To be named the ‘best series ever’ is a pretty amazing achievement. I mean, afterall, it has to be the best ever to get it, and last time I looked, there has been a hell of a lot of TV series made over the last 50 years, and picking the best isn’t easy. It’s also one of those titles that gets brandished about frequently, just see reviews for just about every new series HBO churns out, and you’re bound to find a ‘best-ever series’ or ‘best on TV’ in there somewhere. It goes without saying that there isn’t really any entity or group who can justifiably name the ‘best’ series, as this will often fall down to some kind of elite film establishment such as the BFI or the AFI to decide, but they will ostensibly choose high-brow material which the average watcher wouldn’t indulge in.
Anyhow, this list is not much better, as any list of ‘bests’ will ultimately fall down to personal opinion, but based on the TV series I’ve watched over the last 20 years, below is the most accurate list I can compile at present.
1. South Park
2. Forbrydelsen I & II (The Killing)
3. The Shield
4. The Wire
5. Alan Patridge
6. Mad Men
8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
9. Breaking Bad
10. The X Files
12. Sons of Anarchy
13. The IT Crowd
14. Nathan Barley
16. Fawlty Towers
17. The Sopranos
18. Generation Kill
After reading about The Wire whilst its second series was airing Stateside, I jumped onto the bandwagon during the early days, long before the BBC started airing it after 11 on BBC2. I wouldn’t really call it ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ at that time, more joining the huddle of those precious, enthused film fanatics who had caught onto something so awesome, that they didn’t want it going global. This was one of those series that oozed cool. It was a lot better to say you were a huge fan and it was the best thing you’d ever seen when no-one had seen it. It also has arguably two of the best creations in any cop drama – Omar and Brother Mouzone. Both ruthless psychopaths, yet one is a homosexual hoodlum, the other a well-spoken bow-tie wearing hitman from New York! Talk about battling souls. Despite that initial love for David Simon’s gritty Baltimore drug epic, it’s only with hindsight that I can accurately assess its brilliance, and brilliant it is, but I feel The Shield and The Killing pip it to the crime post.
The Shield is cop drama at its most visceral. The pilot episode saw brutish cop Vic Mackey (best cop name ever ever?) shoot a fellow officer in the head to protect his own crookedness, so it’s no wonder that the series plummeted head-first into the sprawling violence and horrorshows of Los Angeles. The background information is as so: a four man unit known as the Strike Team are tasked with bringing down the gangs and dealers which plague the streets of Farmington of ‘the farm’ in downtown LA. The local police station known as ‘the barn’ is where the team are based, and we follow Vic, Shane, Lem and Ronnie as they clean up the streets with a bit of Strike Team justice – leaving a calling card at the scenes of their violent retribution. Shawn Ryan’s series took gritty realism to a new level, with jerky hand-cam cinematography and sundrenched lighting which stifles the viewer. The Shield was a pre-cursor to The Wire, and the Strike Team would kick the living f*** out of the Major Crimes Unit any day, and that would be before breakfast. Rather than the painstaking detail in detective work as shown in The Wire, The Shield opts for painstaking detail in the crimes. Each loose thread from each series ties a sufficient knot later on in the show’s development, leaving the viewer with a tremendous sense of catharsis. What more, it doesn’t get much better than that last panning shot in the series’ finale…nobody puts Vic Mackey in the corner!
American cop dramas aside, it is in fact a Danish import which has topped the list of live –action series. Forbrydelsen (The Killing) is a 20 episode series following two detectives – Lund and Meyer – as they try to uncover the rapist killer of a young girl, Nanna Birk Larsen. The second series has Lund searching for a serial killer with ties to the Gulf War, and as per the first series, the investigation leads them around the dank, soaked streets of Copenhagen and sees them tie together links between family, friends, politicians and immigrants (and war veterans). It’s a stark look at a full-scale investigation, and one that never sacrifices realism in favour of thrills. Sarah Lund has been elevated to iconic status, partly thanks to her display of winter jumpers, and the series has done incredibly well across Europe, which of course led to a far inferior US reworking to be released in AMC. Faster paced than 24 and more engaging than any other crime show, this is thrilling TV at its best.
The last to mention of the above list is of course Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated classic South Park. Still going strong after 15 series, and with more adult followers than when it first aired, South Park is the most enjoyable TV series out there. The comic creations on show – namely Eric Cartman and Randy Marsh – are comedy genius, and the humour displayed is as relentless as Cartman’s eating. Satirising everything, including online gaming, little league baseball, Save the Whales, Mexican immigration, Scientology, Sundance Film Festival, Judaism, penis size, Cannabis legality and dance tournaments (I could go on), the comedy duo have created a medium whereby they can take the piss and poke fun at just about everyone and everything in the world. Of course, should anyone pipe up and complain or say anything about it, they will certainly be double-doused with a large portion of ‘go f*** yourself’ which is what I love about these guys. Just look at what they did to Isaac Hayes when he protested over the Scientology episode, he quit the show (which was soooo hypocritical) so they spliced his past recordings to depict him as a paedophile and then killed him off. Not only is their series nothing short of super-duper-awesome, but their big screen outings - The South Park Movie and Team America – were also class additions to an often snooty and over-serious industry. They even had the audacity to poke fun at Hollywood’s leading names – Damon, Clooney, Robbins, Sarandon, Penn – demonstrating that these two can not be muzzled.