Jeffrey Malone’s 50 Favorite TV Shows of All Time

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You can learn a lot about people from their favorite television programs. TV viewing involves spending a lot of time with fictional characters and more or less forming relationships with them. Who we choose to spend our time with says a lot about our own personalities. With that in mind, here are the current standings for my 50 favorite shows of all time.

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Best Episode of the Season: Futurama Season 7-B

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Season Analysis: Futurama was energized in its final batch of new episodes, adding a few new entries to its pantheon of all-time classics.

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TIE: “Murder on the Planet Express” and “Meanwhile”
Throughout its run, Futurama established a reputation for engaging both the head and the heart.  It explored legitimately engaging science fiction concepts and managed to be one of the most poignant animated series in television history.  I had to pick two episodes as the best of Futurama’s 2013 output, as they respectively exemplified these two major aspects. “Murder on the Planet Express” mish-mashed the trickery and paranoia of The Thing, The Game, and Alien in a nifty tale in which a trust-building exercise for the Planet Express crew quickly turns into a fight for survival as a hitchhiker turns out to be a murderous shape-shifting alien that mimics and eats the members of the crew one by one, and then it turns out this shape shifter was part of the trust exercise all along.
The series finale, “Meanwhile,” used a much simpler concept to achieve a much deeper emotional effect.  The Professor has invented a device that can send the user 10 seconds back in time.  Fry plans on using it to watch the sunset over and over as he proposes to Leela, but all the time-jumping goes awry and the device gets broken, thereby freezing time.  Fry and Leela are the only ones who remain unfrozen, and they live out an entire married life together, against the backdrop of the universe at the moment their marriage began.  Eventually, the Professor breaks through via some dimension-hopping and everything is reverted back to pre-10-second-time-travel shenanigans.  Fry and Leela will not remember this time together, but it surely remains in existence in some realm, just as Futurama itself bids us farewell but surely lives on in some way.

Best Episode of the Season: Futurama Season 7-A

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Season Analysis: It’s not like the 2012 output of Futurama was bad or anything, it’s just that there wasn’t anything about it that really excited me.

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“Decision 3012”
One of Futurama’s major strengths has been its ability to take social and political issues of the day and demonstrate how they could continue to crop up 1,000 years from now, such as the endlessness of political debates (the 3012 debate is the 3,012th debate of the 3012 election) and mathematically unsound economic policy (candidates are asked point blank if they believe they can lower taxes and fix the deficit).  The biggest target of this episode is the birther movement, in which the Earth citizenship of Senator Chris Zaxxar Travers (running against the head of President Nixon for President of Earth) is called into question.  Futurama adds its sci-fi bent to the social commentary, as it turns out that Senator Travers cannot produce his “Earth certificate” because he is a time traveler who has not been born on Earth yet.  Eventually, in true Futurama fashion, what started as a takeoff of the political issues of the 21st century became its own thing, with time travel paradoxes and erasure from existence.

Best Episode of the Season: Futurama Season 6-B

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Season Analysis: The second half of season 6 did not feature any outstanding efforts to stand among the series greats, but it was easily consistently strong enough to justify its continued existence.

“Neutopia”

“Neutopia” takes on one of Futurama’s favorite themes: gender relations, perhaps its most favorite non-future-specific theme.  Regarding human affairs, gender relations are a timeless matter, and this episode takes the fitting approach of dealing with the show’s male-female conflicts as poorly as they have always been dealt with.  The male characters are frequently sexist, blatantly and casually so, as if their sexist attitudes simply represent the way things are (“Ladies, here are your demeaning, skimpy stewardess outfits”).  But there is hope, in the form of a bored rock creature alien, who removes the elements of gender from the Planet Express crew with the goal of teaching them … well, it’s not quite sure what it means to teach them.  His attitude is most clearly expressed in lines such as, “So far I have learned nothing.  But that’s probably as much my fault as it is yours,” and, “Perhaps it is I who have learned a lesson.  Or something.”  “Neutopia” does not have much to say about gender relations in general, and it basically does nothing to affect the underlying gender issues on Futurama, nor does it care to.  But it is a funny episode, in that its blasé attitude regarding its ostensible concerns is its own statement: a society that is unwilling – or profoundly unable – to examine its own prejudices is a big joke.

Best Episode of the Season: Futurama Season 6-A

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“The Prisoner of Benda”

Unlike its animated brethren The SimpsonsSouth Park, and Family GuyFuturama does not reflexively target whatever elements of culture it can find in its crosshairs (although it can be successful when it does do that, as evidenced by one of the other top episodes of the season, the “eyePhone”-centric “Attack of the Killer App”).  As it takes place one thousand years into the future, it should not be too surprising that it is most comfortable with episodes that operate within the confines of its own particular universe, with classics such as “Roswell That Ends Well” (Fry becomes his own grandfather), “The Sting” (Leela makes her way through bee sting-induced coma dream worlds), and now “The Prisoner of Benda” serving as prime examples.  With all the body-swapping that took place in “Prisoner”, every character had a chance to shine, and that can only be gratifying to viewers of a show that has a sizable main cast.  One principal result of the swapping was that characters ended up acting silly, in silly ways that had not previously been possible for them, particularly when Zoidberg and Robo-Hungarian emperor Nikolai – in the bodies of Fry and the robot wash bucket, respectively – destroyed Fry and Bender’s apartment, while attempting to assume the lives of Fry and Bender.  Throughout the episode, I laughed while simultaneously my brain was tickled, a combination I cannot deny.

Next up: The Walking Dead