By Cory Barker
Over the next few weeks, to correspond with our book club posts on Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of The WB and UPN, I’ll countdown the top 30 shows in combined WB and UPN history (not including shows that were brought over from other networks, like Grounded for Life or Sister, Sister). Last week, I kicked things off with 30–25. Today, we tackle 24–16.
24. Moesha (UPN, 1996–2001): This is the defining sitcom of UPN’s early years and one of its longest-running shows ever. For that, and for being entertaining enough, it belongs on this list. You might be able to tell that I didn’t really watch it.
23. Popular (WB, 1999–2001): Ryan Murphy’s first television venture will forever be known for setting the Murphy Trajectory: Risky, compelling, wild, and a little progressive at the beginning; bloated and plodding in the middle; and then just DEAD. Popular did all that in just two years, but it had some high-water marks and added much-ended levity to The WB’s earnest slate.
22. Reba (WB, 2001–2006): By all accounts, Reba McEntire’s new ABC sitcom Malibu Country is a much worse version of Reba, which, to most people, might sound like one of the worst things ever. However, here’s the thing: Reba was fine. It was amiable, warm, and sometimes even fairly funny. There’s a reason that people keep trying to give Joanna García-Swisher sitcoms: She’s quite good in the format. Steve Howey’s grown into an even better performer on Shameless, but he was right for the role as the dimwitted “man of the house.” And heck, Reba is a charming camera presence in her own right.
21. The Surreal Life (WB, 2003–2004) and 20. Beauty and the Geek (WB, 2005–2006): Both of these reality shows were eventually run into the ground by their producers and other networks, making it a little tough to remember how awesome they were in their first seasons on The WB. The first Surreal Life had the benefit of a great cast and a time when flamed-out celebrities couldn’t use Twitter or TMZ to stay relevant, so they weren’t as self-aware. Corey Haim makes for fascinating, sometimes extremely uncomfortable television.
And while Beauty and the Geek‘s premise is inherently silly and shallow, that first year seemed somewhat novel at the time. It also aired early enough in the modern reality TV era that not everyone in the cast came on just to be a F-list reality dolt.
19. Jake 2.0 (UPN, 2003–2004) and 18. Kevin Hill (UPN, 2004–2005): These are two very different UPN shows that I enjoyed in their respective single seasons on the air. Jake 2.0 is one of those shows I always forget about until someone on the Internet starts talking about it and you discover that there are people who thought it was, like, the best show. Not to simplify, but it was basically Chuck before Chuck, and although I enjoyed the more overt comedy in Chuck, I also appreciated Jake 2.0’s more measured yet still humorous approach to the story of an analyst suddenly gaining superhuman abilities. The writing was really sharp and Christopher Gorham was the perfect lead for the material.
Kevin Hill made the best use of Taye Diggs’s abilities of any show he has been on by allowing him to flex his underrated acting muscles without going into overly-dramatic territory (sup, Private Practice?). The narrative, about a single “dad” trying to balance his home responsibilities with his lawyer gig (and of course his love life, because, Taye Diggs) wasn’t anything original, but the show managed to keep all spheres of the character’s life important throughout the first season. Kevin Hill was surprisingly adult and rock solid.
17. One Tree Hill (WB, 2003–2006): Make all the jokes you want—and trust me, I’ve made my fair share—but it’s tough to deny the affection people have for One Tree Hill. I struggle to decide if I like this straightforward and earnest version of the show more than the dog-eats-heart insanity of the CW years, but I do know that this version can say it doesn’t feature some terribly weird Chad Michael Murray hairstyles and does feature a lot of Bryan Greenberg playing acoustic guitar—two pluses. More seriously, Hill slid right into the Dawson’s Creek-sized hole on The WB’s schedule relatively easily, and although it never reached the popularity or cultural impact of its Wilmington cousin, it was probably more consistently entertaining. Mostly through sheer stupidity, but still.
16. Jack and Bobby (WB, 2004–2005): One of the stronger one-season shows of recent memory, Jack and Bobby managed to tell compelling high school and family drama stories while attempting to construct its future-set political story. I’m not sure that it would have totally worked in the long run anyway, but for 22 episodes it worked. And what a cast: Logan Lerman, Matt Long, Christine Lahti, John Slattery, Jessica Paré, and Bradley Cooper were all part of the main cast.