As the best TV grows in consistency, depth, and prestige, it’s a familiar leap to apply the metaphor of literature to the most acclaimed shows.
Here are the shows I would include in my TV version of the “Great Books’’ series.
“The Andy Griffith Show’’
Morality tales, family bonds, and small-town life gone by.
The age of the dysfunctional family got its own farcical opus.
A tightly written, Kafkaesque portrait of personal transformation and a man driven to extremes by fear.
“Friday Night Lights’’
Brought realism to the notion of a “happy marriage’’ and showed a local community creating meaning.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show’’
A snapshot of America’s Camelot that brought situation comedy to a new level of honesty.
It pushed serial storytelling to the outer limits, asking the viewer to work to piece together a global and cosmic puzzle.
A fine literary melodrama, and an anti-nostalgic look back at an era of change.
Stripped the sitcom of sentimentality and sent-up small-mindedness and urban life.
The relentlessness of American pop culture, embedded in a family comedy.
“Six Feet Under’’
A finely written melodrama about finding life in the company of death.
Took TV drama in a new anti-heroic direction, told its stories through a fascinating psychological lens, and brought mass audiences to cable.
A haunting epic about crime, poverty, drugs, and helplessness, and the antipathy between individuals and social systems.