10 December 2009

Television: Best Shows of the Decade (Part 2)

Joan of Arcadia (2003-2005, CBS) / Miracles (2003, ABC)
Both shows dealt with the supernatural and its unexplainable but profound effects on the mortal world. Both shows also had the same effects on its audience, and still got screwed over by their respective networks. CBS’s family drama brought a dose of realism to the otherworldly proceedings thanks to an immensely likeable (and believable cast). ABC’s thriller was more glitzy and eerie, but still knew how to pack a wallop.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-present, NBC)
Despite its unsettling subject matter (sex crimes), SVU has emerged as the best cop show on TV. While its parent series kept changing cast members and time slots, this spin-off has held onto its core cast and allowed its audience to get under the skin of its characters (Stabler’s anger, Capt. Cragen’s alcoholism). It makes this procedural anything but routine.

Lost (2004-present, ABC)
Thought it grew increasingly frustrating, no show in recent memory has fostered such rabid devotion. The ongoing saga of the stranded plane crash survivors has grown increasingly mysterious but always compelling. It’s a show that’s likely to spark outrage after resolution-less seasons, but it’s not a show you’re likely to forget any time soon.

Modern Family (2009-present, ABC)
Is this the show that can save the family sitcom? As the show is still in its infancy, that remains to be seen. What audiences do know is that this is one of the flat-out funniest shows in recent memory. Much like Arrested Development, it has a pitch-perfect cast that constantly adds layers to their performances to keep them from ever becoming one-note and proves broadcast TV isn’t out of the quality programming game just yet.
Finally, here was a detective show that wasn’t just about finding the crooks or the P.I.’s little quirks that help him solve crimes. This is a character study of a lonely man who dives into his work to escape the pain of his wife’s murder. But it’s all handled with tact and a sense of humor and carried by the incomparable Tony Shalhoub. Its 2002 premiere was the start of something special, and signaled a change in the way cable treated its available time. Next stop: well-written original programming.

My Boys (2006-present, TBS)
In its first season, it was heavy on the baseball metaphors, but the show found its footing as it progressed. The comedy about the tomboy sportswriter and her gang of male friends has all of the elements of great television: great writing, a great cast and consistent tone. Think of it as a more palatable Sex and the City.

My Name is Earl (2005-2009, NBC)
With richly detailed Southern-fried characters and a big heart, Earl’s quest for redemption was filled with laughs, but never got stale. In its second season, Earl went to jail for his ex-wife, showing just how selfless he was. In fact, each character was three-dimensional, and that meant more than just a backstory. Randy was more than good-meaning nitwit, Joy more than a selfish harlot, Crab Man much more than a black bartender. And to think this came from the creator of Yes, Dear.

The Office (2001-2003, BBC / 2005-present, NBC)
Ricky Gervais’s British series was a straightforward but blistering satire on the modern workplace. Its American counterpart was far more interested in the relationships of that workplace. Each has its pros and cons, but they both make for essential comedy. The UK series lasted for two quick seasons and a Christmas special, which kept it from getting stale. But it was occasionally too curt. The U.S. version took its set-up and evolved it into something much warmer and inviting but every bit as funny. Though it veered into The Jim & Pam Show at times, when it kept its focus on the laughs, it was hilarious.

Popular (1999-2001, The WB)
Unlike his two follow-up series—the ludicrous but watchable Nip/Tuck and the entertaining but trite Glee—Ryan Murphy hit the nail on the head with his first foray into television. The show quickly set up the battle lines between the popular and unpopular groups at school and then promptly blew them up. This was a show without a single predictable character. Ironically airing on the WB network (home to such fare as Dawson’s Creek), this was a vicious satire of high school and teen-aimed programming.

The Restaurant (2003-2004, NBC)
The best reality series of all time? Perhaps. No one won a competition, and this was hardly a documentary series like the aforementioned 30 Days and American High. So in this definition of “reality,” it’s a clear winner. Viewers followed chef Rocco DiSpirito, a douchebag of the highest order, as he tried to make his New York restaurant a success. The behind-the-scenes stuff was incredibly compelling. Forget the Food Network or Gordon Ramsey, this is where food and drama collided.

Scrubs (2001-2008, NBC / 2009-present, ABC)
Though it hasn’t been anywhere near as good in its past three or four seasons (and certainly since its bastardization at ABC, Zach Braff was the crown prince of broadcast sitcoms this decade. His medical comedy got just about everything right. ABC apparently didn’t think each cast member was valuable (a big mistake) and shed most of its supporting cast. But with its musical numbers (“Guy Love”), terrific guest stars (Michael J. Fox and Brendan Fraser, to name a few) and a tremendous balance of poignancy and absurdity, this was one of the absolute joys of the decade for me.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007, NBC)
Though it couldn’t match up to its incredibly gripping pilot (few shows could), this was the most intelligent show of the decade. Far more than a backstage pass to a fictional sketch comedy, this is a show where characters were complex and believable, where they reacted as real people would. Many situations were based on the actual experiences of creator Aaron Sorkin and the show provided laughs and heft at just the right time.


David A. Lucio said...

I saw neither How I Met Your Mother or The Big Bang Theory on here. I may be biased, but those are amazing shows...

Kip Mooney said...


I actually never got into either of those shows. I'm expecting the same type of comments for Mad Men and The Wire.