man-type concepts with power sources as disparate as magic and science to plain old money. There has really never been anything else like Gargoyles on television, ever, as far as I can recall.

And then it got cancelled.

What happened?

Gargoyles was re-launched as The Goliath Chronicles for a third season of sorts, but it wasn’t the same at all (Saturday morning cartoon rather than daily cartoon with incredible long term plot development and more twists and turns than the letter S). What was the problem?

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Sadly around 1995 or so I was part of the problem, tuning in for Tommy Oliver and his Drgonzord rather than Disney’s Gargoyles. Unfortunately, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was more or less the most popular television program of all time, so it wasn’t just me… But it was enough.

Gargoyles has had new life breathed into it in graphic novel form, under the direction of the original creator, so that’s something. You can watch it at 4am on Disney XD every night. In fact, tonight’s ep is the first ep ever. I mean if you’re going to be up anyway…

Number Seven – Battlestar Galactica

Yes, the re-imagined mid-2000s series!

I watched the one from 30 or however many years ago as a kid, but who are we kidding?

Battlestar Galactica starts off at the worst possible position — essentially the genocide of the human race — and just gets worse from there. The heroes are outnumbered, out-gunned, and actually infiltrated by the villains from day one. Heck, the heroes are the villains half the time. Battlestar is thought to be a commentary on the War on Terror, and you can see the themes quite clearly if you are looking. The writing is unbelievable. The good guys are in so deep in the first couple of eps of season three, even as an educated Western-raised lad from the U S of A, you may find suicide bombing a completely defensible activity when used against superior forces.

Number Six – Angel

I love Angel.

I like it better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When I want to get pumped up, I watch the last two episodes of Angel, in particular “Not Fade Away” (the last one).

I actually watched those live when the show was first going off the air, right before the birth of my daughter and didn’t like them at the time. When I watched them with director’s commentary, I appreciated what Whedon was trying to do much more. Like I said, I watch these eps to get pumped up… I am pretty sure Sadin and I watched them the night before a PTQ we made the finals of (sorry for punting Steve and Paul).

Number Five – Malcolm in the Middle

Before Arrested Development, there was Malcolm.

Malcolm in the Middle is the story of a boy genius born to a lower middle-class family, and constantly dropped into difficult situations because of the brash natures of his troublemaking older brothers, or sometimes the soul crushing love of his well-meaning but overbearing mother.

Malcolm in the Middle is like The Wonder Years, but without any of the sentimentality. At one point I think it was probably the best comedy on television, but suffered with the emergence of Arrested Development, at which point it got shuffled around a bit in terms of time slot and even night of the week.

The first two seasons are works of inspiration, and the season two ep “Bowling” is probably the best half hour of television you will ever see. I remember watching it with John Shuler at Grand Prix Detroit back in 2001 before we went to dinner… and we just stared at each other after staring at the television screen. What did we just watch? “Bowling” is a work of staggering on-screen choreography, hilarious, and incredibly accessible.

I don’t normally talk things up this much, but I know how good “Bowling” is. It’s not too hard to find online, but I couldn’t find a link from a real / official / well-known site so I elected not to embed it this time around.

Number Four – Rome

Rome transports you to another world.

Actually it is our world, but 2,000 years ago.

All our understanding of the universe as seen through a Judeo-Christian lens is blanked. Our notions of the body, propriety, and so on go out the window.

You want to have an affair? Your body slave is there fanning you.

You step out of line? Your commanding officer threatens to crucify you… and means it.

I think there are only 24 episodes; I heartily recommend tracking them down on DVD or HBO On Demand.

Number Three – Babylon 5

Babylon 5 was my [at least nominal] favorite show until I fell in love with this list’s #1 show. It is without exaggeration the most complicated and layered drama in the history of television.

Babylon 5 was kind of like Lost before there was Lost. The setting — a space station — was one of the main characters. None of the players was 100% what he or she seemed. There were several interplanetary wars, several opportunities to get pumped up or recoil in horror.

Amazingly, the entire saga is available on TheWB.com!

So if you want to explore more, you can do so there.

Just a warning: The entire first season is kind of terrible. The exception would be Signs and Portents (embedded below). The problem is that you can’t not watch the first season because, again, this might be the most complicated and layered show in the history of television; you can’t just skip the entire first season just because it is nowhere near as good as, say, the third or fourth seasons, or the latter part of the fifth.

Just be forewarned: “Signs and Portents” was an awards magnet and hands-down the best episode of the first season, but it is far from the best ep in the series.

Number Two – The Simpsons

Apparently my favorite show on television circa 1997 is still on television!

You go Bart!

Number One – Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is my all-time favorite television show.

I became acquainted with it via old Top 8 Magic listener Pselus, who recommended it to me just as I am recommending all these ten to you.

Veronica Mars is the kind of show writers love. Obviously the writing is there (including dialogue), but more than that, the story is layered and engaging — and constantly re-engaging — as it explores themes of class, resources, violence, and high school

For those of you who are not familiar with it, Veronica Mars details the adventures of a Nancy Drew-type girl detective (Veronica, obviously)… But imagine this Nancy Drew as a ruthless anti-hero with absolutely no qualms about using her detective skills to destroy her enemies, whether in terms of reputation (it is high school), resources, or literally. Veronica — lovable as she might be — has no qualms about setting her pet biker gang against rivals… and that darker tone is part of what makes her such an amazing character.

I would have just run the first episode ever as an embed, but it wasn’t available on Hulu or the WB. Instead I chose this one “The Rapes of Graff” which is about a rape investigation while Veronica tours a potential college. I ultimately picked it because it is a self-contained episode that guest stars George Michael and Maeby from Arrested Development.

Part II: Oh, the Irony

I actually played a bunch of relevant MTGO since coming back from US Nationals.

I am not going to report on any of that until my most recent article goes up on TCGPlayer (probably Monday), as I don’t want to report any conflicting deck choice data. Suffice it to say that I tried a bunch of the breakout archetypes and there is definitely another deck besides Pyromancer worth sleeving up.

I am probably not going to play much MTGO the next couple of days… Too busy working on this:

Flores Rewards*

Be there.

LOVE
MIKE

* I don’t even know where that email address goes 🙂

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15 comments ↓

#1 trikkur on 08.27.10 at 11:56 pm

It’s good to see another V. Mars fan. The show is so underrated and Kristen Bell is breathtakingly gorgeous. I’m so disappointed it never got a 4th season, but it had such a horrible time slot it had no chance.

#2 Alfrebaut on 08.28.10 at 12:09 am

Well, I can agree with you on Veronica Mars. It is among my favorite shows of all time, and would have a near perfect run provided you forget about that awful third season. After that I disagree with some of the list, as I didn’t like Babylon 5(I felt it TOO sci-fi for me), I thought Angel was very hit-or-miss, and I may be the only self-proclaimed nerd to not enjoy Battlestar. I think Futurama has been better than the Simpsons, even taking their respective primes into consideration. I like Rome and Gargoyles a lot, and I remember liking what I saw of Robotech as a kid(I watched it in Indonesia under the name Macross, and translated into Indonesian), but I haven’t seen enough of Malcolm in the Middle to pass judgment on that. I also had not heard of the Tomorrow People until tonight.

#3 starwarer on 08.28.10 at 12:52 am

Babylon 5! Definitely among my favorite fictional universes, up there with the Ender saga and Star Wars.

And I am definitely excited to find out that they’re on WB.com. Thanks Mike!

#4 astrosicebear on 08.28.10 at 5:33 am

What? No LOST???!
Blasphemy, sir.

#5 MTGBattlefield on 08.28.10 at 8:13 am

My Top 10 Television Shows of All Time… in This Top 10 List…

Your story has been summoned to the battlefield – Trackback from MTGBattlefield…

#6 ProdigalT on 08.28.10 at 7:02 pm

It’s somebody’s favorite list, not the best shows ever. Which is why Lost isn’t on it, I guess. You can’t really comment in the style of “what about…” because it’s Mike’s opinion. My top 10 list is wildly divergent from this one. In fact, it doesn’t even overlap at all and I haven’t even seen half of these shows, although I’m going to watch Veronica Mars once I get done with The Wire (Season 4 is downloading as I type this). Or just blame BDM.

#7 scoutinthenight on 08.28.10 at 7:12 pm

Gargoyles got sort of screwed in that Disney didn’t cancel it after season 2, they just took forever to actually renew it. Most of the lead animators and writers bailed for other jobs, and Greg Weisman was left to try and keep things going.

I also love and am constantly shocked that Disney let Slave Labor Graphics put out the new comics.

#8 scoutinthenight on 08.28.10 at 7:13 pm

Also, if you loved Robotech, I’m hoping you watched Exosquad.

#9 admin on 08.28.10 at 8:49 pm

@trikkur
The CW merge was probably more to blame than anything else. If there were still an entire UPN network to split off a full half of the television shows, I think there might have been a different outcome.

@Alfrebaut
I couldn’t disagree more. The third season had the single best moment of the entire series (Logan in the parking lot getting thrown into jail), “everything’s coming up Piznarski” … Well, in particular the Logan bit. I think it was fine, more than fine; very good overall. I don’t know that I liked one season better than any of the others, though BDM always points out Veronica dressed up as Sailor Moon in the video arcade from season one.

@astrosicebear
I don’t know that LOST is one of my favorite shows ever; I mean it probably is, but I don’t 100% know that it is. In particular the series finale was so awful… I can’t even finish the sentence but anyone who saw it knows what I am thinking. You know “complete betrayal of the core audience” or whatever would be fine there.

@scoutinthenight
Sounds like you know more about Gargoyles than I do (not surprising, actually… I’m just a superfan); I’ve never seen Exosquad. I don’t really cotton to anime over much… Just have a huge soft spot from Robotech inherited from the nine-year-old me.

#10 The Alpha Primitive on 08.29.10 at 5:15 am

There’s a lot of overlap here with my top shows, which is nice to see.

I need to watch Babylon 5. Just ended up missing it when it aired. I loved JMS’ work on Thor and (the sadly unfinished) The Twelve at Marvel, so that should be more than enough incentive to sit down with Babylon 5. Adding it to my Netflix queue as I type.

Because of the fifth season, Angel is my favorite hour long show of all time. I just don’t think it gets better than “A Hole in the World,” which I consider the best single hour in the history of television. Other parts of Angel were hit and miss at times, but the show still had a supremely high (much higher than Buffy, really) baseline of quality.

Veronica Mars had two of the best season finales I’ve ever seen for the ends of seasons one and two. It’s a shame what happened with season 3. I watched it on DVD and was quite shocked that the last episode was the last episode.

I was partial to Darkwing Duck as far as the Disney cartoons go, but I did love me some Gargoyles. Just a completely different tone than the rest of the cartoony fare.

Completely agree on Lost. I thought the entire last season was close to a train wreck, but I actually started to lose interest during the Dharmaville story line.

Other honorable mentions include Futurama (best of the prime time cartoons), The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Red Dwarf, and Mr. Show.

But the best show ever? Sports Night. Gods, I love that show. I watch the whole thing in its entirety at least once a year.

#11 Alfrebaut on 08.29.10 at 10:16 pm

Okay, okay… Logan getting thrown in jail was fun, and I do really like the episode about the hooker. But there was so much missing about that season. It needed a lot more Veronica-Wallace, Veronica-Weevil and especially Veronica-Keith. Also, for me, Piz is just unforgivably annoying. If he had been in the first season, I’m not sure I would have watched up till the third season. I may just be closed-minded in that I didn’t like how the series changed so much, but a lot of it just felt wrong.

#12 net_vagabond on 08.29.10 at 10:36 pm

You got me friggin hooked on Veronica Mars, a show I never in a million years ever considered watching… Is this a part of your grand scheme to get mtg players to watch awesome television shows instead of playing mtg? If so, I hate you… and its working.

#13 GerryT on 08.30.10 at 2:11 am

Hell yes for VMars at number 1. After watching all the seasons several times, I feel like season 3 is probably the best one, although, like Mike, I don’t really feel like either season is better than any other.

#14 SamL on 08.30.10 at 6:24 am

My son’s name is Oberon.

And yes, Gargoyles season 3 was just awful.

#15 scoutinthenight on 08.30.10 at 11:31 am

Exosquad was an animated series, but it was one of the rare American series that addressed adult themes. We used to joke that it had “The three Ds: death, drinking, and divorce”. It covered all sorts of interesting questions regarding ethics in war and genetic engineering (what do you do with the clones of a mad war criminal that are still in suspended animation?). Lots of fun.

It was cancelled after the initial conflict was resolved, but right after introducing a new threat. There were rumors the creators were going to merge the Exosquad universe into the Robotech one. Unfortunately right at that point the rights to the toys got caught up in the whole FASA/Harmony Gold lawsuit that happened involving some Battletech and Robotech toy designs, and without the toy revenue the show wasn’t perceived to be profitable enough.

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