RIP Lists

There’s a “100 Best Sitcoms of All-Time” list out. No, not that one. And nope, it’s not that one. It’s not this one or this one or this one or this one either. It’s Rolling Stone’s new list, and it’s a perfect example of how lists have gotten ridiculous, and why they’re sooooooo 2006.

It’s not that the magazine doesn’t make some great choices. Who’s going to argue with picks like All in the Family and Seinfeld and Arrested Development and The Andy Griffith Show? But do you really need a list to tell you those are all great shows?

Of course, magazines and sites have to do lists now (everybody loves lists! Yay!) – and God forbid they put the entire list on one page instead of making readers click through to different pages to rack up those page views – because they have to stay relevant somehow. Of course, the words “Rolling Stone” and “relevant” haven’t been used in the same sentence since Green Day’s first album was released.

Yes, a list on the web is going to invite instant criticism (“Hey, you didn’t include…”). But there are legitimate gripes to be made here, both from a personal viewpoint and a more general one. This isn’t just a “your opinion differs from mine so you must be wrong!” thing, it’s a common sense thing.

(For example, in 2013 Entertainment Weekly gave their list of the 100 top TV shows of all-time … and The Dick Van Dyke Show didn’t make the cut. They somehow found room for Project Runway and Beverly Hills, 90210 though.)

I have problems with the Rolling Stone list, as both a TV fan who has watched at least 5 hours of television every day since 1970 and someone who has been a TV critic since 1994 (and I’ve done my fair share of lists, believe me). Everybody Loves Raymond – not just one of the best comedies of all-time but one of the best things that has ever been on TV, period – should be much, much higher than 35 (and I mean top 10). Friends and The Odd Couple should be in the top 25, and there’s no way Frasier is better than NewsRadio. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? It shouldn’t be on the list at all, even if Will Smith went on to become a big movie star and everyone thinks that Carlton Dance is just so funny.

And while I’m happy the writers restrained themselves from putting popular-but-mediocre shows like Hogan’s Heroes and Happy Days on the list, leaving off both Leave it to Beaver and The Middle, two of the best comedies in history, is unforgivable. That’s not just opinion, they obviously belong on a top 100 by any measure. But sure, Alan Sepinwall, include Review, Letterkenny, the new version of One Day at a Time, and Bluey. You’re so well-rounded and knowledgeable!

But this is more of a universal condemnation of this list and lists in general than a personal grievance. It’s a condemnation of what TV criticism has become (that’s a longer rant, one I’ll get to at some point).

Lists were great once, when they weren’t being done by every single web site and blog. When lists had a gravitas because they were rare and were written by people who actually knew what they were talking about, actual critics and not “content creators.” Now everyone does lists, and they do them often, which means that none of them matter anymore. There are so many lists that expertise and meaning just get lost. Someone picks the “The 50 Best Sci-Fi Shows of All-Time,” which is fun to read until one month later when that other site does “The 50 Best Sci-Fi Shows of All-Time.” And guess what? It’s pretty much the same list. (Star Trek was great!)

Let’s face it: “The 100 Best Sitcoms of All-Time” should just be called “100 Sitcoms,” because when you have a list that large you’re simply naming sitcoms that have existed. Why not have the editorial daring to get to the nitty-gritty and actually pick the best and leave it at that? Why go all the way to 100, just so you don’t leave out something, so can cover all your bases? As if the show that makes it to #67 is really any better than #79 or #82. After the cream of the crop, maybe the top 20 or 25, you’re basically just naming sitcoms and trying to fit them in somewhere. By expanding the list to 100 shows, you’ve instantly made the list meaningless, along with your taste and opinion.

Just give us what you think are the top sitcoms of all-time. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Don’t go out of your way to please the TV fans born in the 90s and don’t try to include that hip cable/streaming show just because it’s hip and current and you look out of it if you don’t include it. Don’t try to be socially/culturally significant just because you “have” to be. Don’t try to balance the ’50’s classics with that cool streaming show that has “reinvented the TV comedy!” (TM). Just tell us what the actual bests are.

Of course, there’s the real chance that these critics actually think that some of these hip cable/streaming shows actually are better than The Middle, because that was “just” a “traditional” network comedy, and it wasn’t “groundbreaking” (though they gave every award and kudos they could give to a lesser show, Modern Family). This is what makes them “wrong” and “really bad critics.”

By the way, a prediction: after reading this someone will write a “10 Reasons Why Lists Still Matter!” list. It will be written for Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly or Ranker or BuzzFeed (right under “Tell Us Your Favorite Salad Dressing and We’ll Tell You How You’re Going To Die”) and get lots of clicks and social media attention.

3 thoughts on “RIP Lists

  1. Not sure if you’re a fan of audiobooks — which are decidedly unretro — but I recently listened to a fun one. “It’s You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom” by Phil Rosenthal and delves deep into the background of Everybody Loves Raymond. His show “Somebody Feed Phil” (available on PBS and Netflix) is also wonderful.

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