#5 - Friends (1994-2004)
Yes, yes. I know. So sue me. This series started when I was 23 years old and was all about where I was in my life - hanging out with friends, trying to figure out the present and the future, as far as relationships and careers were involved. And the snarky, sarcastic Chandler was as close to who I thought I was as I could find on TV. So I watched. And I laughed. "The One with the Embryos" is still one of my favorite half-hours of all time. ("Actually, it's MISS Chenandler Bong.") And I still quote the pilot, although you may not know it. ("All right. Maybe I will.") Can't help it. I loved this show.
#4 - Rescue Me (2004-Present)
Although it really went off the rails in Season 5, this show has always been appointment TV for me. Hey, it's not every show about post-9/11 anxiety, survivor's guilt, divorce, alcoholism, rage, hallucinations, ghosts, religion and masculine failure that can make you laugh liquids out your nose. There have been some really, really dark moments on this show, and there have also been moments that have made me fall off the couch, and when you can do both well, and balance them against each other, you have an emotional experience that is hard to beat. Denis Leary leads a solid cast, and his two Emmy nominations have been well-deserved.
#3 - Lost (2004-2010)
What I love about LOST is that joyous sense of bewilderment I get from watching it. Oh, I can follow the story, at least as much as they give me, but I still don't know what's going on. And it's inevitable that there will be that point in an episode where I'll say, "What!?" But I'm along for the ride because of the storytelling, the philosophical questions, and the characters. Moving images, and especially the narrative form, are the purview of emotion, and LOST is the only show that gives me this sort of experience.
#2 - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)
Okay, wait, let me see if I've got this right. You're going to take Matthew Perry from FRIENDS, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield from WEST WING, pair them up in a show from Aaron Sorkin, toss in Amanda Peet and the revelation that is Sarah Paulson, top it off with the under-rated Steven Weber and set it behind-the-scenes at a comedy sketch show? Let's face it, I loved this show before the camera turned on. Luckily for me, the writing was fantastic and took on the War, the media, and personal responsibility with a fascinating multi-episode flashback arc. I think the show truly hit its stride, however, with its only Christmas episode:
#1 - The Shield (2002-2008)
If there was ever such a thing as TV Noir, this show was its epitome. Posit yourself as Vic Mackey, a cop in the toughest part of LA that gets things done to keep the public safe, catch the bad guys, and keep the gangs away from innocent people. Yeah, sure, he has to get rough, but it's a rough job. Yeah, sure, he has to make some deals with the devils, plant some evidence, but it's all for the greater good. For Vic, this is how the job needs to get done, and the results back him up. It's the Captains and other higher-ups that don't understand. So, in that moment that they find there's an FBI agent undercover in their Strike Squad - in that moment - it makes sense to kill him. And that's when the real spiral begins. It's a credit to Shawn Ryan that everything in THE SHIELD's seven seasons unspools from this first episode. The show wasn't always tight, but it was always focused. The characters became richer as the series went on. Vic's son turned out to be autistic, giving him more reason to stay on the dark side and give him the treatment he needed. Walt Goggins as Shane Vendrell went from the high-livin' adrenaline jockey giving witnesses "yammies full of Georgia joy-juice" to a shades-of-grey family man. The last episode is possibly one of the most shocking, gut-wrenching put to film. Michael Chiklis and Goggins are great, with a solid supporting cast, and excellent recurring turns from Oscar-nominees Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker.
What? you may say. Where's this show, or that show? Well, I can't rank what I haven't seen, and there are some shows that may be right up my alley that I've just missed. Usually because I have the $8 version of cable. So, my apologies to the following series that I'll try to catch up on: THE WIRE, THE SOPRANOS, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, DEADWOOD, and DEXTER.