Best TV of the 2000s

In 2020, will there be TV anymore? Who knows. But on the off chance that the death of television hasn’t been greatly exaggerated and is indeed imminent, we can at least celebrate the good twilight years that were the 2000s. In case TV fades into oblivion or merges with the Internet or something, this wasn’t such a bad decade to have ended on.

Here are my picks for the best TV shows of the decade:

1) Friday Night Lights (NBC, 2006-present): This show, based on a movie that was based on a book, became the best adapted television show of all time. More than a high school football show, FNL is beautiful rendered, stunningly mature look at Middle America. It’s close to perfect on almost every level and one of the great dramas of the contemporary network era.

2) Lost (ABC, 2004-present): There’s nothing else like Lost on TV, though there have been plenty of imitators. The Twin Peaks-esque sci-fi mystery show has gotten better in its five seasons, and its time-traveling, shape-shifting perplexities only get more interesting. This is to say nothing of the insanely perfect ensemble cast and memorable characters that have compelled audiences to truly care and watch, sans irony, for all these years.

3) Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006): This show might be the most tragically short-lived and under-seen on this list. But it’s also the best comedy. Hands down. If you haven’t seen this show (which launched the careers of people like Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett) you must get on it right away.

4) The Office (NBC, 2005-present): Though the British series is hard to top, the American version (which at 6 seasons is now a much more substantial body of comedy) quickly became one of the best comedies of the decade, capturing the zeitgeist of the YouTube era better than any other show on TV.

5) Mad Men (AMC, 2007-present): This is the show that got hipsters obsessed with television again. It’s a show that has so much indie cred: It’s bleak, sexy, fashionable, 60s lux, and on AMC! But it’s also just really great, nuanced, challenging TV. This show offers television what Don Draper’s vodka offers his martinis: Top shelf quality.

6) 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present): As richly intertextual and self-reflexive as Arrested Development and with a cast equally as brilliant, 30 Rock just might be the comedy that saves NBC. It’s been a slow gainer since its low-rated first season, but it’s only gotten better with time.

7) The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008): I read something once that said that after watching The Wire, there’s no way anyone could watch CSI: Miami without stabbing their eyes out with a fork. And I think that’s about accurate. The Wire is HBO’s verite show about urban life in Baltimore, and though I’ve only seen the first two of its five seasons, I can understand why the critics frequently hail it as one of the best television shows of all time. It’s gritty, prestige TV of the finest order.

8) American Idol (Fox, 2002-present): This is the show that has dominated the decade in ratings and reality TV trends. After Idol came all the other dancing, performing, talent shows. But Idol’s contribution was also to the emerging landscape of “convergence” television in general—perfecting the art of audience interactivity, product placement, and trans-media storytelling (a live show, a concert tour, single available on iTunes, etc). It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but it’s a ridiculously well-oiled machine of moneymaking pop entertainment. And I applaud that.

9) Friends (NBC, 1994-2004): Yes, this show was on in the 2000s, and while it might not have been the best years for the show, it was still pretty darn good post-Y2K. By the end the six “friends” had become icons getting $1 million a piece for each episode. The show was THAT huge.

10) Laguna Beach (MTV, 2004-2006): Before The Hills became a parody of the genre, there was the exquisitely rendered, truly original reality/soap hybrid Laguna Beach. Its celebration of conspicuous consumption and rich white American youth ushered in a new era for MTV and the youth culture at large. Real teens acting like actors playing real teens, driving Range Rovers and wearing Stella McCartney coats… GREAT TV.

Honorable Mention: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Chapelle’s Show, Da Ali G Show, Dexter, South Park, Rome, Prison Break.

20 responses to “Best TV of the 2000s

  1. Stuart Blessman

    No Battlestar Galactica?
    No Bernie Mac Show?
    No Robot Chicken? (lol)

  2. It’s quite bizarre that Prime Suspect didn’t make the cut.

  3. I second that – Curb! Also, Simpsons? Family Guy?

    I’d still add late night Seinfeld reruns to my list.

  4. Seconded on “Battlestar Galactica”. I would also urge you to check out “Veronica Mars”.

  5. The absence of Battlestar Galactica is wrong.

    Just saying.

  6. Yeah, BSG is a pretty glaring oversight. And there’s no way that the NBC “Office” tops the BBC version (though the American version still deserves to be on the list). Longer-running + more popular != better.

    Other omissions:


  7. Such a stellar and underrated pick for number one. So glad Kyle Chandler could rebound from his “Early Edition” days and play a part in one of my favorite shows ever.

  8. I have not seen an episode of Battlestar Gallactica or Curb Your Enthusiasm (though I would like to!)… hence their absence!

  9. Overall this is a great list! I’d recommend investing in The Wire for all 5 seasons as it only gets better. One glaring ommission is The West Wing.

  10. Every season of The Wire is equally great. Season 4 is more equal than others.

    p.s. it always gives me a nice warm feeling to see Terrence Malick on the right.

  11. I’d toss in Big Love, too. Such a crazy, fantastically acted show.

  12. I agree that FNL should be #1, but personally I would probably place Mad Men even higher, perhaps #2.

    And I agree, check out “Curb.” Fantastic show, especially in the early years. Would it climb into this list? I don’t know, but it would be close.

  13. It is my personal belief that Freaks and Geeks should be included in any list of best television programs, even those restricted to decades that the show did not air in.

  14. A pretty respectable list, but if I could have my own changes to it, I’d definitely put BSG high up on the list, Six Feet Under would be #1, instead of languishing in an “honorary mentions” category, with Dexter close behind (Michael C. Hall either knows how to pick stuff, or he’s one of the luckiest people in the world), and Breaking Bad would be on the list somewhere.

  15. You forgot to mention Gossip Girl. Oh wait, anyone who reads your blog would probably find that entirely unacceptable…I love FNL…

  16. I really don’t get the hype of Arrested Development. It only made me laugh out loud 2 or 3 times in all three seasons. Freaks and Geeks, on the other hand, got 2 or 3 laughs every episode – great show.

  17. I’m pretty convinced that The Wire would be 1 or 2 if you’d watched through Season 4, at least. And you really should get on BSG. The first 3 and a half seasons or so are amazing, although I was disappointed with how the show ended.

  18. Agree with Eric. The West Wing was one of the best shows out there.

  19. Deadwood. The Wire got all the hype from HBO but this show, produced and written by David Milch (NYPD Blue) was a linguistic and visual delight. The acting is out of this world (Ian McShane in particular but the whole cast is fantastic) and the writing was equally intense. It’s like Melville on television.

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