Would, would, would, would, would, would, um, would…
Growing up as a 20th and 21st Century human being, I consider not just other people my friends, but also inanimate objects. A record player, that’s my friend. It gives me music. Without a computer or a radio I’d just be sitting lonely and silent writing words on bits of paper and throwing them out of the window – so they’re my friends. But probably my best friend is television. I love television. I love the way it switches on and has stuff on it. I like the way it switches off. Yes sometimes it gets everything wrong, like when there’s Last of the Summer Wine or The News on, but for the most part, it’s a friend, a lover, and a wife or husband depending on whether you’re a man, a woman, or a gay. Speaking of which, congratulations guys! Anyway, without any more meandering waffle, here are the ten greatest television programs of all time. Some of you might notice that current gems like The Wire and Breaking Bad aren’t there. Let’s just take those as a given.
I literally just mentioned The Wire and Breaking Bad in the introduction to this piece, so I’m not going to mention them here, beyond saying yeah yeah, drugs drugs, blah blah blah, seen it all already. I’ve been down with drugs in television programs since way back in “the day”, which loosely translates to about 1986. That was the year that Zammo from Grange Hill got hooked on smack, big time. There were scenes of him chasing the dragon in a toilet that haunted my nightmares for at least a week. I thank those stark images and the fact that I wouldn’t have the first clue how to attain it for me never having become a junkie. But Grange Hill was more than just a don’t take drugs campaign. It was about schoolkids, it had Roland in it, it had Roland’s stalker who mispronounced his name “ro-LAND”, there were feathery blonde temptresses all over the place, a kid suddenly died at the bottom of a swimming pool as a lesson in why you shouldn’t dick around in water, a teacher was literally modeled on Adolf Hitler. Put simply this was my favourite TV show for most of my childhood. Or at least until I graduated onto much cooler shit like Neighbours.
I don’t want to go on too much about The Sopranos, because everything that needs to be said has probably been said already in a much better way by someone cleverer. You don’t need to hear it from me. Me clumsily going on about how Tony Soprano might be the most complicated and well-rounded character in television history, how I still haven’t entirely recovered from poor Adriana’s fate, how there is barely a dud episode in its entire run. If I was absolutely forced to choose one TV show and declare it the best of all time, this would be it. Just thinking about it makes my mind ejaculate all over the place, which is almost definitely the most degrading thing I’ve ever written about my brain. I’m sorry.
It’s very fashionable is certain circles these days to deride Big Brother, to say things scoffingly like “Big Brother, is anyone seriously still watching that shit?”. To which the answer is no, they’re not. They’re doing other things like learning to bake cakes or meeting Ukrainians on the internet. Big Brother has definitely had its day. That it even exists now is slightly unfathomable, simply because people don’t even get famous from it any more. Try naming ANYONE from last year’s show. Literally anyone. One person. I just had a go and my mind very nearly caved in on itself. The last truly memorable inmate was Siavash, and that was predominantly because he looked like a Teenwolf Dick Turpin. But don’t forget, for probably around six or seven years, this was seriously good television. The moments are way too many to list, but if I had to come up with my top five Big Brother memories, they’d be: every single conversation between Helen and Paul, everything Makosi ever said or did, Brian Belo wetting the bed, Nasty Nick’s monkey bars, and probably Nadia winning the thing. For a while there it was a great cultural barometer. Now, not so much.
For reasons that even I don’t fully understand, I’ve always been a sucker for overseas dramas about high school. It’s weird because on the outside I’m your typical tough guy – I’m insanely well built, I have a full and impressive beard on my face, and the last time I cried in public it was 2008, which is five years ago. Before that it was probably 2003. I basically cry in public every five years, which means I’m due one pretty soon. The point is I’m a man. A man with a penis. But I’m also a man who can devour a Friday Night Lights boxset, or sit with a hot water bottle on my vagina watching endless episodes of The OC. I haven’t seen it yet, but I totally suspect that Gossip Girl would be right up my street. The one I haven’t mentioned in the spirit of it being the headline act is Heartbreak High. It had everything you’d want from a gripping drama about teenagers – snogging, girls with dietary issues, guys with shark tooth necklaces, eyebrow piercings, people getting wasted, lots of hair gel, I’m pretty sure at one point there were children living in a warehouse that had a skateboard ramp in it. I’d happily watch this through a Dixons shop window if I had to. Although I can’t think of a single situation that would demand that.
Back in the mid 1990s, it was great being a student. Everything was free, you could dress exactly like a bellend and no one would judge you. People just sat around ingesting great big clouds of pot fumes and pretending to play chess. It was a wild time, I was studying common sense under the guise of it being sociology, and everyone I hated was pretending to be Liam Gallagher. It was a probably a great time to be a the actual Liam Gallagher, and it was definitely a nice time to be the comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. They were unlike anything anyone had EVER seen… unless they’d seen Morecambe and Wise. To me, who hadn’t watched Morecambe and Wise, they were wonderfully weird, refreshing, and I loved everything about their show. I liked how Mark Lamarr never smiled, I liked Ulrika-ka who was quite the pin up back then, and I found Chubs from Little Britain hilarious. It was, and probably still is, the best example of how to make a panel show that people want to watch. Much more so than that one where everyone takes turns to say something arch about something and then stifles a smile.
For years I’d been watching The Flintstones at 5.35pm each evening, and I was quite happy with that arrangement. I was a Flintstones kind of guy. But then along came Neighbours to rewire the circuits in my brain and entirely change my childhood. I remember practically everything about the early episodes of this show: Des, Daphne, Paul Robinson, something about a coffee shop, a person saying things in Australian about having relationship issues, Helen Daniels looking young and beautiful like a more sophisticated Bridget Bardot, Toadfish’s ancestors Crocfish and Fishfish. Mrs Mangel serial killing anyone who got in her way. Wonderful days, with even wonderfuller ones just around the corner. You had your Scott and Charlene frenchying the shit out of one another during the solemn “you may now gently kiss your wife” bit at their wedding, Plain Jane the Superbrain being insultingly unattractive until she accidentally took her glasses off and transformed into the most beautiful woman in the universe, then a conveyor belt of hot stuff that included: some twins, Beth from Neighbours, and Analise who may or may not have been doing unspeakable things to Lou Carpenter. The word on the street is that it’s still going today. I’m ashamed to say I probably haven’t watched it this millennium. Even though it’s definitely the best soap opera of all time.
I know I said literally the same thing about The Sopranos just a few TV shows ago, but I’ve changed my mind – were someone to demand that I name the greatest television program of all time, I’d immediately say Seinfeld. I love it. I’m in love with it. If you can be AT love, then I’m AT LOVE with it too. My love for this sitcom goes to my very core. Even further than my love for The Monkees ever did, and that was deep. This love is so deep that I can’t think of an adequate metaphor to express it. I’d probably plump for something about an ocean. I’d say something like “my love for this show is so deep it makes the Pacific Ocean look like the shallow end of a local swimming pool… FOR MICE”, or “the depth of my love for this show makes The Titanic look like the iceberg”. Whatever that means. Anyway, the point being that there’s no better show on television. George Costanza is the best sitcom character ever written, there hasn’t been a better female comedy character than Elaine, Jerry is the perfect straight man in the middle of it all, and even though his racist meltdown has left a smudge on the brain, Kramer still rocks. My favourite ever episode is the one where George stops having sex and becomes a genius. Or the one with the answer phone message. Either of those. Or absolutely any of the others.
There was a truly golden period for television in the mid-1990s, when a Saturday night trilogy appeared that was so potent and impressive that you’d be forgiven for never going out again. It happened on ITV, and it read “Baywatch… Gladiators… Blind Date”. That’s as strong as you can get. You’ve got Baywatch, which included moving storylines about people nearly dying on holiday, or motorbike gangsters threatening to fuck up a beach. Then Gladiators, which was both manly and womanly at the same time, thus appealing to every single gender or sexuality you can think of. All rounded off by Blind Date, which ticked boxes marked things like FUNNY, or ROMANTIC, or DISTURBING. The latter box generally applying to the bits where old people came on. There was just no need for that. In fact, if there was any chink in the armour of this threeway juggernaut, that was it – no semi-erect teenage boy should ever be forced to watch old people flirting, especially if it involves a 74-year-old woman flashing her wrinkly thighs to prove she’s still got it. Hence why Baywatch gets my vote here. It was narrowly the better of the three programs, and even though I am pretentious and a twat, I don’t even mean that ironically. Although I probably do a bit. I could be being post-ironic, but I’m not sure what that means.
I love funny stuff. I enjoy the physical act of laughter, and even when I just smile slightly I’m pretty sure it releases small electric currents around my body that make me feel fractionally happier than I did right before I smiled. I don’t know that for sure, because I’m not a scientist. It’s just a hunch. Anyhoo, rather than select another US sitcom for this slot, which would be really easy, I thought I’d raise a middle finger to that idea and choose something English. But what? I wondered. What? I wondered again. What? I wondered for the third time. What? Fourth. What? Fifth. You probably get the gist of this. I then wondered what for about seven or eight more minutes before realising that Spaced starring Simon Pegg and his friends was both perfect for me in a generational sense, and also very hilarious. I liked it most because I was roughly the same age as the people in it. It dealt with themes that plagued me in my 20s too, like who to live with, what to do the whole time, how to make friends, what to do for a living, how to convince people to find me attractive. I’m not sure there’s been a better British sitcom, unless anyone would like to inform me otherwise?
Although this list is in no particular order, this is definitely the last spot on it, so essentially this is the tenth greatest television program of all time (according to me). I ummed and arrggghhhed and backed and forth about this. I was going to include Dynasty on the grounds that it was super-glamourous, Blake had impenetrable hair, and Joan Collins was the first beautiful woman to send confusing signals to my underpants. But I decided not to. I then wondered if perhaps something like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? should go here. When that first started it was truly excellent. I wondered about Saturday Super Store or Going Live. And then in the end I just thought fuck it, I’ll stick Mad Men in there. I’ve got a lot of time for Mad Men. I like how it professes to be about men, but really it’s about women, because while Don Draper and Roger Sterling drift further into turmoil and irrelevance, the likes of Joan Harris and Peggy Olson are enjoying an inversely proportional trajectory to absolute relevance on a magic carpet ride through the 1960s. You go girls! Keep being far out.
Now what did I miss?