What should we watch?
Prominent TV critics Sepinwall (The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, 2012, etc.) and Seitz (The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2015, etc.) assemble a canon of the 100 greatest (American, narrative fiction) TV shows of all time. After an introductory chapter exhaustingly detailing their selection process—their attempt to definitively rank such classics as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Simpsons devolves into a Talmud-like complex tangle of historical, social, aesthetic, and personal considerations—the authors present their choices in a series of essays that concisely and insightfully identify each show’s distinctive virtues and place in the history of the medium. There is little here to inspire much argument; the authors’ choices are largely buttressed by conventional wisdom and critical consensus, though an emphasis on contemporary programming may raise a few eyebrows. Superlative lists—e.g., “Best Mustaches,” “Best Houses,” “Most Important Hairstyles,” “Most Awesome and/or Ridiculous Names”—add little to the reading experience, as they chiefly consist of titles presented without further comment, but appendices covering limited series and TV movies provide useful supplementary material. Only shows with completed runs were eligible: a chapter on currently produced shows that bear watching for future inclusion evidences the authors’ good taste (Broad City, Transparent), but again, their selections will ruffle no feathers. Perhaps the book’s most engaging chapter, “A Certain Regard,” which gathers programs not pantheon-worthy but liked by the authors “for some strange reason or another,” suggests a more interesting direction: critics at the top of their craft going out on a limb rather than affirming the commonly accepted classics.
A well-reasoned and engaging—if ultimately unchallenging—summary of the best television has to offer.