Probably the hardest thing for a television show producer or writer to do is to try and capture the feeling or attitude of a certain place or time. If your show is set in, say, Washington DC, you need to make sure that there's plenty of fast talking people in suits. If your show is set in New York, you need to make sure that your show has plenty of fast talking people in suits who eat hot dogs from street vendors (because their lives are very fast paced you see). If your show is set in LA, it had better have plenty of fast talking people in suits who also wear sunglasses.
But let's say that your show is set in the heartland of America. How do you capture the nuance of a part of the country that features one of the biggest clashes between old world and new world sensibilities? How do you convey the angst that comes with the death of one way of life and the birth of another? How do you portray the interaction between established homogeneously white communities and large influxes of immigrants into those communities?
Well, I mean, that's stupid. You don't. People from the Midwest are simple rubes, probably fat, and are completely unacquainted with the complexities of life in the 2010's. Showing a television audience a program about people from the Midwest dealing with mature, emotionally complex material is the equivalent of asking them to buy into a dog reviewing opera for a living or an elephant in a sexy dress.
The following are a bunch of shows that made a noble, but ultimately futile effort to convince the rest of the country that people from the flyover parts of the US are anything but the blobs of easily swayed goo that they are.
11. Iowa- "Julie"
"Remember Julie Andrews? Now she's back, in TV form! And she's married to veterinarian or something! And she's gonna sing a duet with a monkey! YES WE ARE AWARE THAT MONKEYS CAN'T SING JUST WATCH IT YOU SLACK JAWED YOKELS"
Canceled after six episodes. A seventh episode was produced, and rumor has it that the tape was buried somewhere in the vast farmland of Iowa. Kirk Ferentz has been frantically combing the state for its existence, knowing that he only has a mere seven years left on his contract as time slips through his fingers like so many kernels of corn.
10. Nebraska- "Rachel Gunn, RN"
Rachel Gunn, RN was kind of perfect in a kind of calculated beauty through its amazingly transparent attempt to get middle America to watch it.
To begin with, it starred Christine Ebersole, which was exactly the kind of pan-faced, non-sexual protagonist that TV executives imagine all Midwesterners can relate to. Also the name "Rachel Gunn" is only two steps removed from something like "Prudence Wontmakeyoufeellikeyourdesperatelysadexistenceisaresultofpoorlifechoices."
Actual funny person Megan Mullally was on this show, and I guess I'll throw it a bone by saying it's cool they cast an actual Native American dude in the role of a Native American (and that alone puts it above every other show set in Nebraska). On the other hand, the show is unfunny and blows.
9. Wisconsin- "Step by Step"
No, they weren't all happy days when Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Sommers, in a play for some steamy 80s celebrity sex, moved their combined seven kids into a house together in this mid-90s TGIF staple. Oftentimes, their brood would tell each other to sit on it, but in their hearts of hearts they loved each other like a hardware store owner loves his 1949 DeSoto.
Step By Step is remembered for its famous episode where a shirtless Cody Lambert drove his van over a shark tank while yelling his famous catchphrase as female members of the audience screamed until their throats filled with blood.
Step By Step is also notable for having one of the highest mullet to normal hair ratios in the history of television, which is something that I tried very hard to ignore as I fostered a nascent crush on Staci Keanan.
8. Pennsylvania- "My So-Called Life"
No disrespect to My So-Called Life by placing it 8th! It was a groundbreaking show that treated teenagers like actual human beings, rather than mildly entertaining screw-ups who learned weekly life lessons after the Dramatic Music came on and dad sat them down on the couch to talk about Serious Stuff.
It was also one of the first shows to treat both gay kids and kids with learning disabilities with any sort of nuance, and star Claire Danes was easily the best part of the show, portraying teenage angst in a painfully realistic way. In retrospect, the acting holds up way, way better than the material they had to work with, but overall My So-Called Life was a genius addition to the TV landscape at a time when it was sorely needed.
Which is why Claire Danes saying "screw this" and peacing out after less than a full season was really, really funny.
7. Michigan- "Freaks and Geeks"
Basically My So-Called Life with jokes, Freaks and Geeks had an absolutely insane amount of actors who would go on to star in Judd Apatow movies, and then later in better movies. This isn't a shock, since the series was conceived by Apatow and Paul Feig, but it's still fun to watch Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Busy Phillipps, and superstar Samm Levine all onscreen together.
Freaks and Geeks is about two siblings who make up part of the "freaks" and "geeks" cliques at their high school in Michigan during the early 80s, and it does a pretty remarkable job at making protagonists out of D&D playing nerds and AC/DC listening stoners without either making them too depressingly serious or too broadly comic. At its core, Freaks and Geeks is a show about inclusion and making friends, and the last of the show's 18 episodes is pretty easily my favorite because of this.
Also there's this one episode where the mega geek gets to kiss a girl in a closet oh man I hope that happens to me one day oh man oh maaannnnnnnn!
6. Illinois- "Roseanne"
Screw it, Roseanne Barr yelling at John Goodman to get off his big fat butt and make sure her daughter is using birth control was about a thousand times more brutal than anything George Clooney pulled out of the windpipe of an asthmatic three year old on ER.
Another thing that I love about Roseanne was its' final season, where it was revealed that all the ridiculously happy and over the top positive developments in Roseanne's life were all BS she made up in her head to keep her from slipping into depression. Viewers and critics hated this and panned the show mercilessly, but to me this was a stroke of genius that took to task every "dumb rednecks from flyover country hit it big" trope that the show was trying to deconstruct in the first place.
5. Indiana- "Parks and Recreation"
Treat yo' self. Stop. Pooping. Cuz I got run over byaLexuuusssss! The 69 train to Humpsville station. A hamburger, with meat, on a bun, with nothing. Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing. I'm never gonna be a cop... I'm gonna have to be a robber. I'm gonna need a different metaphor to give this nine year old.
Etcetera. Parks and Rec is pretty easily one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Co-created by Michael Schur, aka Mose on the Office, aka Ken Tremendous from FireJoeMorgan.com, the show gives me hope that people can be best buds and still be funny. It also gives me hope that maybe I'm also some kind of secret genius who just happens to be blogging about sports and will some day parlay that into creating a syndication-ready television show that will make me tens of dollars.
4. Minnesota- "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"
The Mary Tyler Moore show starred a woman named Ed Asner, who dealt with her generally annoying underlings at TV station WJM in Minneapolis.
Considered to be one of the most important and groundbreaking shows in television history, it followed Asner through the ups and downs of her love life, but also portrayed her as an independent woman who garnered respect from her coworkers, including Asner's gruff (but loveable) boss, played by Mary Tyler Moore.
It helped that Ed Asner was also easy going on the eyes, sporting fashionable miniskirts that showed off her legendarily pale and hairy legs, and frequent combover style changes that made her the talk of watercoolers around America.
3. New Jersey- "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"
Sopranos creator David Chase wanted us to think about hero worship and power structures in an inherently violent and disgusting system, which is great and all, but think about this David:
A show about talking fast food, including a big lump of meat literally called "Meatwad" and a carton of fries that shoots lasers out of its eyes, says more about the American dream than you ever could. Boom!
I mean, in some ways, don't we all want to taste from the Broodwich? Don't we all want candy, as part of an extensive pyramid scheme to raise the dead? Isn't there just a little Mooninite in all of us? Finally, I submit that Carl Brutananadilewski is the most authentic New Jerseyite to ever appear on TV.
By the way, for anyone over the age of 40 reading this, remember that people now approaching legitimate positions of power in government watched this amazing crap all through high school and college. Just so you have something to think about tonight.
2. Maryland- "The Wire"
"I gotta ask ya: if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away, why'd you even let him in the game?"
"Well, if Snot Boogie always stole the money, why'd you let him play?"
"Got to. This is America, man."
That is the opening scene of the first episode of The Wire, a show about crime and corruption at all levels of government in Baltimore. It is also David Simon's thesis statement, which he developed as a police reporter in the city, and later as one of the producers and writers of Homicide: Life on the Street.
The Wire is melodramatic, bleak, and filled with outlandish and oversized characters that seem beyond the reality that Simon was trying to present, but the corruption and despair that the show so relentlessly portrays feels as real and authentic as any documentary that has ever been shot.
Nothing like it has ever really been attempted on such a wide scale, and by showing the struggles of politicians, stick up artists, teachers, drug addicts, kids, the police, and every day people living on the streets of Baltimore, it gave people who don't have to deal with that desperation a look at why change in our inner cities has to be a priority for us as a society.
The Wire is possibly the greatest achievement in American television drama history. It never won a single Emmy.
1. Ohio- "Clarissa explains it all"
You probably wanted me to go with Family Ties or WKRP in Cincinnati here, didn't you? But you forgot that this is an objective list, detailing the plusses and minuses of various television shows through careful and thorough analysis, and shows about hippies raising Republicans or a radio station that Loni Anderson's boobs work at just don't pass the mustard.
No, that distinction goes to easily the best piece of media ever produced by human hands, Clarissa Explains It All. Melissa Joan Hart starred as the titular Clarissa, who, over the course of 173 seasons, explained literally everything anyone could possible need to know about how to function as a human being. Scientists have begun incubating children in extended Learn-O-Pods where they will be exposed to the show 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until they reach 21 years of age, at which point they will be fully prepared to enter human society.
Clarissa Explains It All is also important for two other things, first being that it is totally cool for the guy friend of your 14 year old daughter to climb into her window via ladder whenever he damn well feels like. Secondly, the show is also responsible for the creation of the best, most hateable villain in history: FERGUSON.
This loathsome toad was the ultimate fly in the ointment, and represented the bane of every cool kid's existence. A money loving, grubby little suck up, Ferguson was and remains the only TV character I have actively plotted the death of. Your time will come, Ferg-face. Oh yes. It will.
And that does it for this week! Clarissa Explains It All is clearly the best television show in B1G history, and maybe the best show of all time. Clearly. Anyway, next week join us as we look at the best state trees of the Big Ten. I wonder who's going to win!!
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