Meaty's Top 5*
While there's no way for me to choose an absolute favorite television show—would it be what I think is technically the best? The one with characters I loved the most? The one I have watched the most times? That I quote most often?—these are the programs I return to again and again AND that I think are very good. Let that inform your opinion of me, see if I care.
Scrubs (8 seasons, NBC/ABC 2001-2009. We don't talk about Season 9.)
Scrubs was a defining show for me, and for the single-camera comedy in general. A charming mix of goofy and sincere, playing imaginative whimsy alongside the stress, anxiety, and grief found in a hospital setting, Scrubs was in many ways a gateway to the darker half-hour single-camera shows that abound today. Its core cast of Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Donald Faison, and Judy Reyes had some of the best chemistry and quirks of any ensemble I've seen. And in the first seasons in particular the show treated the characters' differences in race and class as emotionally-nuanced plot points, neither trivializing nor sensationalizing their identities. Scrubs faltered on and off during its run, even getting dropped by its original network, but in my opinion, it bounced back and honored its characters throughout.
The West Wing (7 seasons, NBC, 1999-2006)
What is there to say about The West Wing that hasn't been said? Great writing, the best actors in the business, stunning direction, basically the best production value to be had outside of a movie theater. Sorkin surely has his detractors and I completely understand that, but this show was a thing apart. I started watching late in the game, as I was kind of young when it first started, but it became such a beautiful bonding experience for me and my mom. We splurged and bought the fancy DVD box set, where all the discs came in what looked like manila folders, and we rewatch specific episodes (particularly the holiday episodes and the masterpiece of a season 4 opener "20 Hours in America") over and over. Needless to say, I think this show is technically brilliant, but it's in my top 5 because of my personal history with it.
The Office (US) (9 seasons, NBC, 2005-2013)
The Office is one of the first shows I specifically remember seeing a preview for and being like "I gotta watch that," and sticking with from beginning to end. Besides being a contender for most-GIFable show of all time, what with all the talking heads and goofy faces, it was just a lovely story. While some shows, even sitcoms, are about extraordinary circumstances, The Office was consistently about finding the sublime in the mundane. Jim and Pam's epic romance played out in the subtlest steps. (And I firmly believe that Jenna Fischer's portrayal of Pam over 9 years should have gotten more critical recognition.) Michael's evolution from a enthusiastic-but-clueless jerk to a man capable of recognizing and winning the love of his life is slow but steady. Cast rotation occasionally took the wind out of show's sails, but the jokes were always on point and the characters struck the perfect balance between weird and lovable. I can be a pretty bleak-humored person, but when it comes down to it, sentiment and sweetness get me every time, which is why I will not apologize for loving the American Office all the way through its run.
Doctor Who (30+ seasons, BBC, 1963-1989, 2005-present)
(Yeah, I'm ride or die for Rose Tyler, don't @ me.)
The other shows in this list are old-timers, meaning I've had them on my rewatch roster for at least 5 years. I'm newer to Doctor Who, having been introduced to it a few years ago by a guy I was dating. I'm no longer with the boyfriend but I am still very much in a relationship with the Doctor. I can't even describe how intense my emotional reaction to the first (rebooted) season was, but it was akin to reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time on my 9th birthday: I was introduced to a sprawling, complex world inhabited by fantastical but extremely human characters, and I wanted more. Like many long-running shows, Doctor Who has had some serious missteps and gained some well-deserved haters. But unlike the other shows on this list, this one is still going! Despite the flaws, once I love a world and a character this deeply, there's no turning back, so for better or for worse, I plan to be on board for the long haul.
Parks and Recreation (7 seasons, NBC, 2009-2015)
Is there—no seriously is there??—a better role model than Leslie Knope? Parks came into the world on the heels of the Office-inspired TV mockumentary craze, and considering the same creative minds (Greg Daniels and Mike Schur) were behind it, it made sense for people to expect a "female Michael Scott" when introduced to one Leslie Knope of the Pawnee Parks Department. But for viewers who were paying attention, within a few episodes it was clear that Parks was taking a different tack; Leslie is good at her job. No—Leslie is unbelievably good, because she combines the passion for her work with the technical ability to do it and the ambition to strive for more. I could go on and on about this show's strengths—its deep bench of supporting characters, its FUCKING GREAT jokes, its positive examples of masculinity—but Leslie is truly the reason I keep coming back to Parks. If I ever need energy, inspiration, or just someone to look up to, it's Leslie Fucking Knope every time.
*Subject to change at any time, for any reason or non-reason.