The Best Show on Television

September 21, 2011

Quiet, Mad Men. Shut up, Breaking Bad. I know that one of you is actually the Best Show on Television. But you know what? Neither of you has Ron Swanson.

In fact, neither of you has six Ron Swansons superimposed against an American flag.

Images courtesy of the fan site "Mr. Ron Swanson and His Glorious Face"

Actually, Parks and Rec doesn’t have six Ron Swansons superimposed against an American flag either. That would be ridiculous.

Here’s the point — Parks and Rec currently holds the prestigious title of Reinman’s Favorite Show of the Moment and Also It Has to Be Still on the Air at the Time He’s Watching It — In Other Words, It Can’t Be One He Discovered Through Re-Runs or on DVD Like Freaks and Geeks, Otherwise Freaks and Geeks Would Obviously Hold the Title for 1999.

And now, in an effort to contribute information to the internet, I am going to provide the complete list of shows to have held that title (which, for personal reasons, I have chosen not to repeat):

1984 – 1986: N/A

1987 – 1988: Sesame Street (For some reason, my favorite segment was the one where you followed that ball around some sort of psychedelic shopping mall/menagerie/bowling alley while hippies sang “1-2-3-4-5,  6-7-8-9-10,  11-12.”)

1989 – 1990: Ducktales (This was my first experience with continuing, mutli-episode story arcs. I remember the time-traveling Bubba Duck saga blowing my six-year-old mind.)

1991: Talespin (I never hear this one mentioned when people of my generation speak nostalgically of childhood shows, but make no mistake about it — Talespin was awesome.)

1992: Darkwing Duck (“Suck gas, evildoer.”)

1993: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Nerd…)

1994 – 1995: The Tick (The biggest gut-punch cancellation of my life — I had absolutely no warning. I turned on the TV, expecting to see the follow-up to another brilliant Speak episode, and instead I got some piece of crap garbage crap dump toilet brown crap called Eagle-Crap-Jerk-Riders. I was so traumatized that the piece of crap theme song is still burned into my memory. I’m still so mad about it I can’t even write coherently.)

1996 – 2002: The Simpsons (I hung on about two seasons too long.)

2003 – 2005: NFL football (This was a dark period — in retrospect, it should’ve been Arrested Development.)

2006: Friday Night Lights (The favorite of favorites — the only show I’ve ever aggressively pestered people to watch. In fact, I’m going to pester you right now. Watch it. It’s the best. You’ll love it. Unfortunately, it can only qualify for one year on this list because the show got jerked around so much. Season 1 was the only one I enjoyed “purely” as it was airing. Season 2 was a little disenchanting, and I caught the last three brilliant seasons through a combination of re-airing on NBC, Hulu, and DVD.)

2007 – 2008: The Office (I still love The Office, but we can all admit its best days are behind it.)

2009: Lost (I was all in during season 5 — and then, well, then that other season happened.)

2010: Modern Family (A good show that got a huge bump because ABC was the only channel I got that year — I mean, Wipeout was in the running for goodness sake.)

2011: Parks and Recreation

Five thoughts on Parks and Rec:

1. Of all people, it was the inclusion of straight-laced Ben that pushed the show over the top for me. He arrived at the same time as Chris (Rob Lowe), a character who is a million times funnier (all it takes is one “AnnePerkins!” and he’s already got me cracking up), but Chris was just one more crazy/funny character on a show that had a wealth of them.

Ben, however, brought that essential quality of being the stand-in for the viewer (this used to be Anne’s roll, but she started to go a little crazy herself during season 3).

Ben is the only one who doesn’t crack up at Crazy Ira and the Douche’s radio bits. Ben is the only one who is dumbfounded when everyone — Ron included (or more accurately, especially Ron) — seems to be pathologically in love with the miniature horse Li’l Sebastian.

Ben and his conspiratorial glances at the camera (trademark: Jim Halpert) keeps the show grounded somewhat in reality, which, by contrast, makes the crazy things that happen around him seem even crazier. (And like fellow straight-man Jim Halpert, Ben gets to be really funny on occasion as well, especially in pressure situations.)

2. I love the way Parks and Rec portrays police officers. The show avoids the easy cliche of the out-of-shape, donut-scarfing cop. Rather, building off the model established by the brilliant Louis C. K., the police officers on Parks and Rec are professional and polite, but also almost painfully stiff, conversing with Leslie and others in a clipped, jargon-peppered dialect — making for a respectful portrayal that doesn’t have to sacrifice humor in the process.

3. Ron Swanson is the evolutionary Hank Hill — a staunchly conservative character who nevertheless is beloved by audiences across the political spectrum.

They are both men of simple passions. (Hank loves propane; Ron loves meat.) They are both routinely victorious over hippies/euphorians. (Hank often literally kicks euphorians in the ass; Ron wins a cook-off by serving a plain all-beef hamburger patty on a plain bun.)

But only Ron rocks a sweet, sweet stache. (I did, after all, call him the evolutionary Hank Hill.)

4. My only complaint against the show is that it occasionally ventures a step too far into Crazy Land. There’s the mural of the traveling magician who visited Pawnee and was burned at the stake — in 1973. And there are smaller moments that aren’t as obviously crazy but still break the illusion of reality, such as when Ben appears on a daytime talk-show and a graphic labels him “Human Disaster.”

These are funny moments, yes, but they feel undisciplined. Parks and Rec is a fantastic show — it shouldn’t have to resort to breaking the “reality” it has established just to go for a couple of easy laughs.

5. Number 4, though, isn’t really a big deal at all.

So that is, literally, all the thoughts I have ever had about Parks and Rec.

Tell me what you think of the show.

Tell me if you have seen the show. (I probably should have put this one first. Oh well, I already typed it this way — there’s no way to change it now.)

Tell me your list of favorite shows, year-by-year.

And tomorrow, remember to watch the season premiere of Parks and Rec — the Greatest Show in Television History.

— Reinman


  1. Parks and Rec is, literally, the best show on TV right now. Seriously.

    • Ha! Thanks, Chris.

  2. I am also a big fan of Parks and Rec! I giggled at your top tv through the ages. We are the same age and I loved many of the shows you mentioned. I fondly remember watching Tailspin with my brother. We also recently had a conversation about how the Borg episodes in Star Trek: TNG were like the Superbowl of Star Trek and should have had better commercials. Alright, I’m a super dork….

    • You’re totally right. “The Best of Both Worlds” was the Nerd Superbowl — complete with the seemingly never-ending halftime.

      (As for the game itself, the Borg held a three-point lead at the half and stretched it to ten in the third quarter when Locutus audibled to “Wolf 359.” But in the fourth, the Federation lulled the defense to sleep and pulled out a dramatic, last-second victory.)

      “Mr. Worf…fire.” Greatest nerd cliffhanger ever?

  3. Are you insane? Seriously, Parks and Rec? Have you seen Mad Men? No, I haven’t either. But is has to be better than Parks and Rec. Kudos though on bringing up Ducktales, my all time favorite. I still sometimes watch pirated episodes on youtube. Honorable mention to Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers. And…I don’t know the years but I have to include Airwolf, McGuyver, ER (seasons 1-3), and House (seasons 1-4). Why do shows pretty much suck beginning in season 5? Other than MASH. Like MASH, The Office will return to greatness.

    • If you gave up on Parks and Rec after an episode or two (as I, and most of America, did), you’ve got to give it another shot — Ron Swanson alone is worth the price of admission.

      He’s a government-hating, meat-consuming all-American hero.

  4. Brilliant.
    Emma loves Duck Tales.

    My shows: (too tired to research the dates)
    bullwinkle and rocky
    captain kangaroo
    MANY, TOO MANY Saturday cartoons in the late 60’s, early 70’s
    Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in
    The Magician, starring Bill Bixby. He played Tony Blake, a magician who solved crimes. The hook was, they used no trick photography. Bixby learned and performed all the illusions his character usedmin the show. Speaking of Bill Bixby:
    The Incredible Hulk
    The ORIGINAL Saturday Night Live (he said, snobbishly)
    Notre Dame highlights from that day’s game, which ran right before SNL, on KBJR, which was then called WDSM. I remember a young QB, Joe, Monteago, or Oaklahoma, or something playing at the time. Got drafted by the 49 ers. Never amounted to much.
    And of course, the Besides MJ Thursday night line up on NBC in the early 80’s:
    The Cosby Show
    Family Ties
    Night Court
    And (without which there would never have been an LA Law, NYPD Blue, St Elsewhere, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Desparate Housewives, or possibly even Mad Men) I’m talking about the greatest, grittiest standard by which all other ensemble cast dramas are measured, the greatest cop show ever…

    T.J Hooker.

    • Part of the challenge of making my list was leaving off certain great shows (Seinfeld, King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle, Community) because they never quite won the year.

      Just like MJ cost a lot of great players a ring, so did The Simpsons’ long run deprive shows of a similarly prestigious honor — a spot on my blog post list.

      Would Hill Street Blues have swept every year, leaving the other shows title-less? Or did one of the comedy shows ever have a transcendent season that pushed it over the top?

      I suppose, on the other hand, you could cheat and say that Thursday Night NBC was a single “team” competing against other networks and programing blocks.

      If we take that approach, there have been three dynasties in my TV Viewing League:

      1. Disney Afternoon, late ’80s – early ’90s
      2. FOX Sunday Night, late ’90s
      3. NBC Thursday Night, late aughts – early teens (Ugh, writing that last era was so awkward — stupid new century.)

  5. Oooiiiooo! (Talespin)
    Oooiiieee! (Talespin)

    I can oft be heard singing the Talespin theme song. No one else seems to understand it, though they do seem to enjoy the catchy lyrics.

    Friends for life through thick and thin! It’s another Talespin!!!
    SPIN IT!!

  6. My number 1 favorite food wrapped around my number 3 favorite food. I’d go to a benefit honoring those Somali pirates if they served bacon-wrapped shrimp.

    My brother and I quote Ron Swanson to eachother non-stop. I probably have about 20 texts on my phone right now of old Swanson gems (see example above). We have also started quoting Tom Haverford, because it’s been awhile since a new episode has aired.

    Jerry! You killed DJ Roomba!

    I also inexplicably love to sing choice Mouserat songs like “The Pit”.

    Some additional Swansonisms from my phone . . .

    Ron: I suffer from a disorder called sleep fighting.
    Leslie: That must be terrible.
    Ron: Only when I’m losing.

    My idea of a perfect government is one guy who sits in a small room at a desk, and the only thing he’s allowed to decide is who to nuke.

    To your “I love the way the show portrays police officers” I offer “I love the way the show portrays townspeople.” Townspeople are like irrational, frenzied sheep, and town meetings are hilarious.

    “Where are my kids supposed to play?! Rock quarry?!?! There’s rocks there!!”

    On a less interesting (at least less Swansonesque) note, my favorite shows are eerily similar to yours. Probably add something like Spiderman or X-men in there for some grades school year, and you got it. Also, Carmen Sandiego should probably be on there at some point, and Price is Right might make it for one summer vacation somewhere in history. MacGyver also makes the list, but as with the rest, I’m fuzzy about the dates where it fits in.

    • Nice! Just this morning I was singing “The Pit” to myself. And now I realize that in the post, I didn’t even mention Andy, (or Bert Macklin, FBI), or April, or Tom, or Jean-Ralphio, or Jerry (obviously the “Toby” of the show, only this time everyone hates him) — man, everyone’s hilarious. I love Parks and Rec.

      I also love that they all hate the library so much.

      Ron: “Of course [Tammy] is working at the library. The worst person in the world working at the worst place in the world.”

      It reminds me of when Bart, walking through the Simpson home, noticed a bookshelf and remarked under his breath, “Stupid books.”

      By the way, your Ron Swanson quotes had the Jilb absolutely cracking up in the McDonald’s drive-through. She’s the best — appreciating the greatness of Ron Swanson while simultaneously ordering me burgers.

      Which reminds me, for whatever reason, I really loved that hamburger cook-off episode, especially when Ron was observing the hippies in their natural habitat.

      The best line from that episode:

      Chris: Have you ever tried a turkey burger?
      Ron: Is that a fried turkey leg inside a grilled hamburger? If so, yes, delicious.

      Bring on the premiere!

      (And R.I.P., DJ Roomba)

      • All this talk of Ron Swanson makes me very happy. Very happy indeed.

      • The cook-off episode is James’ favorite.

        Tom: This tastes like Beyonce smells, I would imagine.

        Food n Stuff. This is where I buy all of my food . . . and most of my stuff.

        April: (drops dead crows at checkout) Can i get these?
        Ron: How much for the birds?
        Store clerk: $2
        Ron: (nods affirmatively) Good deal.

        Chris: What do I get if I win?
        Ron: The rarest jewel of all: Victory over me. Ron Swanson.

        That would be a sweet jewel indeed.

  7. […] The Best Show on Television – This post makes the case for Parks and Recreation as the current champion.  Along the way, he lists some of his favorite shows and agrees with us: 1996 – 2002: The Simpsons (I hung on about two seasons too long.) […]

  8. Thanks to everyone for not listing 30 Rock.

    Thanks to JMS for getting the Tailspin song stuck in my head at work ALL DAY!

    • Ha Ha HA!

      I’m not laughing at you. That’s just the conclusion of the Talespin theme.

      Also, beware of Don Carnage.

  9. I tried man, I really tried. You were right on in helping to push me in the direction of the Office, but I can’t do Parks and Rec. I watched about ten minutes of an episode and had to subdue the urge to punch my computer screen. It doesn’t help that I put Amy Poehler on par with every other female Saturday Night Live alum, not funny. There is the chance that I am wrong though, since I seem to be the only person in America who does not like Two and a Half Men.

  10. No, you’re right — “Two and Half Men” is awful. (I can say that confidently without having seen a single episode — it’s just so obviously the truth.)

    If you started by watching a Season 1 episode (which is the proper way to do it), I would urge you, one more time, to at least stick it out until Season 2. Much like The Office, the show didn’t really find its voice until the second season.

    In fact, Leslie’s character is a great example — she’s a bit more naive/grating in the early episodes, but (again, like Michael) her character becomes more refined as the show goes on, balancing the crazy with genuine moments of pathos.

    If you make it a few episodes into Season 2 and still don’t like it, then I give up, and I’ll just write this one off as another “Raiders” / “Last Crusade” situation.

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