Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the Aughts: TV

We had a list of thirty movies but TV will be a bit more exhaustive for a couple of reasons. First, I spent a lot of time on movies when I did my RB100 a few months ago. Second, I have no doubt that the Aughts have been the best decade ever for TV. The emergence of quality original cable programming, especially on premium channels, expanded the offerings and allowed for the type of content that would never have made it on the networks, both due to a relative lack of censorship and a relatively high amount of patience as shows get off the ground. The idea that a show could have a long story arc that covered one or multiple seasons revolutionized the story-telling ability of shows' creators. Plus, HD! It's been a great decade, better than I realized when I started to put together this list and probably better than you realize, too. I forgot about some of the shows I compiled or thought they had been on in the '90s.

The methodology: I took a list from Wikipedia of every American show that debuted in 1999 or the 2000s. The shows had to have most of their episodes air in this decade or have been on the air the entire decade in order to qualify. I added some shows that weren't on the list, mostly because they began airing earlier than 1999 or were on the BBC. I then cut the list down to every show with which I deemed myself to have logged a significant amount of time. I also eliminated any new shows like Community or FlashForward, because it's just too soon. For most shows that means I've watched most or all of the episodes, especially if it's a show with a long story arc. For some reality or game shows (it'll be apparent which ones I mean), it could be just a few episodes, but long enough to get a feel for what the show was all about. There are three omissions that I could see as major: The Simpsons (the Maude Flanders episode aired on 2/13/2000 and the show was dead to me after that), Malcolm in the Middle (I don't remember watching regularly enough), and Spaced (didn't qualify, since only seven of its fourteen episodes aired in 2001 and the others aired in 1999).

Rather than cutting the list at thirty, I decided to run the whole thing. Fifty-five shows. Seems like a lot, but it's very, very small compared to the number of shows I don't watch. Many of these I don't watch that regularly, many have been off the air for a while. So, leaving out talk shows but combining every other genre into one list, I give you:

The Top 55 TV Shows of the Aughts:
  • 55. Blind Date (Syndication, 1999-2006): Not necessarily bad to be last on the list, since there a number of shows that I watched, but gave up on quickly (Fringe, Deadwood). If it's on the list, I actually enjoyed watching it to some extent. Blind Date is notable for the graphics and how it made fun of the "contestants". The kind of schadenfreude that would be en vogue throughout the decade.
  • 54. Deal or No Deal (NBC and Syndication, 2005-Present): Yes, it got old fast. Yes, the contestants were the most annoying people in the world and the "banker" was laughable. But this game was actually fascinating for a bit, in terms of the math and psychology behind how the offers changed and were accepted or rejected.
  • 53. Joe Millionaire (Fox, 2003): Didn't watch the second season, but the first season was everything I hoped it would be. The construction worker, Evan Marriott, was a good guy and most of the girls made fools of themselves for various reasons. It only worked once, but it was fun.
  • 52. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, 2008-09): It was uneven, but there were some very good episodes, especially towards the end of its run, thanks to some nice work from Brian Austin Green as a resistance fighter from the future.
  • 51. Robot Chicken (Cartoon Network, 2005-Present): How about an eleven-minute show? Quick hits of comedy, no thinking involved.
  • 50. Cash Cab (Discovery, 2005-Present): Comedian Ben Bailey -- who had a great guest turn in a one-season show that didn't make the list, Knights of Prosperity -- as cabbie/quiz show host. A great show for the gym or when you only have ten minutes to watch something.
  • 49. Kid Nation (CBS, 2007): I've written about this at length. I understand, considering the child labor controversies, why the network had to cancel it. But it was engrossing and one of the most unintentionally funny shows ever (thanks, in part, to To Catch a Predator, which isn't on the list, because that would be wrong).
  • 48. Undeclared (Fox, 2001-02): Judd Apatow was one of the big names in film this decade, but he made this and, well, some other show first. The same comedy we'd come to find in movies like Knocked Up, but with a younger Seth Rogen and Jason Segel.
  • 47. Futurama (Fox, 1999-2003; Comedy Central, 2008-Present): Granted, I haven't watched the new episodes on Comedy Central, but the first few seasons were pretty good.
  • 46. The Biggest Loser (NBC, 2004-Present): I don't want to like this show, with its egregious product placement and its ability to stretch time to fill space, but it's hard to hate. Bob Harper is awesome and the live season finales are fun to watch because they are so chaotic and poorly managed.
  • 45. Rome (HBO, 2005-07): One of the first shows to be significantly better in HD, thanks to its color schemes and battle scenes. Not consistently strong, but very, very good in spots.
  • 44. 90210 (The CW, 2008-Present): I don't believe in guilty pleasures. This show is damn enjoyable on its own merit, especially since every show but this one needs to be more and more intellectual these days.
  • 43. Family Guy (Fox, 1999-2002, 2005-Present): It's not always good, but it's sometimes great. It's just too dumb most of the time, but the smart, satirical episodes are worth catching on Hulu.
  • 42. The Boondocks (Cartoon Network, 2005-Present): I think it took James Cameron less time to make Avatar than it takes Aaron McGruder to put out new episodes of this show, but they're worth it.
  • 41. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central, 2005-Present): When it first started, I figured it was a one-note joke that would be amusing for a short time. It's become an institution.
  • 40. Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO, 2003-Present): With endless cable news networks having to fill endless hours with an endless number of talking heads, Bill Maher cut right through all of the crap to provide an actual honest place for news opinions. I'm continually amazed at what the guests on his show, especially elected officials, will say or put up with. I imagine this is because of the atmosphere that Maher is able to create.
  • 39. Alias (ABC, 2001-06): The first two seasons of this J.J. Abrams show were awesome. By the last one, it got so bad that I've yet to see the last few episodes. But, who cared at that point? Abrams had come out with another show that, heh, may or may not be on this list.
  • 38. Heroes (NBC, 2006-Present): I'm trying to look critically at these shows and it doesn't help that I've yet to watch one episode of the fourth season, nor can I work up the motivation to do so. I don't give up on shows easily. The first season was awesome, though.
  • 37. 30 Days (FX, 2005-08): I had Super Size Me on the list last night and this show expanded upon Morgan Spurlock's looks at modern society. There aren't many shows whose cancellation I lamented more.
  • 36. Flight of the Conchords (HBO, 2007-09): The story of Jemaine and Bret and their trials and travails as Kiwi folk musicians in New York. It's officially over now, but it was great while it lasted.
  • 35. Extras (HBO, 2005-07): The thing about this show is how Ricky Gervais was able to get the huge guest stars to make fools out of themselves. Ian McKellen as an uber-gay playwright? Kate Winslet giving advice on phone sex? Patrick Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe as womanizers?
  • 34. The Soup (E!, 2004-Present): The show was rebranded to follow in Talk Soup's footsteps, but it was originally its own show. A must-watch every week.
  • 33. Monk (USA, 2002-09): It is very formulaic, so the first season is probably the best because the show was still fresh. Tony Shalhoub was so good in this role that it was worth watching just for him.
  • 32. Big Love (HBO, 2006-Present): An adult, complicated show that probably makes most of us think that all Mormons have multiple wives. Yes, there are some boring stretches, but it can also be as good as almost any other show when it's hitting its stride. It was really hitting its stride as the last season ended, so I'm really looking forward to the new season that starts next week.
  • 31. Weeds (Showtime, 2005-Present): It's totally a chick show disguised as an adult comedy, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it for the first three seasons. I've really disliked the last two seasons, except for any time Andy (Justin Kirk) is taking the lead. But those first three were excellent.
  • 30. Entourage (HBO, 2004-Present): So very, very flawed, but it can be so very, very good. It has so little true plot, but it shines when the writers actually decide to introduce adversity.
  • 29. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-Present): I have major problems with the frame story on this show, but the chemistry between the five stars drives a very funny show. Funny enough to overcome a laugh track, which is saying something.
  • 28. South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-Present): It keeps ticking away and putting out poignant, funny episodes. I know many people would put this much higher, but I barely watch it. Considering I watch a fair amount of TV, there has to be a reason I don't make sure I see every episode.
  • 27. My Name Is Earl (NBC, 2005-09): The jail and subsequent coma plots were pretty weak, but the episodes still had funny parts. The overall premise and the first season were fantastic. "Our Cops is on!" is one of my favorite comedic episodes of any show this decade.
  • 26. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-06): "Cult show" means you weren't popular, and obviously it wasn't. But it was freaking funny, especially Will Arnett and David Cross.
  • 25. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-Present): This is the sitcom we would write if we could write a sitcom. A bunch of guys (seriously, even Sweet Dee is basically a guy) who do despicable things. Simple and hilarious.
  • 24. MythBusters (Discovery, 2003-Present): Don't sleep! Probably the most fun show on TV.
  • 23. Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, 2004-09): Brilliantly written and deeply nuanced. Until the finale, at least. The pacing was weak at times, which makes this the perfect show to watch on DVD so you can see what's going to happen next even if you go through a run of episodes that don't advance the larger story.
  • 22. Pushing Daisies (ABC, 2007-09): I really loved this quirky, well-produced show. It was funnier and edgier than you'd think and the use of color was so good as to be Burton-esque.
  • 21. Freaks and Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000): Only five of the eighteen episodes aired in 1999. Eighteen episodes and it made #21 on this list. It launched the careers of stars that have just gotten big over the last few years, like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco. When you look up "before its time" in the encyclopedia, you find this show. It's the same type of humor that has made Judd Apatow so popular, just five or six years too early.
  • 20. Dexter (Showtime, 2006-Present): Even though there were edgy shows on TV in the late '90s, it's hard to imagine a show this profane and bloody. The first season is brilliant and, to be honest, you could stop there and be happy. The second was okay, the third and fourth much better, ending in a much-talked-about fourth season finale that will completely change the show. A lot of it comes down to the acting. Michael C. Hall is as good as anyone right now, but the seasons are strongest when the guest stars are strong, such as Jimmy Smits in the third and John Lithgow in the fourth.
  • 19. Pardon The Interruption (2001-Present): Simply, it has revolutionized sports television. Sure, maybe that's been for the worse in the long run, but this show has continued to be as good as ever, thanks to the dynamic between its two hosts.
  • 18. Da Ali G Show (HBO, 2003-04): Sacha Baron Cohen's no-stone-left-unmocked satire. What is it with British shows only being on for two seasons? Such a shame.
  • 17. The Daily Show (Comedy Central, 1996-Present): It changed journalism, period. Jon Stewart started in 1999 and had the best decade of any news guy. He made fun of Bush, he called out the government on torture, he used comedy to point out the problems with our society. One list of the best shows of the decade had this at #2. I disagree, but I understand.
  • 16. Grey's Anatomy (ABC, 2005-Present): I dislike almost every character and I complain about how unrealistic the show is, but I keep watching and enjoying. The show makes you invested, thanks to its great writing and fully fleshed-out character development.
  • 15. American Idol (Fox, 2002-Present): I'm not sure that any other show on this list has affected American culture the way this one has. It is an event program, the ultimate water-cooler show.
  • 14. The Amazing Race (CBS, 2001-Present): It's rarely as suspenseful as you think it's going to be and the suspense is often contrived, but it excels when the suspense is real. The real star is the world, as the show does a great job of showing off other cultures and how the racers interact with them. I'm sure there are logistical issues, but this show suffers more than any other from not being in HD.
  • 13. House (Fox, 2004-Present): Much like with Monk, it's formulaic but it has a great actor that makes the show perpetually worthwhile. It's much better than Monk though, and it's not quite as formulaic. Hugh Laurie's House and Robert Sean Leonard's Wilson are so good together that, while the show is based on the Sherlock Holmes stories, the new Sherlock Holmes steals their Holmes-Watson dynamic from this show's House-Wilson one.
  • 12. Friday Night Lights (NBC and The 101 Network, 2006-Present): I'm eighteen episodes into the twenty-two episode first season. Yes, I understand the second season is awful. But I've heard the third and fourth are much better and the first is just that good. Where the movie failed the book by being only about football, the show tackles the book's more important themes, like education, race, and the kids' futures. The kids themselves are great and the football is as realistic as you'll find, but the real delight here is the chemistry between Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. The looks, the way the lines are delivered; you'd think they were actually a married couple.
  • 11. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, 2000-Present): The granddaddy of the rash of crime procedural dramas that have infested the airwaves, this show is still going strong. Perpetually underrated, able to survive the loss of their charismatic star, never afraid to try something out. It's so popular that it could rest on its laurels and churn out the same episode over and over, but it doesn't. That deserves a lot of credit.
  • 10. The Office (BBC Two, 2001-03): Yes, the real one. It's quite possible that Ricky Gervais is the funniest man in entertainment right now and it started with his portrayal of David Brent. It consisted of only twelve episodes and a two-episode series finale, but it looms large over almost all other sitcoms of the decade. The piece de resistance was the ending of the finale. "Never give up." So good.
  • 9. 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-Present): It has the smart kind of humor that Arrested Development had, but it came around at the right time to stay on the air and win award after award. The whole cast is funny, but I could watch Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin play off of each other all day.
  • 8. Chappelle's Show (Comedy Central, 2003-2006): It had a great, groundbreaking two seasons. Two seasons that were as funny and as brilliant as could be. It set a new bar for what's funny on television. Two amazing seasons. A third would have been one too many.
  • 7. 24 (Fox, 2001-Present): It, more than any other show, benefitted from the post-9/11 mentality. You think people weren't okay with the US torturing people because they had already seen Jack Bauer do it for years? The country wanted a superhero to protect us and they got Jack. It's had some weak seasons, but it's had more strong ones. How many people have spent sleepless nights watching episode after episode on DVD? "Just one more! I just want to see what happens next!"
  • 6. Lost (ABC, 2004-Present): I've written about this show ad nauseum. Everyone has. You won't be able to escape it come February 2. The best thing I can say about the movie Up In The Air is that it is as deep as you are willing to let it be. For all of the crazy peripheral stuff around Lost, that is true of this show. It's just that it's so much more fun to dig and dig and dig.
  • 5. Mad Men (AMC, 2007-Present): I'll let the review I wrote before the third season started speak for itself. The third season was just as good as the first two. The third season finale was as good as TV gets. Who ever thought a show on some third-rate basic cable network that would never have survived, or even been picked up, by a major network could influence fashion and culture the way this one can?
  • 4. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000-Present): Larry David's adventures through life annoy us, teach us, worry us, make us uncomfortable. I not only think it's the funniest show ever, but its Season Four episode "The Survivor" is the funniest single episode ever. I laugh out loud when I even think about this show.
  • 3. Survivor (CBS, 2000-Present): If you hate reality TV, blame it on Survivor. In its own way, it may be the most influential show of the decade. Nobody had really ever thought about voting people off a show in this way before. It's hard to imagine that, but it's the truth. That first season changed everything and, eighteen "seasons" later, it continues to shine. There have been some bad iterations, but they are few and they haven't happened for a while. The casting has been superb as of late.
  • 2. The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007): With only the possible exception of Idol, it's the most talked-about show of the decade. The ending is still being pondered. It influenced the art of long-form stories in drama shows. It brought a more artistic form to TV. It was as frank as any show had been up to that point. It had some weak episodes, maybe even seasons, but it was as good as anything else when it was at the top of its game. It may not have been the first original show on HBO, but it completely revolutionized cable programming and television in general.
  • 1. The Wire (HBO, 2002-08): It's so difficult to gush about The Sopranos but have it as only my #2 show. Well, it's only but so difficult because of the following fact. The Wire is the greatest TV show of all time. Period. The Sopranos may not actually be that close. Nothing is as deep, as nuanced, as flat-out honest. It took a modern city and looked at every facet of its being. It not only turned a mirror on us to examine the society we've built, it put a gun to our head and screamed at us to face up to who we are. It never held back, it never came up short, it never failed. It went places in its fourth season, generally considered the best season of any show ever, that we could never have imagined a show would be brave enough to go. This has been the best decade of TV ever and this show reigns supreme.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you have copy writer for so good articles? If so please give me contacts, because this really rocks! :)