2
Apr
2011
Random Pop Culture Top Ten List
Top 10 TV Shows to Make it Past the Season Five Mark Without an Abhorrent Drop in Quality
Jordan and Sam
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which the Review To Be Named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

There is an unwritten rule of television that five seasons is kind of the perfect length for a television show. Less than that may leave the show feeling incomplete, with remaining loose ends or a rushed feel to it (look, for example, at two cancelled shows, Arrested Development, which is near-perfect but feels rushed toward its end, and Dollhouse which aimed to run five but was cancelled after two and forced to shove four seasons of development into its 13 episode second season). More than five, and the show tends to run off the rails, jumping the shark or losing track of its narrative structure and eventually tarnishing its legacy (look to Scrubs, 24, How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, which will soon join this crowd with its sixth season, or any number of others for examples of this). Plenty of shows have lasted exactly five seasons, and end right when they should have (like The Wire, Six Feet Under, and Angel). Here are a list of ten shows who made it over this mystical lump and kept producing at the same quality for seasons afterwards.

10. Saturday Night Live
The longest running show on the list could have very well could have ended after its first few seasons and secured a spot amongst the most influential comedy programs ever. But Saturday Night Live was brilliant in that it's built to have a rotating cast of performers and writers which has made it a still relevant franchise over 35 years after its debut. Some may point to that original cast that had the likes of John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner as the best the show ever had. But you can't scoff at a show that has produced stars like Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Bill Murray and Will Ferrell. Years after its fifth season it has continued to produce some of the industry's biggest stars (for better or for worse) and while fans may always lament the quality of the show, it still remains an important part of the comedy landscape. Whether it's covering an election or lampooning a celebrity, SNL has remained an overall funny show throughout the years. Today, the show is typically hit or miss but overall it's been an up year. The cast boasts some excellent performers like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig and it makes us glad that this show will always be live from New York.



9. The West Wing

This is a slightly controverisal pick for the list, as many fans of the show will tell you it was never as good after Aaron Sorkin left at the end of season four. And they aren't really wrong. The West Wing was at its worst during season five, when John Wells turned in a very dark season of the show, both literally and figuratively (the government shut down, Josh almost quit, Donna was hurt when a convoy was attacked, and the directors seemingly didn't know how to light the set after Tommy Schlamme left). Yet the show had a huge comeback in its last two seasons, focusing on the upcoming presidential election, a battle of wits and wills between Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). It may have had an off-year, but any real fan of the show will recognize that sending Josh out to run a campaign, turning in a live debate episode that felt more energetic and informative than any actual presidential debate, and giving a loving goodbye to the characters we'd loved for seven years (except Toby, who got kind of screwed) kept the quality of the show plenty high as it went on in years. But seriously, CJ becoming Chief of Staff was just ridiculous.





8. South Park

When South Park debuted in 1997 it was unlike anything people had seen on television. It had the road laid down by The Simpsons and took the animated sit-com to the next logical step. Incredibly crass, foul-mouthed and often incredibly violent, South Park never pulled any punches. A tribute to the shows strength is that it continues to this day and not only did it avoid an "abhorrent drop in quality" it got better after its first five seasons. We've been introduced to more fantastic characters (and had some great development from stalwarts like Stan's Dad, who has become one of the greatest characters in the show's later seasons), have had a movie and even switched the sex of a central character--South Park still works. Because of the shows quick turnaround, masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone can make sharp satirical episodes about very current events, something that only Saturday Night Live was able to do before (and they didn't even have to animate anything). Talking shit and a Jesus Christ that's packing heat to save Sant-y Clause's balls is now par for the course. The only times we would say that South Park strays from hilarity is when it gets lost in it's episode's concept. But there's no reason to think that South Park can't continue in the path of The Simpsons and continue to pump out new, and high quality episodes for years to come.



7. Frasier

Spinning out of Cheers, which had just ended a pretty solid 11 year run (and would have made this list if only Shelley Long's Diane Chambers hadn't left at the end of season five, signifying the end of the show's golden years), there was nothing to imply that Frasier would be in it for the long haul. Yet a change of locale, a great premise that found neurotic psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer, who won four Emmys for the show) hosting a call-in radio show and trying to live with his recently retired and completely uncultured father (John Mahoney), while continuing the endless rivalry with his even more high strung brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce, who also racked up four Emmys during the show's run and was nominated for EVERY SINGLE SEASON), who was in love with their father's physical therapist Daphne (Jane Leeves). One of the smartest comedies of all time, Frasier won a record five Best Comedy series Emmys in a row for its first five seasons, but the show managed to stay just as good for six more years after that, eventually winning 37 Emmys and finishing with a last season so strong, it boggles the mind to think this was the eleventh time the show had pulled it off. Stellar from start to finish, Frasier managed to beat the "five season curse" and then some.

6. Futurama

From the mind that brought you The Simpsons and the mind that wrote many episodes for the show, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's Futurama always had the label of being the classic show's little brother. But Futurama did something that many people forget-it was better than The Simpsons. Let me clear that up a bit. It was better than The Simpsons when both were on the air. But Futurama holds a distinct honor for this list. It was cancelled. A tribute to the quality of the show is that it had a strong (not Family Guy strong mind you) DVD following and eventually the green light had been given for three Futurama direct-to-DVD movies. This sent fans into a tizzy. A show that had been legitmately dead in the water, had been given a second chance. To make things better the show would return to surpass its five season mark on Comedy Central. The movies were later broken up and shown as "episodes" on the channel but it was the summer return of the show that was really a pleasant surprise. There were rumblings that there would be a scab voice cast brought in because of contract disputes with Comedy Central, but the right thing was done where Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katy Segal and the rest of the original cast was brought back. Thankfully, while the show had to shed some staff to save money, the quality was there. Last season brought back that mix of humor and heart the show does so well. And if you disagree with us you can bite our shiny metal asses.




5. I Love Lucy

Perhaps the first truly great television show, I Love Lucy set the standard against which every subsequent sitcom would be measured. Running nine seasons and 194episodes (if the revamped, hour long Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour which kept the same cast, characters, and setting is counted), the show never had an off season and very rarely even an off episode. Kept fresh by a changing premise that had The Ricardos and The Mertzes spending a season in Hollywood, trekking across Europe, and finally moving from New York City to rural Connecticut, the show never abandoned its ace comedic set up that had Lucille Ball scheming to get into the show, out of a jam, or into contact with her favorite celebrities, with some of the greatest physical comedy of all time. The show's sixth season, and the final in the half hour format features some of the show's best and most famous moments, including "Lucy Meets Orson Welles," "Lucy and Superman," and the all-time classic "Lucy Does the Tango" (which boasts the longest studio laugh in sitcom history) in which Ball is forced to practice the titular dance with a blouse full of eggs. Even when the show doubled its length (and did far fewer episodes a season as a result) it still managed to turn out some unforgettable comedy, including the Lucy-Ricky origin story "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana," the fantastic guest spot "Milton Berle Hides Out at the Ricardos," and the hilarious "The Ricardos Go To Japan" which finds Lucy and Ethel dressed as Geishas. The show is so classic and influential, it has literally never stopped airing over its 60-year history, and no matter what season an episode comes from, it is almost guaranteed to be hilarious.



4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

For a little while there, it looked like Buffy the Vampire Slayer was only going to get five seasons, when the WB refused to renew the show's contract. In a bit of a bind as he looked to continue the show elsewhere, show creator Joss Whedon prepared for the show to end in case it was never picked up by another network. In one the the series' best episodes, the season five finale "The Gift," (SPOLIER ALERT) the show came to a tentative end with Buffy's sacrificial swan dive off of a tower to close a tear in reality. His protagonist now dead, Whedon got a two year pick up from UPN to bring the show back. Some fans will argue that Buffy was never as good again, and while season six is admittedly pitch black and nihilistic for much of its run and season seven occasionally cavalier about its plotting and mythology, the show also turned in some of its best episodes in the last two seasons, including the stellar musical "Once More With Feeling," the experimental "Normal Again," the appropriately dour "Conversations with Dead People," and the stellar examination of parental relationships and their tendency to form lasting scars, "Lies My Parents Told Me." The Buffy the Vampire Slayer that aired on UPN was different than what had come before, but rather than a marked drop in quality, the last two seasons of the show were bold enough to take some big risks, and occasionally reaped fruitful rewards for their efforts.



3. The Sopranos

As much as I Love Lucy set the standard every sitcom would measure itself against, The Sopranos has become the gold standard of what a serialized drama should try to be. Fans of the show's violent gangster drama side were often disappointed with the back half of the show's run, which was often less whacking and more quiet examination of moral ruination, yet the show's sixth (and longest, clocking in at 21 episodes in two partS) season is an essential part of its narrative, making some bold choices and ultimately ensuring that The Sopranos will forever hover near the top of "best television show of all time" lists. Whether its Tony's time in limbo, Vito Spatafore's brief moments of freedom in New England, or the all out war between the families, the show's final season had something for every type of fan: plenty of psychological symbolism, tests of moral rectitude, subtle character interactions, and bloody mob violence to keep any and every fan of the show happy with at least parts of what the last season was doing.



2. Seinfeld

Contrary to many of the shows on this list, Seinfeld was actually in the midst of its prime when it passed the season five mark. Sure, season four gave us the plot about Jerry and George pitching a show very similar to the one we were watching, and season five had "The Puffy Shirt" and "The Dinner Party," but the show was still primed to turn out excellent episodes for the remainder of its nine season run. The last four seasons of the show include such classics as "The Fusili Jerry," "The Soup Nazi," "The Bizarro Jerry," "The Yada Yada," "The Muffin Tops," "The Merv Griffin Show, "The Frogger," and "The Puerto Rican Day." Not only did Seinfeld stay as good after season five, there's a pretty great chance your favorite episode of the show came from its last four seasons.



1. The Simpsons

The Simpsons has an interesting palce on this list in that it did absolutely maintain (and depending on who you ask, even exceed) the quality from its first five seasons but at the same time, no show has been more complained about in terms of a drop in quality. When The Simpsons hit season 10 or so, fans declared worst season/episode/Homer-Marge story/continuity error EVER! But for that first decade or so it was the tighestest comedy writing in television history as far as I (Sam) am concerned. Season 6, or the season where things often go to hell for TV shows, brought fans one of the most storied pair of episodes in Simpsons history, Who Shot Mr. Burns Part I and Part II to start the seventh season. Take away seasons 6-10 and you'd make many nerds convulse in rage. Say what you will about seasons 11-48 (just wait) but those first ten rival any comedy in television history.



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