How could a ‘top 100’ of recent TV programmes ever satisfy anyone?


A few weeks before the end of the year, a list was published of “the greatest TV shows of the 21st century”. I found this extremely annoying.

In one way, everyone loves a list. It’s irresistible, isn’t it? Irrelistible, you might say. I reckon I could make a list of anything at all and, as long as I made a grand claim of objectivity, you’d be sufficiently interested to read it and disagree. (Or agree, though that is rarer.)

Here is a list of the best things to have on toast:

1. Butter

2. Rose’s lime marmalade

3. Marmite

We fell out at point 2, didn’t we? We agreed at point 1. That’s 100 per cent. Nobody who doesn’t think that butter is the best thing to have on toast would be allowed to read a newspaper, for fear they’d cut themselves – nor even to read one online, in case they accidentally published something, or voted. So there were no objections at point 1. But then, at point 2, all hell broke loose.

Here is a list of the best pets:

1. Sheep

2. Fish

3. Imaginary horse

In this instance, the controversy began at once. Neither dogs nor cats made it onto the podium. I listed the pets I consider the lowest maintenance. Maybe your own criteria for best pet include nonsense like companionship, or being a guard. Even if you agree that ease of care is the priority, you’d probably have put “imaginary horse” at number one. Aha, but it isn’t the lowest maintenance! Trust me; my daughter’s got one. It requires far more attention than a sheep, especially now that sheep no longer even need hay in January. Thanks, climate change!

At any rate, you read the whole list and disagreed.

Best thing for mopping up a spillage if you can’t find a jay cloth:

1. T-shirt

2. Sofa cushion

3. West Highland terrier

I need hardly go into the reasons why you might find fault with that list. In a world of increasing tribalism, factionalism and hysterical disagreement at every turn, a corollary obsession with list-making is really asking for trouble.

Thus, the “greatest TV shows of the 21st century” was bound to annoy me from the off. And so it did: The Wire was number one.

I didn’t like The Wire. I thought it was depressing and samey, self-consciously cool and sporadically unintelligible. (It rode high during a time in my life when poker players were always being interviewed, and always finding an opportunity to say that their favourite film was Goodfellas. I was the only one who ever said Back to the Future.)

At number three in the best-TV-shows list: Breaking Bad. Another drug one. You’ve got to be suspicious when smack is hogging two of the top three spots, haven’t you? You start asking questions about the jury.


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