Dispatches From the Couch: Smart People, Dumb Choices

Last week, Jim Werdell, the chairman of MENSA — you know, those people who are smarter than not only a fifth grader, but you and me, too — released a list of the 10 brainiest shows on the aptly named boob tube. And for many critics, his list might just as well be titled “Fighting Words.”

The show which seems to be creating the biggest outcry is the inclusion of the classic NBC sitcom MAD ABOUT YOU. Apparently, that witty, winning look at the joys and trials of marriage is not considered by many to be “worthy” of the list.

Did I mention that the list includes CSI?

I suppose we should back up and start with the list. Here, according to the brainiac, are the 10 smartest shows in the history of television:

1. M*A*S*H
3. CSI

Now granted, it’s not like anybody expected the list to include SURVIVOR or GENERAL HOSPITAL. But for me, the standout show — and not in a good way — has to be CSI. Several years ago, TV Guide ran a fantastic piece in which they asked real-life forensic experts to evaluate several cases undertook by Grissom and company. Turns out that according to the experts, fiction was a whole lot stranger — and less believable — than fact.

I also don’t know that I would consider ALL IN THE FAMILY one of the “smartest” shows of all time. Groundbreaking? Without a doubt. Ahead of its time? No question. But smart enough to beat out such shows as, say, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or ? Based on what? And how is BOSTON LEGAL, which goes over the top more often than DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (which is truly saying something), more worthy of a Golden Brain (which is the award I’ve decided winning entries should be granted) than Kelly’s earlier, superior offering, PICKET FENCES?

HOUSE may be good television, but does spouting complex medical jargon while following what is basically a “disease-of-the-week” formula make the crotchety doc more MENSA worthy than LAW & ORDER, which is so accurate in its courtroom proceedings that for years, it was used as a teaching aide in classrooms dealing with legal maneuverings?

As with all such lists, this one was designed to spur conversation, and it’s done that. And now’s your chance to chime in: What shows do you think should have been on the list? Which ones would you bump? MENSA may not listen, but we will!

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  • yay MASH good choice. and I love Mad About You. though I am feeling like they perhaps never actually watched Lost.

  • Linda B.

    I’m throwing my love behind Mad About You. I really loved that show.

    Also, what about Dexter being on the list? It must be a smart show to get viewers to root for a serial killer.

  • Hil

    How could they forget LOST or Battlestar Galactica? Did they have to pick a couple from each decade that people would recognise and forget the rest? Perhaps they should have said “Shows that mainstream tv viewers would assume are smart (though many actually are not).”

  • Hil

    Add to say that I do in fact like MASH and Mad About You. I probably wouldn’t go around toting them as some of the smartest shows ever though, unless smart was defined as witty. In which case why is CSI on there then?

  • Melissa

    It’s pretty freaking retarded that they didn’t include VERONICA MARS.

  • Josh Emerson

    Veronica Mars! 🙂

    I don’t have a problem with the list because it just proves that we all have our own preferences in TV shows, whether we’re part of Mensa or not.

  • Lindlee Bullock

    I’m wondering what their criteria was. Are these shows that make you think? Shows that intellectually minded people are more likely to enjoy? Shows that are well reasearched? Well written? Contain a lot of expert type information? I love Mad About You so I’m not going to nit pick that one, but it does seem like the list of shows are very different from each other. I can’t tell what the common thread is in these ten shows! Maybe MENSA just took a poll of everyone’s favorite show and these are the top ten.

  • Ari

    Have you ever watched All in the Family? Seriously, it is a great show that totally deserves a spot. I’d sooner take off Boston Legal, House and Mad about You.

    I’d have thought Arrested Development, or a sketch show like The Carol Burnett Show, the once upon a time funny relevant and timely SNL or The Daily Show would have come up.

    I love your devotion to Battlestar it almost makes me want to watch.

    I too can’t help but wonder about the criteria.

  • HAHA! I forwarded this list around to friends last week with the subject line: There are some pretty stupid people in MENSA.

    I can’t believe a list with the smartest shows on television wouldn’t include Lost or The Wire. The Wire is easily the smartest show on TV now, and possibly, ever.

    But maybe MENSA members don’t watch a lot of TV, so they stuck with the mainstream hits.

  • how is Lost not on that list!?

  • ct


    Don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying All in The Family wasn’t smart TV. I’m just not sure that I’d rank it as one of the “smartest” shows in the history of television. There’s a huge difference between groundbreaking and smart. Hell, Survivor was “groundbreaking” but that doesn’t make it smart.

    I, too, would love to know what the criteria was for this list. daniel, you need to get MENSA on the line and find out.

  • Why Should LOST be on the list? Its not like it actually shows anything intelligent forming or based on Facts? It would be like asking Heroes to be on the list.

    Good television does not mean it is thought provoking television.