TV

Classic TV shows that stand the test of time

From left are "Friends" cast members Jennifer Aniston as Rachel, Matt LeBlanc as Joey, David Schwimmer as Ross, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe, Matthew Perry as Chandler and Courteney Cox Arquette as Monica.
From left are "Friends" cast members Jennifer Aniston as Rachel, Matt LeBlanc as Joey, David Schwimmer as Ross, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe, Matthew Perry as Chandler and Courteney Cox Arquette as Monica. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A mention of the TV drama “Hill Street Blues” used to conjure up memories of cops drinking out of coffee-stained paper cups, realistic characters with distinct personalities and interwoven story arcs that compelled me to return to that gray-tiled precinct every Thursday night.

But when I recently watched that ground-breaking cop drama for the first time in years, I found the characters to be over-the-top stereotypes, the acting unbelievable, and the story lines so silly I had to roll my eyes.

“I guess it wasn’t as good as I remember,” I told my wife, who’d never seen the show before.

After my “Hill Street Blues” letdown, I began to wonder if my memories had betrayed me when it came to other favorite TV shows from the past. So I began watching other oldies via Netflix to see how they held up.

Here’s how those series fared, ranked on a scale of one to five.

"The Twilight Zone" (1959-1964)

Rod Serling’s show featured an entirely new cast and storyline in every episode. Blending science fiction, mystery and weird, the show featured cameos by a who’s who of future Hollywood stars, including Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds and Dennis Hopper.

What I remember: Rod Sterling saying, “It is an area in which we call . . . the Twilight Zone;” William Shatner on a plane being attacked by a gremlin; an episode where “beautiful” people had pig faces.

Today: The pacing can be slow, and the acting can be cheesy, but the scenarios are still intriguing. Check out these plotlines: A bookworm who is the lone survivor of a nuclear war winds up with plenty of time to read; a young woman driving cross-country keeps seeing the same hitchhiker on the road; a writer learns he can control reality by dictating changes.

How it fares: Four TVs

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-1966)

This sitcom features Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, the head writer of a popular TV show inspired by creator Carl Reiner’s own experiences on “Your Show of Shows.”

What I remember: In the days of black-and-white TV, moms stayed home, and couples slept in separate beds, which made you wonder how little Richie Petrie ever happened.

Today: Sure, some portrayals of life here are old-fashioned. But cartoonish, rubbery-legged Van Dyke is a physical comic genius who could elevate any gag with a raised eyebrow or a clumsy stumble. (You can see how he influenced Steve Martin, Michael Richards and John Ritter.) And Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie is no mere comic foil. The sitcom’s premise — a show within a show — also provides fodder for fun behind-the-scenes comedy.

How it fares: Four TVs

"M*A*S*H" (1972-1983)

Based on the movie of the same name, this sitcom followed a mobile medical unit during the Korean War. Its themes channeled the Vietnam War, which was still happening when the series debuted.

What I remember: That theme song, Alan Alda’s Groucho-like delivery and a giant series finale that prompted “M*A*S*H” parties everywhere.

Today: My 11-year-old daughter was quick to point out the show’s sexism. Still, it's a delightful mix of serious commentary and rapid humor. And, unlike many shows from the ’70s and ’80s, “M*A*S*H” strives to be authentic — the result of consultations with actual war doctors, whose stories inspired many early plots.

How it fares: Five TVs

"The Rockford Files" (1974-1980)

Jim Rockford (James Garner), a Korean War vet and wrongly convicted felon, lives a hardscrabble life on the beaches of Malibu while working as a private eye.

What I remember: My brother really liked this; I was more into “The Muppet Show.”

Today: A precursor to “Magnum P.I.,” the show features gorgeous oceanside settings. Garner had real charisma as a scrappy P.I., and the storylines — while sometimes a bit too ambitious for an hour— are still engaging.

How it fares: Four TVs

"Magnum, P.I." (1980-1988)

Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) is an ex-military stud working as a private eye while living at the estate of a mysterious novelist.

What I remember: That mustache. I wanted one of my own, but my high school attempts were spotty. (Photographic evidence should have been sealed in Al Capone’s vault.) Magnum drove a sweet Ferrari that teenage boys (okay —me again) fantasized about. And each episode was a witty mystery with a twist.

Today: Typical of the ’80s, the show idolizes the notion of wealth, exemplified by the Ferrari that sold so many posters. Selleck’s narration is still fun, but I don’t like the way characters occasionally — and randomly — address the audience. Some of the set-ups are good, but wrapping things up at the end of each episode seems far too forced. And that mustache? A cross between ex-football coach Mike Ditka and a barbershop quartet.

How it fares: Two TVs

"Cheers" (1982-1993)

A character-driven sitcom, “Cheers” is the name of a Boston bar owned by Sam Malone (Ted Danson), an ex-Major League pitcher and recovering alcoholic with an eye for women.

What I remember: A bunch of quirky characters taking a break from all their worries. That cozy Baaahston bar made me want to go to college on the East Coast – until I realized how much the tuition would cost.

Today: The characters are still likeable, but the show is paced more slowly, like a play — and might be better suited in that longer form. It’s still watchable, but I wouldn’t go on a “Cheers” bender.

How does it fare: Three TVs

"Family Ties" (1982-1989)

A launch pad for budding star Michael J. Fox, his Alex P. Keaton is a millionaire wannabe in the Reagan era — born to a couple of ex-hippies who haven’t abandoned their folky past.

What I remember: A staple of NBC’s famous “Must See TV” lineup, the humorous conflict between Alex and his parents mirrored a changing of the guard from the idealism of the 1960s to ’80s conservatism.

Today: The jokes seem tame, Fox’s young Republican is a caricature that would make even Ted Cruz shake his head, and the storylines are as dated as Alex’s sweaters. Alex’s sister Mallory is the Ohio version of a Valley girl, and best friend Skippy seems like a stray from a John Hughes movie. Like many ’80s shows, "Family Ties" is so tied to the times, it holds up even less than a show from 20 years earlier.

How it fares: Two TVs

"Friends" (1994-2004)

Still stuck in the gap between college and true adulthood, a bunch of 20-something friends bond in New York City.

What I remember: Everybody loved to talk about Jennifer Aniston’s hair and question how young, under-employed 20-somethings could afford such nice places in the Big Apple.

Today: Aniston’s hair is pretty cute. In fact, while the fashions on “Seinfeld” appear dated now, the look of “Friends,” which began a few years later, holds up better. And the topics of relationships and job dissatisfaction will always be timeless.

How it fares: Four TVs

"Everybody Loves Raymond" (1996-2005)

Ray Barone is a New Jersey sportswriter who lives next to his annoying parents.

What I remember: Paul Rudd’s character from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” whose box of porn videos also included one VHS tape of “Everybody Loves Raymond” episodes. “This is just a good show,” he explains.

Today: “Everybody Loves Raymond” is one of the few shows that never jumped the shark. Every episode is tightly written and usually based on real-life experiences shared by the writers. Any show with cringe-worthy moments we can relate to is bound to stand the test of time.

How it fares: Five TVs

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