By the usual standards of excellence, you wouldn’t find the goofy TGIF legend Perfect Strangers, which premiered 30 years ago this week, on anyone’s list of great TV shows. Indeed, some might call it bad. But here’s the thing about “bad”: it has degrees, gradations, nuances within its definition. A series may suffer from uneven writing, absurd plotting, overacting (or all three) — but one function of TV is to provide comfort and escapism, and by those measures, our list of the 30 Best Bad Shows of the Last 30 Years is a hall of fame of some of the warmest, most blissfully enjoyable shows millions of people have ever enjoyed. And so as you read our nominees and our little hymns to their longevity in our hearts during this week-long countdown, bear in mind a couple of things. These are not shows that we “hate-watch”— we love the way they make us feel. And these are not “guilty pleasures” — there can be no guilt, if a show gives you pleasure. Which is what each and every show on this list does for an awful lot of people. See which ones make you smile at the memory of them.
24. Arli$$ (1996-2002, HBO)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Stand-up comic Robert Wuhl created a show about a sports agent, casting himself as the leeringly avaricious Arliss Michaels. It was a vanity production that (unintentionally) made its star look like the dope, with real sports stars in cameo appearances.
Signature Moment: Arliss reunites with his childhood sweetheart; she suggests they “meet behind the bleachers,” and Arliss says, “Deal. That’s agent-speak.” And that is actually meant to be a big laugh-line.
Where You Can Watch It: On DVD. —Ken Tucker
23. Dallas (2012-14, TNT)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: TNT’s revival of the 1978-’91 series successfully bottled the original’s sexy, sudsy spirit — literally, they created J.R. Ewing-branded bourbon — as the battle for control of Southfork raged anew. Yes, the addition of the younger generation (led by John Henderson as J.R.’s tip-to-tail son, John Ross) gave the writers a lot to work with: one hour, in fact, included a poked diaphragm, a drug overdose during an adulterous threesome, potential alcohol poisoning, and a fire. But the series gave Larry Hagman and TV’s all-time greatest eyebrows and grin their proper due — both in terms of his time rattling cages on the show and how J.R. was written off after Hagman’s death. (The only man who could kill J.R.? J.R., who was dying from cancer and had an associate shoot him and frame his longtime nemesis Cliff Barnes for the murder).
Signature Moment: While we’ll never forget Judith Light, as sharp-tongued matriarch Judith Ryland (note the J.R. initials), seductively snorting cocaine, we all know the reason this series was even a possibility was the thrill we felt watching J.R. hold a straight razor to his son’s throat while shaving him and saying the line, “Now I loved my daddy, and I respected my daddy, but most importantly… I feared my daddy.”
Where You Can Watch It: Stream it on Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes. —Mandi Bierly
22. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007, NBC)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Third time wasn’t the charm for Aaron Sorkin. After exploring the inner workings of sports news (Sports Night) and the White House (The West Wing), the verbose writer decided to create the next (fake) Saturday Night Live on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Except that Studio 60 didn’t resemble any SNL or any other late night sketch series known to man, instead reflecting Sorkin’s own bizarre notions about the kind of comedy viewers wanted to see ‘round midnight. Rather than course correct, though, he doubled down on the weirdness, pushing storylines well past the point of credulity. In one particularly insane two-part adventure, the show’s staff headed to a tiny Nevada town to argue with Judge John Goodman who had thrown one of the cast members in jail, because… reasons. Watching Studio 60 was like seeing Sorkin say “F–k it” on a weekly basis, and it was glorious.
Signature Moment: No sequence better summarizes Studio 60’s gloriously tone-deaf appeal than the cold open skit that serves as the climax for the second episode, also called “The Cold Open.” In order to re-announce the show to viewers and grab younger eyeballs, head honchos Matt (Matthew Perry) and Danny (Bradley Whitford) conceive a sketch that riffs on… Gilbert and Sullivan? That would have driven audiences wild — in the 19th century.
Where You Can Watch It: The first and only season can be purchased on Amazon Prime, and is also available on DVD. —Ethan Alter
21. The Client List (2012-‘13, Lifetime)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Imagine a workplace drama where the workplace is a massage parlor, and you’ll grasp the guilty pleasure appeal of Lifetime’s short-lived soap. Adapted from a grittier Lifetime original movie, the series lightens the mood considerably, removing a prostitution subplot and recasting the parlor’s masseuses, led by Jennifer Love Hewitt’s new recruit, Riley, as confidants and cheerleaders for dudes in need of an ego boost. Meanwhile, on the homefront, Riley deals with such typical domestic conflicts as a buttinsky mother (Cybill Shepherd) and a pair of rambunctious tykes. It’s the most wholesome drama about a massage parlor employee that’s ever been aired, which is precisely what makes it so strangely addictive.
Signature Moment: Choose from any one of the many, many scenes of a scantily-clad J.Love delivering a PG-13 rated rubdown to some hunky dude. That’s the main reason the show exists, after all.
Where You Can Watch It: Look for both seasons on DVD or Amazon Prime. —EA
20. Prison Break (2005-’09, Fox)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Prison Break’s first season was a riveting, action-packed, high-stakes drama involving an elaborate prison heist. The Fox show’s second season was equally thrilling, with the escapees now on the run Fugitive-style, trying to avoid capture or, worse, death. But Season 3 found the characters having to stage another prison break. Again? We’re not even sure what all happened in Season 4 (apparently, it involved yet another plan to break out of prison), but by that time the show that once got our adrenaline rushing merely made us yawn instead. Still, bring on the reboot.
Signature Moment: Nowadays, everyone’s talking about the tatted lady over on Blindspot, but a decade ago Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) would have given Jane Doe a run for her money with his own intricate full-body tat, which included clues, reminders, and blueprints of the prison he was planning to break out of hidden among the ink work of angels and demons.
Where You Can Watch It: The complete series is available on DVD and via streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. —Chrissy Le Nguyen
19. Gossip Girl (2007-12, The CW)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Gorgeous people in impeccable clothing (more on that later) attending extravagant parties while scheming, sexing, and doing a handful of other OMFG things is basically the premise of every Gossip Girl episode. So, what is there not to love about the CW drama that follows the lives of a handful of Upper East Side private schoolers through the omnipresent “XOXO, Gossip Girl”? Well, that familiar premise led to both predictable and impossible-to-follow plotlines to which many critics attribute the show’s decline after the series’ third (some even argue second) season. But for the fans who loved it and loved to hate it, the once-popular show will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Signature Moment: Gossip Girl gave us major outfit envy. From Serena’s cleavage-baring dresses and Chuck’s dandy suits to Blair’s signature headbands and, well, everything Blair ever wore (especially those ‘50s-inspired looks), the show’s fashion game was strong. So strong, in fact, that talk of what the characters wore became much more exciting and relevant than the show’s actual storylines. And we can’t talk GG fashion without mentioning S and B’s Paris wardrobe. These photos speak for themselves:
Where You Can Watch It: The complete series is available on DVD and via streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. —CLN
Come back to Yahoo TV on Wednesday when the countdown continues.