I’m still picking myself up from the floor, where I landed when I saw that voters decisively chose “Friends” over “Six Feet Under” in Round 2 of our bracket competition for best TV series of the past 50 years.
I realize that “Friends,” which got 63.9 percent of the vote, is deeply woven into many viewers’ lives, both from its first run (1994-2004) and from its streaming afterlife (it’s currently available on HBO Max). But it hasn’t aged well, thanks to some lazy humor, and it went on far too long, the nadir being the three-season Joey-Rachel love arc. “Six Feet Under,” on the other hand, remains as powerful and incendiary as it was during its first run (2001-05), and its themes of living amid death are universal. Ah, well.
What else surprised me?
1. Good on “Hill Street Blues” loyalists. Their show managed to pull 28.1 percent despite being up against “The Sopranos.” I voted for the powerhouse mob drama, but “Hill Street Blues” was, like “The Sopranos,” a groundbreaker. With its documentary feel, its large ensemble cast, and its focus on moral questions, it ushered in a style still used on police procedurals.
2. Likewise, good on “NYPD Blue” devotees. The show lost to “ER,” but it was a close race, with “NYPD Blue” pulling in 42.3 percent of the vote. In some ways, “NYPD Blue” was “The Sopranos” before “The Sopranos,” ushering series TV to a more adult level of artistic vision while giving us a complex antihero in Dennis Franz’s Andy Sipowicz. I voted for it, but “ER” certainly deserves its win.
3. The toughest choice had to be between “M*A*S*H” and “Seinfeld,” two amazing and influential comedies, and the extremely close results make that clear. “Seinfeld” won with only 50.7 percent of the vote, so I don’t think there are any broad statements to make about older-versus-newer shows, or warm humor versus chilly.
4. I’m delighted to see “All in the Family” remaining in the game, after prevailing over “Arrested Development” with 73.5 percent of the vote. When “Maude” quickly lost to “Hill Street Blues” in Round 1, I feared that Norman Lear’s brilliance was not getting its due.
5. Wait, did I say the toughest choice was between “M*A*S*H” and “Seinfeld”? Because it took me a long while to decide to vote for “Mad Men” over “30 Rock,” two of TV’s best of the last 20 years. I have a deep intellectual and emotional attachment to both, but ultimately I felt that the 1960s-set drama, with its ace scripting and phenomenal acting, deserved the honor. “Mad Men” won with 60.8 percent of the vote.
6. “The West Wing” beat “Game of Thrones,” two fine shows with radically different takes on government and politics. With “The West Wing” winning 65 percent, voters chose to go with the more optimistic and less primitive of the two. So did I.
7. I see that three shows — “The Sopranos” (71.9 percent), “The Wire” (72.3 percent), and “Cheers” (71.3 percent) — won their matchups with more than 70 percent of the vote. That may or not be a sign of which shows are going to stick around. Yes, “Cheers.” This is Boston.
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