The Lost Art of Syndication: My Top 5 Shows To Binge Watch

To finish what I started last month with my thoughts on the lost art of syndicated television (click here, in case you forgot), I feel I need a follow up post discussing the current state of television.  If you haven’t noticed a lot has changed since the 80’s and 90’s shows I wrote about previously.  With modern streaming services giving you easy access to whole seasons at a time, it has made every plot into an overarching story line.  Gone are the days of picking up a single episode of a show without asking yourself, “Who are all these characters I have never seen before?”  Or “Why does my favorite character not have any arms?”

I’m not just talking about your favorite shows that you like so much that you could watch them for a whole weekend.  I’m talking about shows that if you don’t watch them all at the same time, you spend most of your time Googling plot discussions to figure out what in the world is going on.  With these shows it is almost a requirement to be binge watched, or else they are impossible to watch.

With that said, here are my top 5 shows that I think epitomizes binge watching:

 

 

The Walking Dead – You would think a show about zombies killing people or being killed by people would be a pretty simple watch.  The reason that is not the case, is because this show is quite frankly a soap opera.  Did Glen just die in that dumpster?  Who is this Governor guy?  Where did this baby come from?  There is no way you could pick up a later season episode of this show and have any idea what’s going on without watching previous seasons.

 

Dexter – The inclusion of Dexter on this list is somewhat questionable.  The show has overarching story lines throughout but there is still a lot of consistency around the main plot.  Dexter is in the same job, the same office, and many of the same characters are around him through each season.  The show, however, likes to have a main theme for each season.  It will introduce a new arch enemy for Dexter at the beginning of the season and then build on that until season’s end.  At the beginning of the new season, there are always slight differences but the scenario starts over anew.

The reason I make the binge watching requirement for this show is because if you tune in to see John Lithgow, Colin Hanks or Mos Def without any backstory you are going to be completely lost.

 

 

House of Cards – I didn’t specify whether this was the British or American version but I guess both apply.  This show has twists and turns at every corner.  Main characters come and go, some even die from time to time.  The main character changes jobs pretty frequently, moving further and further up the food chain.

I could see someone turning on season 4 and wondering why Kevin Spacey’s hair is so gray, how he became president or why Claire is so annoying.  Scratch that last one from the list.  Claire is annoying from beginning to end.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost – This show is a little older than all of the others on the list but I can remember a time when it was the king of the water cooler conversations.  I never had the patience to watch it in real time.  I waited until after the show’s finale to watch my first episode actually.

For a show that basically starts as a revamped Gilligan’s Island it quickly is clear that it’s not made for syndication.  Even though there should be a limited number of new characters available since it’s an island, the show always has an influx of new spirals.

Even watching the show on Netflix within about a 6 week period I often found myself saying, “What the heck is this bunker they’re in?”

 

 

 

Breaking Bad – If I only had to choose one show for this topic, I think Breaking Bad would probably be my choice.  The main couple of characters stay the same but everything else about this show gets turned on its head at one point or another.  Walter and Jesse’s living conditions, romantic situations, and circumstances around their work changes from season to season.

There is enough detail in the stories that it would make it tough to pick up and watch later, without having trouble piecing together the action.

 

 

 

 

Those are my top 5 shows that are synonymous with binge watching, let me know yours…

 

The Lost Art of Syndication: First 5 Shows to Randomly Watch

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I feel like I was witness to the golden age in rerun television.  At any point during the day you could flip on the TV and immediately be pulled into a random sitcom or detective show.  In this day and age there is programming of all genres available at your fingertips whenever you want it.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good thing and in no way want to return to the 13 channels of basic cable programming available to me in my formative years.  But at the same time, I feel like modern TV shows have lost the simple pleasures I found in syndicated reruns because of the oversaturation and availability of entire seasons that you get with streaming services.

With a good rerun, outside of the dreaded “To Be Continued” episode, there is really no need for a backstory or any understanding of previous episodes.  There are not many overarching story lines that you need to know about in order to understand what you are watching.  The main characters need to stay pretty consistent throughout all seasons so that you don’t have good and bad seasons because of the cast.  How annoying would it be to tune in to Walker, Texas Ranger expecting to see the stunning Chuck Norris only to find out for the last couple seasons of the show they cast Steven Segal in the lead role?

There is a time and place for binge watching shows with overly complicated plots that stretch across multiple seasons but this list is only for shows that you can keep in a list of favorites, picking up an episode here and there for amusement and stress relief.  With that said, here are the first 5 shows in my rerun rolodex of good times:

 

The Rockford Files – Need I say more?  Quite possibly the greatest show ever produced, The Rockford Files was on for 6 seasons through the 70’s.  It stars James Garner as the main character and his sweet Firebird as the most notable reoccurring co-star.  The plots are all pretty similar with the main theme being a hard luck private detective comes out on top and catches the bad guy after first encountering some issues.  Anytime you combine James Garner, a Firebird and frequent breakfast tacos you might as well go ahead and sign me up.

 

 

 

Seinfeld – While I was in college, TBS would run two episodes of Seinfeld every afternoon/evening.  That means by the time I graduated I had probably seen every episode at least 8 times.  Even though I know each episode like the back of my hand, I can still laugh along as if it was the first time I watched it.  The cast stayed pretty much the same throughout the shows run and the storylines were all reset at the end of each episode.  The stories for each show were so unique that the episodes could be shuffled and the show would still have the same effect.

 

 

 

Matlock – Andy Griffith was close to making this list twice but I chose this show in particular because its cast didn’t contain Warren the replacement deputy.  Seriously though, this show is a consistent watch.  His lead investigator changed a couple times and his female co-attorney seemed to come and go but the storylines for this show were all basically a reset.  Every episode would start with a bad guy committing a crime, Ben Matlock playing the role of a fool, a lot of noisy eating scenes with hot dogs and eventually Matlock winning the case.  Did he ever lose a case?

 

 

 

Cheers – I’ve watched this show through a couple times and I still find it pretty funny.  There is some turnover in characters with Coach dying/being replaced by Woody (Harrelson) and Diane (Shelly Long) being replaced by Rebecca (Kirstie Alley).  The core characters that come and go in the bar though pretty much stayed throughout its run.  Sam, Norm, Cliff and Carla are enough to keep a good synergy and plot line going that keeps the show watchable from beginning to end.  The atmosphere of the bar and the way it comes across as a big family is what sells the show.

 

 

Murder, She Wrote – Angela Lansbury is the equivalent of a female James Garner basically.  I couldn’t imagine the role of Jessica Fletcher being played by anyone else.  There was some turnover in the other cast members and the location of the episodes changed frequently, but for the most part the plots were pretty consistent.   Every episode someone would drop dead and it was up to Jessica to solve it because law enforcement was clueless.  Even though she was a mystery writer, she somehow got a crazy amount of access to open cases.  How come she was never suspected of the crimes?  Everywhere she went, people were giving up the ghost left and right.

 

Close but no cigar (and the reasons why):  

The Andy Griffith Show (After Barney left, the show was never the same.  If a Warren episode comes on I might just put my foot through my TV)

The Dukes of Hazzard (The Coy & Vance years)

Law & Order (The cast had a lot of turnover and some down years)

The Office (Without Michael Scott the show suffered.  It even had an awkward season with Will Ferrell)

Magnum P.I. (Tom Selleck is no James Garner)

 

Leave a comment and let me know how your top five mindless rerun favorites compare…