Warning: Long, full of big words.
While my peers were thriving on generally bland '80s sitcoms, I was awash in reruns. I guess I'm also a bit of a student of media and pop culture history, which is useless stuff but fun.
My Top 10 would have to be ... in no particular order:
* The Simpsons. God, what can you say about this show that hasn't been said already? One of only two on the list -- two very long-lived programs, and surprisingly so -- that are still going. The great irony here, of course, is that the one-dimensional Simpsons are the closest thing to a real family -- imperfect, bickering, ugly. But always they stay together. There are too many "perfect" families that don't.
* The Twilight Zone. To me the best of the "anthology" series, and a true television classic. Heavy stuff in those otherwise bland, inoffensive times. Favorite episode of all time: "Time Enough at Last", a parable about addiction, neglect, catastrophe, and incredibly brutal irony.
* The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Not a real remarkable or original sitcom maybe, but one of the first to break down what they call "the fourth wall" and have an actor address the audience -- a thing that's been ripped off throughout time by everything from The Monkees to Parker Lewis Can't Lose to Malcolm In the Middle. I also give it brownie points for featuring a countercultural type (beatnik Maynard G. Krebs) as a loveable doofus as opposed to a real serious threat to convention -- at least that's how I view it. And hell, it *was* funny. And it had a REALLY YOUNG Warren Beatty (in the first season, as smarmy preppy boy Milt Armitage).
* Dragnet (the 1967-1970 incarnation) "The LSD Story", which I think originally aired in
January 1967 and, IIRC, launched this series, is an unlikely camp classic. As Friday and Gannon confront Benjamin "Blue Boy" Carver in a park, tripping on acid ("My hair is green and I'm a tree!"), I swear their faces are like Jimmy Johnson's hair or Lonny Baxter in the post: Immovable objects. I personally have never had the opportunity to see the original series. I wish I could. Paradoxically, what was meant as deadly serious in that time lends itself somewhat unintentionally to parody in this age (prime example: Dan Ackroyd's film). That episode above, "The LSD Story" isn't the only episode of this series that now has a kind of "Reefer Madness" effect, whether or not the episode in particular had anything to do with drugs.
* Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) -- Much too short lived, but what a great show. We weren't all rich, or pretty, or prom queens or ace jocks or student government drones. We were gross. We were wedgied. We played Dungeons and Dragons. We were in the audio visual club. We hated disco. We suffered through our old hippie guidance counselor's impromptu rendition of Alice Cooper's "Eighteen."
* Leave It to Beaver. Okay, the acting wasn't so great (in fact, it was pretty awful when you think about it), but whether we like it or not, the insufferably white-bread Cleavers are etched in the cultural iconography of America. Beaver was sort of unique for its time because it was more or less viewed through a kid's eye lens, unlike its contemporaries such as Father Knows Best or Dennis The Menace or The Donna Reed Show (which was more of a star-driven vehicle). F'rinstance, when Beav loses his haircut money and covers up that fact by having Wally cut his hair (resulting in LITERALLY having to cover it up because big brother did a hatchet job on the poor kid's head), you don't really see it from the POV of Ward or June, but from the suffering (and dishonest) child. <a href="http://www.salon.com/aug97/mothers/beaver970822.html" target="_blank">Here's an interesting 1997 take on Beav's cultural impact written by Steven Talbot, who played Beav's smarmy li'l friend Gilbert Bates. It appears at salon.com.</a>
* The White Shadow. Okay, it was basically Room 222 in a gym with jockstraps. At one time or another it certainly had everything: Hoops. Drugs. Gambling. Violence. Scholastic Issues. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. And, oh yeah, Singing. And for a bunch of actors, those Carver High boys could sorta ball.
* Saturday Night Live. How this LIVE show (which itself in the 1970s was a throwback to pioneering comedy/variety shows like Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater) has survived dangerously close to 30 years, six Presidents, innumerable cast changes, changing times and fickle tastes is something of a miracle.
* M*A*S*H. Simply one of the greatest television series ever. Ever. Difficult as it is perhaps to find humor in a very unfunny place, this one did, and it had a way of connecting its audience with its characters in a deep way, especially when That Which These Men and Women Dealt With Daily finally visited one of their own beloved compadres.
* I Spy. A routine but good espionage drama, it is notable in history as the first series to cast a black actor (Bill Cosby) in a leading role. That was sort of a big deal in 1965 while civil rights activists were marching in the South. Some twenty years later the same Bill Cosby would *own* Thursday nights for several years on his family sitcom.