Tonawanda News

December 17, 2009

TELEVISION: Best of the Decade

by phil dzikiy

Television programming may have changed more in the 2000s than it did in any other decade. It was the decade when reality TV became a part of the landscape. More sitcoms pushed the envelope. And dramas — especially on the premium cable channels — reached new peaks.

We’ll be taking a look at some of the best shows of the past decade, making six picks in four separate categories. Yes, six is an arbitrary number, but hey, so is 10.


“Big Love” (HBO) — A family drama on par with “The Sopranos,” with about a tenth of the hype.

“Dexter” (Showtime) — Making a serial killer into a sympathetic anti-hero is no small task, and this series knows how to ratchet up the suspense.

“Lost” (ABC) — Just when you thought the major networks had given up on making intelligent, original dramas, along comes this mind-bender.

“Six Feet Under” (HBO) — Just another world-class ensemble drama from HBO.

“The Sopranos” (HBO) — An epic saga that helped establish television as art in the 21st century.

“The Wire” (HBO) — Even more ambitious than “The Sopranos,” and another contender for best television drama of all time.

It was certainly popular, but ...

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (CBS) — Heavy on flash and contrivances, the success of “CSI” begot the creation of many other worse spinoffs and knockoffs.


“Arrested Development” (Fox) — Notoriously low ratings, famously devoted fanbase. A tremendous show that was probably too clever for its own good.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO) — “Seinfeld” or “Curb” — which Larry David comedy is better? It’s a lot closer than you might think.

“Da Ali G Show” (HBO) — Ali G. Borat. Brüno. They’re all here, before they hit the big screen. The funniest of the guerilla-style unscripted shows.

“Futurama” (Fox) — Just like “Family Guy,” it has a dedicated fanbase that eventually cajoled new episodes out of the studio. Unlike “Family Guy,” “Futurama” has a heart, and is far more than an assembly line of unrelated, random gags.

“The Office” (NBC) — Probably the comedy of the decade, considering both popularity and critical acclaim. Who could have imagined it would still be so good in its sixth season, when the groundbreaking British version only ran for 12 episodes?

“South Park” (Comedy Central) — It’s gotten better with age. The sharpest satire on television.

Popular, but ...

“According to Jim” (ABC) — Never that popular, but somehow popular enough to run for eight seasons. While other comedies looked to make progress, “Jim” stayed true to the formula: Predictable plots and easy jokes with punchlines you could see coming from decades away. The current “Modern Family” represents a huge step up for ABC.

Dramedy (Drama-Comedy)

“Freaks & Geeks” (NBC) — It enjoyed the majority of its 18-episode run in 2000, so it’ll qualify. The jumping point for so many stars (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel) “Freaks & Geeks” was an honest, bittersweet coming-of-age series. Think of “The Wonder Years,” but even better. One of the best TV shows. Ever.

“Gilmore Girls” (WB/CW) — In an age when certain channels (MTV) try to set feminism back as far as possible, this witty show featured a single mother raising a smart daughter — both had plenty of interests outside of the men in their lives. And the dialogue was to die for.

“Pushing Daisies” (ABC) — Another case of gone too soon, “Pushing Daisies” featured plenty of wit, heart and supernatural tomfoolery. But the networks have no patience for these hard-to-define shows.

“Desperate Housewives” (ABC) — The time was right for a soapy, quirky primetime show. And ABC jumped right in with a stellar cast.

“Glee” (Fox) — Not just a dramedy, but a musical! “Glee” is one of the most original shows in recent years.

“Monk” (USA) — It’s like “The Mentalist” on CBS, except much more interesting, nuanced, and of course, funny.

Popular, but ...

“Entourage” (HBO) — Rich dudes hanging out together. Bro!

Six Reality/Other Shows

“Survivor” (CBS) — It’s had its ups and downs, but “Survivor” is the show that really started America’s love affair with reality television. At its best, it’s still one of the best.

“Top Chef” (Bravo) — A cable powerhouse, an invitation to better food, and competition taking center stage (far above manufactured drama).

“The Amazing Race” (CBS) — Seeing the world and racking up the Emmys, “The Amazing Race” might be the most consistent long-running (15 seasons) reality competition.

“Chappelle’s Show” (Comedy Central) — Hands down, the best sketch comedy of the decade.

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (Comedy Central) — This show’s been on the air for 13 years now. Remember when Craig Kilborn hosted? We do ... barely.

“The Colbert Report” (Comedy Central) — How the joke hasn’t gotten old by now is a testament to Colbert’s comedic brilliance.

Popular, but ...

“American Idol” (Fox) — It was captivating at first. Its ratings have dropped, but only slightly. It’s still the top-rated show on television. Sure, it’s a phenomenon and the starting point of thousands of water cooler conversations. But it treats music as a commercial product, rather than art, in a time when too many people can’t tell the difference between the two.