The band Thirteen-One-Eleven, the brief side project of R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry in the early nineteen-nineties, released exactly one 12-inch single. The a-side of that record was a song entitled, “My Bible is the Latest TV Guide.” That’s a fairly accurate assessment of my relationship with that particularly periodical when I was a kid, although it was less true of the latest weekly offering than it was of the annual “Fall Preview Issue.” I used to pore through that little slab of information, meticulously studying the write-ups on new series, excited to figure out exactly which series would make the most compelling demand on my time. After its utility as reference material for actual day-to-day programming information expired at the end of the week, I made sure to squirrel it away in my room so I could consult it throughout the year, reminding myself of what shows were out there, pining for my eager eyes.
All this makes it somewhat odd to me that I almost never write about television in this space. There are plenty of reasons for this, chief among them the aggressive, almost instantaneous way in which television is typically covered in the wilds of the web. I don’t feel like trying to keep pace with that, and, besides, there are a multitude of places that offer such services. I hardly need to be one more digital voice confirm that this week’s Parks and Recreation was really funny. Still, the lack of any sort of television conversation here–believe me, I still watch plenty of it–seemed a weird gap for a space that otherwise represents my various media obsessions quite thoroughly. So when I was playing around with the notion of adding a new recurring feature, venturing into the “vast wasteland” seemed a natural route.
I thought about the different approaches I could take, but I kept coming back to the concept of a television season. The current norm seems to be evaluating the quality of a series on an episode-by-episode basis, which seems like an especially suspect approach in an era filled with series that are about extended arcs that work well on eventual DVD collections. Producer David Simon–whose style, I’d argue, has entirely defined the way that HBO, his network of choice, approaches the development of its series–has openly acknowledged that he constructs his shows, notably The Wire and Treme, like novels that stretch across multiple episodes instead of adhering to the traditional rhythms of television storytelling. Despite that, evaluating a full season is almost an afterthought for most television writers, probably piled into the last paragraph or two of an essay on the finale. If anything, the excellent, lengthy interviews posted by The Onion‘s A.V. Club that featured showrunners for Community and Parks and Recreation breaking down their respective recently-completed seasons only served to emphasize how rarely anyone takes the time to consider the quality (and qualities) of a complete season of a worthwhile series. This is despite the tendency that the most fervent fans have to engage in spirited debates over which season of their favorite show should be considered the best.
So that’s exactly what I want to do. Restricting myself to shows that have completed their runs (and therefore not offering up new nominees for consideration), I’m going to take a crack at naming the best season of their run. I’ll acknowledge right from the top that this is going to be more of an exercise in recollection rather than some sort of diligent fresh study of the series in question. I’d love to have enough time to sit down and rewatch, say, all three seasons of Arrested Development for this project (seriously, I’d love to do it; someone please pay me a kind salary to do it), but that’s just not going to happen. I’m also not necessarily going to make a claim for unrivaled thoroughness with any of the series that will eventually be featured. To a degree, whether or not I was devoted to watching the show during a given season is simply going to wind up as part of the algorithm to help determine when the program peaked.
Anyway, that’s probably plenty of explanation for what’s ultimately a fairly simple concept. The first official entry in the recurring series will arrive tomorrow. And I’ll be focusing on a show that I do know very well. In fact, at the time of its fresh airing, it probably inspired about as fervent of devotion in me as any series since I was a kid. It’s also a show that inspires strong views about which season is the best, and most fellow fans I know always seem to have a quick, impassioned answer to that question. I did too, but it may be worth noting that my default answer was a different season than the one I’ll name tomorrow.