Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sunday Best: Top 25 TV Dramas of All Time - The Critera

As someone who has written and directed both comedies and dramas, I can tell you easily that comedy is more difficult.

Comedy and drama are two very different animals.  It is rare for anyone to master either.  Last year we went through the Best 25 Sitcoms of All Time.

So now, I decided to go through and rank the best dramas.

(I know I already started the best actresses list, but as I was going through, it occured to me that there are a number of films I need to see before I can write more intelligently about some of the people on the list.)

What makes a good drama?

Here are a few ground rules.

1.  Greatness is determined mostly by transcendance.
You can plot out any series of events.  But as Shakespeare said, the purpose of acting and drama is to "hold a mirror up to nature."  The best shows touch on something deep and universal.  This can be something high and spiritual or something gut-wrenching and visceral.  But it should strike that special chord that goes beyond mere observation.

2.  Series length is not a determination of greatness.
There are some shows that are very popular and run for years, but stick around way too long.  (I'm looking at you, ER).  But there are some that are great but are not appreciated enough in their time (Freaks and Geeks).   So the number of episodes will not be a determining factor (though it may be brought up).  This was a controversial point.  Particularly Rick O. took me to task for putting the short-running Clerks: The Animated Series on my Sitcom list.  Something tells me that there will be one or two on this list that will also find similar ire for their brevity.

3.  Comedy does not make the show a great drama.
The mixture of drama into comedy can be incredibly powerful.  Juxtaposing laughter with tears can be an incredibly cathartic experience.  But that mixture, in and of itself, does not make a great drama.  I am thinking of the show Chuck, which had some truly great moments.  But they had a terrible incorportation some of their comedy elements.

4.  "Shark Jumping" does not make a show bad.
Unlike the tight narrative of a film feature, most TV shows are filled with dozens of hours of content.  The course of years can dull the sharp edge of wit.  This is a common phenomenon.  But for the purposes of this list, we will focus on when the show was working at its best and not how it limped past its prime.  This does not mean that bad episodes do not have an effect.  It is possible that a series can diverge so badly that it ruins all that has come before.  But unless that is the case, we will accept that some shows will eventually recede in quality.

5.  The list is based on current television.
I am taking each series as it is now.  It is much easier to make a determination of a series after their run is complete.  But some of the series on this list are very new and are only getting started.  Currently, 9 of the 25 on the list are shows that are still producing new content.  I will take them as they are now.  They may, in the end, turn out to be terrible.  But I can only work with what I have seen.

Tune in next week for the list to begin.


  1. 'Current only' precludes 'Of All Time'.

    Do mini series length count? Or is that another post?

    My metric is simpler. Would I buy it at full price - either digital or disc?

    Which leaves me with Walking Dead 25 times.

    1. Just to clarify, these aren't shows that are only current. What I meant by that was that I am judging these shows as they are now. For example, if I was writing this during the third season of ER, I would probably rank that show very high, since I can only judge it on what they have already shown. However, time went on and ER got pulled down by its own weight (and by a hatred for their own audience). Because I am making this list now, knowing all about ER's entire run, I am not including on the list.

      There are some shows on the list that are currently very good and are still producing new content. They may take a turn for the worse in the future and no longer deserve a place on this list. But I have no way of knowing that now. I can only judge on what is current.

  2. "What makes a good drama?"

    Fair warning, I was a Lit Minor in college. And I have a copy of The Poetics somewhere in this chaos I call Home..

    1. A good plot, theme, rhythm, diction, character, and spectacle.