Here we are, back again for the 2nd installment of the ongoing series, “Too Much TV”, where I look at what I believe to be the 100 television shows that have influenced me, entertained me, or in some way took up my time and interest over the course of my life– whether a contemporary sitcom or a childhood favorite from the early 1990s. The list continues….
90. Darkwing Duck (UPN, 1991-1992): A spin-off of Ducktales, the Disney Afternoon canon went with the route of creating a new character entirely, rather than drawing from Disney’s existing milieu of established characters from the Golden Age of its films. Launchpad McQuack, the incompetent pilot from Ducktales is on hand as a sidekick, but the other characters are one-note wonders. Drake Mallard tries to navigate between a normal suburban life and his alter ego as Darkwing Duck, protecting the city from a rogue’s gallery that included Quackerjack (a riff on The Joker), Megavolt (an homage to Electro or Magneto?) Bushroot (a male Poison Ivy?), and Negaduck (Darkwing’s alter ego…a presaging of Wario?) It ultimately becomes Inspector Gadget with waterfowl, though, as Darkwing’s incompetence is usually mitigated by his plucky stepdaughter, in this case Gosalyn. There was one extremely dark episode where Darkwing becomes an unhinged vigilante taking the law into his own hands, but that one is best left forgotten.
89. Wilfred (FX, 2011): One of the only shows on the list that is currently running, Wilfred has the potential go up a lot higher on this list. Crude, surreal, and an insightful take on battling insanity, fantastic cast chemistry and absurdist plot twists make this one of the best shows to watch on television today.
88. Who Wants to be a Super Hero? (Sci-Fi, 2007): Oh, come on. Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, X-Men, etc., hosts a reality show where a bunch of dorks dress up in costumes and face various challenges to prove they have what it takes to be the next super-hero. This show is a wonder to watch for all the wrong reasons: Stan’s rationale for eliminating heroes is maddeningly arbitrary (partly because he only shows up on video screen and isn’t even physically present for the proceedings)– and the prize is so paltry– to be a super-hero whom nobody, nobody, this side of Comic-Con has even heard of.
87. I’m Telling (Family Channel reruns, 1994-1995): Incredibly campy and endearingly low-budget, this borrowed the concept of the Newlywed Game where two people answer questions about each other and earn points based on how correct their answers are. Except this was a children’s game show, and the contestants were siblings. Weird and given to familial rivalry and argument, the host seemed like an entirely-too-happy lobotomized shoe salesman. Adding to its almost hyponotic character was the late 1980s decor and attitude of the show: the questions, the prizes, the set design, the fact that ‘celebrity week’ included the kids from ALF– even in the mid-1990s, this seemed like it was centuries old.
86. Goof Troop (UPN, 1992-1994): This was another of the low-hanging fruit from the Disney Afternoon. Goof Troop, even with a number of repetitive premises (Goofy annoys his neighbor Pete, Goofy embarrasses his pre-teen son, repeat for two seasons), had a great deal of heart. Like others of its sister shows, the series’ strength is how relational it is– the pratfalls and the physical comedy always taking a back seat to Goofy’s ties to those around him in the fictional city of Spoonerville. The show’s brief popularity allowed me to use my famous Goofy impression to great effect in the mid-1990s.
85. I Love Lucy (Nick at Nite, 1990-1992): There was a time when showing old television series on prime time was a novel concept, and Nick at Nite capitalized on this. While some of my friends really do love Lucy, I merely liked it- and remember I’m ranking this on my own preferences; if this were an objective ranking of the great television series of history, Lucy would rank much, much higher. But even as a 7 or 8 year old, it was easy to recognize the skill at work on this show. The actors playing Fred and Ethel played off of each other well, and of course, Lucy and Ricky are both two of the most memorable and the most skilled television performers of this or any era. I’ve even taken to using clips of the show in my classes– gender roles, traditional family life, even the family’s eventual move to the suburbs make this, for all of its pretenses to subversion, an archetypically 1950s archive piece.
84. Waste of Time (public access channel in Amsterdam media market, 2000): So, my junior year of high school, four of my classmates (which included two of my friends, Ryan and Kyle) decided to pool their resources together to get a cable access television show, which they called Waste of Time. Filled with hastily filmed sketches, it was still a wonderfully absurd piece of work, very much in the same vein as the Odyssey of the Mind skits Ryan and I did with a different group of students for regional competition. I also had one of my only appearances on television, playing an eccentric professorial Beatles expert named Foozball McIzzo.
83. Rock of Love (VH1, 2006-2008): To its credit, VH1 did not totally abandon classic rock by this point in time, and used this show to help fill the lonely heart of Poison front man Bret Michaels. I watched this train wreck for two seasons, and the contestants somehow got sluttier, the alcoholism waxed persistently, Bret’s decisions to reject contestants grew more arbitrary, and the tasks the Rock of Love girls had to perform were so odd, that I had to tune out for my own sanity by Rock of Love, Season 3. I’m ~pretty~ sure you had to have sex with Brett by the sixth episode to continue on the series, as an unspoken rule. As much as I ridicule the show, Michaels shows surprising charisma and occasional acts of unscripted kindness (such as letting one of the contestants’ dad, who had terminal cancer, have his motorcycle) that made this show a cut above the rest of VH1’s morass of reality television.
82. The Adventures of Pete & Pete (1993-1994) Against all odds, the show successfully survived its transition from 2-minute pieces between shows on Nickelodeon’s nighttime lineup, to a full-throttle sitcom. Filled with utter absurdities- between younger Pete’s mix of polymath skills with preteen perversion, their friend Ellen’s eccentricities, and a cast filled with weirdos like the striped-shirt-sporting Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, this show was maniacal and unpredictable in the extreme.
81. The Muppet Show (1992): I was always a great fan of the Muppets; I remember my second-grade teacher buying me a Jim Henson book and mailing it to me during summer vacation. i was actually unable to sleep that night because I grew so sad from reading about Henson’s death. So, it was a great tragedy of timing that I was born just after the show stopped production. Instead, I would resolutely get my 9-year-old up at 5:30 in the morning every blasted Sunday morning for a year, and watched the Muppet Show then. And it was great fun– my 1970s nostalgia shows up a number of tiems on the list, but it is the neatest thing to see everyone from John Cleese to Liza Manelli to Elton John to Mark Hamil show up during their heyday for a song and a skit. Most of the characters we now from the Muppet milieu- Scooter, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo….more or less got their big break on this show. Also, crotchety Statler and Waldorf are what I hope I’m like when I am in advanced age.