Here are 30 shows I would include in my TV version of the “Great Books” series.
“All in the Family” One of the most influential sitcoms, which dove straight into America’s cultural and political divide.
“The Andy Griffith Show” Morality tales, family bonds, and small-town life gone by.
“Arrested Development” The age of the dysfunctional family got its own farcical opus.
“Breaking Bad” A tightly written, Kafkaesque portrait of personal transformation and a man driven to extremes by fear.
“Brideshead Revisited” A lush 11-part PBS landmark that precisely captured the regretful tone of Evelyn Waugh’s novel.
“The Corner”An intimate, uncompromising look at the barely human lives of junkies in Baltimore.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” The absurd pettiness of human nature, unedited.
“Deadwood” A poetically written western that had no romantic illusions.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” A snapshot of America’s Camelot that brought situation comedy to a new level of honesty.
“Friday Night Lights” Brought realism to the notion of a “happy marriage” and showed a local community creating meaning.
“I Love Lucy” When genius physical comedy and vaudeville met TV.
“In Treatment” Psychological explorations, brilliant acting, transcendent writing, inventive cinematography.
“The Larry Sanders Show”The TV industry: where insecurity meets narcissism.
“Lost” It pushed serial storytelling to the outer limits, asking the viewer to work to piece together a global and cosmic puzzle.
“Mad Men” A fine literary melodrama, and an anti-nostalgic look back at an era of change.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” The start of changing women’s roles and a humanely written take on co-workers as family.
“M*A*S*H” An ensemble sitcom that made room for wartime drama.
“Oz” An extraordinary and extraordinarily dark look at men in extremis, with prison as a microcosm of a world at war.
“Roots” Opened eyes about African-American history and the potential of the miniseries.
“Seinfeld” Stripped the sitcom of sentimentality and sent-up small-mindedness and urban life.
“The Simpsons”The relentlessness of American pop culture, embedded in a family comedy.
“The Singing Detective” Surrealism and psychoanalysis, with no easy answers.
“Six Feet Under” A finely written melodrama about finding life in the company of death.
“The Sopranos” Took TV drama in a new anti-heroic direction, told its stories through a fascinating psychological lens, and brought mass audiences to cable.
“South Park” From the mouths of babes, America eviscerated.
“thirtysomething” What happens after you come of age?
“The Twilight Zone” Science fiction on TV still owes a debt to this bold and timeless collection of short stories.
“Twin Peaks” Defied the conventions of TV drama, emphasizing tone and symbolism over logic.
“The West Wing” Behind the speeches, the workings of a democracy.
“The Wire” A haunting epic about crime, poverty, drugs, and helplessness, and the antipathy between individuals and social systems.