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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Nicsperiment's Favorite 18 Movies of the 00s

I am not a film critic. I have a minor in film at Louisiana State University, and since I was a small child, I have seen a whole lot of movies. Also, I have a blog, and everyone with a blog and an interest in film has a favorite or "best" films list, so here is mine. To be different and less wordy than usual, I am holding myself to ONE sentence per film.

18. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)
O Brother is about as much fun as one can have in the cinema, a music-filled journey into the heart of the mythological South.

17. (TIE) Unbreakable (2000), Closer (2004)

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The first film details the awakening of a hero, while the second is a film without one, the complexities of inter-relational discord bravely ventured.

16. The Dark Knight (2008)
The best superhero movie ever made doesn't really need to be described.

15. Kill Bill (2003-2004)
Kill Bill begins as violent narcotics for the eyes, but develops into a thoughtful meditation on vengeance.

14. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The best action film of the decade focuses not on revenge, but repentance, and it utilizes the best car chase in the last ten years just to set up a tearful confession.

13. Sideways (2004)
The only accurate film about writing, brave enough to show its unglamorous, often unsatisfying side.

12. The Aviator (2004)
The price of brilliance is sometimes too high to pay, though no expense was spared in this stunning recreation of the American past.

11. Mysterious Skin (2005)
In a broken world of unspeakable horrors, connection and healing comes from the most unexpected.

10. Broken Flowers (2005)
A "what have I done with my life?" film about absent fathers...from the perspective of an absent father.

9. Zodiac (2007)
A seductive study in obsession, hypnotically shot and incredibly well acted.

8. The New World (2005)
Gorgeously ponders how people change when presented with the new and yet above all cherishes the value of commitment.

7. The Hurt Locker (2009)
One of the most suspenseful movies ever made takes a look at what drives us to do what may end us.

6. Punchdrunk Love (2002)
A man is driven to the brink of madness and despair by the world around him, only to be saved by grace.

5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
The crowning achievement of Peter Jackson's trilogy takes its liberties from the book, yet becomes its own incredible, epic adventure that will likely never be topped by another film.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007)
A man with strong desires to own things gets everything but loses his mind and family, though the viewer can still creepily see themselves in him.

3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Highlights man's struggle against incomprehensible, unstoppable evil but hints it is only in our resistance and refusal of evil, even in our death, that gives us victory over it.

2. The 25th Hour (2002)
A film about the cost of our actions and the price we must pay for them, both on a personal and national level.

1.Lost in Translation (2003)
A beautiful, touching film about finding yourself in a place you don't understand with someone at the opposite end of the journey.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nicsperiment's Top 18 Bands of the 00s

I've been playing with the idea of a best albums of the decade list, but thought that was played out, so here is my list of the best 18 musical acts of the decade (In my opinion). These bands (I feel) composed the best collective body of work throughout the decade and showed the most growth and diversity. I will also preface this by saying I am a rock fan, and other genres will suffer in this list by comparison. I'll count down this time to make things more suspenseful:

18. Thrice
Identity Crisis (2001)
The Illusion of Safety (2002)
The Artists in the Ambulance (2003)
Vheissu (2005)
The Alchemy Index Volumes I and II (2007)
The Alchemy Index Volumes III and IV (2008)
Beggars (2009)
Various EPs

Thrice has been pretty tireless since their birth at the beginning of the decade, and their musical growth can easily be charted album to album. At first a throwaway punk band, Thrice tightened their sound until they became good songwriters. At this point, they shifted gears entirely into a more experimental rock sound, vocalist Dustin Kensrue's voice maturing and gaining character as the band went along. Thrice ended the decade as a victim of it. Their most recent album, Beggars, was leaked months before the release date, changing the entire marketing plan behind the album as well as the release date itself. The album, however, is a joy, an experiment in bare bones rock, though it begs the question, Can Thrice go anywhere else after this?

17. The Arcade Fire
Funeral (2004)
Neon Bible (2007)

The Arcade Fire look like a bunch of street ruffians. They also sound like bunch of street ruffians. They aren't particularly great at their instruments, and at first glance, they don't really seem like they would be much of band. Somehow, they have released two of the most critically lauded albums of the decade. I think this is because: 1. They write great songs, and 2. They seem incredibly socially aware and rail against personal and communal issues that should be railed against in a way that sounds innocent without being naive.

16. TV 0n the Radio

OK Calculator (2002)
Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes (2004)
Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)
Dear Science (2008)

I have to start this off by saying that while I love TV on the Radio, I am not sure if they have deserved some of the extreme accolades they have received. That said, they are a pretty awesome band, and any fan of rock, alternative, funk, jazz, free-jazz, punk, a capella, soul, electronic, swing, disco, blues, techno, new wave, or hip-hop music will find something to love. Maybe TV on the Radio does deserve the accolades they have received.

15. mewithoutYou
(A to B) Life (2002)
Catch for Us the Foxes (2004)
Brother, Sister (2006)
It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream!It's Alright (2009)

This is perhaps the most grudgingly added act on this list. mewithoutYou have in many ways set the trend for the decade. They began as a free-form, freak-out post-punk band, then followed up their debut with the beautiful Catch for Us the Foxes, which sounds like mid-80s U2 at their prettiest. Personally, I would have been overjoyed if mewithoutYou would have continued to follow this path, but their following two albums have brought us in an entirely new direction. The band may as well be called a folk act now, as they have hippied out on us, mellowing out to the extreme that the band that once sang about burning like torches now sounds like a campfire sing-a-long. Still, I can't deny their skill, charm, and versatility.

14. U2
All that You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
No Line on the Horizon (2009)

Though I can still say that U2 is my favorite band, the 00s came nowhere near to matching the quality of the band's 80s output. They began the decade in style with one of their best works, an album that truly needs to be heard, an exhale of the beautiful breath of the human experience. The follow up album sounded too calculated and disjointed, though, a definite step back. No Line on the Horizon was a big step forward in the right direction. It was marred only by the bonehead choice of the song Get on Your Boots as lead single. Honestly Boots could have been left off the otherwise excellent album in the first place. Let us hope that U2 takes the 10s in stride and accepts their place as lovable, aging troubadours and not wannabe-hip grandpas.

13. John Reuben
Are We the Yet? (2000)
Hindsight (2002)
Professional Rapper (2003)
The Boy vs the Cynic (2005)
Word of Mouth (2007)
Sex, Drugs, and Self-Control (2009)

Following John Reuben's rapping career this decade has been like watching a kid grow up. His train of throwaway fun de-railed by excellent artistic redirection Professional Rapper, Reuben became more serious with each album, music maturing along with lyrics. Reuben reached an artistic peak with 2007s Word of Mouth (which AllMusic accurately describes as an "unqualified triumph"). While Jay-Z lost relevancy every year, Eminem faded into obscurity, and Lil Wayne went insane, Reuben has quietly become the rapper with the most artistic credence, honestly speaking his mind, all the while honing the music backing him up into something more and more listenable.

12. Blindside
A Thought Crushed My Mind (2000)
Silence (2002)
About a Burning Fire (2004)
The Great Depression (2005)
The Black Rose EP (2007)

The kind of growth Blindside made in the 00s is the kind that makes a true fan giddy. Beginning the decade as a throat-shedding hardcore band, the group made a shockingly good left turn into the mainstream-rock world with Silence. The band used this as a jumping off point to About a Burning Fire, an album that flirted with jazz, techno, folk, yodeling!, and pretty much everything but cohesion. Miraculously, the band fused all this and more into perfection on their follow-up, The Great Depression, crafting arguably the best rock record of the decade. The Great Depression essentially sums up the Western world of the 00s, decrying a people that could easily be happy and bring happiness to others, but choose otherwise.

11. Portishead
Third (2008)

I know that in Portishead's 18 years together, they have only managed to release three albums. They have only released one album this decade. That being said, Portishead summed up the feeling and emotional palette of both decade's with the albums released therein, and if they only release one album in the 10s, I have no doubt they will create another timeless, yet seminal masterpiece.

10. The Mars Volta
De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
Frances the Mute (2005)
Amputechture (2006)
The Bedlam in Goliath (2008)
Octahedron (2009)
Various EPs

No mainstream band put out crazier music this decade than The Mars Volta. Despite their eccentricities, their long form frenetic noodling and extravagant musical chops almost always paid off the patient. Despite a signature sound, The Mars Volta proved they could find surprising diversity in their music. While their first album is a more focused blast of rock energy, their second creates possibly the best rock opera of the decade, their third explores some surprising, original textures, their fourth redefines what "relentless" means, and their fifth, most shocking of all, proves that a band like The Mars Volta can create something slow, quiet, and beautiful. Number Five also proves that the Mars Volta can write a song or two with lyrics that actually make sense.

Hagnesta Hill (English Version) (2000)
Vapen and Ammunition (2002)
Du & jag döden (2005)
The hjärta & smärta EP (2006)
Tillbaka till samtiden (2007)
Röd (2009)

Poor Kent. Kings of Sweden, they ventured to America late last century with dreams of similar success only to have their hopes dashed. No matter. Kent spent the majority of this decade crafting perfect pop-rock albums, weaving the acoustic and electronic like no one else, making dance and rock music seem like perfectly natural bedfellows. Even with zero understanding of the lyrics, the hooks are still catchy. Age-wise, the band seems they would be past their peak, but if they are able to keep up this continuous vigor, a worldwide breakout might still be on the horizon.

8. Deftones
White Pony (2000)
Deftones (2003)
B-Sides and Rarities (2005)
Saturday Night Wrist (2006)

Few bands followed the trajectory of the decade like the Deftones. The masters of moody, atmospheric hard rock began 2000 with unbridled creativity and optimism, creating White Pony, a masterpiece of the genre. As post-9/11 America slipped deeper into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the band put out the more uncertain, aggressive follow up album. Finally, mired in abject confusion and misery, slipping into despair, the Deftones released Saturday Night Wrist. In 2007 and 2008, the band regained their optimism and joy only to have their bass player fall into a coma. They now face the oncoming decade as most of the Western World, unsure of what just happened, even moreso of what's to come.

7. Drive By Truckers
Alabama Ass Whuppin (2000)
Southern Rock Opera (2002)
Decoration Day (2003)
The Dirty South (2004)
A Blessing and a Curse (2006)
Brighter than Creation's Dark (2008)
Live from Austin, Texas (2009)
The Fine Print (2009)

The Drive By Truckers exist in a strange place. Obsessed with the mythology of the South, and yet laser-focused on the complexities of the present, the Truckers took their chance to shine and ran with it. Eighty percent of the material they released this decade is absolutely classic, melding alt-country with their Skynyrdesque southern rock. Almost every moment, musically and lyrically sounds impressively thought out. Best of all, the lyrics follow Southern literature's reknowned standard of excellence, and this band shows no signs of stopping.

6. Sufjan Stevens
A Sun Came (2000)
Enjoy Your Rabbit (2001)
Michigan (2003)
Seven Swans (2004)
Illinois (2005)
The Avalanche (2006)
Songs for Christmas (2006)
The BQE (2009)

Sufjan Stevens vocals can be an obstacle. They are quiet and wispy and can unpleasantly tickle the first-time listener's ear. To accustomed ears, though, there is a grand journey of music to follow here. Sufjan started humbly with his first album, one that can be missed, then followed it up with one too weird for most. He suddenly began to hone his art on Michigan, tweaked the quiet parts on Seven Swans, then released Illinois, which is about the history of Illinois, and also everything else in the world. With a banjo as his lead instrument, Sufjan surrounds himself with the equivalent of a Vince Guaraldi orchestra, and then adds and subtracts when necessary. Here in late 2009, Sufjan seems absolutely uncertain what his place in music is, or if he should even keep making it. If not, I am sure some people will call the 00s the musical decade of Sufjan, and with good reason.

5. Jars of Clay
The Eleventh Hour (2002)
Furthermore: From the Studio, From the Stage (2003)
Who We Are Instead (2003)
Redemption Songs (2005)
Good Monsters (2006)
Christmas Songs (2007)
The Long Fall Back to Earth (2009)

Jars of Clay are unfortunate. Their self-titled debut (1995) is so well known, most people can't see past the song Flood. These people don't know what they are missing. From the start of this decade, Jars of Clay have shown more artistic skill and integrity than most other bands can dream of. Every album has had a specific artistic vision, from taking things at a European angle, to looking at their own music through the eyes of Johnny Cash. Despite starting out the decade on top, their musical potency has only increased, and with The Long Fall Back to Earth, they haven't crashed, only blasted even further into the stratosphere.

4. Sigur Ros
( ) (2002)
Takk... (2005)
Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008)
Various EPs

Sigur Ros started out the decade carrying quite a mystique. Some people thought they were aliens, some creatures from the future. They appeared to hold traditional rock instruments in their band photos, yet their 10 minutes or more grandiose opuses did not sound to be crafted from any instrument found on Earth. Sigur Ros, therefore, spent most of the decade making their sound human, Takk... an outburst of joy made up of much shorter songs than its predecessors, and Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, an almost entirely organic outpouring of beautiful (mostly) three and a half minute songs...though, still, only aliens could make music this good.

3. The Appleseed Cast
Mare Vitalis (2000)
Low Level Owl, Volume 1 (2001)
Low Level Owl, Volume 2 (2001)
Lost Songs (2002)
Two Conversations (2003)
Peregrine (2006)
Sagarmatha (2009)

The Appleseed Cast is the most under appreciated band of the last decade. Despite being hailed as America's answer to Radiohead by several publications in 2001, including AllMusic, few ears perked up. The Radiohead comparison is actually a bit valid--while Appleseed Cast sounds little like Radiohead, their radical progression nearly mirrors them. After a remarkable but slightly derivative debut with 1998s End of the Ring Wars, The Appleseed Cast came back with Mare Vitalis, an album that sounded like nothing else--Missing the Sea Rock would perhaps be the best description. Appleseed Cast then returned to subvert all expectations with Low Level Owl Volumes 1 and 2, comparable to Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac. Where Radiohead subverted their sound with electronics, Appleseed Cast did the same with found sounds and tape loops--blowing leaves the equivalent of bloops and bleeps. The beautiful result earned them the Radiohead moniker, but to completely subvert expectations yet again, Appleseed Cast returned with of all things, a heartfelt rock album about a ruined romantic relationship. After shooting for the treetops, such earthly concerns seemed mundane, but the Cast pulled it off, and for a short time, won a following outside of their hardcore fans. They then released Peregrine, a culmination of every album they had ever done with subtle new elements, and this years mostly instrumental Sagarmatha, which proved that Appleseed Cast could still peel the roof off of skyscrapers. Sagarmatha is just another word for Mount Everest, after all. It is a shame that such beautiful music is falling on so few ears, but the Appleseed Cast keeps on trucking, and their fans will be with them until they stop.

2. Radiohead
Kid A (2000)
Amnesiac (2001)
Hail to the Thief (2003)
In Rainbows (2007)
Various Singles

Enough has been said about Radiohead's dominance over the rest of the pack. I will attempt to say something different, though obvious:
The reason Radiohead is so loved is that they have tapped into the basic notion in everyone's subconscious that something is wrong. They have taken this feeling and done variation on variation upon it. After taking regular old rock to its limits with this concept in the 90s, they blew it up with their (let's be honest) double album Kid A/Amnesiac by relegating their three guitar attack to nowhere and bringing cold, scary electronic noises to the front. Then they brought the guitars up to the level of the electronics on the underrated Hail to the Thief, an album anyone having a rough time in the mid 00s could identify with. Knowing they couldn't get away with doing the same thing again, In Rainbows was just Radiohead being a band, proving once and for all that stripped of bells and whistles, Radiohead is still incredible. They make experimental music for the masses, turning alienation into a populist notion. This is why many people love them. This is why a certain few hate them.
The certain few are wankers.

1. Project 86
Drawing Black Lines (2000)
Truthless Heroes (2002)
Songs to Burn Your Bridges By (2004)
...And the Rest Will Follow (2005)
Rival Factions (2007)
Picket Fence Cartel (2009)
Various EPs

Project 86 has truly pushed the envelope. Starting the decade with their still best-selling breakout hardcore album, Drawing Black Lines, Project quickly signed with major label Atlantic. Like many bands who made the majors jump early in the decade, Project quickly became disillusioned. Finding that complete artistic control was nearly impossible in their situation, Project attempted to conform to the label's demands by subverting them. Truthless Heroes became a veiled attack on indulgent American culture (including monster record labels) and led to the band being not only dropped by Atlantic, but also by many fans who didn't get the album. Project immediately roared back with the punk-influenced Songs to Burn Your Bridges By, releasing the album first independently, then with their previous label, indie Tooth and Nail. This righteous vitriol was followed by ... And the Rest Will Follow, an experimentally melodic foray which seemed to put Project's demons to rest. This cleared the way for Project 86's intimate masterpiece, 2007s Rival Factions, an album that escapes description. As opposed to most of their peers, Project 86 ended the decade more certain of what they stood for than ever. Picket Fence Cartel, a focused, heavy, gritty slab of rock proves that Project 86 not only knows exactly what they want to do musically, but that they can do it, as well.

And now, just because I said I wouldn't do it:
The Nicsperiment's 18 favorite albums of the 00s:
18. Furthermore-She and I (2002)
17. Bjork-Vespertine (2001)
16. (Tie) The Mars Volta-Frances the Mute (2005)
16. (Tie) John Reuben-Word of Mouth (2007)
15. Norma Jean-Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child (2002)
14. Zao-Self-Titled (2001)
13. Craig's Brother-Lost at Sea (2001)
12. Sigur Ros-( ) (2002)
11. The Dismemberment Plan-Change (2001)
10. Drive By Truckers-Brighter than Creation's Dark (2008)
9. Deftones-White Pony (2000)
8. U2-All that You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
7. Blindside-The Great Depression (2005)
6. Interpol-Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
5. Sufjan Stevens-Illinois (2005)
4. Portishead-Third (2008)
3. Project 86-Rival Factions (2007)
2. The Appleseed Cast-Low Level Owl (2001)
1. Radiohead-Kid A/Amnesiac (2000-2001)

NOTES: Project 86 was originally not in the top spot, but upon doing their write-up, I suddenly realized there was no way possible they were not the best band of the decade. Radiohead got bumped back to number two.
Also, I could not provide a mental value of difference between my appreciation of The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute and John Reuben's Word of Mouth. That is why they are tied for number sixteen.
This is the longest blog entry I have ever written.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Being a Dad is Great

After more than three weeks of parenthood, I have to say that being a father is wonderful. Of course, I don't have to feed him off of materials produced by my own body for the majority of the day, and I can escape at any moment, but I am definitely quite enjoying things.
Also, I am only noticing today that I have long had a torrid love affair with the word 'definitely'.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Louisiana Is the Best Even if Nobody Cares

Live Science just concluded a three year study to determine which state has the happiest citizens.
Not to my surprise, my state won. Though we are known for our hospitality, apparently no one from outside the state put two and two together as to why? The reason we are so hospitable is because we are so happy. Our simple, easy-going nature, obviously unfathomable to the major media outlets, apparently has a positive side. Despite the fact that we are poorer, sicker, and less educated than almost every other state, we are somehow happier than any other state. I have been to most other states, and I don't need a study to tell me that.
Unfortunately, none of the news and TV reports even mention Louisiana beyond the fact that we got the top spot. New York and Connecticut got the 50th and 49th spots respectively, so they are the focus. As usual, even when we kick New York's butt, they are still the attention whore. People can easily imagine New Yorkers miserable, but those stupid, uneducated, overweight Southerners happy? The results must be wrong!
Of course, if something bad happens to us, like a Hurricane smashing us and revealing our poverty, the vultures can't get enough carrion.
Not like it matters. We don't really care. Or rather, we do care. We always have a chip on our shoulder that no one gives a crap about us, and the entire US Government proved our assumption correct four years ago. I think that is why we are content. For some reason this feeling of us against the world gives us a pride that I'd wager a lot of the rest of the country does not have. And that strange feeling of unity, despite one of the least homogeneous populations of any state, makes us happy.
Not to mention that our food is better, we have one public beach in the whole state so everyone has to go to the same place and it is awesome, our humor and art is richer, and we are more colorful and better looking than the rest of the country*. That stuff is just lagniappe, though.
Oh yeah, and we use words like lagniappe.

*No offense to the rest of the country

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Problem with Health Insurance

I am very thankful for my wonderful, generous bosses and the excellent and kind employees working for the company mediating between my place of work and the health insurance companies. Because of them, I feel I am blessed when it comes to health insurance.
That said, I often wonder about the concept of insurance itself. Isn't there something fundamentally wrong about paying a company an exorbitant amount of money "just in case" something bad happens to us? This seems very non-Christian for several reasons.
First, isn't it wrong to fear what will happen to us tomorrow? Aren't we told that tomorrow's troubles are enough for tomorrow? Isn't this kind of thinking a little contrary to what Jesus told us?
Secondly, these companies are making a whole lot of money off our fear. Isn't profiting off someone else's worries of tomorrow even worse than worrying about tomorrow?
Finally, I will never be convinced that being taken care of when you are sick is a privilege. Isn't taking care of the sick what we are commanded to do? How is socialized medicare really socialism, or to not beat around the semantic bush, why is socialized medicare ethically harmful, if Americans are to believe socialism itself is harmful? What is wrong with everyone paying the same tax rate toward medicare? Don't we have enough wealth as a nation to take care of everyone? For people worried that this isn't fair--hey buddy, you still get your big-screen TV, your yacht, your giant house--the only detriment you have is the satisfaction that as a hard-working American, you are ensuring that your fellow man need not worry about what random harm may come to him.
For those worried that doctors will make less... let's face it, doctors will still do well, and do we not want those who become doctors to do so because they truly want to help people?
This topic really bothers me. Statistically, modern nations with socialized health care are far healthier than us. Why don't we join them?
I feel that most people put to thought on this issue will see that we should. The only people with anything to lose are those employed by the insurance companies--and with all the money everyone will save that is not going to insurance, I think enough jobs will be created to pick them up...of course the executives making millions may not be so lucky in finding comparable work.
All of the money paid to insurance companies is easily far more than how much we as a nation would collectively need to pay in taxes to take care of everyone. Otherwise, how else would insurance companies profitably exist?
Some people worry they will not get as good a care if everyone else is getting the same care. For those people worried about this, repeat the previous sentence in your head slowly five times. Think about how you feel when you see an innocent human being or a child hurt. With that image in your mind, mentally repeat the first sentence in this paragraph five times again.
Still feel the same way?

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Nicsperiment's Favorite 18 TV Shows of the 00's

Let the lists begin. I usually do a favorite nine list at the end of the year, but for a whole decade, I have to double that. Also, I refuse to call my lists a best of. Who am I to say what is best, and how the heck can I pretend to have seen every show that is listworthy? Shoot, I haven't seen one episode of The Wire, and it seems many critics think that is the best show ever made. Maybe some day, The Wire. That said, here are my 18 favorite shows of the decade. My stipulation was that every show had to spend at least half of its airtime in this decade. This means that a show like The X-Files, which would top a list for the 90s, only spent 20% of it's run this decade and is thus ineligible.

1. The Shield(2002-2008)
I can't read Shakespeare. I love the plots. I think they are awesome. I just can't read it. It makes no sense to me. I don't speak 17th century. Imagine my pleasure when someone found an unpublished Shakespeare manuscript and filmed it with contemporary dialogue. The result, The Shield, set the bar for the quality of cable television, essentially dismantling it. The five acts take place over seven seasons of some of the best acting ever seen on the small screen, earning accolades for most involved, particularly Michael Chiklis, the first actor to win an Emmy for a cable performance. I won't discuss plot here. To do so would belittle the greatness of this program. Watch it.

2. Lost (2004-2010)
No one can be told what Lost is. Lost must be experienced. A show that starts out as a desert island mystery soon turns inward to explore the hearts of the ensemble cast and examines what makes them, and by extension us, tick. The production values, acting, writing, and directing surpass most moderately budgeted films. Viewers are rewarded again and again for their persistence. Plot and character mysteries are continuously revealed in a satisfactory fashion, only to be replaced by even more perplexing mysteries.
Perhaps more than anything, Lost is about finding the intangible. Chances are, when the show closes next year, everyone will not be satisfied by the conclusion. This hardly matters. If any artistic journey has justified itself simply by the way it has been traveled, it is Lost.

3. Friday Night Lights (2006-
I hate all those movies and shows where a character lives in Manhattan, works in a skyscraper doing some kind of executive work, and has trouble with their love life (excluding one major exception). I don't really give a crap about these people. Like many people in America, I am from a small town and I have an average life. For some crazy reason, I would rather watch something I can relate to, and that is why I love Friday Night Lights. No other show has ever captured real life like this one. The characters and relationships are who and what we see everyday in our own lives. Football actually sits on the sidelines, and unfortunately, NBC has never known how to market the show, consequently landing Friday Night Lights in ratings hell. Thankfully, a fiercely dedicated audience and universal critical acclaim have miraculously kept this televised gift going for four seasons.

4. The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Mobster Tony Soprano is a murderer, a liar, a thief, a philanderer, and an antagonistic bully to everyone around him. He has no redeeming qualities. Viewers loved him. Though executive producer David Chase clearly meant to give us an examination of evil, viewers continually looked forward to Tony Soprano's eventual redemption. Tony continued to pull the wool over the viewers' eyes with pure charisma, continuously spouting out what everyone around him wanted to hear, never changing. The viewers, like drug addicts, never seemed to get it. The only way a befuddled Chase knew how to end the show was to cut off the supply, literally.

5. South Park (1997-
Perhaps no show has more accurately commented on popular American culture than South Park. The show, particularly in the middle of the decade, has taken every major cultural issue or debacle and stripped them down to their naked essence so that anyone can understand the often ridiculousness of the world we live in. On top of that, what show has been more fearless? If you are offended one week, you can be sure that whoever the show skipped over will be mocked the following week. South Park shows leniency to no one.

6. Home Movies (1999-2004)
I can't think of a show with more heart than Home Movies. The basic premise, a boy named Brendan making sense of his life through the over-the-top bad films he shoots with his video camera, gains more poignancy because Brendan does not realize he has been doing this until the show's final moments. The ad-libbed dialogue seems far more natural than what is spoken in most high quality live action dramas and is far funnier. Home Movies is about finding a family in the people around you, something the show's lovable characters subtly achieve in the too brief four season run.

7. Mad Men (2007-
What do we need to be happy? Is there ever a point where we have enough to be? Can we ever just stop and enjoy what we have? The characters on Mad Men cannot. Run by several of the creative minds behind the Sopranos, the show shares many of the same themes, the key difference being that the protagonist is not a sociopath, but a 60's ad-man who can do nothing but disassociate, leaving one life behind for another and finding just as much dissatisfaction. Perhaps then, this is a show about how easily we can find ways to be unhappy.

8. The Office (British) (2001-2003)
Chances are, you work in an office, as I do. Chances are, working in an office is kind of awkward for you. Obviously, human beings were not created to be in such an environment for nine hours a day, but for some reason, our society has decided this is what it wants to do with itself. The characters in The Office obviously feel out of place, and their forced interactions reveal this beautifully. I place the British version of the show far higher in my esteem than the American one because of its uncompromising nature. The characters in the British version are not nearly as likable as their American counterparts, and if you ask me, what could be more real than that?

9. Futurama (1999-2003)
Sometimes, life just sucks, and everyone else seems to be at a party you aren't invited to. Fry, a 20th century human, finds that even a thousand years in the future, the feeling is the same. The lovable losers in our Futurama cast often find themselves on the receiving end of suckiness, and who can't identify with that? Perhaps the key theme to Futurama, as well as what makes it so endearing, is that we can always find misfits just like us who make our sometimes miserable lives seem more worth living. The friends Fry finds, a drunken robot, a beautiful cyclops, a far distant mad-scientist relative, a down-on-his-luck-lobsterman-doctor, a ditzy but loveable bimbo, and a Jamaican bureaucrat are as diverse a bunch as you will find, and are more likable and fun to spend 30-minutes with than most.

10. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
Not even Battlestar Galactica's advertisements attempted to underplay the show's religious connotations. From one Judas character to another's obvious role as a Jesus figure, the show was never one to hide its hand...except in revealing which of the character's were really Cylons, embedded robots in the guise of humans. This aspect of the show reflected the U.S. war on terror, where the enemy could be in the seat next to us without us knowing it. The state of the art spaceship battles and high-quality performances begged the question: How the heck did they do this on the budget they have? Though the the show would lose traction from time to time, no other Sci-Fi show came close to its greatness. The fact that it was allowed to finish its run before cancellation is just the cherry on top.

11. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Though Buffy's run through the 90's was more iconic, she undeniably grew up in the 00's. The personal subject matter broached by this show about a demon hunting twenty-something (by this point) surpassed that of much more down-to-earth dramas. Becoming an adult is not very fun, and Buffy did not have much fun doing it, but the show was hardly less spellbinding in it's final 3.5 years. Even without the musical episode (and who in their right mind would want to go without the musical episode), Buffy was more than worth watching, and by the end, only the hardest-hearted couldn't feel just a little bit hope-inspired.

12. Angel (1999-2004)
Angel was not exactly the most likable character on Buffy. He killed a major character and made Buffy's junior year of high school a living hell. Not exactly prime candidate for a spin-off, Angel exceeded all expectations. Drastically different from its mother-show, Angel was far darker and far more difficult. Angel was the forerunner for vampire's with a soul, and no other riff on this archetype has shown the depth of character that he did. Dealing with his dark vampire past and his less-than-stellar past life as a human, Angel has no bright place to look but the future. His hope and undying fight for good against unimaginable evil kept the show spinning along and stayed true to the final moment.

13. Arrested Development (2003-2006)
Arrested Development was too smart for its own good. The minuscule amount of the population that watched it was in actuality probably the only group of people who could have understood it in the first place. Essentially Humor 101, satire, sarcasm, double-meanings, callbacks, basically any form of funny was included in Arrested's arsenal, often in the same minute. A comedy for the clever, Arrested Development died before its time, though to be honest, we were lucky to have it at all.

14. Firefly (2002)
Let's face it: Firefly didn't hit its stride until a few episodes in, and by that point it was over with, another gem canceled before its time. Perhaps we remember it more for what it could have become as opposed to what it actually was. Whatever the case, what we did see was the most fun Sci-Fi program of the decade. The character's were lovable, their chemistry excellent, and it is no wonder they got their film swansong. What is started here is just too good to end.

15. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-
Sunny is the only show to make me laugh as hard as Seinfeld. Sunny takes Seinfeld's premise of four extremely self-centered friends' daily idiocy and turns it on its head by taking all the characters' reserve and throwing it out the window. These people are delightfully insane and wonderfully well drawn. You would never want to be in the same room as them, but behind a two-way mirror you could watch them all day. The casts' chemistry is almost unbelievable. Add Danny Devito to the mix and you have comedy gold.

16. Rescue Me (2004-
Rescue Me at its best is absolutely the best show on television. Unfortunately, it is not always at its best. Sometimes it is just plain silly. That juxtaposition makes the show all the more frustrating, but the best moments all the more rewarding. The show's theme is in the title, a bunch of men paid to rescue others who need rescuing from life themselves, and who sometimes go to desperate lengths to find that rescue. Rescue Me is also one of the funniest things on TV and easily the funniest drama in years, maybe the funniest. When the show perfectly blends comedy and tragedy, as in the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed second season, nothing feels as important or vital. The montage endings to the latter half of the episodes in that season make the viewer feel they are on the precipice of these characters' lives, and I can't really say I've felt that way about anything else beyond reality.

17. Wonder Showzen (2005-2006)
Wonder Showzen is hands down the most disturbing show I have ever seen. Essentially the human mind splattered onto a screen for 30 minutes, nothing is sacred for Wonder Showzen. I am not sure what makes this show so great. Is it the fact that someone could actually create a program like this? Is it the fact that it can repulse to the point that the viewer wants to change the channel, only to drop the remote because of violent laughter? Kid's show indeed.

18. Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-
Degrassi is a trashy show. Life is often trashy. When a show's tag-line is "It goes there", one must ask, "Where does it go?" Degrassi simply goes to real life. While the quotient of incidents at Degrassi High is probably a little bit greater than your average school, I've never seen any other show that actually feels like high school. I don't have to further describe the nature of the show to you. You went to high school. You know how it is.

Special Mention--
How I Met Your Mother/The Big Bang Theory--The sitcom died in the 90's. Friends croaked to an end at some point this decade, but I can't tell you when. These two programs have brought the sitcom back in a big way. The first flips most conventions of a sitcom, never tires in its inventiveness, and never stops being funny. Close viewing is continuously rewarded, and the audience continuously feels that they are valued by the writers. The second program follows most normal sitcom conventions, but does so with such a likable cast and such clever, snappy writing that the viewer hardly notices because the show is just so darn fun.