Archive for the ‘Top 80 Greatest Television Shows’ Category

by Jillian Juliano

Note:  This is 16 year-old Jillian Juliano’s first review of any kind.

At a young age, we are all taught the principle of what is good and bad.  We are told that when we do something wrong, there are consequences that are inescapable.  Our society enjoys to hold authority figures on high pedestals, as the heroes of modern times.  Along with these heroes come villains.  The basic formula is when the villain does something wrong, the hero swoops in and the villain is jailed saving the day.  What is quite interesting about Orange Is the New Black is that the protagonists are prisoners and many of the antagonists are the prison-guards.  The show also flips the norms of having the “good guy” be this ever-perfect person that just does the right thing without any major slip-ups.  

         The main protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), is the one of the most flawed characters on the show  if not the most flawed.  This is not because of  lazy writing or poor decisions made by the creator Jenji Kohan.    She is meant to be this way.  She is meant to be this completely raw character with nothing in her life being sugar-coated.  At first, she is set up as a small fish in a big pond so it is quite easy to empathize with her.  That is very quickly overcome as you can only feel bad for her to a certain point.  It is expressed early on in the show that Piper is a lying and manipulative person who mostly does things to help herself.  She is conceited and self righteous and is so incredibly detestable it is hard not to completely hate her at a first glance.  Piper is not a perfect person but somehow the viewers are made to care about what happens to her.   (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

It has been maintained that the prolific output of Dame Agatha Christie has outstripped the sales of all published works aside from the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.  Her works have been translated into a hundred languages,  700 million copies have been sold of her 66 novels and 14 story collections, her beloved And Then There Were None alone has achieved 100 million copies in circulation and her celebrated play “The Mousetrap” has by far enjoy the longest stage run of any ever written.  Witness for the Prosecution’s popularity has never abated and a film version from Billy Wilder is counted as an all-time classic.  These inconceivable statistics for a writer who specialized in a single form and was never seen as a major literary talent to be placed in the company of Poe, Collins or even her contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are astounding.  Hence, it is her books that have endured in the public’s affectations, and have not only been read and discussed in schools and book groups, but have been honored with endless film and television adaptations, following radio play runs and theatrical treatment.  Her most ardent fans can never seem to get enough of her even with the astonishing six decades-long output that concluded about with her finale Elephants Can Remember, released four years before her passing in 1976 at the age of 85.  The key to the Queen of Crime’s continuing popularity can be succinctly attributed to her ingenious plotting, which arguably places her at poll position among all mystery writers.  While Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved Sherlock Holmes and some fringe creations like John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell have also held the stage, Dame Agatha’s two most celebrated sleuths, the fastidious, egocentric Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot and the English village spinster Jane Marple have been entered into Western culture, incomparable in reader veneration and by way of prolific adaptation.  The American television series Murder She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury was heavily inspired by the character of Miss Marple, while the BBC has also sponsored a few series on Christie’s favorite character, most notably the one that features Joan Hicks.  But the British ITV studio’s monumental study of Poirot, one spanning twenty-five years and entailing seventy episodes is the high watermark of any project ever committed to Dame Agatha’s work.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot or just Poirot debuted in 1989 with a January 8th broadcast of “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook,” a 51 minute episode based on a short story that features the inimitable detective investigating a case in spite of termination by his client’s husband.  Much more than the unveiling of a new series, the show introduced to the world the actor David Suchet, whose incarnation of the stout and mincing mustached Belgian won the highest praise from Dame Agatha’s daughter Rosalind Hicks and grandson Matthew Pritchard, both of whom recommended the actor for the role.  Such renowned thespians like Charles Laughton, Albert Finney, Peter Ustinox, Sir Ian Holm, Alfred Molina, Tony Randall and even Orson Welles have essayed the famous detective over the years.  And new adaptations are an ongoing affair, with yet another version of Murder on the Orient Express set for November of 2017, with Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot and directing.  Yet, by overwhelming consensus, Suchet embodied what Christie envisioned, and fans worldwide have embraced him as the definitive actor.  Mind you, some of the others have done well by the role (Finny won an Academy Award nomination in 1974 for another version of Orient Express) but the character’s famed eccentricities, mannerisms, implied accent and movements have grandly coincided with how he was described on the written page.  And the feat of playing the character in all seventy of his appearances is one unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon if at all.


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by Brian Wilson

Raquel Welch:  “Thank you Kermit, I had a wonderful time, but I don’t think I changed my image.”

Kermit the Frog:  “You may not have changed your image, but I think you may have changed ours.”

This above exchange between Raquel Welch and Kermit the Frog happened during the closing moments of an episode of The Muppet Show that aired, according to IMDb, on November 25, 1978.  During the episode, a scantily clad Raquel had, among other things, performed a sultry version of Diana Ross’ “Baby, It’s Me” while dancing with a giant (and surprisingly agile) Muppet spider, letting her disco freak flag fly.  At the wrap-up Kermit joked that Raquel’s presence was perhaps scandalous enough to end the series (“well, we’ve done everything we planned to do, so I seriously suspect that this is the end”).



However, I believe our lovable frog may have been suffering from selective amnesia.  The Muppet Show changed the Muppets’ image right from the very start when it came bursting onto the scene as a syndicated series in the fall of 1976.  Jim Henson reportedly wanted to prove that his puppets were more than just the sweet little characters teaching tykes lessons on Sesame Street.  He wanted a series that kids could watch but adults would also enjoy on other levels.  In that regard, The Muppet Show is for kids the way Bugs Bunny cartoons were for kids:  madcap, lively, energetic, but with subversive jokes that would fly over the heads of the little ones watching.  And there was a danger present too.  Anything could happen on The Muppet Show:  sudden explosions, mishaps, Muppets eating other Muppets, a pig diva prone to rages of jealousy and becoming destructive in the process.

The first signs of Jim Henson wanting to change the Muppets’ image can be found in a very early episode of the series, the second one to ever air. Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street appear as special guests, and Bert especially radiates fear, nervous about being away from his comfortable home. Bert suddenly finds himself in a romantic dance number with the provocative Connie Stevens, who tries wooing him as they pair up for a rendition of the song “Some Enchanted Evening.”  After Stevens tries to plant one on his quivering lips, Bert declares that he and Ernie must leave this wild place, flee back to the innocent world of Sesame Street. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

When thirtysomething, because yes, originally, it was not capitalized, made its debut in 1987, the term yuppie was already known. Series such as Only Fools and Horses, and films like Wall Street and The Secret of My Success, both of which had just hit the screen, had been among the many works of fiction to popularize the term. Yet, this series, which ran for four seasons on ABC, from 1987-1991, was, perhaps more than anything, responsible for bringing the term to the forefront of popular culture. It is this fact, among others, which has often precluded it from landing on lists like this one.

Sometimes, the series is viewed as too concerned with the every day, the plots and stories too small, the characters too bound up in their foibles. Yet, it is because of that intense focus on the personal, the mundane, and the every day that the series stands out. In the era of Reagan, Iran Contra and the fading years of Dallas and the classic prime time soaps, here was a series that presented a new type of drama, focused on two advertising executives in Philadelphia, their families and their friends, a close knit circle that laughed, loved, cried, and, yes, whined, about everything from if they would land or keep an account, to what sort of parents they were, to selecting socks or disposable dishware.

Over the series four seasons, we saw people grow up, both together and apart, to learn to become better, more complete human beings, and in some cases, to become more entrenched in their selfishness, because this was a series unafraid to allow their characters to come across negatively. In my book, that is a big plus. This was not just for “villains” like Miles Drentell, the CEO of the company Michael and Elliot go to work for after their startup goes bust during the second season. This was true of every single character, male or female, young and old. This was a series that practically wallowed in their characters hiccups. (more…)

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by Lucille Juliano

                                    “Once upon a time, there was a typical American girl

                                     who happened to bump into a typical red-blooded

                                     American boy…And she bumped into him…And

                                     bumped into him…And bumped into him. So they

                                     decided they’d better sit down and talk this over

                                     before they had an accident. They became good

                                     friends.  They found they had a lot of interests in


                                     Trains…And when the boy found the girl attractive,

                                     desirable, irresistible…he did what any red-blooded

                                     American boy would do. He asked her to marry him.

                                     They had a typical wedding…Went on a typical

                                     Honeymoon…In a typical bridal suite…EXCEPT

                                    It so happens that this girl is a witch!”

(Opening narration, pilot episode, I, Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha, aired Sept. 17, 1964)

Though Bewitched was primarily designed to amuse its audience and deliver laughter, it was also at heart a love story about two very different people, Samantha and Darrin.  The show actually addressed inter-racial marriage and prejudice right from the start.  During the pilot episode, Endora, Samantha’s mother pops in the bedroom of the bridal suite while Samantha is changing.  When Samantha tells her that she is married, Endora assumes it is to a warlock.  Samantha cautiously announces that she married a mortal.  As the conversation continues, Endora states that mortals are prejudice against witches because they think that all witches are ugly, evil, wear black, and ride brooms on Halloween.  Samantha assures her that Darrin is not like that and is a good person.  Endora prods her to tell Darrin that she is a witch.  Endora leaves and Samantha proceeds to tell Darrin.  His immediate reaction after Samantha provides proof that she has magical powers is to ask about wearing black and flying a broom on Halloween.  During the episode, Darrin decides that he will not tell his family and friends about Samantha being a witch.  Darrin tells Samantha that he accepts her as she is and loves her very much.  Samantha promises to comply with Darrin’s wishes to not use witchcraft and to do things herself because she loves him very much. This marked the beginning of what would be an eight season run on ABC.

The moral of every episode is the same: No matter how much one tries to conceal one’s innate attributes in order to fit into the society at large, it will fail.  Spirituality must always triumph over matters of commerce.  Love conquers all.  While Samantha adapts to Darrin’s wishes for her to become a traditional suburban housewife, her magical family opposes the very idea of this mixed marriage and regularly intrudes in the couple’s lives.  Episodes often commence with Darrin becoming the pawn of a family member who casts a spell on him.  The results of these incantations often cause mayhem amongst mortals such as his boss, clients, parents, and neighbors.  By the conclusion of every episode, however, Darrin and Samantha usually hug each other having beaten the shrewd elements that failed to split them up. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

In the opinion of this reviewer, this is the best German film post-World War Two. It also deserves to be ranked much higher, but that is neither here nor there. Arguments can be made about Berlin Alexanderplatz, or Our Hitler, but where the later film sometimes skirts apologizing for Hitler’s actions, this series, from writer and director Edgar Reitz, takes a different view of things. Both are controversial works, this one because of accusations of ignoring or golden-aging the Nazi years. This is untrue, because what we are presented with as viewers is the story of a town, as it happened and as they saw things.

This approach allows us to understand how sinister Nazism was because of how it slowly crept into the lives of the townfolk and became normalized. We see that this town has both those with open hearts and those who were, because of German culture at the time, and the events of the Great War, predisposed to being influenced by or enamored of, Nazi ideology. We have moments like the mayor’s son, an SS officer, telling his family what a burden it is on his men to send Jews “up the chimney” not because they feel awful about killing people or Jews, but because of the strain it puts on them to clean up and coordinate the exterminations. Such scenes are juxtaposed with one featuring Lucie, who marries into the main family, being more than willing to politic her way up the ladder of society while conducting business with a Jewish bank, stating to her husband “they are human, too” which causes him a look of concern.

Ultimately, the Nazis are a ghost that looms over the story but does not define it. Maria, the closest the series comes to a heroine, takes a half-Jewish man as her lover and finds herself horrified by the symbols and realities of the Nazi cult of death. Instead, what does define Heimat is the story of how the Simon family lives through the events of the Twentieth Century.

We begin with Paul Simon, who comes home after WW1 to his Hunsruck town of Schabbach, and finds himself unattached to his family and friends. He dreams of radio, of wires and electronics, wealth and is pulled away, though it takes several years. He meets a woman, has children with her and one day, he goes out for a beer and vanishes. We see him at Ellis Island. He has gone to America, and left behind his wife, Maria and two sons, Anton and Ernst. He will not return to Germany for nearly a quarter century. (more…)

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by David Schleicher

Anything can happen; all things are possible and plausible. Time and space do not exist: over a minute patch of reality imagination will weave its web and create fresh patterns…” –August Strindberg, Preface to A Dream Play (1902)

How could something do deeply nostalgic and rooted in the maker’s own childhood come across as so fresh? Indeed, Strindberg was right…anything can happen. Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander happened. But it’s far from just anything. It’s definitively something. But what is it?

As Bergman himself mused, “I’m deeply fixated on my childhood. Some impressions are extremely vivid, light, smell, and all. There are moments when I can wander through my childhood’s landscape, through rooms long ago, remember how they were furnished, where the pictures hung on the walls, the way the light fell. It’s like a film-little scraps of a film, which I set running and which I can reconstruct to the last detail-except their smell.” 

Bergman’s family patch, so carefully woven across 312 minutes of master visual, aural and thematic craftsmanship (yes, it’s a Swedish TV miniseries by origin that was cut down to 188 minutes to play theatrically around the world, but it transcends any medium like all the best do), is both painstakingly of a place and time, and universally eternal in its rendering of childhood’s trauma and familial strife. (more…)

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