Who’s watching who?

Salon's TV critic picks the 10 most paranoid TV shows of all time.


1. “The X-Files” Three words: Trust no one.

2. “60 Minutes” (and “20/20,” and “Dateline NBC”) Is your drinking water polluted? Is there a toxic-waste dump in your backyard? Is the IRS out to get you? How would your car stand up in a crash test? Is there E. coli in your child’s hamburger? Is your doctor a quack? What is your nanny doing to the kids when you’re not home? How safe is air travel? Can your cellphone give you cancer? Could that nice man next door be a pedophile?

3. “America’s Most Wanted” Thanks to this long-running public service show, Americans are more paranoid — excuse me, aware — than ever before of the murderers, rapists, child molesters, cop killers, robbers and prison escapees in our midst. Which gives the murderers, rapists, child molesters, cop killers, robbers and prison escapees a darn good reason to be paranoid, too.

4. “Miami Vice” Paranoid undercover narcs battle the politics of blow in the Reagan-Bush ’80s. Gets extra points for being presciently set in Florida, the most paranoid (and paranoia-inducing) state in the Bush ’00s.

5. “Survivor” The tribe has spoken — behind one another’s backs.

6. “The Larry Sanders Show” Celebrity paranoia mercilessly skewered. Insecure Larry is the king of late-night talk hosts, but he can’t stop obsessing about A) possibly being replaced by Jon Stewart, and B) whether his ass looks fat on camera.

7. “The Prisoner” A trippy ’60s series starring Patrick McGoohan as a government agent imprisoned by enigmatic captors in a verdant British seaside village filled with brainwashed folks who have no names, only numbers. If Franz Kafka wrote an episode of “Teletubbies,” this would be it.

8. “The Twilight Zone” Ohmigod! What if I’m dead but don’t know it?

9. “Big Brother” It’s hard to say who was more paranoid — the housemates vying with one another to win a million bucks, or the viewers who combed the 24-hour Internet feeds for evidence that CBS was (gasp!) manipulating the TV footage. A network manipulating a reality show? Call Mulder and Scully! It’s a conspiracy!

10. “The Sopranos” You can’t even trust your own mother.

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

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