The best television shows of the decade. Of the 2000s. Of the aughts. Of the Ks. The best TV shows from 2000-2009.
I’m just trying to cover everything for google searches. As you can see, I wrote a ton. And I want the world to read it.
Before Moltisanti jumps on me, I just want to clarify my rationales. As I have with all my lists, I created this one not solely based on my personal feelings. If it were just up to me, The West Wing would be the best show of the decade. But it’s not the “top” show. Not the one that had the biggest impact and will be the most remembered. That’s the decider for me. These aren’t the best shows. They’re the decade’s shows. If the decade were a person, the shows he/she would pick. I recognize there are some very well written and acted shows out there that lasted only a short time, or were off network TV. But that limited reach affects their standing in the decade. Also, some shows suffer from just having begun. Modern Family might end up being one of the top shows of the 2010s. But it’s not one of the best this decade.
My list was a lot more clever and insightful before CJ posted hers. Now it just looks tired and repetitive. But I already had my list made when she put hers up, so it’s a testament to how sure-fire these picks are. If I were rating on quality, though, like Moltisanti, The West Wing, The Sopranos, and Arrested Development would be my top three.
1) American Idol (FOX) – No television show garnered more attention all decade than FOX’s hit singing competition. Consistently the highest-rated program on television, American Idol became a cultural pillar. You can’t help but know something about it. Whether it’s the theme song, Simon Cowell, or one of the successful winners, everyone has an understanding of what this show is. If not Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood (which is how most people would know the show without watching it), they’re at least familiar with the premise. Why? Because it’s been repeated now over and over in other shows and live events. Local idol competitions sprung up like wildfires (including one that my sister won). The show has countless problems and can be very frustrating. And its popularity will certainly drop without Paula or Simon next year. But for the 2000s, nothing holds a bigger place in the pop culture landscape.
2) CSI (CBS) – Why when you flip on one of the four main networks at night are you more than likely going too see a crime procedural? And why will you see reruns of all those shows on the big cable networks, like USA, TNT and TBS? Why were there 3 million crime procedurals that aired — and lasted — in this decade? Because CSI worked. It did more than work; it kicked butt. Year after year, what was basically a modern Quincy, M.E. dominated the ratings. But even though the mystery format was similar to a new show every season, the details were not. What were Crime Scene Investigators? The general public didn’t know. They watch cops, doctors and lawyers. Never the scientists. Before CSI, detectives just handed baggies to nerds and 15 minutes later we had a fingerprint match. The public was (and still is) intrigued by the process. And seeing as half of network programming can be attributed to this genre, I think its trailblazer deserves a high spot on this list.
3) The Sopranos* (HBO) – As I mentioned in my characters list, The Sopranos really ushered in a new type of drama (much like CSI…but a very different genre). It’s characteristics: non-network, dark themes and filming, gritty language and situations, and a central anti-hero. Try to count all the programs that have basically been made only because of the success of The Sopranos. The Shield, Rescue Me, Saving Grace, Deadwood, The Wire, Damages…etc, etc, etc. I know there were other shows that were like this first, for instance Oz, also on HBO. But The Sopranos made it to the mainstream. They entered into pop culture. Even people who didn’t watch knew who Tony Soprano was. Of course, it was successful because of its entertaining and exciting plots and excellent acting. But again, that’s secondary on this list.
4) LOST* (ABC) – This show created the most ravenous fan base I’ve ever seen, other than Star Trek. Spoilers and theories flooded the internet. Every little piece of the canon was perfectly (or accidentally) created, ripe for analysis. But unlike other shows that have tried to copy it, you cared about the characters. The brilliant concept of a different set of flashbacks each episode forced viewers to invest in the show. That’s part of the reason its ratings declined in the later seasons; rarely were there true flashbacks (or flashforwards). Just a hodgepodge, mixed in with too much science fiction. It became more than many viewers bargained for, but it will still be on the best shows of the decade…until they completely screw up the finale.
5) 24* (FOX) – I read an interesting comment from a critic recently. He said that before 24, killing off a main character, especially in the first season, was taboo. Now, it’s old-hat. I’m not sure if that first part is true, but the second certainly is. It doesn’t seem like a show can last without some character getting written out permanently. And you have to credit 24 for that. A show that continues to reinvent itself to avoid getting tired. With the exception of Jack and Aaron Pierce, no character has appeared in every season. And other than Tony and Chloe, no one else has been a starring character for more than 4 of 7 seasons. That is risky. Imagine if the bar patrons at Cheers kept changing. Yet each season was riveting because you knew no one was safe. Anyone could die at any moment, except for Jack. It keeps you guessing and keeps viewers coming back.
6) The West Wing* (NBC) – It says a lot about the quality of The West Wing that they routinely dove into complex political theories and dilemmas, used big words, talked a mile a minute and still garnered high viewership from the American public. As CJ put it, this show was about more than politics. It was about relationships: between the president and his wife, him and his best friend, a boss and his assistant, the press secretary and a reporter, friends and coworkers in the office, a speechwriter and a call girl…well, maybe that one didn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong. The politics were superb. I disagreed with most of their conclusions, but I never felt like Aaron Sorkin wasn’t presenting both sides. Liberals and conservatives could appreciate it all the same. But, the point is, even if you’re not all that into politics, the character studies that exist in this masterpiece of a show make it a must-watch for any serious television fan.
7) The Daily Show (COM) – I’m going to cheat a little here, but I’ll explain why. The Daily Show technically premiered in 1996, giving it four years in the other decade. BUT, I still say it was one of the biggest shows of this decade. If The Simpsons or ER were as big a player in the 2000s as they were in the 1990s, I’d include them here too. (FYI, that list would go Seinfeld, The Simpsons, ER). Consider these facts. Every award The Daily Show has won came in the past ten years. The show really jumped into the spotlight during “Indecision 2000.” And its insanely popular spin-off, The Colbert Report (2005), might be one of the best shows of the decade just on its own merits. So, I rest my case. As to why the show belongs on this list (instead of just why it qualifies), Jon Stewart has become this generation’s Walter Cronkite…as terrifying as that is. The youth of America turn to him for their news. And although it’s incredibly biased, I can’t argue with the fact that kids and young adults are at least learning something about current events and deeper thought…hidden in humor and gags. The Daily Show’s interviews all decade made more news than anyone appearing on a network show or even late night TV. This really was a blend of both genres, and beat them both in the ratings and public attention.
8 ) The Office* (BBC/NBC) – I’ll include the British one here, although I haven’t seen it. But you can’t give credit to the cleverness of the American version without the original. So many comedies these days seem to miss the boat when it comes to characters. They either focus on one or two and leave the rest as decorations, or they flood the set with stereotypes. I’ll mention Cheers again. There was an ensemble show. You, the viewer, felt like you really knew each character. Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show (with all his patients), Taxi. Just other examples of how this used to be done. The Office brought that back, with a huge cast, yet each character has a unique personality. Everyone can be counted on for a laugh. The fact that a show like that was able to become so popular, and with their sometime dizzying filming style, shows a new wave of sitcoms on the way.
9) Survivor (CBS) – This basically completes the list of “Decade Trendsetters.” You had CSI for crime procedurals, The Sopranos for gritty dramas, and Survivor for reality TV. None of them were the first, but they all got the most attention and made future endeavors acceptable. And when you consider those three categories, that pretty much defined the decade (that and the apparent death of comedy). In Survivor’s case, it was an instant hit. It seemed scripted, the way alliances formed and disputes unraveled. But because they weren’t actors, it also had that real quality perfect for summer entertainment. The name Richard Hatch is still universally known, long after his million dollars have been spent. I personally preferred the next two seasons, in the Outback and African deserts (remember, Outback launched the career of Elisabeth Hasslebeck…hmm, The View is probably one of the Top 20 shows of the decade). Survivor continued to pull big ratings, and still is one of CBS’s top ten shows, now in its 19th season. Despite its formulaic nature, the characters constantly change, adding new excitement. And without Mark Burnett’s creation, there might have been far less reality TV for the past ten years. Since 90% of those shows were horrible, I kind of wish Survivor had failed.
10) Family Guy (FOX) – Easily the best cartoon of the decade, Family Guy still can’t compare with The Simpsons in its heyday. There, that’s my disclaimer. So Simpsons fans won’t jump on me like they usually do when I praise Family Guy. But the fact of the matter is that Family Guy will be remembered as being one of the best shows of this decade. Not as much for quality as for pure entertainment. I enjoy the show for its witty references. Most people just like the crass humor. But either way, decades from now, middle-aged men (let’s face it, girls just don’t like the show as much) will fondly watch reruns on their cereal box TVs and laugh like they did as twenty-somethings. As for its place in the decade, the show definitely helped branch into more risque and raunchy comedy on television…which I’m not sure I like.
*As an addendum, shows with astericks would be on my “Favorite TV Shows of the Decade” list, which would also include Monk, Curb Your Enthusiasm, How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, and Dexter.