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 Imagine my pleasure when someone found an unpublished Shakespeare manuscript and filmed it with contemporary dialogue.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.
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.