2009-12-08

Best 10 TV Shows of the Decade

As the 00s roll to an end, I pause to reflect on the good times I’ve had over the past ten years. For better or worse, many of those good times were in front of a television set. What better way to commemorate a decade of amazing television than to count down my ten favorite TV shows of the 2000s.

10. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-present)

It’s hard to imagine that a show can be so enjoyable with absolutely no likeable characters. That’s not an exaggeration, each character is positively awful by design. Nonetheless, it’s a fun change of pace to actively cheer against your protagonists and hope they find their comeuppance, all while laughing along the way. The show has a consistent them: think of the most offensive premise possible and run with it. Over the years, the gang, several alcoholics who run a pub, fakes cancer to get sex, switches positions at an abortion protest because the opposing side has hotter women, and intentionally addicts themselves to crack in an effort to obtain welfare. Their romantic lives are short-lived interactions with underage teenagers, disabled veterans, each other’s mothers, transsexuals, serial killers, and ambiguously “retarded” people. It’s hard to fault a show for going to far when that’s exactly what it’s aspiring too – and succeeding.

9. Bands on the Run (VH1, 2001)

You probably haven’t even heard of this one, but I’ve got to pay respect to this little-known reality series, even if it did only last a single season. VH1 invited four undiscovered bands to embark on a cross-country tour to sell the most tickets and merchandise. Fortunately, the competition was secondary to the personalities and antics of the bands. There was Harlow, the goth chick band; Josh Dodes Band, the nerd band; Soulcracker, the fratty industrious band who’d do anything to succeed; and Flickerstick, the hedonistic, lazy band who succeeded effortlessly. The show was always entertaining, featuring binge drinking, groupies, rivalry, sabotage, adultery, and tour bus crashes. Extra points to VH1 for initially trying to tie its reality programming to something music-related before abandoning the network’s premise entirely for D-list celebrity shows.

8. South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-present)

Sure, the show debuted to adolescent praise in the 1990s, but it was still finding its footing in its initial seasons. South Park has matured (which I concede is a strange thing to say about a foul-mouthed show) into one of the most thought-provoking shows on television. When it wants to be juvenile, South Park can be one of the most absurd shows around, but when it wants to be intelligent, it far exceeds shows with twice the reputation. Leaving no social, religious, or political issue unscathed, I can think of no better contemporary satire on television. Plus, just when you think you have a handle on what the message of the episode is, the show does a 180 and demonstrates a contrasting viewpoint – often convincingly. In a sense, it’s more fair and balanced than Fox News could ever be. Now suck my balls.

7. Glee (Fox, 2009-present)

Though it may seem premature to select a baby of a series, Glee has been nothing short of a delight. With smart humor, fast plotlines, and entertaining musical numbers, I’m enamored with the series about a high school glee club. While the show can be a bit hokey, it definitely knows it’s cheesy and owns its cheesiness, with delicious results. The characters are funny and lovable in spite of their faults; Jane Lynch’s sharp-tongued antagonist Sue might go down in history as one of television’s funniest characters. I am willing to admit with the critics that the show is strikingly similar to the 1999 film Election, but as that is one of my favorite movies of all time, I have no problem. Who wouldn’t want to be able to watch new installments of their favorite movie each week? So far, I’m hooked.

6. Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005)

It’s understandable that a family who operates a funeral parlor out of its home would become desensitized and emotionless. In the premiere, however, this detachment is put to the test when the family’s patriarch dies. From there, we watch the characters grow and see their ups and downs – there’s far more of the latter. Often dramatic and occasionally intensely funny, we become so engrossed in the family’s struggles that we begin to care about the characters as if they were our own family. The show’s five seasons are quite tumultuous, and if you stick with it until the end, the finale will have you sobbing – I guarantee it.

5. Lost (ABC, 2004-present)

Part soap opera, part science fiction series, Lost has caught the attention of millions. After a plane crash strands an ensemble cast on what can best be described as a magical island, the survivors encounter an unending sequence of mysteries and coincidences that are too relevant to all be coincidental. Ultimately, the show’s secret formula is to offer more questions than answers, keeping the viewers coming back for more. Sometimes I feel like a sucker for having devoted so many hours of my life to a show that only complicates things further each episode, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The proof is in the pudding: at each cliffhanger, I emit a sound of shock, which is quite a feat for a show that attempts to surprise each week. I’m still surprised, so I still care, and I’m excited to see how things wrap up this spring.

4. Survivor (CBS, 2000-present)

It’s a simple enough premise: put a group of people on a deserted island and have them vote each other out until only one remains. In its early years, the show was a cultural phenomenon, and though its popularity has waned, its entertainment value has not. The format allows for unlimited possibilities, and with each new group of castaways comes new choices and outcomes. As contestants grapple with issues of strategy and morality, they must attempt to find ways to follow the show’s motto: “outwit, outplay, outlast.” I’ve stuck with this show for all of its nineteen seasons and it’s always paid off.

3. The Office (NBC, 2005-present)

Unpopular opinion alert: I like the American version better than its British predecessor! The cubicle exploits of employees at a paper company are hilarious. Boss Michael Scott is so irritating that we feel the employees’ frustrations as strongly as if we worked for the company as well. The series does a good job of advancing storylines and changing relationships so that it doesn’t get monotonous. Though the primary players are all comical and well acted, what really makes this show awesome is the host of secondary characters. Though the office is packed with so many secondary characters that their one-liners might be their only line of an episode, bit players like Creed, Kelly, Kevin, Angela, Phyllis, Stanley, and Toby make the show so watchable.

2. Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present)

Television dramas are rarely well written, but this one is so meticulously crafted that I’m hooked. Following the lives of workers at a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 60s, Mad Men takes us to a world that is simultaneously cool yet tragic. Without getting preachy, the show explores a lot of social issues that are as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. The pace of the show can be slow, but the pay-offs are so monumental that it always feels worth the wait. The characters are rich and show notable growth; Mad Men has the distinction of having a supporting cast that is as complex and captivating as the leads. After a new episode, I’ll often smack my couch to emphasize what a good hour of television I’ve just witnessed.

1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006)

Hands down, Arrested Development is the funniest and, dare I say, best show on television ever. How this show never found an audience is a mystery, since everyone I have introduced it to has fallen for its unmistakable charms. Michael Bluth, the show’s protagonist and moral center, must take over the family business after his father goes to jail. The only problem is that he must now deal with his cruel mother, delusional magician illusionist brother, vain sister, and over-educated yet under-common-sensed brother on a regular basis. What strikes me most about this show is that every single detail is intentional. Everything is self-referential and it requires keen attention to even grasp half of the jokes. I’ve watched some episodes as many as ten times, and I always find several new elements to laugh at that previously went unnoticed. Perhaps it’s best that this show died prematurely before descending into less clever fare, but I’m so confident in the job the creators were doing that I somehow doubt they’d ever let us down.

And there you have it, my favorite ten television shows of the 00s. What do you think? What were your favorite shows of the decade? Give me your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

*Honorable mentions go to: The Daily Show with John Stewart, True Blood, Cash Cab, 30 Rock, Weeds, The Soup, Reno 911!, The Amazing Race.

6 comments:

Kim said...

Take Glee off this list and replace it with HOARDERS!!!

BEASTIE! Come back!

MidWestDeception49 said...

if this were the oscars you'd name 'as the world turns' the best show, because it's terminal and dead actors always win big

Amber said...

Kevin, fantastic list. My all time favorite show is arrested development, Glee is fabulous, and I never knew what Mad men was about until reading your synopsis. Thank you for answering a mystery for me and Karl. p.s. Seeing you list south park reminded me of when Matt asked us if South Park was rated PG on that lock-in. I think your response was yes, Positively Graphic.

Kevin said...

Kim: Hoarders is great, but not top 10. But we need to have a big long conversation about Bands on the Run. Beastie was ridiculous, I was all about Ramsey.

"MidWest": I've never seen that show, but you might have inspired a future post... stay tuned!

Amber: Get watching Mad Men! And I do remember Matt asking if South Park was PG, but I more so remember nearly pissing myself than giving a witty response. I'm sure Travis just said "Yes" and got us all in trouble.

Laura said...

No Curb? Really Kevin?

Amber said...

It is much more possible that we came up with that later on in the evening, after you pissed yourself and Travis got us in trouble...