[IMG:L]It’s been a great decade for TV -- and when you can say that about a 10-year period that saw the rise, nay, omnipresence of reality television and fall of brain-necessitating series, it means the good stuff was really good. In short, the Arrested Developments of the TV landscape were so top-notch that not even the atrocious American Idol goliaths out there could sully the 2000s. (Although, honestly, how excited are you for season 9 of Idol?) Here are our picks for the decade's best.
It’s the only show in our top five that’s still on the air – and yes, that does matter. You see, if season 8, which recently ended, wasn’t Curb’s best to date, it might not have made the cut (and how devastated Larry David would’ve been!). Of course, that still would’ve left us with seven seasons of some of the most indelible, inimitable comedy of the decade, as well as the best season finale in many decades: season 3's "The Grand Opening." And what would a "best-of" list be without at least one entry with which most people disagree?
4. The Wire
It might not have always been the easiest show to watch -- and it certainly wasn't one to pick up mid-series -- but for those of us who stuck with this brilliant not-just-a-cop series from the first season on, we were hooked, Lost style. With all due respect to the other shows on this list, The Wire was the best-written of the bunch, with David Simon and Co. rendering network fare like NYPD Blue cartoonish by comparison -- and it wasn't just because cursing is allowed on HBO.
It remains the victim of one of the most criminal cancellations ever (perhaps behind only Freaks and Geeks and Firefly) -- as in: Arrest and jail the faceless suit(s) who sucker-punched the not insignificant amount of us Bluth fiends by canceling the show after just three seasons … and (intentionally?) terrible marketing and promotion. OK, I’m still a tad bitter, but with a little luck, TV’s funniest, looniest family will be back soon enough -- only this time the Bluths would be appearing on the big screen, and creator Mitchell Hurwitz would be free to deliver what he probably wanted to during those three tumultuous seasons. Here’s hoping the neo-Arrested Development makes our Best Movies list next decade, or just makes it to theaters.
2. The Office (British)Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant didn’t invent bone-dry, lightning-quick comedy, but they executed it as well as any TV show ever has -- in fact, only The Larry Sanders Show, a Gervais favorite, is in The Office’s class (get over it, Modern Family fans). Funnily enough, however, the original Office -- which begat the great-in-its-own-right American version and several more around the world -- wasn’t all about laughs. It captured a romance that felt more “documentary” than “mockumentary” (the antithesis of, and antidote to, Ross ‘n’ Rachel); it was at times as genuinely heartbreaking as it was sidesplitting; and it was an endlessly fascinating statement on 21st-century ennui -- just before reality TV (ratings) began making that statement.
1. The SopranosNothing would’ve been more satisfying than to trot out a list that strayed from the pack and didn’t end with The Sopranos; in that sense, this was a tough decision. Otherwise, though, my mind has been made up since Tony Soprano’s first panic attack. David Chase’s masterpiece meditation on the modern male (if you viewed it as just a “mobster show,” well then … good for you) brought us an iconoclastic -- and, of course, iconic -- protagonist whose complexity under the guise of simplicity summed up what made The Sopranos such riveting television. Two and a half years after that most polarizing of conclusions (it symbolized that we the viewers were being whacked, I tell ya!!), the decade’s best series is still the best thing on TV -- it just now requires a DVD player.
30 Rock: OK, so the bulk of its ratings may come from Emmy voters (this is one show that sorely needs a laugh track!), but a series' quality can't be measured by viewership -- otherwise, Two and a Half Men would be hailed as the best! Tina Fey's 30 Rock requires a viewer's attention, and really, really rewards it.
Mad Men: Congrats to Matthew Weiner for being the only one on this list representing two shows (the other, of course, being The Sopranos, on which he was a frequent writer) -- oh, and for delivering an utterly stunning period drama that has already held our interest more than all other series of its ilk combined.
Six Feet Under: I know -- another HBO show? But such was the prowess of the network during its heyday (early-to-mid-2000s), when Alan Ball turned a show about death into appointment TV -- which is more or less what he's doing now on the same network with True Blood.
The Colbert Report: Who knew that when the Report spun off from The Daily Show in 2005 it would wind up vastly outshining its progenitor? Pound for pound -- since it airs four nights a week -- this is TV's best-written show.
Lost: It was tough to exclude the J.J. Abrams game-changer from the top five, and those who place it at No. 1 will get no argument from me. Lost conspiracy theories, chatter and buzz probably account for some tangible percentage of overall Internet traffic -- and that just doesn't happen with bad shows. What more is there to say? I mean aside from professing my Lost love with dozens of specific examples...