You might think that the editors of Entertainment Weekly had already devised and published every pop culture special-list issue possible. But you would be wrong. In the current issue, Time’s sister publication unveils what they call the “New Classics”—a label that bravely manages to evoke New Coke and Classic Coke at the same time—by which they mean the best works of pop culture of the past 25 years.
Their list of the best 100 TV shows of the past quarter century is here. As I’ve said before, having put together one of these myself about a year ago, I’m inclined to cut other listmakers a break on their own lists—especially when, unlike me, they had the guts and the diligence to number their list.
Anyway, if I have any general objection to the list, it’s how unobjectionable it is. This is the danger of lists done by committee (I’m biased here, having done my Time list by my lonesome)—you don’t get as many surprises. I mean, I don’t want off-the-wall choices for their own sake (The Simpsons at #1 is utterly predictable and utterly correct), but I miss the little idiosyncrasies that give a list personality, that make you realize that you’re inhabiting a particular critical sensibility.
EW’s is more of a statistical median, with a fair amount of choices that seem to be there for if-you-like-that-sort-of-thing reasons. Some of the rankings too seem to be intended to reflect the tastes of some imagined Average EW Reader instead of actually critically assessing what’s better or worse than what else. For instance: is there anyone out there who really believes that Friends (#9) is a better TV show than The Wire (#11)? Of course there is—particularly the millions of Friends fans who have never watched an episode of The Wire. But I suspect not many people who are actually fans of both shows.
Still, it’s a solid list all in all, and the deeper you dig, the more personality it reveals. (Good on them for including The Comeback, #79, and though I have no way of knowing, I suspect the hand of Ken Tucker in that choice.)
Ironically for a TV critic, I found myself getting more engaged in (and enraged by) the lists I know less about, like the books list. I was surprised at the #1 choice of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but the more I thought about it, the more trouble I had thinking of an alternative. Well… I might go with Don DeLillo’s White Noise, but instead it placed at… hang on… it’s not on the list at all? OK, maybe they gave the slot to DeLillo’s more ambitious (though to me slightly less successful) Underworld, at—number freaking 64?! But fine: I had a one-artist, one-slot rule in my own best-TV list, so I’ll accept no White Noise. But no White Teeth? (Here again, the slot evidently went to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, at the more deserved #19.) And I don’t see why you would bother putting Raymond Carver—the most influential short-fiction writer of the quarter century—on the list at all if you’re going to include Cathedral (#75) rather than Where I’m Calling From (1986). Yes, the latter collection included stories published longer than 25 years ago, but (1) many were heavily revised for this volume and (2) that didn’t keep Alice Munro’s Selected Stories (#10) off the list.
Top prize for Most Egregious Omission, though, goes to the complete dis of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. (I could accept this, if not agree with it, as some populist statement against gigundous postmodernist tomes, but if you’re going to do that, then boot off The Corrections and Underworld while you’re at it.) What, did they really need the space for A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (#66)? Don’t do him any favors, folks.
In any case, the whole megillah, with several ancillary goodies, is online. Have at it.