I'm really hypocritical. Remember my last HuffPo article where I begged for no more "Top Ten of the Decade" Lists? Or the post just before this one, in which I practically said outright I was done blogging for 2009, and that I intended on ridiculing all this "TV as Art" crap?
The thing is, everyone is writing their Top Ten of TV Shows of the Decade lists and while I agree with many, I figure I should get my own chance to throw out a few selections. So, with what little authority I have, I'm sharing mine. I do plan on writing a post that completely makes fun of this desire to whittle things down to the TEN BEST OF THE DECADE! but until then, I'm just gonna keep my foot in my mouth, and share my list. Anyway, what other TV blogger is proclaiming The Hills as one of the best shows to come out of the aughts?
First, a disclaimer: there are many shows that I know are brilliant and amazing but that I have never watched, and while I know some of these shows (like The Wire) are deserving of a place on my list, I simply can't include them (yes, it's outrageous I haven't watched The Wire, and I plan to - it's on my Netflix queue). This is a biased list - however I'm approaching it by looking at shows I feel have changed the game or defied expectations. These are the shows that continue to resonate with me; the shows I would tell anyone I think are the best of the past ten years.
Without further ado, and in no particular order...
Arrested Development (2003-2006)
I'm not sure there is any other comedy show I quote as frequently as I quote Arrested Development. Years after its end, the show is still relevant, still funny, and still genius. I'm not sure any other comedy has even come close to this show in terms of consistently bringing the funny in a smart and clever way. What's interesting to me is that I don't even think any other comedy has tried to copy the style of Arrested Development - it's a standalone masterpiece, almost as though everyone knows there's no chance of matching its perfection.
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
I loved this show because it wasn't about science fiction. Sure, it's title all but screams sci-fi, but the show itself wasn't. BSG was about ethics, morals, religion, politics, relationships - all the social, economic and political issues we debate on a global scale every day. And what other show invented a new swear word or inspired panel discussions at the United Nations (please note I did not research if, in fact, other shows have been presented at the UN, so I could be wrong, but for the sake of my very-biased Top Ten list, go with me on this)? Holy frak this show was phenomenal.
I do not like procedurals. I am not one of those people who can watch hours upon hours of Law & Order or CSI, and so it was with some reluctance that I started watching Bones early last year, and really only because Entertainment Weekly was always writing about it, so I figured I'd see what all the fuss was about. I watched the pilot, and then I watched a few random episodes from the first two seasons. Then I realized I was hooked, bought all the seasons on DVD, caught up to the current season and joined the rabid fanbase for this "little engine that could" kind of show (I say that in the sense that Bones is not a show that's popularly debated over office water coolers and I doubt it's showing up on any other TV critic lists - it's overwhelmingly underrated, in my opinion, and yet is a show that's now hitting a new stride in its fifth season). Bones is not a procedural, at least not in my mind. It is a character drama that tackles very heavy issues through crime-solving. It is also rife with comedy. The stories and characters are compelling, and the two leads have so much chemistry I could probably watch them driving in a car for an hour and still be entertained.
Nathan Fillion is about half of the reason I love this show. His Captain Mal Reynolds, the cavalier leader of an odd collective of (and how to write this without making the show sound insane, but also convey the story...) cowboys in space, a spiritual leader, a concubine, and the two outlaws they're harboring; is the sort of character I want to hang out with. Interestingly, this show was the first Joss Whedon show I ever watched, and at the time I had no idea who Joss Whedon really was in the grand, significant TV-changing landscape, academic sense of things. I hadn't watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (don't worry, I have since then), so Firefly was my intro to the Whedonverse. This is another show that's so much more than it seems - more than science-fiction certainly (and it even features a pre-High School Musical Zac Efron as a young Simon Tam). In fact, I don't think I can accurately convey why this show belongs on my Top Ten list beyond Nathan Fillion as half the reason (he's really great). It's only one season, sadly, but it's one season of fantastic entertainment.
Friday Night Lights (2006 - present)
If someone were to ask me to name the best show on TV, I'd answer, without thinking, Friday Night Lights. This is not a show about football, or Texas, or race, or families, or relationships - it is a show about all these things, and so much more. FNL is a show about people. This is a show grounded in reality, tackling issues anyone can understand and relate to, issues that many of us often face. The beauty of FNL is that it resonates with everyone. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, this show embraces the themes and challenges of our lives, in a seamlessly authentic manner. When I watch FNL I am reminded of my mother, my upbringing, my friends, my family, how lucky I am - how lucky we all are. FNL is humbling in its storytelling and its message, and is a cinematic masterpiece that invades your living room once a week, but stays in your mind for long after.
The Hills (2006-present)
I have tagged 34 entries (not including this one) of my blog with "The Hills." I have written about my deep love/hate relationship with this show over lengthy diatribes, or two sentence rants. I have obsessed over The Hills and my own fascination with it so much that I've given myself headaches. I can credit my various commentaries on The Hills as the reason I now blog for the Huffington Post (seriously - it was a Hills post that got me noticed over there). To be honest, I no longer watch the show, or at least I haven't consistently since somewhere during the middle of the third season, and I certainly wouldn't put this in the same realm as Friday Night Lights (how ironic that in this list, it directly follows FNL), but the reason The Hills is one of the Top Ten Best TV Shows of the Decade is that it's a total game changer. I suppose I ought to credit Laguna Beach as the ultimate game-changer in this area, however, it wasn't until The Hills came along that scripted-reality really flourished. The Hills is brilliant in that it infiltrated popular culture on such a grand scale - redefining fame and reality television, spawning fashion lines, online games, new forms of social media interaction and TV viewing, and its own spinoff. This show is so often overlooked because in some ways, it's pure crap - but I can't deny its genius, and thus it is well-deserving of a spot on this list.
If there's any no-brainer item here, it's Lost. In fact, I don't know that I have as much to write about this show, beyond that it's an obvious example of purely great television. It's consistently changed, evolved, and maintained intrigue - embracing a clever storytelling conceit with the flashback, and then the flashforward, in a way that was not at all contrived or unnecessary. Lost has accomplished the difficult, sometimes the near-impossible as it resolves plotlines while creating new stories. I have no doubt that as the show enters its final season in 2010, its mark on the past decade of television will linger on for years to come, but I have a feeling no show will ever hit that mark quite as well.
The Office (2005-present) and 30 Rock (2006-present)
I totally cheated by listing these two shows together, but I often think of them together as two comedies that stand as prime examples of reinventing the wheel. I suppose I should credit the original British version of The Office, however the American version, with its ups and downs, and occasional off-episodes, is at its core, so simple in idea, and so brilliant in execution that it's far outlived it's British derivative. 30 Rock is of the same mindset - a simple plot that finds outlandish humor in what we might often deem to be the mundane or irrelevant. While these two shows take place in two very different worlds, the humor is perfect, and mostly thanks to the hilarious characters (and the actors that play them, and writers that write them). We've each got a bit of Michael Scott or Liz Lemon inside, and thanks to The Office and 30 Rock, it's a little easier to laugh at ourselves.
Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
To be honest, I am fairly shocked this show hasn't popped up on more critics' lists. Pushing Daisies was a whimsical dream of a show - almost as though Tim Burton, Salvador Dali, and whoever it was that did the movie Amelie sat down in a room together and decided to make a TV show about crime-solving and forbidden love set in an idyllic dreamworld (side note: I'd love to watch Pushing Daisies in 3D). It's a shame this show was canceled when it was, but I am glad that it received honors through the Paley Center and a few Emmy nominations. Pushing Daisies was a show unlike any other, and if this was the decade that TV became art, I don't know that there is any other show more indicative of that.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
When I used to watch The West Wing I remember telling my friends I felt INVOLVED. How ironic - that spending hours upon hours watching a fake president and fake White House staffers embroiled in fake (albeit, real-ish) political issues, I felt as though I was doing something significant along the lines of civic duty. Or something. The thing is, The West Wing made politics approachable in a way that hadn't really been done before. The characters were certainly fascinating, and for a while there I pretended Bartlet was in fact the current U.S. president. The West Wing effectively created a political world I wanted to live in, and beyond Aaron Sorkin's genius dialogue (seriously, how does that man do it?), at its core, this was just a damn good television show.
Honorable Mention goes to Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog (2008), for revolutionizing digital media and original online content, as well as for completely redefining the musical comedy genre. Hell, this show redefined television entirely.
Well, there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Think I'm insane for not having watched The Wire yet? Pissed that I forgot anything obvious? Feel free to weigh-in with a comment below.