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Best TV Shows of the Decade [Idiot Box]
December 15th, 2009 by Dan

You’ll notice that this list is weighted heavily toward the end of the decade rather than the early part and that’s all because I didn’t watch much tv in high school (2000-2004). The list is also pretty small because I didn’t have access to most tv shows during my years at the university unless I went and bought box sets (2004-2008).

Firefly

It may have come out early in the decade, but I was way late to the party, since I first started watching Firefly during the summer of 2008. I’m not what you’d call a Whedonite. To this day I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Angel, but, between Firefly (and Serenity) and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I’ve come to see that he’s a damn good writer capable of creating interesting worlds filled with great characters. Firefly is definitely not the first space opera to hit the airwaves, but it’s definitely one of the few I’ve ever seen to focus on fringe members of society like Captain Reynolds instead of prestigious members of an organized army. The world of Firefly is not that different from ours, save for space, and it feels like an accurate representation of what space would be like in its exploratory infancy. If the wild west was possible on Earth, it seems more than likely that the space frontier would develop similarly. Firefly makes me happy because the crew is amazing. Each character (…minus Simon) is interesting, well acted, and hilarious at any given time. FOX did the world wrong by canceling this show and bringing back Family Guy

Arrested Development

Once in a while a great show comes along that revolutionizes the way you experience television for the rest of your life. Arrested Development is that show for me. I didn’t start watching until the third season (final) was set to start, but I fell in love with the show from the first zany episode. One of the leaders in the recent American movement to serialized television, Arrested Development is probably the first serialized comedy I’ve ever seen and that may have been its downfall. Rather than go with the typical American sitcom style of status quo ante episodes and unrelated plots, Arrested Development episodes depended and borrowed heavily from every episode that preceded it, a trait that blocked out potential future viewers who felt like they were continuously out of the loop with the jokes. Those of us who were in on the joke loved experiencing every minute of the Bluth Family’s fall from grace in this show that proves that smart comedy can be hilarious. Unfortunately, it also proved that smart comedy doesn’t sell. FOX canceled it during its third season, tragically ending the best show I’ve ever seen in my adult life.

Lost

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. Oceanic Flight 815. The DHARMA Initiative. The Others. Jacob. The Smoke Monster. If you know what any of these things are, you know something about the best drama of the decade. I initially avoided Lost because of all the hype. If that seems petty and stupid, that’s because it is. People hear a lot about the show and how it never seems to answer questions or come to any satisfying conclusion, but I think that’s the talk of people unused to these long, serial dramas and the pace at which they move. Of course, ABC wasn’t helping any with the pacing when they were refusing to give the creators a firm end date. Lucky for us, the staff held their ground and told ABC they wouldn’t continue the show without a firm end date. Since then, things have moved along briskly (if confusingly) as the cast tumbles toward the dramatic conclusion of the most puzzling show of the decade. Will we all be satisfied by the ending when it airs in 2010? Expectations are running high, but I’m trying to keep mine neutral to low so that I’m able to enjoy the ending they’ve got planned for us. So long as it doesn’t go out like The Sopranos, I’m game.

The Office (US)

Bringing hit shows to America from across the pond doesn’t guarantee success. The television environment in the UK is just too different for that. Many of the best shows are extremely limited in scope and know when they’ve run their course. The original run of The Office in England comprised 12 episodes over two seasons and one two-part Christmas special. Within two seasons The Office (US) surpassed the episode count of its parent and finally managed to come into its own identity. No longer borrowing from its roots, The Office has stumbled here or there and struggled with the Homer Simpson effect (as I like to call it), but overall blossomed into a fine show all its own with a much happier outlook that reflects American tastes more than anything. Beyond that, Steve Carell has emerged as one of the premier comedy actors in the business thanks to his ability to express very human pathos into his comedic roles. While I personally think that NBC shouldn’t push the show beyond next season, it’s certainly been a funny ride so far.

Extras

While we’re already talking about shows written/created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, we may as well progress to the fantastic look at the life of a television/movie extra as told by Ricky Gervais. It’s unclear to me how much of the story is auto-biographical, but one can’t help but get a peek into the difficulties that Gervais must have faced trying to earn notoriety and bring The Office to television while also getting a glimpse into how different The Office could have been if Gervais and Merchant didn’t keep their standards up while chasing fame. Spoiler alert, but the first season deals with Gervais’ character, Andy Millman, and his struggle to both sell his idea for a show (a blue-collar workplace comedy with an obnoxious boss (ring any bells?)) and gain notoriety. Each episode features a cameo by a known (usually) British star in film or television as an exaggerated version of themselves and Andy eventually gains enough attention from the BBC to produce his show. Unfortunately, they turn it into a laugh track, lowest common denominator comedy to attract the highest audience possible and Andy continues to compromise his vision just to hold onto the scraps of fame that he has gained. It’s a sad story with a slightly uplifting ending that’s absolutely worth watching for no reason other than to see Orlando Bloom act like a self-centered jerk who hates Jonny Depp.

Weeds

This show has really gone and changed from year to year. What started as a satire on suburban misery has really ballooned into a far-reaching comedy tackling some seriously complex issues (maternity, masculinity vs. feminism, maturity, rape, murder, addiction, etc.) without ever getting too dark for too long. Just watching the opening shows how much the show has changed, since “Little Boxes” hasn’t played past season 3 when they, spoiler alert, burned down everything you knew and moved on. While some of the stereotyping jokes have gotten a little old (WE GET IT, SANJAY IS GAY! HAHAHA….MOVE ON), the show does still seem relevant and interesting in its fifth season and the most intriguing developments seem to come where you least expect it: from Nancy’s kids. Let’s hope that the show continues strong into 2010 with some fresh, interesting plotlines as Nancy delves deeper and deeper into a world she used to only scratch the surface of. It’d be nice to see Conrad again too…Extra bonus reason to watch: Mary-Louise Parker is seriously hot for an older lady.

30 Rock

I almost missed the boat on 30 Rock. iTunes gave me one free episode (the one where Jack things Liz is a lesbian) and I thought “Good, but not great” and didn’t watch through the rest of the first season. The critical buzz brought me back for season two and I fell in love with the show. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are comedic powerhouses in this, the second best comedy of the ’00s. In fact, 30 Rock and this most recent presidential election have both proved that Tina Fey was probably the only funny thing about SNL when she was still head writer while Mean Girls proved that she’s just plain good at writing. 30 Rock is brilliant in its subversive, but fair humor and takes the best parts of Tina Fey’s improv heritage and applies them to a sitcom that will have you guffawing every episode unless you lack a soul. It’s a must watch.

Dexter

I love shows that take place in Miami. More than that, I love shows that are unique in premise. Cop shows are a dime a dozen. Shows where the main character is the real villain are harder to come by. If you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t know that Dexter is about a cop who is also a serial killer. It’s not a unique plot in movies/literature/comic books, but it’s one of the few times I’ve seen it on tv and I love it. Dexter Morgan is a sociopath struggling with living with the urges that drive him to kill and staying out of the electric chair. The first season was based heavily on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, but subsequent seasons have had more creative freedom to mold Dexter beyond Lindsay’s strict characterization. I’m a little behind on seasons 3 and the current season, but I feel like the character is maturing rather nicely, if not a little unrealistically (he seems to exhibit more feeling than a sociopath should, but I’m no expert) and the show usually brings me back for more each season.

Pushing Daisies

Bryan Fuller had a great premise on his hands. Ned, the piemaker, could touch dead things back to life, but the renewed life had two rules: If he touched them a second time, they were dead forever and if he let them live longer than a minute, another life would be taken in its place. Abandoned by his father and harboring a power he does not really appreciate, Ned grows up to be a rather distant man who doesn’t let anyone get too close to him. He also teams up with a private detective, Emerson Cod, to solve murders once Emerson spots him using his powers. The status quo he develops (baking pies using rotten fruit that he brings back to life and solving murders for the reward money) comes crashing down when he revives a childhood sweetheart that was his one true love. While the show is often too sweet for its own good, the development of its themes of affection and intimacy (without touching, of course) are both interesting and well done. The storylines were clever and the show was funny, but it was ultimately too expensive to produce for the limited ratings it received and the show died before giving the viewers true resolution with all of its dangling plot threads. Worth watching because it is the most unique show of the decade.

Honorable Mention: Battlestar Galactica

There was so much promise here. The first two seasons of BSG were the best sci-fi I’d seen on television. How can you screw up the paranoia of the Cylon threat and the powerful storylines about a race driven to the brink of extinction? I’ll tell you how: haphazard decisions and haughty religious overtones. The Final Five were not decided upon when the show began. As I heard it, they shoehorned cylon origins onto characters who they never intended to make cylons and the see-sawing quality of the final episodes make that very apparent. When you combine that with one of the stupidest finales in the history of television (let’s just say it goes something like “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”) you’ve gone and ruined what could have been the most significant show in recent science fiction history.

EDIT:

How did I forget The Wire?

The best police serial I have EVER seen. It deconstructs everything you know about television cop dramas by showing you both sides of the fence and the reality that good almost never triumphs over evil. David Simon must have really been affected by his days in Baltimore, because this love letter to the city tells the truth, giant warts and all, about how drugs have destroyed Baltimore and how the police are rendered powerless by bureaucracy to do much of anything about it. The show is a bit of a downer, but the acting is superb and the plotlines (save for one that I really hated in Season 5), will keep you interested through the five seasons. This show is a must watch.


2 Responses  
  • Eric Mesa writes:
    December 16th, 20099:28at

    Another key thing with Firefly that’s different from, say, Star Wars. The rebels lost! This isn’t even a spoiler because it happens in the first minutes of the first episode. The evil empire has won. In fact, now that I really, really think about it for the first time, Firefly is basically an intergalactic A-Team or Knight Rider or (shudder) Dukes of Hazzard. They go from planet to planet because they’re on the run from the law and they help oppressed people in those planets. That’s not to diminish Whedon’s writing. I think he did a pretty good job deconstructing space travel (for example, the episode where they are out of “gas”) and also deconstructing some of the space person archetypes. I’m just saying that I suddenly realized it’s part of the same genre as those shows.

    Arrested Development is truly great. It’s just now that I finally have the time to invest in it. Looking back, you can see that this show would have really benefited from hulu or some such service that allowed people to catch up on the old episodes.

    I love 30 Rock. It’s the only network program we make sure to watch every week.

    • Dan writes:
      December 16th, 20099:37at

      My favorite part about Whedon space travel is that it’s quiet! There is no sound in space and exterior sequences properly reflect that.

      My least favorite part? SPOILER! When that bastard killed Wash. Unacceptable.


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