Usually, when a media outlet releases a best-of list, it’ll explain the supposedly objective, scientific formula behind the rankings and behind the difficult decisions of what does and doesn’t make the cut. Not this time. Over at EW sibling Time magazine, the new 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time list is the subjective, idiosyncratic creation of one mind, that of Time TV critic James Poniewozik. (He explains his methodology, in similarly subjective and unscientific terms, in this video.) The admission that this is just one man’s canon doesn’t necessarily make this a better list than most, just a more honest one. Poniewozik is admittedly spoiling for some fights and urging readers to play the parlor game of arguing with his choices, but knowing how arbitrary this list is kind of takes most of the fun out of that for me. (Oh, okay, I’ll bite… is he serious about including Leave It to Beaver and The Monkees? And where’s Get Smart, Law & Order, Ren & Stimpy… well, you get the idea.) Besides, his taste is really good, and I have no quibble with most of his selections or omissions.
I will make this observation about the list: it’s certainly a reminder of Marshall McLuhan’s observation that television is often really about television. Poniewozik justifies a lot of his choices by explaining how this or that show defined or redefined the way we watch television. So MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head (pictured) is here because it’s a brilliant critique of the way kids watch the show’s own network, not because it’s freakin’ funny, and Lost is here because of its participatory puzzle-solving, off-screen aspect, not because of its compelling storytelling and characters whose fates viewers become emotionally invested in. In other words, it’s a list that celebrates what critics like about TV, not necessarily what viewers like. Poniewozik’s a TV critic, so that’s his prerogative, but I suspect that, as you read his testimonials to your favorite shows, you may not recognize what it is you like about them: that they offer a mirror to your own life, tell you something about your own world, and remind you that you are not alone.
Oh, and just because I don’t feel like arguing with Time‘s choices doesn’t mean you can’t, below. Have at it.
addCredit(“Beavis and Butt-head: Everett”)