It’s finally here: After conducting numerous focus groups, objectively scouring reviews, carefully analyzing plot devices, and synthesizing the results, I am ready to debut The Definitive TV Show Primer, the much-anticipated and talked-about follow-up to The Definitive Board Game Primer. What follows is not a product of the author’s opinion, but is instead grounded in capital-T Truth. Without further ado, and in roughly inverse order:
Parks and Recreation: An example of a show which gains steam as the characters grow into their roles, Parks and Rec is delightful for the humor and memorable main characters (Ron Swanson, Leslie Knope, please stand up) and side characters (Jean-Ralphio, Mona Lisa, Councilman Jamm, take a bow), but also for the optimistic side of politics which it portrays. Every politician or bureaucrat should strive to be more like Leslie Knope.
Narcos: Telling the story of the Medellín cartel, which gained de facto control of a nation through murder and drugs, Narcos is perhaps a surprising inclusion. The first season was so good, however, that I could not in good conscience omit it from The Primer. Wagner Moura is virtuosic as Pablo Escobar, and Pedro Pascal, everyone’s favorite Dornish prince, is fantastic as one of the DEA agents.
Sherlock: Awesome mysteries. Great villains. British accents. Smaug and Bilbo working together. What’s not to like?
Seinfeld: So dated but still somehow so relevant, Seinfeld is to situational comedies (sit-coms) what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. The mere utterance of certain episodes—”The Contest,” “The Marine Biologist,” “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Soup Nazi”—evoke moments which are among the very best in television history (“The sea was angry that day, my friends…”).
Frasier: Background noise is one of the most underrated of all noises. Good background noise occupies just enough of the brain to allow the unoccupied part to focus on the task at hand, be it cooking, cleaning, or browsing the internet. I began watching Frasier because I found its erudite and pretentious jokes amusing, the plotline, setting, and character development compelling, and the acting exceptional. In addition, it has now become my default background noise.
Firefly: One season, sure, but man, was it glorious while it lasted. No series takes “space western” quite as seriously as Firefly. Some find it uncomfortable. I find it delightful. The only shame is that so many of the show’s mysteries—Shepherd Book’s history, Mal’s religious history, the rise of the Alliance, the reason for River’s torture—are left largely unanswered, with only the good but unsatisfying movie Serenity filling the void.
The Americans: A currently-running drama, The Americans is about Soviet sleeper agents posing as a couple in the Washington, D.C. area during the early to mid 1980s. It is separated from the standard espionage fare in two respects: first, the spycraft in The Americans is excellent—a lot less blowing things up and a lot more cloak-and-dagger activity, dead drops, and cultivating sources. Second, the relationship between the two agents—who are posing as married and have children but are theoretically only partners—is incredibly compelling. Highly recommended.
Game of Thrones: That last episode tho.
Scrubs: Besides being funny and poignant, Scrubs also holds claim to being the TV show that most accurately represents the medical profession. Hospitals, even ICUs, are not filled with crisis at the end of every twenty-minute segment, and as the Slate article I linked to correctly points out, Scrubs spends the majority of his time chronicling the day-to-day lives and happenings of the doctors and nurses, both inside of and outside the hospital.
30 Rock: Not a lot can be said about 30 Rock other than that it is spectacular. The relationship between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock is one of my favorite TV pairings of all time, second only to Turk and JD in the aforementioned Scrubs. Unusually for a show of its type, 30 Rock doesn’t diminish in quality as it goes—it simply evolves and stays as funny as it ever was.
And that, reader, is the list. To stem some outrage, I have included a list of Honorable Mentions, all of which are almost equally excellent but failed to quite make the final cut.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Author’s note: Since not all of the decision committee has seen them, The West Wing and Breaking Bad were not eligible for inclusion.
After working in Washington, D.C., for two years, Andrew Orlebeke (’10) is in graduate school in Seattle, Washington, studying public policy. In addition to public service, he has a passion for traveling and an abiding love of sports.