Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Ten Television shows of the Decade

This is an easy way to kick off my top ten lists; television. It's easier to remember what shows started this decade. To clarify, I will not be listing shows that were merely on during this decade, they have to be shows that began their run. No Friends (no danger of that anyway) or Freaks and Geeks (damn!). Also, please remember this is my personal top ten. It's got nothing to do with ratings, DVD sales, or how much money NBC slipped me to promote their shows (they win big with five of the ten). So, without further ado, here goes:

10. Star Trek: Enterprise
UPN

I actually prefer this incarnation of Trek to Voyager and some of the pre-Dominion War episodes of Deep Space Nine, as it addressed a part of the Star Trek universe we had never seen before: Pre-Kirk Starfleet. Pay close attention to Season 3; the show's producers knew it was in trouble so they devised a season-long arc involving the Xindi, a race bent on the annihilation of Earth. Ignore the season-ending time warp to WWII...it was almost as if the producers sensed the Friday-Night death knell approaching. Not helped by the fact that it was being broadcast on UPN, this has become the least ubiquitous of Trek's casts. But local boy Scott Bakula made a great Captain Archer.

9. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
NBC

One of the many television shows to be cut before its time, Studio 60 should have survived, and would have if it hadn't 1) had to follow up The West Wing's success and also 2) been placed in NBC's rotation the same season as 30 Rock. While Studio 60 was earnest, felt, and smart, 30 Rock was silly, hilarious, and smart. A hat tip to Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry, both coming off hugely successful shows on NBC and jumping on what was the best new show on their line-up that year.

8. Heroes
NBC

This television show would be much higher rated on my list if not for seasons 2-4 (four being the current season). The first season was so promising; it told the stories of ordinary people coming to terms with these extraordinary gifts they were given. They did heroic things and faced villains who ranged from misguided megalomaniacs to insanely dangerous serial killers. Characters were intriguing and layered and even though it played at times like a bad soap opera (Ali Larter, I'm looking at your storyline) it was still a great show. The only let down came with the season finale, which promised so much and delivered only a fraction. Then came the confusing and short-lived second season, followed by the character-overloaded first half of third. The second half, again, promised great things but the villains were just re-hashes of the first season, and so were the plots. The fourth season promised to fix these things, but so far, it's been more of the same. But remember that first season, brimming with excitement and possibility. It was really that good once.

7. My Name is Earl
NBC

Earl was based on a very simple and very cool premise; a man who has lived a life of degradation and sin receives an unexpected windfall followed by an equally unexpected setback, which he interprets as Karma. The series then follows him crossing all the bad things he's done off his list as he rights his past wrongs. What a cool concept for a show, right? And it worked; Jason Lee was perfect as the titular character, and the supporting cast fit into the white-trash universe Earl inhabited. Smart, witty and charming, this show had great potential. Sadly, NBC did not renew this show for the 2009-2010 season, leaving Earl Stuckey's list unresolved. NBC, this is another one to add to your list, right alongside Freaks and Geeks and Studio 60, not to mention the original Star Trek.

6. The Office
NBC

No one can dispute the effect this American translation of the Ricky Gervais BBC hit has had on pop culture in America. Everyone knew a Michael Scott, a Dwight Schrute, a Jim Halpert, etc before this show hit the airwaves, but now we have names for these kinds of people. And the timing was perfect for star Steve Carrell, having come off 40 Year Old Virgin and right into a starring sitcom role. The show is smart, witty, and partially unscripted, which is the way things seem to be going. Strangely, many people love this show but have never paid any attention to its Fox Network fore-runner (see below--Number 1 best show) which clearly paved the way. NBC just knew how to market it better, which is why this one lasts so much longer. "That's what she said."

5. Boston Legal
ABC

ABC's first (and, technically, only) addition to the list picked up where its predecessor The Practice left off, transplanting characters to keep the audience familiar. The show did not truly take off until Rene Auberjonois and Candace Bergen joined the cast, each providing a foil against James Spader's brash character Alan Shore and William Shatner's egomaniac attorney Denny Crane. The show tackled the Patriot Act, abortion, adoption, same-sex marriage, and provided viewers the most mature Bromance network television is ever likely to see in Shatner and Spader. Ending its run in December 2008, Boston Legal gets the honor of being the only non-active television series listed which I believe ended at the correct moment. Denny Crane.

4. Scrubs
NBC/ABC

Nothing could have prepared me, in 2001, for the comedic onslaught I was about to receive from Bill Lawrence, Zach Braff and the rest of the cast of Scrubs. Arguably one of the best pilots ever put together, the first episode left in no doubt what each main character's motives were. Even the Janitor (Neil Flynn), who was not included in any of the subsequent scripts that had been written before filming the pilot, had fans after that first broadcast. In a market glutted with medical dramas, Scrubs continued to get funnier and funnier as the seasons went on. Sadly, this is the show that gets the award for being put on unnecessary life-support. With the writer's strike shortened seventh season being its last on NBC, ABC picked it up and began inserting Disney references that had not been there before. With the departure of many of the shows characters after the eight season, and the introduction of several new characters, the show now feels more like Saved By The Bell: The New Class. But do yourself a favor and check out the season six episode "My Musical." Braff and co-star Donald Faison deliver the best (not most mature, mind, but best) Bromance to grace the small screen.

3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
FX

The only cable show to make it on here. I don't have cable, so my ability to catch shows on cable has been few and far between until Hulu started carrying many shows. Sunny is the only one I follow regularly, and I have never laughed so hard. The idea behind the show, I think, is to have these incredibly smart and talented actors portray the stupidest people on the planet and just sort of improvise around a loose script for a while. And it works. The show is crass, rude, and offensive to human decency, but the fact that the characters don't seem to notice makes it work.

2. Glee
Fox

I am well aware that Glee is in its first season, but it is that good. It does seem, at times, to just be playing silly buggers with the cross-relationship love triangles (or quadrangles as the case may be) but there is always a pay-off. And the music is amazing. Sure, no high school choir in the country could pick up sheet music and improvise a dance and ever hope to sound half as good as that, but you have to look past that. As little work as the students seem to be putting into Glee Club, the actors are putting so much into Glee. And I know there has been some controversy about the autotune on voices (a device used in a recording studio to mechanically adjust the pitch of a voice so they are signing the exact perfect note) but imagine having to record that many songs a week. Of course they're going to take some short cuts. The thing to remember is that these people really are singing, they are giving it their all. And there is always going to be a payoff.

1. Arrested Development
Fox

You still haven't seen this show? What is wrong with you? Creator Mitch Hurwitz and Executive Producer (and narrator) Ron Howard gave us an incredible three years' worth of the smartest, funniest television ever produced and Fox gave it the ax. Part of what made it so smart was that the show itself knew it was doomed, and mocked this fact. Season two's length was cut midway through, so they wrote a similar cut for the fictional Bluth Company into an episode. Season three was a scramble to simultaneously wrap up the series and shop around for a new network, leading to the most hilarious episode of television ever produced entitled "Save Our Bluths." The episode dealt with saving the Bluth Company by means of a celebrity-studded gala, and searching for another company to help ("Perhaps the Home Builders Organization?" "No, HBO would never pick us up." "Well then I guess it's Showtime!") Somebody dies. The conclusion was broadcast live. All the regular gimmicks to keep a show going. Loyal viewers laughed so hard they cried and cried so hard they laughed. We all knew it was coming to an end. There has been talk of a movie ever since, so we're keeping our ears to the ground on that one. When Fox sees the revenue the film brings in, let's hope they think back on the show's cancellation and say, "I've made a huge mistake."

Honorable Mentions:

Pushing Daisies
ABC

Damn you, writer's strike of 2007. This show had such potential. Damn you, ABC, for not noticing.

FlashForward
ABC

Like Glee, FlashForward has just completed the first half of its first season. It has shown promise, but has not left the same kind of impression that Glee has. So, judgment has been reserved for the time being.

30 Rock
NBC

I still contend that this show and Studio 60 should both have been allowed to grow. They offered differing perspectives on the same theme. And while I love 30 Rock, only one of the two could make my top ten, and based on what could have been, this one got the boot.

I know many people will cry out that ABC's Lost is not on here. I just could never get into it. Perhaps if I tried again, I could, but when the first season aired I worked nights, and back then we didn't have Hulu yet. I felt unqualified to offer my opinion. Also, you'll note that there are no reality shows on my list. That was calculated. Reality shows aren't even good enough to make it onto my "Bottom Ten" list. They just shouldn't even exist.

Check back for more of the best of the decade in the next few days. And let me know what you think: agree/disagree? Leave me your top ten. Tear mine apart. But be gentle, elsewise I might not want to share any more of my best-ofs with you.

16 comments:

andy. said...

Elliot, you need to watch Modern Family. People are calling it the new Arrested Development and I am inclined to agree. It may not be as great as AD was, just because nothing really ever will be, but it's the same type of show where every character on it is a really strong character.

Also, Parks and Recreation's current season has been phenomenally funny. The first season was alright, but I'm in love with this one.

Abalama said...

BOOOO TO FLASHFORWARD. It sucks. It is a rip off of LOST (which used that term three years ago in the season three finale)BOOOOOOOO *hiss*

I love 30 Rock but I also hate it. That show wouldn't be anywhere without Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey I think is overrated Yeah, I said it. She is herself in the entire thing. Yawn. I do think she was amazing as Sarah Palin and she is an awesome writer, but there are hole in the shows plots and they hit the same jokes too much (yes i know it is a comedy, but still.)

And Elliot? I will watch LOST with you ANYTIME - ANY......TIME I want you to love that show because I LOVE IT!

Yay to your top choice. Not mine - Mine is LOST, but to each his/her own :)

I also agree with Andy about Modern Family. But I will rip Parks a new one. I hate that show. Amy Poeler needs and Alec to make it work, she can;t carry it on her own.

I agree with It's Always Sunny :) That show makes me happy.

Finally. Boo to your choice of Heros - I hate heroes hate hate hate so much drama UGH

Mmmm yes, strong opinions, they taste good don't they? :P

Richter said...

Aw, no love for the BSG?

steve said...

Heroes season 4 is also good but i liked season 1 and 2 the most. they really made youGetting Your Head Turned Around

Plentymorefishoutofwater said...

I find it bizarre that you compare Arrested Development to The Office - I don't really see the comparison. The British version is the greatest piece of comedy ever scripted. Anyway, nice idea for a post.
I blog about my disastrous dates/sexual embarrassments/pursuit of my hairdresser - check it out: http://plentymorefishoutofwater.blogspot.com/

eveningreader said...

Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, and Lost are all amazing. Heroes was great the first two seasons, but I think they really lost focus and they never got me interested again.

I still can't get over NBC canceling My Name Is Earl at the last minute, with no explanation. Not sure what the bigger mistake was for them this season: canceling Earl, or the Jay Leno show.

Mel said...

Okay I am going to say it...I cannot stand The Office. That being said my favorite show is Criminal Minds, because it would be my dream job if it existed, which it doesn't. I also like Scrubs and House. I really miss Boston Legal. I had a dream that I was dating Alan Shore and was trying to get him in a committed relationship, Ha! I agree with you on Heroes, but haven't really seen the other seasons to really compare. I have not seen any of the other shows.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elliot said...

Andy- I have seen a few episodes of Modern Family and find it to be hilarious. I should probably just subscribe to it on Hulu (which is the only way I watch television nowadays). I can't stand Parks, it relies too much on Amy Poehler (and should, by all rights, include her husband).

Abalama- FlashForward is based on a novel of the same name, so nope, sorry, didn't rip off from Lost. And strong opinions? I usually let Kathy peel those, my eyes just get too watery. Although you should try our French Opinion Soup! Yum!

Richter- Nope, no love for BSG. No cable, see.

Steve- Season 4 is just too...cluttered. Like Season 3. And season 2 was too short, which I guess we can blame on the writer's strike.

PlentyMoreFish- British Office is not so much scripted as it is improvised. Also, the documentary style and too-strange-to-be-real characters exist on both AD and The Office.

eveningreader- Right? Earl was such a good show...and they just let it die without so much as a how do you do. Good work, NBC. You've earned your standing in the Network pecking order.

Mel- To each his/her own. I can't get into the criminal dramas...I find the characters too flat and predictable. And you can't get into a relationship with Alan Shore, he's married now. To Denny Crane.

Bridget said...

You need to include WonderFalls...have you seen it? If not, I will lend it to you. It was canceled midway through its' first season, so there are about 13 episodes but only maybe 7 or 8 aired.

Matt said...

Elliot,

All good picks, I'm sure. I watch about half of the shows on your top ten, and have either heard good things or seen parts of the other ones. Picking a top ten list is always hard, especially when you're looking at the last ten years, and I understand that these are purely your opinions, as are my comments.

First of all, nice job on Arrested. I think that is a well-deserved first place. I also commend you for not picking Lost. I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. I watch Lost, and I like Lost. I just don't think it's the brilliant innovative game-changer that everyone happens to think it is. It relies too much on gimmicks and twists to sustain a quality, character-driven story. But that's what the people want, I guess. Maybe if I stick it with I'll start to see what the big deal is.

I'm surprised that Glee is #2. I have this weird love/hate relationship with Glee. I don't particularly think it's well-written, but it keeps me coming back each week. The first couple episodes were pretty bland, but I think the latter half of the fall was getting good - by shifting the Quinn storyline to the show's emotional center, it gave the series a bit of gravitas that was lacking before. I agree that the music is damn good - and more than once now I hear a song and think, "The Glee kids did that better." But the real reason I tune in each week is Jane Lynch. Pure and simple.

The only other thing I have to say is that I'm sad you don't have cable. I feel that as a lover of television, you are missing out. While I admit I am pretty limited in my television viewership, most of my favorites, as well as the shows I've noticed are getting more and more play, are the cable shows. Mad Men, BSG, Breaking Bad, practically anything on HBO (it's not cable, it's HBO), are the series I feel are the most worth watching. I think the networks are driven too much by ratings, whereas AMC and others are able to push the limits and take more risks.

I don't know if you have Netflix or not, but I highly recommend it. It's not as immediate as Hulu but anything that comes out on DVD they're going to have. My top picks of the decade - The Wire and Battlestar - should go immediately at the top of your queue. Especially as a fellow sci-fi fan, I think your love for BSG would flow deep and wide.

One more note - and I don't mean to be "that guy," but it is worth mentioning, everything in the UK Office (and Extras, an equally brilliant show) was scripted, not improvised: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4859247

I think the fact that most people think it's improvised is a testament to Gervais and Merchant's extraordinary ability to make such well-crafted dialogue seem natural. Maybe the Office is my top pick of the decade...Argh! See, this is why I don't do Top Ten lists.

Alan K said...

1. Scrubs
2. Survivor
3. How I Met Your Mother
4. LOST
5. Prison Break (similar to Heroes in that Season 1 was unbelievable and the rest were... watchable)
6. Heroes
7. Office
8. House
9. Lie to me
10. Big Bang Theory?

and then we can continue down the list aways...

all the way to the bottom...

5467. Hole in the Wall
5468. Reba
5469. Glee

Glee is absolutely terrible. Pure annoyance. Putting it behind Reba might me a little cruel, but putting it on any kind of positive top ten list is chaos! Especially when you exclude How I Met Your Mother which is currently the best show on the air.

Alan K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elliot said...

Alan...Survivor? Reality television is the least real thing on television, and the only top ten list any reality show is allowed to be on is "top ten biggest pop culture nightmares people with good taste have to face while miraculously not shooting their heads off."

Ouch for the hate about Glee. No show deserves to be put below Reba. What did Glee ever do to you to deserve such treatment? And I also can't believe that you don't think that terrible George Lopez sitcom was not one of the three worst television shows. For shame.

Molly said...

It's getting gnarly in here. I love, however, that Matt is sad you don't have cable. Matt, you can be sad for me, too, b/c I don't have cable, and many have told me how much I'm missing.

The only real comment I have about this list is that I'm glad you included Boston Legal. Now that was fun! And even though I love those real life murder shows (Primetime, 24 hours and such), I do love a good laugh in between plotting murder and mayhem.

Molly said...

One more thing:

My Name is Earl. My theory on Earl was that people were embarrassed to admit they 1)watched it and 2)found it hilarious. I mean, come on... we ALL know an Earl! Many of us have BEEN Earl-like at times.

You know you have.

Don't you judge me.