So, here’s the thing. I’m a pretty good Trivial Pursuit player. I read a lot, so I can work my way through questions on history, literature, world events, and even a bit of science (though it’s not my forte).
But there’s a good way to beat me and that’s with questions on pop culture. I am like an absent-minded professor who just stumbles my way through modern society oblivious to what is going on around me. I couldn’t identify a Kardashian if my life depended upon it, and there are popular songs that have become genuine classics that I never heard. (I never listen to radio, so it’s easy to go through decades without knowing what is popular.)
Years ago, I remember that we were playing a very heated round of the trivia game years ago and my question was something about what character says Doh. Or was it Duh? Anyway, I had no idea. None. Everybody at the table was pulling their hair out because it had something to do with the Simpsons, and it was an easy answer. But I had never seen that show and I did not get a pie piece because of it.
Anyway, this all leads me to my topic, which is Rolling Stones magazine’s listing of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. I should have known this would baffle me, because I don’t think I could name 100 TV shows, much less “great” ones.
Anyway, out of the 100 programs named, there were 14 that I had never even heard of. Ever. (Eastbound and Down, Portlandia, Key & Peele, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Broad City, Party Down, Girls, Mr. Show, The State, Chappelle’s Show, The Americans, The Shield, Deadwood, and Louie.)
More amazingly, there were 50 (yes, exactly half) that I had heard of but never watched. Some of that is understandable I think. I’m just not a Beavis and Butthead, Ren and Stimpy, South Park, or The Simpsons type of person. Indeed, I don’t like cartoons unless they are The Lion King.
Also understandable I think is that I am not the type to watch shows such as The Walking Dead, Fargo, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson (omigosh, I lived through that circus and certainly wouldn’t want to experience it again), 24 Hours, The Colbert Show, NYPD Blue, The Rockford Files, Orange is the New Black, Oz, Six Feet Under, The X Files, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, The Wire, or even Game of Thrones (too violent).
I hate sit-coms, so I have never watched Good Times, The Jeffersons, In Living Color, Roseanne, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, Freaks and Geeks, 30 Rock, or even The Office (listed twice for UK and US versions). Well, I’m fudging a bit on that last one—I tuned into an episode of The Office because it was hyped so much and took place in Scranton. But I didn’t tune in until several seasons had aired, and therefore, I had no idea who these people were, nor did they make me care. Within minutes, I had switched it off and turned to a crossword puzzle.
I haven’t watched Homeland, The Real World, House of Cards, Dallas, Doctor Who (even though I have a phone booth library in front of my house), Transparent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galatica, My So Called Life, Your Shows of Shows (I do think that was even before my time), Sex in the City, Hill Street Blues, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Veep, Friday Night Lights, or Mad Men.
There are even a few that seem inexplicable that I haven’t watched, such as Thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, and Downton Abbey. (I know, I know. I did buy a DVD of the first season at least five years ago, but it sits dusty on top of my DVD player. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Nor do I know how to work the DVD player.)
Now you’re asking if I have ever turned on the television set, and indeed, I have. Sometimes it was not at all worth my time. Like Seinfield. Truthfully, I watched parts of a few of the shows, and I saw the entire final episode. I’d rather watch ice melt, truly.
I’ve watched Real Time with Bill Maher and The Late Show with Jon Stewart, but I really hate politics, unless we are talking about the Tudor or Medici periods. I like my in-fighting really old.
I am not a fan of sitcoms (see above), but there have been some that I thought really outstanding: The Odd Couple (with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, it was a masterpiece of comedy, like watching a Broadway show), The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, Cheers, and All in the Family. Some that I watched once or twice were a waste of time—The Golden Girls, Happy Days, and Friends, and I absolutely loathe The Honeymooners. Doesn’t anybody else see it as misogynistic?
I am not a sci fi fan, so I wish I had back any time I spent watching Star Trek (well, it was only two episodes), but I did like The Twilight Zone back in my youth.
I watched some shows because somebody else liked them—my mother loved James Arness in Gunsmoke and David Janssen in The Fugitive, my late first husband enjoyed Columbo, and my second husband really likes Law and Order, so I have become very fond of Benson and Stabler. My daughter’s childhood was filled with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, bringing me fond memories, and when she was all grown up she liked The Sopranos (Rolling Stones #1 show, by the way). I tried to watch it with her one night, but hated it.
Only one game show is in Rolling Stones top 100, but it is Jeopardy, and I have often liked to play along with that.
I am not thrilled about staying up late, but I have seen random episodes of Late Night With David Letterman and Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and I saw the final night of Late Night With Conan O’Brien. I watched the first few seasons of American Idol, but in its day, I liked The Ed Sullivan Show much better. It introduced me to Elvis and the Beatles, and to opera singers and Broadway musicals.
I know you’re asking if I ever liked anything on television, and in truth, I have. Out of Rolling Stones top 100, I am in total agreement on three of my favorite sitcoms—The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (see a trend there) and my all-time favorite, I Love Lucy. I suppose M*A*S*H* is considered a sitcom as well, but it tackled tough topics, and was so well-done. A top mini-series that I concur with is Roots, still one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. The West Wing was a wonderful drama (can we bring back Bartlett for President?), and I’ve seen some good editions of Saturday Night Live, although it is certainly uneven.
My two favorite all-time dramas made the Rolling Stone list—ER and Lost. Both connected multiple characters in varying relationships, dealing with violence and danger around them. I was so addicted to Lost that I vowed never to get invested in another show that would tie me up once a week like clockwork. Our kids tell us that does not have to happen anymore, that we can DVR it, but John and I don’t know how to do that, and we don’t really care enough.
John watches Law and Order marathons and the all-news stations, and I watch Penn State football games, which is reason enough for us to have three TVs I guess, although we are paying a lot for a cable bill in order to watch such limited fare.
But, the way I see it, is that there are 64 shows out of a 100 that I never watched, and think of how many hours of my life I have saved to read books, do puzzles, volunteer, travel, do living history, cook and bake, spend time with friends and family, entertain, clean the house. (Okay, not clean the house.)
Of the other shows that I did watch, few of them mattered much to me, and probably only six really caught my attention and kept it.
I’m not telling anybody not to watch television. For a lot of my friends and family, it becomes part of their social life, inviting friends over to watch Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Watching popular or intriguing shows allows you to be part of the conversation at work or at social events. When I am out socially and other people are talking about their favorite sit-com or drama, I cannot participate in the discussion. And, worst of all, I get beat in any board game requiring a knowledge of pop culture.