Mood Scale For 25 Popular Television Shows

Television watching is something at which I excel. (What’s the opposite of a humble brag?) I have done it my entire life, as both an amateur and a professional. Again, I don’t want to brag (I do), but I literally have a Masters in television watching. I know, I’m great (and practical). More than that, I want you to know that, besides looking awesome on my wall, the degree comes in handy. For instance, it certifies that I have mastered the skills to create this television program spectrum. Either that or, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz I always had the skills and now I just have the confidence (arrogance) to let them shine! (It was also a Masters in movie-watching, which is how I’m equipped with these fancy references.)

Have you ever made the mistake of unwittingly putting on a show that greatly altered your mood, and in the wrong direction? That’s not right. Whether you want to be happier or more depressed, chuckling or chattering, your mood should be altered by drugs and drugs alone.

If you follow this Light to Dark Mood Spectrum, a disconcerting television surprise won’t ever happen again. Happy shows are the lightest on the scale, and as the colors get progressively darker, so do the nature of the television shows. Sure, some placements may seem counterintuitive, but trust me. After all, my decisions have seemed reasonable up to now, right? Remember that graduate degree in something everyone does all the time for free?

Don’t let “a very special episode” of Roseanne (A heart attack at a wedding? C’mon!), or those times when Community gets really dark (claymation ambush!), creep up on you. Conversely, you don’t want to be surprised when a show you think is dramatic strangely uses a laugh track for its first six episodes (ahem, Sports Night). Originally, I did not want any animated shows on the spectrum. It’s mainly because I don’t want to talk about Family Guy (just… don’t). However, as the list grew I realized I just couldn’t ignore The Simpsons, it means too much to all of us (me).

I capped the list at 25, using mostly popular shows with a few of my lesser-known favorites. I won’t suggest them to you because I’m sure somebody already has and if you wanted to be watching it by now you would be so would everyone just stop sending me that same clip of Portlandia! I’m joking I’ve seen both seasons. (But if you think that means I’m any closer to watching Battlestar Galatica then you can go straight to hell.)


Parks and Recreation
The Simpsons
The New Girl
Arrested Development
30 Rock
The Office
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Sports Night
Sex & the City
Family Ties
Friday Night Lights
Freaks & Geeks
West Wing
Mad Men
The Wire
Breaking Bad
Six Feet Under

Don’t see your favorite show? Add it in the comments and I will tell you where it sits on the spectrum. I really don’t mind. I’m just here… watching television. TC mark

image – Steve Taylor


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  • Mia Moran

    Where would Glee lie on this scale?

    • laura jayne martin

      My first instinct was to put Glee between New Girl and Arrested. But I rethought and I’d place it between 30 Rock and The Office for its treatment of social problems. Though cloying, you can’t deny the subject matter gets dark.   Despite the fact that there are deaths, its hard to rate it too darkly as the average episode it a baby’s breath away from being animated. (Sidenote: it is my personal opinion that the series has never had a tighter episode than their pilot.)

  • Andrea Figueroa

    I thought I had found my soul mate until the BSG comment. Blasphemy. 

  • Rockfreakngreen

    Fringe? :)

  • Anonymous

    I’d say this is pretty accurate. Right on with Breaking Bad, literally can’t sit still in my seat watching that show. So intense.

    • Anonymous

      was just gonna say where’s twin peaks

      • Anonymous

        Good point.

      • laura jayne martin

        As someone who is both named Laura and remembers watching it on television when it aired I find it particularly horrifying–but, you know, in a good way.  I would put it between Breaking Bad and The Wire because it was more mysterious than depressing (although it had its fair share of alienating themes.) Being big TP fans I wonder what you make of The Killing? 

      • Anonymous

        haven’t seen The Killing! and i’ll admit, im a green twin peaks fan. i’ve watched like 4 episodes and i’m too afraid to keep going…

  • Anonymous

    Dexter puts me in a good mood though… is that strange? 

    • laura jayne martin

      I guess it depends on what scene you’re watching.  There’s a lot of well-written humor in Dexter.

  • Caroline

    hell yeah!  I always watch Parks and Rec when I need a boost.

  • Julia Brough

    Grey’s Anatomy

  • Guest

    How I met your mother

    • laura jayne martin

      For me, How I Met Your Mother is the closest thing to Friends since Friends.  I’d put it exactly where Friends is.

  • _____

    What about LOST? The entire show is basically about black/white/light/dark! how could you not include it!?

    • laura jayne martin

      I just needed more time with them, Jacob. Wire/Breaking Bad

  • Mshellelouise

    Kids. HBO

  • Jessica


    • laura jayne martin

      Good call, very depressing and after just one season. Yet, the plot is intense enough to be appealing. I’d rate it between Sopranos and The Wire because while it has a wealth of realism, it doesn’t have an abundance of characters in which I’m invested. 

  • mia nguyen


  • Stinuh


    • laura jayne martin

      It’s harder to rate shows when I haven’t seen every single episode.  I would wager between Parks and Simpsons–I mean, it has a laugh track.

  • Lsk472

    Kudos to the Six Feet Under inclusion. Most heartbreaking finale of all time. 

  • Gh

    Why does everyone on this website call it “The New Girl”? It’s not what the show is called.

    • laura jayne martin

      Because we have such a difficult time distinguishing it from “The New Girl” by R.L. Stine

  • Anonymous

    Celebrity Deathmatch?

  • Emma Goldstein

    Hmm not sure I would’ve placed FNL ahead of Weeds or F&G. It gets pretty heavy (although the moving, inspirational winning football game montages that cap a lot of episodes make a strong case).

    • Guestropod

      FNL is crytimes always

    • laura jayne martin

      True, it does get heavy but (and this show is in my top five) the audience usually gets coddled in comparison to those other two only in that most times there is almost always consolation for any character in trouble within the episode. Not as far as everything tied up in a bow within the episode but their is usually a pretty strong hint even within major arcs.  (Or maybe I just trust Coach and Mrs. Coach too much.)

  • jane

    grey’s anatomy?

    • laura jayne martin

      I haven’t seen enough of this series to be completely accurate.  There are A LOT of tearjerker episodes/devices, but I would still probably put it in the second lightest quadrant because it’s so soapy.  (Not that I dislike soaps.)

  • Guestropod

    Game of Thronez

    • laura jayne martin

      I am never too depressed by fantasy despite the fact that this show is a bloodbath. Between Dexter and Sopranos, which is also where I put Louie. Let me be clear, Louie is also more depressing than this show. C’mon it’s an epic.

  • Guest


    • laura jayne martin

      You guys watch so much sci-fi, I love it.  I would put it between 30 Rock and The Office. I guess your approval of my answer depends directly on how much you are sincerely moved by The Office.

      • thenightisdarkandfullofterrors

        WHAT?! I’m sorry but Supernatural would be at the rock bottom of this scale. You wouldn’t even be able to see the text – it would just be a solid black block of misery and tears.

  • Anonymous

    What about Boardwalk Empire, South Park, Big Bang Theory, and Community?

    • Monica

      Community’s on there

    • laura jayne martin

      I did BBT below, South Park is animated and, as she said, Community is on there.  Boardwalk Empire never really hooked me personally, but it is of course very well made. Probably even with Mad Men on the spectrum.

  • Lizzy Siegel

    Doctor Who? Interested to see what you’ve got for this one.

    • laura jayne martin

      Which Doctor?  Fantasy and animation are harder to compare to these straighter drama/comedies.  I would put it right around West Wing.

  • Katie Reed

    Interesting to see the entire last quarter dominated by HBO/Showtime series.

  • Karlianna


    • laura jayne martin

      I’d put Modern Family between New Girl and Arrested–there’s no one on Modern as dark as some of the Bluths, but it does often deploy a closing voiceover tying together the theme just as the music swells.

  • Kevin Doran

    I think you’re taking Always Sunny way too seriously if you put it in the middle.

    • laura jayne martin

      It’s not that I don’t think the jokes are funny.  But it’s undeniably dark. Make a case for moving any of the shows I listed above it to down below it.

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