The Best TV of the Decade

"Red Shoe Diaries" counts, right?

Alyssa Vincent:

10) Project Runway (2004)—“You’re out.” The worst words a designer can hear, especially when they come from the mouth of Heidi Klum. This reality hit is surprisingly suspenseful for a show about designing clothing, and after a few seasons of watching, I find myself yelling at the television when a designer gets the (obviously) wrong fabric for a challenge. No! Put the jersey knit down!! Emotional investment at its finest.

9) Scrubs (2001)—Who needs hour-long medical dramas like E.R. when you’ve got the hilarious hijinks of the doctors at Sacred Heart hospital? The show was at its best during the first couple of seasons with a pre-"Garden State" Zach Braff, but the show’s unique brand of slapstick humor and heartwarming morality made it a joy to watch.

8) Queer as Folk (2000)—This show preceded the “gay guys are awesome!” movement that had its heyday in 2003 with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Back in 2000, this show was just a well-written one that went beyond the shock value of seeing two men have sex and be romantic. It developed each character past just what kind of “gay” they were, and played a part in normalizing homosexuality in television.

7) Flight of the Conchords (2007)—This is about as creative as television gets, since the show is like a pared-down version of "Arrested Development" with original music mixed in. The moment Bret and  Jermaine named themselves Rhymenoceros and Hiphopopotamus, I was hooked.

6) The Office (U.S. version, 2005)—Thanks, Steve Carrell, for making Americans fantasize about having a desk job again. While the show has had its off moments, they started out strong and are beginning to regain their former steam. And let’s be honest—the character of Michael Scott has always been entertaining.

5) 30 Rock (2006)—It’s a formula that can’t produce a negative result: have Alec Baldwin say things that Tina Fey has written. Throw Tracy Morgan into the mix, and suddenly, you’re wishing that it was an hour-long drama/soap opera parody/musical instead of just a half-hour sitcom.

4) Weeds (2005)—The only thing cooler than a show about gay men is a show about pot! Am I right? Yes, I am. Mary Louise Parker could literally carry the show if she needed to with her perfect portrayal of a suburban mom who gets seduced by the money that being a drug dealer provides. The show has taken amazing twists, and after five seasons, the original concept has morphed into a whole new, fascinating beast.

3) Angels in America (2003)—I know it’s a miniseries, but it’s one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen on television. It’s a gorgeous, faithful, and moving adaptation of Tony Kushner’s seminal play, and with actors like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and yes, Mary Louise Parker at the helm, you can’t help but settle in for four straight hours and let it all sink in.

2) Arrested Development (2003)—The show that left us too soon. Was it too obscure to succeed? Of course. But it was still the funniest, most original comedy sitcom that we’ve seen this decade. Can you listen to “The Final Countdown,” look at a banana, or ride a Segway without thinking of that show? If you can, go rent all of the seasons right now and prepare yourself for a treat.

1) House (2004)—It’s hard for me to iterate what’s so good about "House. Could it be the handsome and devilishly talented Hugh Laurie in the title role as a pill-popping diagnostician? The whip-smart writing and plot development that has sustained a show that could have petered out after two seasons? I’ll take a combination of both. Year after year, House comes back stronger and better than ever, and now that Dr. House is sober, I can’t wait to see where they’ll take the show next.


Max Alborn:

10.) House M.D.: A modern day, medical Sherlock Holmes, “House” helped redefined the anti-hero on American T.V., reaching millions across the globe. He pops pills, insults his patients and staff and only searches for the answer, damning the means. While the show can be wildly predictable (they don't know what's wrong, they find a solution, it's wrong, rinse and repeat until you find a solution). What keeps it going are it's central characters that surround the titular House. It's funny, it's dramatic and bolsters an iconic role with strong secondary characters. What's not to love or remember about this series? 

9.) South Park: First going on the air in the 90s, the 2000s were a turning point for the landmark series in the best possibly way. Shifting from shock value to social satire, the boys have gone up an elementary grade, become anime ninjas, could not get Tom Cruise out of the closet and fought Osama Bin Laden. Throughout the decade, the show has maintained it's shock factor but deftly handled by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. No public figure or issue is safe and often taken to extremes...and it's fantastic. 

8.) The Closer: Take a Southern Belle who is armed with a sidearm and silver tongue, throw her in L.A. as a Deputy Chief of Police and you have the makings of “The Closer”. Centered around the nature of police investigations and interrogations, “The Closer” features one of the stronger leading lady's to come along T.V. It's is only helped by Sedwick's exceptional performance and as the show is without  shame of it's southern charm or L.A. violence, it's allowed a greater range of stories to tell within one of the most volatile cities in the country. It's heart in the right place, it's brain is on the hunt and the confessions of the criminals never get old to watch.  

7.) Dexter: Talk about conflict. Who knew America would fall for a serial killer? Mind you, his M.O. is that he kills other serial killers. Bad people doing bad things. What makes “Dexter” so special is in the mindset of it's titular character and his disconnect from the rest of the world; often referring to himself as something inhuman. The arc heavy format of each season tend to keep viewers going all season (you have to see what happens, dammit!) the ensemble is cable pedigreed (a lot of “Oz” alum here) and Michael C. Hall (of “Six Feet Under” fame) gives one of the best performances in one of the best roles on T.V., balancing a family man exterior with a killer personality that revels in the hunt of human beings. I love it. 

6.) True Blood: Not since “Battlestar” have I been so wildly addictive to a new show. Featuring one of the best cast of characters to come along in a dramatic series. In fact, the secondary characters sometimes are far more interesting than the two leads. Eric is as hilarious as he is deadly. If you've never seen the show, see it for Eric (especially the 2nd season). If you love “Twilight”...drop it. It's a bad series. Go for “True Blood” which is funnier, sexier and a touch more gothic. After all, isn't that what vampires are kind of all about? 

5.) Six Feet Under: It's an unusual premise when you go to a network and tell them you want to create a show that centers on a family of undertakers in L.A. However, for five seasons, HBO and Alan Ball (creator of “True Blood”) brought us the lives of the Fishers; a family that gives “dysfunctional” a whole new meaning. Built around the concepts of life, death and the ever beyond and possessing a large portion of dark humor, “Six Feet Under” is a family long as the family is full grown. 

4.) In Treatment: I am a sucker for strong dialogue. As “In Treatment” focuses on a therapist and his various patiences, there is nothing but talking going on. No action sequences. No car chases. No flashy set pieces. Just pure, unadulterated talking. And it's such good talking. With Gabriel Byrne (who can do more with silence than any actor out there) starring as Paul and Diane Wiest as his therapist and colleague, you can do no wrong. The format of the show is also unique, with the first season airing five times a week, Monday through Friday to coincide with Paul's various patients and his own treatment. It's a lot to commit to, but “In Treatment” is fantastic characterization and writing that has only just got the ball rolling.   

3.) Arrested Development: This show marked a turning point for sitcoms (at least for me). Taking away the laugh track, giving us outrageous characters and providing some of the best writing in a sitcom (EVER) “Arrested Development” took cult status to another level, keeping it alive for three years before getting axed by the merciless Fox network (they can be brutal when it comes to ratings). Ah well. The show speaks for itself with three years of comic gold, paving the way for the likes of the Americanized “Office” and “30 Rock”. 

2.) Battlestar Galactica: I don't really like sci-fi. I mean I do, but I'm not a committed lover of sci-fi. “Battlestar Galactica” is sci-fi, to be sure but it is so much more. Because the nature of the show is what it is, BSG is an action piece in all the right places but ultimately is a character study (hello Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos!). The divisions between humans and robots (affectionately known as Cylons) go beyond biology, but ideology. What makes us human? What makes me us alive? What will we do to ensure survival? These are three questions thrown into a bevy of others put forward in a sci-fi show that appeals for those that don't even like sci-fi. Take that and add on to the fact that BSG is the only sci-fi themed show that has ever won television's highest honor: The Peabody Award. 

1.) The West Wing: Set within an idealistic Democratic White House, “The West Wing” was one of the best political shows to come along to television (maybe the best). Winner of numerous Emmys, including Best Dramatic Series, “Wing” was armed with sharp writing (some of Aaron Sorkin's best) exceptional performances (I would vote for Martin Sheen if he ran for President) and pristine (albeit liberal) political values. While not everything is black and white in “Wing”, it certainly gives you more hope for our system of government over such shows as “24”. A little hope and humor in politics never hurt anyone and has a greater chance of lasting through the years. “West Wing” will last into the years.  

Honorable Mentions: Rome, Nip/Tuck, Carnivale, Rescue Me, Weeds 


Ryan Peters:

10. South Park: A few days ago I read an interviewer with “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane in which he commented that “The Simpsons” had aged better than “South Park,” which, of course, is a ridiculous thing to say. While “The Simpsons” has blunted its edge in the past ten years, “South Park” has become sharper in every way possible. The writing is more focused, the characters better-used, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone have spent the past five years using the show savage everything in pop culture and politics that they possibly can. Here’s one for debate: Best episode in the show’s history? I think a lot of people might pick the “Imaginationland” trilogy, but I’ll go with the tenth season episode “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy,” in which Cartman acts like Duane “Dog” Chapman (the bounty hunter) and has his fake wife spray people in the face with bear mace. 

9. The Office: Beats. Bears. Battlestar Galatica. The U.S. version of “The Office” started out as a poor imitation of the U.K. original. But over time (that time being seasons 2-4), the show came into its own  and, arguably, surpassed its source material. Why? Michael became more stupid and less of a jerk. The show developed its peripheral characters. And, let’s admit it, Dwight is the best character from either versions. The show declined a bit in season five, but the writing seems to have tightened up again in season six. Now the writers just have to make it so that Pam and Jim, formerly the best duo on the show, are no longer the most annoying thing in each episode. 

8. The Shield: Outside of “Law & Order,” most cop shows offer shitty dialogue, one-note characters, or Dennis Franz’s bare ass. But from the start, “The Shield” displayed a remarkable amount of narrative integrity, killing what looked like a major character in the first episode. The show featured some of the most complex characters in TV drama for the past decade, and the series finale did what so many other series finales fail to do: be better than every single episode that comes before it. I didn’t know what to do after the final episode, other than to sit there, floored. That’s the measure of great television. 

7. The Discovery Channel: The Discovery Channel gets some big ups not so much for a single program, as for its general programming philosophy, which values ferocious animals eating each other, and human beings getting their shit ruined by mother nature. My personal favorite is “Deadliest Catch,” in which grizzled journeymen who almost certainly would have been gold prospectors in the 1850’s battle the waves and the cold in Bering Sea to catch crab. Then there’s “Man vs. Wild,” in which host Bear Grylls survives harsh landscapes by drinking urine and hunting animals with a bow-staff fashioned out of a gourd. And who could forget the (mega) mini-series “Planet Earth”? Finally, stoners have something educational to look at while they hit the bong.

6. Arrested Development: Everything that can be said about this show already has. It was too clever, too obscure, and too well-acted to catch on with a wide audience. But what many people fail to realize is that “Arrested Development” laid the groundwork for successful shows like “30 Rock” and “Modern Family.” Neither show is as high-concept as “Arrested Development,” but they feature the same rapid-fire, highly-orchestrated tone. And while both are great, neither comes close to the Bluth family.

5. House: Gregory House isn’t the single best television character of the past decade (that honor goes to Tony Soprano), but he is very, very close. Intelligent, misanthropic, anti-social, drug-addled, and hilarious. The sixth season premiere finds House institutionalized because of his drug-soaked hallucinations (of sleeping with his boss, Cuddy, no less). The two-hour episode is a microcosm of the entire series: Not a single recurring character outside of House appears in the story, and yet nothing was missing. For a show that is populated with great characters, what’s amazing is how everything runs through the title character. Without him, and without Hugh Laurie’s brilliant portrayal, the show doesn’t work. Everything else can fade to the background, and the show doesn’t lose a beat with House at its center. Plus, you’d be hard-pressed to find another dramatic series with as many hilarious one-liners (some people might want to say “Boston Legal,” both those people are overlooking the fact that “Boston Legal” sucked).

4. The Daily Show / The Colbert Report: Hey, remember when Jon Stewart took a concept first introduced by Saturday Night Live and reshaped by Craig Kilborn, and then did a better job than anyone on SNL and Craig Kilborn combined? Hey, remember when Stephen Colbert’s satire of ego-centric, temperamental, fact-deficient news commentators was so dead-on that “truthiness,” a nonsense word Colbert invented to illustrate the perspective of hosts like Bill O’Reiley and Sean Hannity, was entered into the dictionary? No two shows have done more to make satire relevant and humor intelligent than “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” over the past ten years. They have become cultural forces in their own right.

3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I once heard someone describe “It’s Always Sunny” as “‘Seinfeld’ on crack.” And really, what more can you say? This show started out scratching the bottom barrel of respectability, and has only become more and more depraved and hilarious in the past five years. The first two seasons are great, but the last three have been nothing short of brilliant. More irreverent, less structured and more offensive, the show has blossomed by removing any moral center from any of its characters. Oh, and don’t forget the addition of Danny Devito, who plays Frank, the best character on the show (sorry, Charlie). I mean, where else are you going to see Danny Devito “botch” his toe as he picks his nail with a steak knife? 

2. The Sopranos: First off, give some credit to HBO for producing the two best shows of the decade (and, really, two of the best programs in television history). I had some difficulty in deciding whether to put “The Sopranos” in second place or at the top of the list, and the only reason that David Chase’s near-flawless series occupies the runner up spot is that the social commentary in “The Wire” is more potent. Still, as a character study, nothing has ever been as great as “The Sopranos”—in television or film. The show was much like the family at its core: a sprawling, combustible, living thing. And it was all anchored by the character of Tony Soprano and its brilliant portrayal by James Gandolfini. Tony was fascinating, moving, and scary because of his narcissism, vulnerability, and volatile temper. And Gandolfini gave what is perhaps the best performance in television history (Michael Chiklis in “Daddio” is a close second) by completely inhabiting the character. There are a lot of things I could point to as proof, but whenever I think of Tony Sopranos I think of the way he eats; the way he makes noise and breathes through his nose. Gandolfini did that from the beginning, and it became representative of the way Tony consumed money, women, and his family. Small detail, meaningful result. That’s a microcosm for everything great about “The Sopranos.” 

1. The Wire: It’s too difficult to explain this show to those who have never seen it. It’s a crime show, but it’s about poverty. It’s about poverty, but it’s really about the drug business and how it can be run like a fortune 500 company. It’s about the education system, politics, and beaurocracy of Baltimore. In short, it’s about a city rotting from the inside out, or from its top to its bottom. It’s not only the best show of the decade, but I think you could make a very serious argument that it’s the best show that has ever been on television.

Amy "Too Cool to Rank 'Em 1-10" Dittmeier:

Lost (2004 to present)

Firefly (2002)

Deadwood (2004 to 2007)

Arrested Development (2003 to 2006)

Six Feet Under (2001 to 2005)

The Office (2005 to present)

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005 to present)

Planet Earth (2006)

Flight of the Conchords (2007 to present)

Extras (2005 to 2007)

Dominick Mayer:

1. Lost (2004-present): The most forward-thinking show of this generation and destined to enter the all-time canon of great science fiction. TV might never see anything like this again.

2. The Venture Bros. (2003-present): What started as a knockoff of “Jonny Quest” has turned into the most uproariously funny show on TV while also managing to be oddly poignant and fully engaging every week. Nothing on television has ever fleshed out backstory for every single character like this show has.

3. Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006): So what if Dave Chappelle eventually freaked out under pressure and fleed to South Africa? It doesn’t erase the fact that he created two seasons of jaw-droppingly ballsy, brilliant sketch comedy that’s still quoted to this day.

4. Arrested Development (2003-2006): Easily the best sitcom ever, mainly because it blended so-called “alt-comedy” with absurdity worthy of Monty Python and one of the best casts ever assembled. This is your proof that Fox is a place where brilliant, ahead-of-their-time TV shows go to die, like…

5. Undeclared (2001-2002) …this all-too-real sitcom about the plight of being a freshman in college. After NBC killed the wonderful Freaks & Geeks (only excluded from this list because it started in 1999), Judd Apatow had to watch Fox do it all over again; don’t worry, I hear he got the last laugh later on.

6. Breaking Bad (2008-present): Bryan Cranston shatters any memories of his time on Malcolm In The Middle as Walter White, a mild-mannered high school teacher turned terminal cancer patient and meth manufacturer. Imagine the raw, unbearable tension of No Country For Old Men, but serialized and aired once a week.

7. Deadwood (2004-2006): The Old West how it really was, meaning hookers, corruption and frequent knife violence. Ian McShane as Al Swearingen is quite possibly the greatest TV character of all time.

8. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2005-present): There’s something very telling about this show being one of the most popular comedies of the decade. It’s like Seinfeld if the gang on that show were oddly loveable sociopaths.

9. Extras (2005-2007): After the British version of The Office ended, Ricky Gervais took on show business. This is as painful and uncomfortable as comedy gets, but also as audaciously hilarious.

10. Survivor (2000-present): The beginning of reality TV, and still the best it’s ever been done. America watched people screw each other using cunning and strategy, something that almost feels naïve now. 

Posted by Ryan Peters, Ryan Peters on Dec 28, 2009 @ 12:00 am

the office, arrested development, south park, venture bros, lost, the west wing, six feet under