Sunday, August 4, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part VI

50. Law & Order (1990-2010) - Like ER, Frasier, and several others on this list, it would be a
lot higher if it had been a best of the 1990s. But for the entire first decade of the new century, Law & Order remained one of the biggest and best legal shows on television, with a hard-working cast, incredible guest stars, and a cemented place in pop culture history. The cast that appeared in from of the camera week in and week out included a plethora of excellent veteran television actors including Jesse Martin, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt, Steven Hill, and my personal favorite S. Epatha Merkerson who is one of the best, and most underrated actresses, working on television and in film today. Her cancer storyline toward the end of the series remains one of the most effective and powerful of the entire series. I think that is what made Law & Order such as long-running, successful series. Not only was it a compelling legal drama, with excellent cases, and compelling crimes that were both gritty and emotional, but it also always rebounded. Like any show that is long running, it definitely had its bumps in the road. There were some seasons, in particular those that transitioned to newer characters that were rough. But after the initial surprise and change, the show always found its footing again, its characters always fit right in, and it always settled right back into its groove. It had the staying power, the fanbase, and the creativity to survive almost anything, and twenty seasons on the air is proof enough. Law & Order will forever live in pop culture history, especially, as its spinoffs continue to play on NBC, and it will forever go down as one of the best television shows to ever grace the small screen.

49. King of the Hill (1997-2010) - Every night at 9 p.m., I watch reruns of King of the Hill. That is because no matter how many times I see the same episode (which has probably topped thirty times
for each one), it never gets old. That is because Mike Judd and Greg Daniels' long-running animated series is one of the funniest shows to have hit the scene since the mid-90's. Starring the all-American conservative Hank Hill, his overambitious wife Peggy, his prop comic son Bobby, and his wonderfully funny and ridiculous neighbors, particularly Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer, King of the Hill is the story of a man whos values, beliefs, and way of life continually gets turned upside down by the world itself. Sometimes Hank's values win the day, and sometimes they don't, as Judge has openly stated that he is not necessarily trying to celebrate a conservative way of life, nor is he trying to use liberal jokes and overtones to insult it. He is simply telling the story about a group of family and friends who live their lives, and the results are incredibly hilarious. He doesn't have to go to extremes to find humor, instead, Judge and his writers look for the humor in everyday life, and find jokes in the most obvious, yet often ignored places. The characters that he created are wonderfully deep, fully fleshed out, and perfectedly created by its talented group of voice actors who breath humantiy and life into 2-D creations. As someone who grew up in the South, I know plenty of Hanks, Dales, Bills, and Boomhauers, which is probably why I appreciate this series so much. I also appreciate it because it is also one of the most deceptively smart shows of the last twenty years Yes Hank and his friends are a bunch of rednecks, and yes he is a bit overly proud about selling propane (and propane accesseries of course), but deep beneath its hillbilly exterior is a subtle humor that is brilliant and always surprises you.

48. The Tony Awards (1947-2013) - Every other major award show on the planet is plagued by something. The Grammys have too many performances and not enough actual awards are handed out. The Oscars present plenty of awards, but some of their tributes are lame, and their hosts have been hit and miss over the last decade or so. The Emmys are fast-paced, but they have so many awards to present, that there is very little time for much else. But the Tony Awards, year in and year out, are a seemless, entertaining, perfectedly balanced ceremony that celebrates the nominees and winners, but also provides plenty of other entertainment, usually from its nominated musicals. Over the last decade, the show has seemed to only get better, especially when its other counterparts are grabbing
negative headlines. Recently, hosts such as Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Hayes, Hugh Jackman, and Neil Patrick Harris have all proven to be real pros. They are multi-talented (not just decent stand up comedians), and have struck a chord with critics and viewers. In particular, Neil Patrick Harris has set the bar, particularly this year, where he topped his previous performances, and literally dropped my jaw. The celebration of the best of the entertainment every year should, in of itself, be an entertaining enterprise. That is what separates The Tony Awards from its counterparts year in and year out. Other shows have to try so hard to create entertainment, which usally leads to bloated and obviously set up scenarios. The Tony Awards, and its creative teams over the last thirteen years have found and enhance the natural entertainment value of theatre, and the results have been extraordinary.

47. Sex and the City (1998-2004) - One of the hottest new shows on television the last couple of years is HBO's girls. Featuring a newer generation of twenty-somethings, Girls is not the first show to
tackle head-on the issues that face modern women, including work, relationships, and sex. No, in fact, shows like Girls owe a lot of credit to the original, HBO's hit television series Sex and the City. Its four main characters, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, incredibly portrayed with ferocity, humor, and an incredible amout of chemistry by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis, were the original group of girls. Their storylines, their struggles, and their relationships were always adored by their fans, and always spoke to them. I think what made Sex and the City so popular, and such an incredible phenomenon in pop culture history is the fact that it never shied away from those things that are usually taboo. And while many called the main chracters whores and other sorts of  misogynistic
and sexist things over the course of the shows history, what these characters actually were were real women. Women, like men, like sex, and they talk about sex with their friends. They also talk about love, relationships, work, and a variety of other things, all of which were showcased on the screen. The reality, the authenticity of these women is why Sex and the City has become such a popular concept to replicate. Plus, it also happened to be one of the funniest and most delightfully entertaining shows to hit the air in the last decade or so. I guarantee you that every show that either has premeired, or will premeire over the next decade or so that features a predominately female cast will still be able to trace its roots to the original, the one and only Sex and the City.

46. The Amazing Race (2001-2013) - Every year The Amazing Race wins the Best Reality-Competition Program at the Emmy Awards. And every year, I, along with many in America groan and roll our eyes. It is not because The Amazing Race is a bad program, it is just that there are other shows out there that deserve recognition, and after awhile anything can get old. But there is a reason that The Amazing Race continues to win, continues to get great ratings, and continues to be a fan
favorite. That is because it is one of the most thrilling, emotional, and winning reality programs on the air, maybe even ever. It also has enough elements to appeal to a variety of viewers. Those that are interesting in geography, travel, and foreign lands love all of the beautifully shot cities, countrysides, and historical and cultural monuments. Those that enjoy competition, fast-paced drama and excitement thoroughly enjoy the creative and culturally themed challenges. Finally, those that love a feel-good story about accomplishment and triumph will find its human parts, the contestants themselves and their stories to be utterly compelling. That, for me at least, is what separates The Amazing Race from other competition shows. While there is always some fierce competition, and some of the contestants play dirty tricks, in general it is an inspiring journey that brings the two of each team together and strenghtens their relationships. And when the final team crosses the finish line after literally traveling all over the world, they are cheered on and celebrated for their incredible accomplishment. In times of such cynisim and brutal competitions that only show us the horrible side of human nature, it is nice to have a show with thrilling adventures, but also uplifting inspiration and fun.

45. Six Feet Under (2001-2005) - One of the most original concepts to come out of HBO over the last thirteen years (and that is saying something considering their plethora of creative programs), was Alan Ball's darkly funny and wickedly entertaining drama Six Feet Under. The story is about one of the most dysfunctional families to ever be portrayed on television, and their lives and work as
undertakers and funeral home directors. While the dreary setting is an enhancer to the drama that unfolds (and provides for one of the best endings of any television series in recent memory), it is really the characters and their stories that engaged the viewers over its unfortunately brief five seasons. Alan Ball, one of the minds behind the Academy Award winning modern masterpiece American Beauty, certaintly had dipped his toe into family dysfunction before. But I maintain that Six Feet Under is his masterpiece, and that it was so effective as a series because it explored subjects that, while incredibly uncomfortable, were incredibly authentic and helped viewers connect so well. It didn't hurt that it had one of the most talented casts on television led by the likes of Frances Conroy, Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rachel Griffiths. Their chemistry and talent shown through week in and week out, and made us feel like the family drama that was unfolding onscreen could have been an actual American family. The authenticity in the storylines, the chemistry of the incredible cast, and the mind of Alan Ball, all combined together to create one of the most meticulous, haunting, realistic, and brilliant shows to have hit the air since 2000.

44. Damages (2007-2012) - In terms of basic setup, there is no show that is quite as clever and intricate as FX's short-lived classic Damages. Every episode reveals just a little bit more, as the plethora of intricate storylines slowly and fiercely unfold. Damages is not for the casual viewer, as its plot can sometimes be confusing. But if you stick with it through the end of each season, its purpose eventually becomes abundantly clear, and the journey, and more importantly, the payoff are worth the wait. The basic premise of the show is a young law school graduate joins the ranks as a protege of one of the most fierce and successful litigators in New York City. The two main actors Glenn Close
and Rose Byrne are simply astounding in their roles as they create this complicated, and competitive relationship. The casting directors also managed to attract some of the biggest names in television and film over the course of its five seasons including Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, Martin Short, Marcia Gay Harden, Tate Donovan, William Hurt, Dylan Baker, John Goodman, Janet McTeer, Lily Tomlin, Jenna Elfman, and countless other talented actors. But through all of it, the real star was Close. She has always been a fierce and powerful actor, and her portrayal of Patty Hewes over the course of 59 episodes was one of the most intense and incredible experiences on television in the last thirteen years. It didn't hurt that she, and her fellow cast members, were supported by jaw-dropping, edge of your seat storylines that, as previously mentioned, expose themselves and unravel in incredibly clever and intricate ways. Unfortunately, Damages was not a highly rated show, and even after a few seasons on DirectTV it eventually ended its run way too short for my taste. But hopefully those that did not catch it the first time, will rediscover it on DVD, and recognize just own powerful these series was, and realize why it was one of the best dramas on the air.

43. Will & Grace (1998-2006) - In the series finale of Will & Grace, in its final moments, Will, Grace, Jack and Karen are sitting in the bar that Will & Grace went into after she ran out on her wedding to Danny in the pilot episode, and the crowd there thought that they were actually the
happy couple. While there Will takes a moment to make a toast: "To Family. Family that loves you, and excepts you for exactly who you are." In twelve words, he described what it felt to watch these four characters for eight seasons. These four characters were connected by nothing more than friendship and an understanding of each other's quirks. They were ridiculous, emotional, and always funny, but more importantly, they were one of the most loving, eccentric, dysfunctional, and wonderful families on television. Even its later years, when some of the storylines went off the rails, the love and chemistry between the characters kept its viewers and fans always coming back for more. That is a true testament to the chemistry and talents of its wonderful actors Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, and the dynamic duo of Sean Hayes and Megan Mulally. All four actors won Emmys for their work, and all four deserved them. More importantly, Will & Grace will always be remembered as a groundbreaking show that busted through stereotypes, and tackled the variety of issues surrounding gay rights head on. It never shied away from the issues, and addressed them with intelligence and a whole lot of humor. Finally, and most importantly, Will & Grace was one of the funniest, most intelligent, and original sitcoms to hit the air in the last decade or so, It was also highly entertaining, and a truly successful and wonderful enterprise.

42. Real Time with Bill Maher (2003-2013) - Okay, so let me get this off of my chest. Bill Maher is a complete jackass. He is loud, egotistical, and a hugh ball-buster. While these qualities do not play well in interpersonal relationships, they do play well on screen, as his rantings and ravings, his fiery insults and below-the-belt digs are highly controversial, and highly entertaining as well. Politically incorrect doesn't even begin to describe Real Time, which is entering twelfth season, probably at the beginning of next year. He is loudly and unabashaedly liberal, and goes after conservatives, religious
nuts, and high ranking Republican individuals with a sharp wit. While this will automatically turn off viewers who fit into any of those three categories (in most cases all three), he has become a cult hero on the political left for being absolutely unashamed for believing what he does, and for espousing his views in front of a panel which usually includes at least one adversary. But Maher is not some political nut who has no understanding of why he believes what he does. He is highly intelligent, and has incredibly well thought out views that are backed up with evidence. But Real Time is not some boring political show on CNN, MSNBC, CSPAN, or God forbid, Fox News. It is first and foremost a variety show, and while it does tackle the issues of the day, its main purpose is to make its viewers laugh. On both levels Real Time knocks it out of the park. The discussions are important but they are also lively, hilarious, and always fun to watch. In its history, it has never won an Emmy Award, probably due to the dominance of the Daily Show. This really is a shame because it is certaintly worthy of any recognition that it gets.

41. Survivor (2000-2013) - Reality television has simply become unhinged over the last several years. There are way too many shows where people compete for money, or fame, or glory. And there
are way too many so-called celebrities that have found their fame through doing a whole lot of nothing, and calling it reality. But luckily, there are a few programs that continue to shine, most of them are old favorites. And none has been more influential, more popular, and more entertaining that one of the original reality competition shows, CBS's Survivor. Hosted by the always charming and Emmy winning Jeff Probst, Survivor makes other competition shows look weak in comparison. The concept of throwing complete strangers together to compete for a million dollars is entertaining enough. But throw them on an island, a savannah, or a desert, and tell them to not only compete, but also survive the elements, create shelter, and find food to eat is just awesome icing on an already pretty good cake. No other show on the air has quite the factors that Survivor does, which is probably why it is still on the air with no signs of slowing down, and why it remains incredibly popular and beloved by its growing legion of fans. Like many reality shows, they have tried a variety of different scenarios to keep the show refreshing, and the results have usually paid off. But of course, it is the contestants that make it worth watching. The elements that they are enduring while filming are incredibly strenuous, and the tension, the drama, and the crazy antics in some cases that stem from them are vastly entertaining. Survivor is the original, and still the best of the bunch.

No comments:

Post a Comment