A long-running, beloved TV show doesn't just become a favorite work of art. It becomes a literal part of your life, weaving its way into the fabric of everything else going on for you at that point in your personal timeline.
That's why some TV shows — through no fault of their own — become almost inextricably tied to certain presidential administrations. Their lives eerily parallel said administrations, and they explore themes that are particularly raw during that specific moment in American history. What's more, they often become so tied to that point in time that they feel a little dated as soon as the country has moved past them a bit.
I've been thinking about this idea for a while, and over time I've identified one show per administration that best captures its era, going all the way back to John F. Kennedy. (Dwight D. Eisenhower — the first president of the TV age — presided over a country that largely saw TV as a cool novelty, which makes it harder to pick a specific show that speaks for his time in office.)
Each one overlaps significantly with the administration it represents — meaning it debuted close to the beginning of that administration, and in the most exemplary cases, ended shortly before or after the end of that administration.
In short, later examinations of how America feels about a particular time period don't qualify — "Mad Men" doesn't count for JFK. All of these shows say something specific about how America saw itself when they were on the air. They capture TV's unique quality as a real-time document of a country constantly in transition.
The Barack Obama years: "Parks and Recreation"
Since we don't yet have much historical perspective on the Obama administration, consider this pick subject to change. Indeed, I considered three or four other series before selecting "Parks and Recreation."
But Parks fits the Obama era perfectly, in that it started in the spring of 2009, ended in the spring of 2015, and exemplified a kind of American optimism about the idea that public service is an ultimate good. But the series was also laced with the progressiveness that would cause many to turn against Obama. Though protagonist Leslie Knope believes she's doing the best for her constituents, they see her as out of touch with their real needs — no matter how ridiculous those "real needs" might be.