Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mensa's Top 10

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.


  1. Hey!

    I found your blog via the link on Cinematic Titanic's page. I like the postings you've written here.

    As for this list, good stuff. Though I'd have left Dennis Miller off. I think I'd classify him, as Spy Magazine once did, as having "faux smarts". :)

  2. Yeah, we were talking about what actually constitutes "smart" upstream a bit in the "Smartest Show Ever?" thread.

    The thing about Dennis Miller is that it's challenging to the viewer even if it shows more obscurity than cleverness on behalf of the writer.

    Does it count? I dunno. Smart guy didn't define for us what he meant. Stupid geniuses.

  3. Thanks for the kind words, by the way.

    Later we can throw down about C# and Kempo....

  4. I never throw down -- I discuss in a friendly manner. :)

  5. That's too bad! We need some violence on this site to draw the crowds.

    Pointy breasts and kicks to the face, that's what the people want. Also curly braces for the nerds....

  6. Off-topic: I had to laugh at your mentions of "The Boy". My wife and I have a son who we often refer to as "The Boy" because of The Simpsons and how Homer, in the earlier episodes, would refer to Bart that way.

    Also: I liked your Futurama reference about seeing a 2. :)

  7. Heh. There's no such thing as 2!

    I forget where I got "The Boy" from. I don't think it was "The Simpson's" though that show is insidiously influential.

    Roald Dahl had all sisters, so he used to sign his letters to his mom as "Boy". (And I recommend his short bio by the same name.)

    The other influence was, believe it or not, the Phantasm series. The Tall Man referred to the lead as "Boooooooooy!" I do that sometimes, too....

  8. I'll have to check out that book, thanks. I'm not very familiar with his work, other than the obvious one of course.

    As for 2, I'm reminded of a shirt I saw somewhere that said "There are only 10 types of people in this world: those who understand binary and those who don't." Clever. Geeky, but clever. :)

    Wow, Phantasm...I don't think I've ever seen any of those, but I have a friend who is a big gore fan. He and I also used to watch a lot of really bad movies together. Which takes me back to MST3K/Cinematic Titanic. :)

    I noticed you had some mentions of Delphi here. While I'm not a Delphi programmer myself (C#), I've known a couple and they all swear by it. Also, you mentioned in one of your programming-related posts that you would never hire a programmer who didn't also program for fun. That's a good point. I could put all of the programmers I've ever worked with into one of two categories: those who program at work and never touch a computer when they get home, and those who program at work and then in their spare time as well. I definitely fall into that latter category, and I guess you do too.

  9. Roald Dahl kids' books are good even when you're an adult.

    However, there are Tales of the Unexpected if you're looking for classics like "Lamb to the Slaughter".

    Phantasm was fairly gripping at the time, and I still find it watchable. I think there are five in the series, but I've only seen the first three. The director's magnum opus is probably Bubba Ho-Tep.

    I actually meant for this blog to be more technical. It just hasn't worked out that way yet. I'm a Delphi guy going back to before it was released. (C# is very comfortable for me.) These days I'm doing more Smalltalk.

    I noticed the money in the '90s brought a lot of don't-really-wannabes to the field. Ick.


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