Sixty-four classic TV shows, organized into four “channels” of 16, competed to be Globe readers’ favorite series of the last 50 years. Here are the shows in Channel 2 of an NCAA-style “March Madness” bracket.
Advancing to the finals
“All in the Family” (1971-79)
This groundbreaker, from Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, radically changed scripted TV as it took on all the issues that previous series had been dodging, from the Vietnam War, racism, homophobia, and religion to menopause and impotence. The cast, led by Jean Stapleton and Carroll O’Connor, was perfection, delivering the sharp dialogue with passion and humor in front of a roaring audience.
Shows eliminated in Round 4
“Breaking Bad” (2008-13)
Vince Gilligan created what many consider a model of TV storytelling, giving us a high school chemistry teacher with lung cancer who transforms himself into a major drug dealer with the help of a former student. The Southwest-set tale — a thriller, a black comedy, a neo-Western — featured stunning and artful camerawork, smartly written characters, and stellar performances by all involved, most notably Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Anna Gunn.
Shows eliminated in Round 3
“The Simpsons” (1989- )
It has broken records for its long run, but of course the characters on “The Simpsons” still look the same. The wonders of cartoons! It’s about a family, it’s about a town, and it’s about the entire world, as the writers and animators pack in as many cultural and historical references as possible. The show has been highly influential, ushering in a wave of adult animation and inspiring surrealistic sequences on live-action shows.
This savage political satire gave us venal politicians, cynical aides, and crooked backroom dealings. It hurt to laugh. The language was simultaneously profane and witty, and the acting — particularly by lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus — was so mean it was funny. By the end of the series, smack in the middle of the Trump era, the ascent of Timothy Simons’s Jonah Ryan was less absurd than it should have been.
Shows that were eliminated in Round 2:
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000- )
After “Seinfeld,” Larry David created a second landmark comedy series about manners. This time, the scenes are improvised, there are no network standards to write around, and many of the characters, like David’s, are playing fictional versions of themselves. The show’s David is a politically incorrect, petty, vengeful, socially awkward, and uniquely funny guy, surrounded by an equally quirky ensemble, including Susie Essman.
“Arrested Development” (2002-06)
For its three seasons on Fox, this was one of the funniest TV comedies ever to hit the air. A group portrait of the Bluths, a wealthy family coping with financial woes, the scripts were densely packed with sharp-edged jokes and callbacks about, well, everything — American consumerism and culture, individual personality bents, the foibles of marriage and love, you name it. Those two Netflix seasons that came later? Shhh.
“Friday Night Lights” (2006-11)
This earnest, beautifully acted and written network drama looked into a small Texas community through the lens of a high-school football team and the adults involved with it. It was never a ratings hit, perhaps because many wrongly assumed it was mostly about sports. Like “Ted Lasso,” though, it was more about heart and soul and the ways people learn to create meaning in their lives.
“The Crown” (2016- )
Series TV doesn’t get more historical than this long-form portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Over the seasons, in episodes about everything from the Suez Crisis to Margaret Thatcher, we’ve seen the British Empire go through a long series of major changes. We’ve also seen the royal family go through major changes, as their private lives become increasingly public. The cast, which changes across the seasons, has featured a dazzling array of extraordinary British actors.
Shows that were eliminated in Round 1:
“Better Call Saul” (2015-22)
A spin-off of “Breaking Bad,” this drama was a prequel featuring the man who would later become Saul Goodman: Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill. Unlike most spin-offs, it rose to the quality level of its parent series, with some fans even preferring it to “Breaking Bad.” How does a criminal mind work? Co-creator Vince Gilligan has delivered two very smart answers to that question.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)
In this beloved series, the supernatural twists — killing vampires, being a werewolf — became metaphors for all kinds of teen anxiety. The smart and emotionally astute writing made it one of the more distinctive and original network shows to help usher in the Golden Age of TV, and the “Scooby Gang” cast was endearing.
“The X-Files” (1993-2002)
Chris Carter brought cult sci-fi to the mainstream with a pair of FBI agents — a believer and a skeptic — investigating paranormal cases. The show pioneered the series-long mythology arc later picked up by “Lost,” digging into the kinds of government conspiracy theories embraced these days by QAnon followers. It interspersed the mythology with monster-of-the-week episodes that could be horrifying — or hysterical.
“South Park” (1997- )
This long-running animated series is not as different as “The Daily Show” as it may seem. It delivers news and biting social satire through the mouths of babes, namely the boys of South Park, Colo. The crude humor — this is not for the kiddies — takes no prisoners, and everything and anyone, from religion and “Star Wars” to Tom Cruise and Hillary Clinton, have taken a few hits.
“Twin Peaks” (1990-91)
This was David Lynch’s twisted take on the whodunit genre, an anti-commercial series whose first seasons pushed TV further than ever toward the artistic legitimacy usually given to film. The plot was an important element, but so were the unusual townsfolk characters and the surrealistic flourishes. Polarizing and uneven, the show is legendary.
“The Leftovers” (2014-17)
The series adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel was about loss, religion, guilt, grief, and the human condition, as it tracked survivors after 2 percent of the world’s population disappears. The writers weren’t afraid to dig deep, and neither were the actors, including Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, and Justin Theroux.
“Murphy Brown” (1988-1998)
This beloved sitcom — yet another outstanding behind-the-scenes-of-TV comedy alongside the likes of “30 Rock” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — gave Candice Bergen the perfect role. A recovering alcoholic, her Murphy took a few culturally significant journeys, including a battle with breast cancer and, famously, thanks to Dan Quayle, single parenthood.
“Fargo” (2014- )
Few expected such powerful TV from this anthology series, which creator-writer Noah Hawley spun off from the classic Coen Brothers’ movie. It has become a bastion of excellent storytelling (all set in the Midwest) and extraordinary acting from the likes of David Thewlis, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, and Jessie Buckley. Season two, in particular, was perfection from start to finish.