Red Eye is talking about the “smartest” TV shows, according to Mensa President M. R. Knowitall. The list is uninspired. I liked these shows,but “M*A*S*H” wasn’t smart so much as reinforcing a particular political point of view. (This can be applied to several shows on the list.) I mean, for a show about war, it was phenomenally stupid about how war is actually conducted. And “CSI” uses science slightly less rigorously than “Star Trek” did.
Of course, I have to wonder how someone claiming to be so smart could also have a broad enough experience with The Vast Wasteland to put together a truly authoritative list. It takes a moron who has destroyed his brain with countless hours of TV viewing to do that.
And with that in mind, I’ll throw out a few “smart” shows. But first I’m going to exclude science, history and other non-fiction programs because duh. “Cosmos” was great, and smart, but being about science, it could’ve sucked and still been smart, being about science and all. I’m also going to stick to American programming, if for no other reason than to keep things manageable. (“Doctor Who” gets an honorable mention anyway.)
Dennis Miller Live. So smart even he didn’t get his own humor.
Mystery Science Theater 3000. You heard me. The beauty of the show was the way it jumped from the highly intelligent to the wonderfully juvenile and back in seconds.
Playhouse 90. Brilliant writing that survived horrible butchery in the form of sponsor censorship.
The Simpsons. The early seasons in particular not only referenced highly erudite material, but was one of the great social satires ever written.
NBC News Overnight. News programs–network news shows with TelePrompTer are almost unrelentingly stupid–but this one was an exception that not only looked at stories with a bit more depth, it didn’t treat the audience like they were stupid. I lost a lot of sleep as a kid the summer and fall when it was on.
Futurama. Steeped in science and physics with two codes (so far) embedded into the program for interested cryptographers.
Northern Exposure. This comedy was smart enough to get an Emmy for best drama. Which I guess means more that the Emmy voters were stupid. (Or was it Golden Globes?)
Deadwood. This was a challenging show on a lot of levels. The dialog was a mixture of obscenities and pseudo-victorian-cant that often required several viewings to parse and then several more to actually comprehend.
America/Fernwood 2 Night. They mentioned this on Red Eye. I’m going on largely positive memories that I have. After 30 years, it might not seem as smart as it did at the time.
I would give the guy Jeopardy, but it’s not really any smarter than, say, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The questions are harder, sure, for some definition of “hard”, but I actually think, if you’re going to include game shows, the smarter ones–in terms of challengng the viewer–are things like “Wheel of Fortune” or “The Price Is Right”.
‘cause, look, if you don’t know the name of Alexander the Great’s horse, you don’t know it. (It was Bocephalus. Go look it up!) But you might be able to figure out the “popular catch phrase” with one more letter, or make a strategic guess about the price of a reclining armchair, even if you haven’t gone shopping lately or seen “Saturday Night Live” since it was funny.
So, I’m gonna round out my ten with Maverick. Interspersed amongst the gun fights and fistfights was a character who would go out of his way to avoid both, and it often had plots that kept you guessing often enough that you were surprised when the plot was resolved with some sort of violence.
These shouldn’t be confused with “best” shows, either, although they were darn good, and many of them are going to appear on some folks’ top ten lists. And I can think of a few other really smart shows, like “Moonlighting”, and a whole boatload of shows that started smart and ended stupid. (“X-Files” anyone?)
But hey, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.