Monday, May 07, 2007

Television as Great Art

You may or may not know this, but I have utter and complete contempt for about 90% of what is on television. However, even while recognizing the medium provides a lot of awful material, there are gems of beautiful art provided by television. I think we need to recognize this: contempt for the medium itself, or for the majority of the material provided by the medium, is no reason to abandon everything the medium provides as schlock.

So here is a list of television shows that I consider "great art" (as problematic as that phrase may be). I think other TV shows are art (like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone), but I can't think of other shows beside these that I'd call great art (barely missing the cut is The Kids in the Hall).

The first show to really bring an artist's precise analysis to the everday, mundane, commonplace facets of our society.

Arrested Development
If the sitcom can aspire to the title of art, that it is necessary to place the greatest sitcom ever made into our list.

The Sopranos
Every TV critic already agrees.

This would probably be the inclusion that would get the most disagreement, but I believe it is great art.

Six Feet Under
There aren't a lot of shows so focused on the realities of death.

Possibly the greatest work the Western genre has offered us.

The X Files
The pinnacle of its genre.

The Simpsons
So brilliant, so all-encompassing: if Fox ever asks me what America was like in the 90s, I'm going to tell him to watch this show.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David takes Seinfeld up a notch.

That is my current list: now I want some of your opinions.


  1. Anonymous6:43 PM

    That's a very good list.
    What about Babylon 5?
    or Moonlighting?


  2. I thought Buffy was the best combination of comic book superhero and TV drama ever.

    This isn't a critisism, do you think there's anything to your list (and mine probably) being totally made up of modern shows?

  3. Two possible explanations:

    1. Cable allowed television to expand into more niche markets, to take greater risks, to push the envelope further.

    2. It's all subjective. I pick things that I like to call "the greatest" when I've only got my limited perspective, and of course my own tastes.

  4. I also think there's no coincidence that my list includes a lot of HBO shows. For all sorts of reasons, HBO can do things the broadcast networks and even other cable channels cannot.

  5. I want to add something that's come up in emails with Rob.

    Two reasons I consider TV potential for art are:

    1. I don't see a hard line between art and entertainment


    2. I don't think the intent of the creator has much bearing on the assessment of the work; the work stands on its own merits regarless of the creator's intentions for it.