Monday, May 31, 2004

Just Call Me a Cultist

Despite the fact that I no longer watch television, like, pretty much at all, I do have a subscription to TV Guide. I think at some point I ordered a 5-year subscription, and I guess it still hasn't run out yet. I've taken to joking that I have TV Guide so I don't have to watch TV. It tells me what's on, so I know exactly what it is that I'm missing, which is, generally speaking, nothing.

Anyway, TV Guide had a cool little feature this week naming their "top 25 cult TV shows," and I simply couldn't resist commenting on the list. So, here 'tis, complete with my random natterings:

25. Freaks and Geeks. Never saw it. Funny. You'd think something with a title like that would appeal to me.

24. Absolutely Fabulous. I don't think I've ever seen more than five minutes of this show at a time, believe it or not. I have friends -- many friends -- who absolutely adore it. From what little I saw, I must admit that I don't really know why. Obviously one of these days I need to watch the thing in order to understand the attraction.

23. Forever Knight. For a very brief period, I was a massive fan of this show. That was long after it was cancelled, of course, because that's how these things tend to go for me. But I fell absolutely in love with it while watching re-runs on Sci-Fi. The angst! The mixing of disparate genres! The action! The drop-dead gorgeousness of Geraint Wyn Davies! The Nigel Bennett! OK, yeah, it kinda went downhill in the 4th season, a lot, but even that didn't really put me off. I was utterly obsessed with it for, oh, a year or so, and then after I'd finally managed to watch all of the episodes (including some I missed on the first go-round and had to catch in the second batch of reruns), I abruptly lost interest. I've got the first season on DVD now, though, and I'm kind of looking forward to re-acquainting myself with it.

22. H. R. Pufnstuf. I remember racing home from school each afternoon to watch Sid & Marty Kroft shows on TV. They never told you which one it was going to be, so it was always a surprise. One day it might be Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, the next day maybe it'd be The Bugaboos. I loved 'em all, for reasons which utterly escape me now. Oddly enough, though, Pufnstuf was probably my least favorite of the bunch. I remember always being disappointed when it'd turn out to be Pufnstuf instead of Sigmund.

21. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I'm honestly not sure I ever saw this.

20. Twin Peaks. My sister was a big fan of this show, but somehow I never bothered to watch it when it was on.

19. Dark Shadows. I adored the short-lived remake series of the 90's. All I've seen of the original, other than a few random moments here and there caught in the course of channel-surfing, was the TV-move House of Dark Shadows. I was deeply unimpressed, but maybe that wasn't representative.

18. Doctor Who. Oh, hell, yes. I'm afraid if I get started waxing rhapsodic about Doctor Who, I'll never stop, so I won't say too much about it other than that absolutely nothing belongs on this list more than it does.

17. The Avengers. I remember spending a wonderful summer during high school where I pretty much did nothing but watch great old TV shows on A&E. Among other wonderful things (The Fugitive, All Creatures Great and Small), that was my introduction to The Avengers, and I think I was hooked on it almost instantly. Emma Peel is my hero, and John Steed... mmmm, John Steed. Haven't watched it in ages, though, and to this day I think there are a bunch of episodes I've still never seen. Which is an immense shame.

16. My So-Called Life. Never watched it. It looked like it was about a whiny teenager, so I gave it a pass.

15. Quantum Leap. I was extremely fond of this show, and not just because I had a huge crush on Scott Bakula's character. Although that didn't hurt, I admit. Really jumped the shark in the last season, though, alas.

14. Beauty and the Beast. I hate romances, but this one made me all warm and fuzzy and weepy and everything else that romances are supposed to do to you. Neat premise, great characters, and how cool was Ron Perlman in that makeup? My two cents on the controversial series ending: It was well-written, well-acted, and the writers were clearly trying to do their very best under the circumstances. On another show, it would have been great, and even on this one, it was affecting. But it just didn't fit comfortably with the tone of what preceded it. When you're promised a happy-ending romance, even an angst-fan like me can't handle that abrupt of a U-turn into tragedy.

13. Babylon 5. I watched this sporadically when it was originally on and am trying to make up for it now with the DVDs, even if my progress is very slow. Not all the individual episodes were all that great, and occasionally it came across as a little pretentious, but it aimed extremely high and mostly hit the target. And it ushered in a whole new era of SF television, even if that era now sadly seems to be ending.

12. Family Guy. I was never exactly a regular watcher of this, I don't think, but what I saw of it I thought was quite funny. Nobody I know liked it, though.

11. Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Some episodes are better than others, but the best ones are frickin' hysterical. Haven't seen nearly enough of them.

10. Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Never saw it. Pee-Wee kind of irritates me.

9. Xena: Warrior Princess. My sister was a big fan of this, although as I recall she really disliked where it went in the last season. I've only ever seen a few episodes, most of them because my sister made me sit down and watch them. What I saw wasn't at all bad, though I think I kind of preferred the tongue-in-cheek nature of Hercules, which (from what I've seen) appeared to recognize just how ridiculous its premise was and just be out to have fun with it. Xena, by contrast, was clearly trying to be all Serious and Angsty, and I don't think it worked quite as well.

8. The Twilight Zone. Hasn't necessarily aged well, as all the creepy twist endings have long since become cliche, but a classic, nonetheless.

7. The Prisoner. I still haven't seen all of this series, and I really need to. I've never been quite able to make up my mind whether it's brilliant or just insane, but whichever it is, it's certainly got style.

6. The Simpsons. I was a little surprised to see this on the list, as The Simpsons have long been an essential part of mainstream American culture. Can anything that universally popular really be called a "cult" show? Then again, my friends' ability to hold entire conversations in nothing but Simpsons quotes does kind scream "cult," no matter how popular it is.

5. Monty Python's Flying Circus. Never ceases to be funny. Never. Even if, a surprisingly large amount of the time, part of what I find so funny about it is the very fact that I'm finding something that patently absured to be so very funny.

4. Farscape. Wow, number four! I suspect recent high-profile fan activity is what prompted that rating, and that, were this list compiled a couple of years earlier or a couple of years later, it wouldn't rank nearly that high. Still, I'm not complaining, 'cause it deserves the slot, in my biased opinion. I only hope it has the staying power of some of these other shows.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No show with a hero named "Buffy" should be that well-written, witty, involving, and deep. This is another one of those shows that, once I finally started watching them, made me really want to smack myself on the head and shout, "Why was I not watching this sooner?!"

2. The X-Files. Ah, the premiere example of a cult show going mainstream. Personally, I always had extremely mixed feelings about it. At its best, it was damned good; you won't find many hours of television capable of surpassing "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." And the characters were interesting, particularly Mulder (who, OK, wasn't exactly unpleasant on the eyeballs, either). But, somehow, I always liked it best when it was being light-hearted, or even bordering on the self-parodic. When it tried to be serious, if often tried too hard, and ended up being murky, pretentious, and dull. And I loathed the whole "mythology" thing, as it seemed to me that the writers were not gradually unveiling a carefully-thought-out mystery so much as they were making shit up on the spot, and then cutting away before the ending primarily because they didn't have an ending. Maybe it wouldn't have seemed so much like that to me if I'd watched it more consistently and thus had a clearer idea of the big picture, but I really doubt it.

1. Star Trek. Well, of course. What else could hold the #1 slot? Trek -- the original Trek -- is the granddaddy of 'em all, and even if, with over 35 years of perspective, it now seems a little silly, a little cheesy, and rather dubious in the morality department, it still holds an important place in our culture, and a very dear place in my heart.

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