Back in 2009, the Western Writers of America composed a list of what its members felt to be the Top 50 boob tube oaters, splitting the tally into two separate countdowns—one for miniseries, and the other for regular shows. In fact, I composed a post about that very list that expressed how pleased I was with the choices even though I had a tiny nitpick or two. (I apologize for leaving out the miniseries list; I focused mainly on the other.)
A writer named Roger Catlin over at Salon.com has put together a list that he calls “TV’s greatest westerns” in one of those slide shows that used to be the specialty of the site’s former TV critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, before he went traipsing off to work for New York Magazine. I wish Matt nothing but the best, but I also wish he’d reconsider coming back to Salon because despite my tendency to disagree with some of the pieces he put together for them in the past he never came up with anything as mind-boggling asinine as Catlin’s slide show. Here’s his list of (my emphasis added) TV’s greatest westerns:
3. Lonesome Dove (miniseries)
4. The Big Valley
7. The Wild Wild West
9. Wanted: Dead or Alive
10. Have Gun – Will Travel
If you haven’t already burst a blood vessel in your brain, you’re probably thinking (as I did) right now—what for the love of Shiloh is Firefly doing on this list? Firefly was a short-lived science-fiction series that came and went in 2002, the creation of writer-director-producer Joss Whedon, who was also responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show attracted a significant fanboy (and fangirl, judging by some of my Facebook friends) element to live on despite its brief run in the form of a 2005 feature film, Serenity, and a myriad number of comic books, role-playing games, fan fiction, etc. Catlin writes:
Joss Whedon’s first series after “Buffy” and its spinoffs was this fanciful futuristic space show that he quite explicitly described as a western. That could be seen too in the adventures of the spaceship, led like so many cowboy series, by a pair of soldiers from the recent Civil War (in this case the Unification War,) in which planets banded together to resist the controlling Alliance.
So the show was, in essence, an evocation of Western elements. Fine and dandy. But that doesn’t make it a western. My Facebook compadre Archie Waugh points out that if that is the case, Star Trek would go on this list ahead of Firefly—creator Gene Roddenberry (who cut his teeth writing many an episode for Have Gun – Will Travel) sold that series as “Wagon Train to the stars.” (Archie also argues that any number of shows—The Rifleman, Kung Fu, Alias Smith and Jones—would be better choices, which I heartily concur.)
The show he lists at #5, McCloud, also contained western elements—cowboy cop, horse, etc.—but it, too, is not a western…it’s a cop show. I even have a problem with The Wild Wild West ranking so high on this list (and I’m a huge fan of the show) because it’s more of a spy show than western…but at least it takes place in the period in which we generally associate westerns.
Any “greatest TV westerns” list that doesn’t include Bonanza (even though I’m not a fan, it’s still an essential western) or Maverick—he left off Maverick, ferchrissake!—isn’t worth the bandwidth he used to stick this up on the Internets. I don’t begrudge anyone tallying up such a list, you understand—Catlin puts Wanted: Dead or Alive in his Top 10 and while I think Wanted is a good western I’d hardly call it a great western. (I think Catlin included it just so he could make a Bon Jovi joke.) But he would have been a hell of a lot better off if this had been titled “My Favorite TV Westerns.”
At least he got the #1 oater right. And Brother Edward Copeland can “enter his house justified” that Deadwood is finally getting a little respect.