Welcome to Basic TV Week, a celebration of all the bad, perfect, and (mostly) network television we can't get enough of.
America's Funniest Home Videos
The first episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos aired in 1989. It was supposed to be a one-off special. Little did its producers know. Lo-fi recordings of belly-flops, furniture malfunctions, pet hi-jinks, and sibling pranks, it turned out, were incredibly popular. Popular enough to sustain a season’s worth of episodes. Popular enough to sustain thirty. It’s no exaggeration to say AFV has become an American institution. It’s ABC’s longest-running show. It’s been through five hosts, three announcers (Paul Thomas Anderson’s dad was the first), and has inspired countless copycat programs. Granted, it is incredibly dumb (that’s the conceit). But it was also incredibly ahead of its time—more so than any of its prestigious contemporaries. It basically predicted the modern internet; it was YouTube before YouTube, Vine before Vine, Buzzfeed before Buzzfeed. In 2019, the set looks a bit dated, and having a host at all maybe isn’t necessary. But those are also the reasons I like it. At a time when slapstick home recordings are everywhere, AFV is a slow, well-curated vintage. The crown jewel of nut shots and audience-sanctioned child abuse. — Max Cea, writer
Lost* is responsible for two things in my life: (1) a deeply profound and crippling fear of planes, and (2) the first time I became part of a fandom. I remember watching this show every Wednesday night with my mom and sister, and immediately rushing to my family's computer as soon as the episode was done to join a Lost fan-club chatroom on AIM. I'm pretty sure at one point, my friends all had the iconic numbers from the show typed out in their AIM profiles. We were obsessed.
Looking back on it, it's obvious that I was just totally caught up in a very ahead-of-its-time and savvy marketing campaign concocted by the producers of the show. But that's a boring way to look at it. Removed entirely from the context of all the mystery that surrounded the show when it was on air (the island is like, purgatory, or whatever), it now exists as a cultural artifact that reminds me of what it was like to be young, curious, and completely consumed by something. — Gabe Conte, web producer
Because I watch TV for a living, I always make sure to have one show in my rotation )a) that I'm likely not going to write about, (b) whose plot I'm not super invested in, and (c) that I watch alone, under a blanket, while shoveling warm carbs into my mouth in a semi-feral state. Give Younger all the Emmys for this! The series is about a 40-year-old woman named Liza (Sutton Foster) who re-enters the job market after she gets divorced and sends her daughter to college, only to find that the massive gap in her resume makes her unemployable. So she pretends to be 27 and lands a gig as a publishing assistant. Younger has it all: Hillary Duff's triumphant return to television, Debi Mazar as a wise-cracking lesbian roommate, a bizarro-world version of the New York City I inhabit. In fact, it's the ripped-from-the-headlines format that makes me incapable of giving Younger up, and unlike Law and Order, the headlines are not heinous s*x crimes but thinly-veiled gossip about Karl Ove Knausgård. — Gabriella Paiella, staff writer
No matter the time of day or where you are in the world, if you are in proximity to a television there is a 69 percent chance Family Feud is on. No TV show so clearly distills America down to its barest, most brazen elements: there’s typically a white family, a black family, and Steve Harvey with his perfect mustache bristles offering bold theoreticals like: “Name a root vegetable that someone might associate with a part of the male anatomy.” Contestants are set up to reveal their most depraved selves, akin to having your Google search history made public. And the best part is these answers are all polled from some mysterious “survey” conducted God knows where (Tampa? Cedar Rapids? Anaheim?), some nether region of our great nation where everyone is both furiously horny and maybe should have gotten a divorce a decade ago. As far as perfect television goes the Feud is hard to top, and that, Steve, is the number one answer. — Chris Gayomali, site editor
I can't watch The View live—thanks to this "job," I'm booked during the hour it plays live on ABC—but that just means catching up with my favorite women on television is an evening treat that gets me through the day. I've watched The View throughout much of its 22-year run; I, of course, have my favorite panelists—like Meredith Vierra, or Sunny Hostin, or Rosie (sweet, chaotic Rosie). It's the rare daytime show that doesn't treat its viewers like idiots, but still delivers its content in easy-to-eat portions and presentations. Replace every nightly news show with The View and watch the ratings soar. (Oh, and read the recent, excellent Ladies Who Punch for the juiciest, access-driven deep-dive into the show you can find out there. Buy a copy for your friends, too, they deserve it.) — Brennan Carley, associate editor
While it has not surpassed Law & Order or The Simpsons, Grey’s Anatomy is one of the longest running primetime series of all time, heading staunchly into a 16th season this month. The days of McDreamy and McSteamy are far behind us and fanaticism has waned, as have, to be honest, the quality of characters and script. Yet, I remain a loyalist. Mostly to the show’s star Ellen Pompeo, for IRL negotiating a $20 million salary and marrying an incredibly handsome record producer back in 2007. Even more for her avatar Dr. Meredith Grey who is still dark and twisty in temperament, winning major medical awards, low-key caring for three children as a single parent, and letting loose by way of dancing and tequila. I would absolutely be friends with her. I have been for over a decade.
I began watching the show just before entering High School, and my temperamental, teenage heart would lose it. Ugly tears, every episode. It had the romance and drama of other popular shows my peers were addicted to at the time (The OC, Gossip Girl), but these were adults battling coronary bypasses and brain tumors. Not to mention the nuggets of oddly fascinating and factual information: This last season I learned that the first human heart transplant was performed in South Africa, and that a majority of children’s first word is “No” because it’s what they consistently hear while trying to cross the line with their parents’ patience. If I hadn’t started writing creatively well before Grey’s release, I might have considered a career in medicine. And if my hands didn’t naturally wobble at the slightest of Operation gaming attempts, I might have actually pursued that professional interest. But as simply a bystanding sucker for this fictional world that so affected my young adult life—the tumultuous goings-on of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital will remain a preoccupation of mine. — Codie Steensma, deputy managing editor
I’ve been an avid fan of The Bachelor for years now, but it’s rare I catch an entire season, or even most of one. Like a Mindhunter from Mindhunter, I like to zero in on the very worst, most entitled contestants and spend the season fixated on the kind of pathology that makes someone want to be on a TV show that showcases the very worst things about their personality. Three years ago, Chad on Jojo’s season of The Bachelorette seemed like he’d never be topped, thanks to a sorely misplaced alpha male complex and his to-the-point delivery of “F**k you, Chris Harrison” when he was finally kicked off Bachelor in Paradise.
It’s not just the bit-part players. 2014’s Bachelor himself, Juan Pablo set a new (low) standard for the kind of person the show was willing to put front and center, and this year’s infamous “Luke P” has dominated my YouTube algorithms ever since February, his stunning combination of religious piety and sexual frustration causing him to alienate pretty much everyone week after week. Love can take a hike: The Bachelor is the best psychological horror series on television. — Tom Philip, writer
There are lots of good reasons to watch Jeopardy!, of course. It’s the perfect neutral thing to turn on with your parents post-dinner, if you’re avoiding any uncomfortable debates that the news or Colbert might stir up. It’s a foolproof method to boost your confidence after a rough day at work: nail a couple of Daily Doubles on the trot, and boom—mojo restored. When a game-breaking contestant like James Holzhauer or current champ Jason Zuffranieri catches fire and starts streaking, it’s hard to find a more electrifying broadcast anywhere on television—it’s like a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs, only every weeknight for as long as they can go. All that said: come on now. We all know there’s one reason above all that a stodgy quiz show has remained primetime appointment viewing for decades on decades. And that’s America’s (Canadian) dad, Alex Trebek.
Like all good dads, Trebek is authoritative but good-natured, prone to visible disappointment and the occasional odd pronunciation, and looks hella weird without his mustache. At his saltiest, he’s far funnier than Will Ferrell’s ramrod SNL impersonation ever made him out to seem. Jeopardy! is arguably the most steadying and comforting force on network TV, and Trebek is Jeopardy!’s most steadying and comforting presence. Which is why it’s been all the more disquieting to witness him battle pancreatic cancer these last few months—even though he’s kept his composure and wit about him through the whole process, having to confront the idea of a TV landscape without Trebek feels like being pushed out into a snowstorm without a coat on. Back in March, when he was first diagnosed, Trebek told fans to “Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.” It’s hard not to outright believe him, because he’s always been right before. — Yang-Yi Goh, style commerce writer
This is a TV show all about how Dwayne The Rock Johnson wears suits. Tight suits, three-piece suits, suits with outrageous plaids, suits that must have more elastane than an entire barre class at Equinox. And when Dwayne The Rock Johnson isn’t testing the tensile strength of performance wool with his biceps, he and his ornery band of compadres—Rob Cordrry, John David Washington, Toby from The West Wing—are busy stiff-arming their way through all sorts of obstacles (opioid addictions, depression, the dissolution of companies and careers) that would have been entire season arcs on prestige dramas. Which, let’s be honest, is what sets Ballers apart from, say, Succession, or basic TV apart from golden-age award-baiting TV: nothing that happens actually matters. HBO has a long and glorious history of its broadest hits—Sex and the City, Game of Thrones, Entourage—pairing massive production budgets with basic TV’s love of amnesiac plotting. Pile up a million absurd character arcs, forget some, ratchet up others, then do it all again next week. Russell Brand recently arrived in the series, and now wears sequined rainbow tracksuits with dual Snoop braids. The show’s star linebacker wants to leave behind an $80 million payday to play video games professionally. Dwayne The Rock Johnson is maybe a lying, crooked part-owner and GM of the Kansas City Chiefs. And this is just the most recent episode! Ballers, like Entourage before it, is Grey’s Anatomy for the do-you-even-lift set; the televisual equivalent of a fireworks finale run out to 30 minutes. And like Dwayne The Rock Johnson in a suit, Ballers is pure stimulus overload, too much and then more, and I find it impossible to stop watching. — Jon Wilde, digital director