Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best TV of the Aughts: Doomed by Short Memory?

In my continuing effort to generate comments on my blog, here is my first draft of best TV show's of the Aughts, and, again, the disclaimer is that I only consider shows that I watched (sorry Wired).*

Best Dramas (in order--to gratuitously generate more comments):
  1. Mad Men.  Does so much so well.  Instructs me on what life was like just before I was born (kids playing plastic bags); Great Acting; Interesting spin on Advertising and business; Great Character development.  Perhaps it is my favorite now because it is on-going, but I have more enthusiasm for this show than any other.
  2. Sopranos.  Great acting, great writing.  Really set the model for all subsequent dramas.
  3. Deadwood.  Hell if it is accurate at all about the time, but it had a fascinating villain (who was more complex than any other), great characters, a nice depiction of cooperation under anarchy (for the IR geek that I am), some compelling plots.  How did towns spring up out of nothing?  This is one possible story.  The only real downside is that it was only on for three seasons.  And it should have won a special Emmy for most creative swearing
  4. Friday Night Lights. Criminally ignored by the Emmys and the public. Great depiction of family/work life/teenagers.  What does a father do when his girl gets drunk or dates his QB?  Everything I know about fatherhood I learned from Coach Eric Taylor.  "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Indeed. 
  5. Band of Brothers.  Just one season (mini-series or not?) of a moving, accurate, deep portrayal of one unit from the US through Normandy, the Bulge and to Victory.  I am very much looking forward to the "sequel" in 2010 which does for the Pacific what this series did for the American experience in Europe.
  6. Lost.  An endless mind@#$.  The fate of this show hangs in its final season, as there are many questions that have yet to be answered, and the potential reboot in the aftermath of last season's finale may or may not make the previous seasons moot.  To do so entirely would be greatly damaging to the entire series (not unlike what happened with BSG).  The show has been a wonderful combination of drama, science, comedy (Hurley in a VW van), mystery and theology perhaps. 
Honorable mentions:  
  • Closer and Weeds are both fun shows but my viewing has been disconnected due to the time/space conflicts between the US and Canada.  
  • Battlestar Galatica was heaps of fun and most watch TV, but fell short of greatness by how it started and ended.  The characters in the first season were so incredibly stupid that my wife could not watch: hey, let's give the scientist who talks to himself a nuke and then let's forget we gave it to him.  And the last episode--not the angels part but the rest of it--ok, we are in Earth's past and might want to lose our technology, but given how often they fought over other decisions, is this really going to go down that easily?  And they all split up from each other?  Even Lee and his dad?  Still a fun, fun show.
  • Rescue Me.  An amazing show in the aftermath of 9/11, but so brutally depressing at times that I could not sustain a commitment to watch.
Best Comedies (this was an easier and harder list--not so many great ones in this decade, but not necessarily in order):
  • The Office (US version).  I have not seen much of the UK version.  This year's focus on the decline of the American corporation has taken the show beyond mere hijinks to actually just a bit relevant.  They need to get Jim and Pam back to being intelligent and fun again, but otherwise an excellent blend of cringe and laughing.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Interesting replacement for Friends and Seinfeld.  New Yorkers, mix of single and married, presenting competing theories of social behavior.  And presenting the best forum for Neil Patrick Harris.  Amazing how they have hung so much on a show with such a potentially limiting premise.
  • Big Bang Theory.  I was reluctant to join the fun, but the Spew family compelled me to watch.  And then I had to run out and get the DVDs for the season I missed.  Geek supremacy has arrived.  Perhaps the best display of science on TV (outside of Mythbusters).
  • Scrubs. Whimsy.
  • South Park.  I watched it less consistently in Canada since new shows were on Friday and then Saturday nights, but still brutally funny, always on target stuff.
I never caught Arrested Development, so I could not rank it.  Again, one I will eventually see on DVD.

Reality TV:
 I don't watch such stuff much, but two shows do stand out: the aforementioned Mythbusters (which I would like more if I didn't have to watch marathons whenever I am in the US in a hotel or house with only one TV--the Spew kid dominates the remote control like Tiger Woods dominates golf and now gossip news); and Joe Schmoe.  Joe Schmoe was actually a parody of the reality TV shows, with one real person and a bunch of actors playing the usual cast of characters.  It was hilarious--the best TV Spike has produced thus far.  And it gave us Kristen Wiig, who is used way too much on SNL but still one of its best talents.

The Most Important TV Show of the Decade:
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  While the Colbert Report can be funny and is a wonderful exercise in who will go along with his routine (and what his followers will vote for), The Daily Show has become the single most important check on the media and on politicians.  Showing 1991 Cheney discussing the difficulties of occupying Iraq vs Cheney 2003 talking about parades, Bush as candidate vs Bush as President on nation-building, etc.  It almost seems like only this show has an archive of what politicians have said and is willing to occasionally compare and contrast.  Very funny, usually insightful, and now expected to be better journalists than a source of fake news, which is the height of irony.

For this, I post the classic Jon Stewart defense of his show and the failures of the rest of the news media:

*I am certain that I will be abused for this, but I will eventually rent the series and can then re-rank.


Jacob T. Levy said...

What, no 30 Rock?

Missing contenders: Big Love, Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, Dollhouse, the non-apocryphal seasons of Gilmore Girls... and the Simpsons, which nobody will list because it's not of this decade, but which I'll bet put as much excellent comedy on the screen over the past ten years as lots of shows that'll be listed.

Six Feet Under is showing up regularly on these lists, and for a little while it was one of the best things on TV... but, man, did it spiral out of control.

Steve Saideman said...

30 Rock--I enjoy it when I watch but I don't feel compelled to watch.
I did watch Big Love at first, but could not get into it.
Never saw F&G but as a show that only was in just a bit of the decade (it ran from 1999-2000), it is hard to include. I did enjoy its short-lived follow-on on college life.
Never watched Gilmore Girls although the rest of the Spews will kill me once they see that I omitted it.
Never watched Dollhouse as I wanted to avoid getting sucked into a show that was surely going to be cancelled.
Did catch Firefly on DVD, so that is a real contender that I should have considered. A lot of fun, with a nice twist on the space western.
Simpsons--I thought about it, but I don't regularly watch it.

Used to watch Six Feet but it not only jumped the shark but then buried it, held a funeral and then had to exhume it. But the last five minutes or so of the show were great.

Despite the fact that I watch too much TV (and encourage my students to watch more so that they can get my references), I actually don't watch everything.

Steve Greene said...

Loser. Any list that doesn't even mention the Wire lacks all credibility. And how could you have not watched Arrested Development yet? If this were yesterday, you could have purchased the complete series from Amazon for $30. Also, 30 Rock is definitely better than most of the comedies you list. Don't know if they are showing it in Canada, but Modern Family (brand new ABC show) is definitely worth your time.

JF23 said...

Hey professor, in your SB class, bored from studying. You should definitely check out Curb Your Enthusiasm. And if you have not discovered the joys of Internet piracy, you are missing a great season of Friday Night Lights.

Spew Jr. said...

Gilmore Girls I will argue was a wonderful show except for the last season where the writer left and everything turned to crap. That sort of made it not the best of the decade. It does deserve an honourable mention though. And yes Firefly should be on this list. It was short lived but still excellent. I am a fan of Dollhouse but i would not consider it the best of the decade. It is interesting but just sometimes too confusing. although last week espisode really showed the talents of one of the actors where he had to be one of the other characters on the show and he nailed it.
Anyways, other Joss shows such as Buffy and Angel should be metioned if Firefly is.

On the Mythbusters comment, we have to watch it in the US because there are not many new episodes her. Although, I will stress it less on future trips. However, at christmas it is necessary because there is nothing on but holiday marathons all the time. Mythbusters is a nice way to relax from studying for exams.

Good list though. Glee should be mentioned although, its only in a very small sliver of the aughts and its going into the... teens??
i'm done with my rant now. mom will have more probably.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Gilmore Girls I will argue was a wonderful show except for the last season where the writer left and everything turned to crap."

That's what I was trying to get at with "the non-apocryphal seasons of Gilmore Girls." I've heard a rumor that the show continued after Amy Sherman-Padillo left, but I don't believe it; as far as I know, that's an urban legend. (That's actually sincere: I didn't watch even a minute of that alleged season. ASP had her issues-- her mad crush on Jess, her complete unfamiliarity with college life-- but it was clear that she was crucial to what was fun and engaging about the show.