Many of us television aficionados banter back and forth on what is/was the best TV show of all time. Years ago, this would be a debate between HBO’s ‘The Wire’ and any other show, and ‘The Wire’ would always win. What made it the best show?

  • Baltimore was the backdrop of every season, but the focus changed each time (drug trade, Baltimore ports, politics/police, school system, and publishing.) It was a show that made a powerful social commentary in all of these aspects.
  • The characters would come and go as their storylines crossed paths.
  • The best characters were the most complex—none were good/bad by typical definitions. The characters were real, gritty, and authentic.
  • The storylines were harsh, realistic, and thought provoking, often culminating in tragedy.

My favorite character was Omar Little…the homosexual drug dealer. “Omar is a renowned stickup man who lives by a strict moral code and never deviates from his rules, foremost of which is that he never robs or menaces people who are not involved in “the game” (Wikipedia). During an interview, President Obama was asked about his favorite show and character—he answered “The Wire, and Omar Little” for which I will always respect him. This show was on HBO for five seasons, and if you didn’t watch it I highly recommend it. Warning: It’s gritty, violent, and blunt.

As I noted earlier, I ‘would” have said it’s the best show ever a few years ago… until I watched “Shameless” (UK version). It was created by Paul Abbott who grew up in a similar environment and managed to overcome many obstacles. The show initially centers around the Gallagher family headed by Frank, a job-challenged, alcoholic father. The series is based in Chatsworth Estate (low income housing), with many residents dealing drugs, running scams, and doing whatever they can do to survive. Some of the characters have been on for 10 seasons, but some come and go as storylines change. This show airs in the UK, but is not limited by censorship of language or content. It’s definitely for adults. What makes this show so great? For me, the main points are:

  • Complicated, messy storylines that have a common thread running through them.
  • You think you know a character, but with each season you learn a little more about their circumstances and why they developed as they did. Frank Gallagher is a prime example.
  • It deals with subjects in a realistic manner: mental illness, drug use, prostitution, child abuse, homosexuality, familial responsibilities, and survival instincts.
  • One of the main characters suffers a mental breakdown, and it is the most realistic portrayal I have ever seen and I still remember every facet of it years later. Paddy McGuire, a man who’s brutality is always on full display, is the only one that can reach through and try to help her.
  • The characters are all realistically portrayed—there’s no one on this show that you would describe as “drop dead gorgeous.” They all show the telltale signs of living a rough life and making do with what they have. You end up rooting for characters that have made bad decisions, and now have to live with them. But you understand why they had to make those bad decisions.
  • Based in Manchester, England, only makes the show even more interesting to see the differences with the U.S. and the ‘community’ aspect of it.

What really makes me appreciate this show is the sense of humor that shines through the haze of poverty and dreary day-to-day life. I am now a fan of Manchester City Football Club—it’s what Frank would want. This show is available via Hulu and some seasons are on Amazon Prime. I will say some seasons are better than others, but it beats any show in the U.S. by a long shot. Season 11 (final) aired in February 2013. Shameless/US airs on Showtime, but I don’t think it compares to the original UK version.