The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) has published a list of the “101 Best Written TV Series”, honoring the outstanding creativity and writing from television’s inception to today’s massive landscape of channels and programs. Out of the 101, two animated series made the list: The Simpsons and South Park.
What stands out in the list, whether the show is live action, comedy, drama, or animated, is that it’s all about character. Writer and critic Paul Brownfield wrote in the introduction to the list:
“Then, as now, it comes down to character—from Lucy Ricardo and Archie Bunker to Andy Griffith and Andy Sipowicz. There are kinships across generations—from ‘The Honeymooners’ to ‘Roseanne’, say, or from ‘The Twilight Zone’ to ‘Lost’. Regardless of the year, or genre, what emerges is a common dynamic between show and audience, the kind of lasting intimacy that writers telling episodic stories are uniquely able to achieve… The audience is not the community it once was, but many different ones, discovering great shows incrementally, and on a multitude of devices. But on this list, at least, a show like ‘M*A*S*H’, for whose finale the nation tuned in en masse, exists in the same conversation as a short-lived, rediscovered gem like ‘Freaks and Geeks’. Because both shows represent the same question—not how many watched but how deep did the writing go?”
The Simpsons, which is number 11 on the list, has been running on Fox since 1989, making it the longest running scripted show in television history. Created by Matt Groening, the series with its “subversive humor and delightful wit…has made an indelible print on American pop culture, and the family members have become television icons.” (Even Homer’s catchphrase of “Doh” has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary—“used to comment on a foolish or stupid action, especially one’s own.”)
South Park, which ties with the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond for the number 63 spot on the list, has been a staple on Comedy Central since 1997. Created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the show just keeps on dishing out the brilliant (and crude) comedy, satire and commentary. “The cut-out crudeness of the animation has been, from the beginning, a kind of Trojan horse for the show’s scatology and more pointed comedic aims,” according to the WGAW. “Over the years, Stone and Parker have seen their network pull episodes for poking fun at the Prophet Muhammad and Tom Cruise. Such controversy is what makes the series more than a lark, giving it the well-deserved reputation of offending where others fear to tread.”
From the WGAW website:
“The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers of motion pictures, television, radio, and Internet programming, including news and documentaries. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers, and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national, and international levels. For more information on the WGAW, please visit: www.wga.org.”