Sunday, September 8, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part VIII

30. The Office (US/UK) (2001-2003; 2005-2013) - For the last twelve years, the world has been living in the world of The Office. The original UK version starred Ricky Gervais was a pioneering sitcom, ushering in the documentary-style sitcom which has become incredibly popular in the years since it debuted across the pond. Not only a fresh style, but a fresh sense of humor led a
huge following to The Office, because at the time, it was truly something they had never really seen before. After the initial show only lasted two years, an American version was born, and the concept of The Office exploded, as the long running series finished its ninth and final season as a huge comedy staple on primetime television. The casting of Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Leslie David Baker, Brian Bumgartner, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Ed Helms, Craig Robinson, Ellie Kemper, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, and countless others (I know I am forgetting some!) was literally perfect as these characters were so evolved, so well played out over nine incredible seasons. Furthermore, they all had incredibly pitch perfect comedic timing, nailing the subtle funny moments with ease, and bouncing off of each other with great chemistry. Like the original UK version, The Office really set the stage, along with other shows around this time such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, for a boom in this new documentary-style comedy that has become the new norm in television programming. It was also clever and fresh in terms of its humor, and helped launch further careers of so many of its talented stars. While the last two seasons without Steve Carell clearly struggled, The Office was still one of the best comedies to hit television (on several continents) since 2000.

29. The Gathering Storm (2002) - HBO has  a knack for producing original movies, as so many of them have gone on to critical success, a ton of Emmys, and many comparisons to the films
being released in theaters. And none were better in the last decade than The Gathering Storm, a brilliantly constructed, and beautifully acted film that would have won a lot of Oscars, instead of the three Emmys and two television Golden Globes that it added to its mantel. The Gathering Storm is an intimate look into the lives of Winston and Clemmie Churchill, and the struggles that their marriage faced, mirroring the political battles that he was fighting in Parliament in the years leading up to the eve of WWII. It is a handsomely constructed period piece, with solid direction from Richard Loncraine, a wonderfully emotional, witty, and entertaining script by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore, and impeccable technical aspects that had cinematic qualities. But the real heart and soul, and the real reason for the film's success was the incredible cast. The supporting players add depth to the storyline, and most of them hit their marks with ease including Jim Broadbent, Lena Headey, Tom Wilkinson, Hugh Bonneville, Derek Jacobi, Ronnie Barker, Tom Hiddleston, and countless other talented British actors. But the real triumph here was the onscreen relationship between Winston and Clemmie brought to life by two of the greatest actors of all time: Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave. Their portrayals, particularly Finney who to date is the most convincing Churchill I have ever witnessed on screen, were perfect, and their chemistry is the glue that holds the whole film together. Their portrayals, their talent, and their energy were nothing short of amazing, and so was this incredible production.

28. Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) - No show in last two decades has gained quite the cult status as Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the last several years we have been inundated with crappy vampire stories aimed at young adults, that are poorly written, poorly constructed, and really worthless in terms of actual art, and in terms of adding to the classic vampire storytelling canon. And yes I am talking about the dreadful book/film Twilight series, as well as countless others that are not quite as popular. But of all those worthless projects there was one incredibly bright spot,
and that was Buffy. The original movie was terrible, but when it was revived as a television show, with the new casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as the rest of her talented cast including Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, and a ton of others, and a fresher approach the storyline, the results were dramatically improved. What I always loved about Buffy was its approach to the drama, an approach that reminded me a lot of why I liked the first two, and then fourth, Scream movies. It certainly tackled the horror and fantasy elements head on, but it did so with an incredible self-awareness of the sometimes ridiculous premises. So it tackled these elements with a heavy does of quirky humor that really connected with its legion of devoted fans. But unlike Scream, Buffy also went a lot deeper. For every moment of fantasy, horror, or humor, there was a moment of genuine emotion. And unlike the Twilight franchise, these connections that formed never felt forced or ridiculous, nor were they badly acted. Instead, these talented actors and writers created real characters with real emotions that set Buffy ahead of its genre trappings, and created a memorable and successful drama that deftly combined its varying elements into an entertaining and lasting enterprise that is truly a legendary cult classic.

27. Grey's Anatomy (2005-2013) - This one might surprise some people, but then again, every time I praise Grey's Anatomy, I say that because many of you have long moved on from the show. It is not hard to understand why. The first three seasons were absolutely brilliant, and then the writer's strike,
on-set politics, cry-baby stars, and some questionable story lines almost ruined the once great show in seasons 4-6. But then something miraculous happened. A savage, tense, shocking, and unbelievably sad shooting at Seattle Grace served as the spark that the show needed to regain its footing. And luckily, for those of us that stuck with our characters through the rough times, the reward was worth the wait because, as Entertainment Weekly put it, Grey's got its groove back. They introduced new characters to replace our old favorites, and surprise!, they actually have worked, and have integrated themselves into the storyline with ease, re-creating the once thriving ensemble aspect of this popular primetime soap. Now entering its tenth season, Grey's is still going strong, remaining one of the most popular shows on television, and since its revival, it has maintained its spot as one of the best on any primetime network, at least in my opinion. Throughout its dark days and its triumphant hours, Grey's Anatomy has always be buoyed by the characters that have lived, loved, suffered, and triumphed inside the walls of Seattle Grace hospital. Their stories have become ingrained in the hearts and minds of its fans, and make their mark on television history. This is because Shonda Rhimes and her fellow writers have written countless scripts that are emotional, funny, and timeless. But most importantly, this incredible cast including Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson, Patrick Dempsey, James Pickens Jr., Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers, Sara Ramirez, Eric Dane, Chyler Leigh, T.R. Knight, Jessica Capshaw, and countless top-notch guest stars, particularly recurring actors Loretta Devine and Kate Burton, all inhabited their characters with gusto, and created these memorable and beloved characters whose stories we have followed for now a decade. I may be the only one out there that still loves this show, and I'm proud of it.

26. The Big Bang Theory (2007-2013) - If I had watched the first season of The Big Bang Theory as it played on CBS, I might not have stuck with it all of these seasons. But this is a show, a lot like Friends which it gets compared to a lot these days, that has simply gotten better with age. In particular the additions of Bernadette and Amy have rounded out the ensemble and provided fertile new ground for lots of great comedy, as well as growth for our beloved characters. The last couple of seasons in particular have built on the initial premise and have seen all of our characters tackle new frontiers in their careers, and more importantly their personal lives. The Big Bang Theory has been
criticized by more high-minded individuals for being a traditional laugh-track sitcom, and not as cool as some of the other current, more modern television comedies. But week in and week out, no show on television makes me laugh as much as The Big Bang Theory. It is the biggest show on television at the moment, and is a huge pop culture phenomenon. But more importantly, it is one of the funniest shows on television, one of the most entertaining, and is chocked full of talented actors who have created some of the wackiest, lovable, and most endearing characters. At the top of the pile are Sheldon and Amy, whose ridiculous antics are just absolutely classic. But I think that the character that has always held the group together is Kaley Cuoco's Penny. Her relationship with the boys, and now with the two girls, has always been the highlight of the show, and the glue that held the entire success of the show together. What really sells The Big Bang Theory for me though is that just when you think it is getting a bit silly, it has moments of genuine heart, a lot like the aforementioned Friends. That moment when Howard is launching into space, and they cling to each other, holding on for their friend, a member of their family, is one of the most emotionally affective moments of any television comedy in a long time. The Big Bang Theory may be the most popular show on television, but it also happens to be one of the best.

25. 24 (2001-2014) - Very few shows in recent history have had the life that 24 has had, and those that have are animated (Family Guy and Futurama probably being the best examples). But it appears that bad-ass extraordinaire Jack Bauer is returning to our television sets relatively soon. It takes a lot for a show to have this kind of life and wind beneath its sails. First it takes an incredibly active and passionate fan base, something that 24 clearly has. It did well in the ratings throughout its initial eight season run, and I can only imagine the numbers for this upcoming season, as the show has developed
an even larger following with great DVD sales. Second, the show must have a great premise that is timely, and or sustainable over the long run (something that way too many shows find out down the line when their initial premise wears off). This groundbreaking idea of having each episode represent one hour in a day was absolutely brilliant on the part of creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow, and it ensures that each season has a fully satisfying arch. Finally, the show must actually be good. Now 24 had its moments, and some of the later seasons were not quite on par. But overall, especially in its first couple of seasons, no show on television could match the powerful performances, tension, and perfect execution of 24. The plot lines were engaging, intricate, and always entertaining. The stories were ripped from the headlines, making their emotional and dramatic impact felt even more so on the viewers. And its cast of characters and stars and guest stars over the seasons were always on point. Supporting performances from Cherry Jones, Jean Smart, Carlos Bernard, Gregory Itzin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kim Raver, DB Woodside, Penny Johnson, Peter MacNicol, Reiko Aylesworth, Dennis Haysbert, Elisha Cuthbert, and many others were Emmy worthy (some earning nominations and wins along the way as proof of that). But the heart and soul of 24 was always Jack Bauer, and the most credit goes to the uberly talented Kiefer Sutherland who inhabited this role with a ferocity, and it earned him plenty of praise and awards attention over the years. 24 was one of the best shows of the last thirteen years because it never let up with the intensity, had a commerical appeal but an intricacy that rivaled its cable counterparts, and created one of the best television characters in decades, the inescapble Jack Bauer. I can't wait to see what happens next.

24. The Ellen Degeneres Show (2003-2013) - Before 2003, Ellen Degeneres was a mildly popular, and well-liked stand-up comedian and former sitcom star, known mostly for that famous line: "I'm Ellen and I'm gay!" But in 2003, she would explode into a pop culture phenomenon, and a gay rights hero, with her successes in two adventures. The first was her role as Dory in Finding Nemo, still considered one of the greatest voice performances of all time, and in this blogger's humble opinion, one of the biggest Oscar snubs of the last decade. The second, and the one that really made her a star was the launching of her popular daytime television talk show, which has now been on the air for ten years, has won a stunning 40 Daytime Emmy Awards, and has made Ellen a household name. Normally, a talk show, particularly a daytime one, would not be a standout among television's best.
But she, along with Oprah, both took the concept of a daytime talk show, to whole new levels, and setting the bar so high for future endeavors, that they may never be reached by any other. The energy, humor, and authenticity that Ellen brings to her set every day is such a refreshing sight to see. She is never fake, always being herself, no matter the criticism. By doing so, she has attracted fans from across the spectrum, and has consistently broken stale stereotypes of gay and lesbian individuals. Furthermore, her performance, her guests, and her writers are always on their game, and have managed to always keep the material fresh, something that is hard to do after a decade on the air. Most importantly, Ellen's confidence has helped inspire and entire generation to be proud of who they are, no matter their race, creed, or sexuality. Furthermore, her high-quality program has brought back an integrity and gravitas to the talk-show format, and her success matches anything else on television, daytime or primetime. And after all of that, I hope we have ten more years, and maybe ten more after that.

23. 30 Rock (2006-2013) - This year, 30 Rock ended its run on NBC that was propelled by low ratings at the network. Unfortunately, in today's broadcast world a show like 30 Rock doesn't have much of a chance at succeeding, unless it moves to a cable network that is willing to let it grow. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious one is this: 30 Rock is entirely too intelligent, too quirky, and too outside the mainstream of most of the popular comedies on television today. And
yet, it is those qualities that made 30 Rock such an instant classic, such a hit with critics and Television Academy members, and easily one of the best comedies to hit the airwaves within the last decade. It succeeded where the vastly underrated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip couldn't. It was the perfect television show about television shows, a behind the scenes look at a struggling sketch-comedy show. It's insider humor may have been another reason it could not connect with a broader audience, but it also gave it a niche in the market, an incredible insight into the entertainment industry, as well as an incredible self-awareness that provided it with smart and razor-sharp humor. Plus it didn't hurt that it was populated with one of a kind characters, all incredibly well-played by the talented cast. Tina Fey's quirky and emotionally vulnerable Liz, Alec Baldwin's cocky, yet somehow lovable Jack, Jane Krakowski's diva Jenna, Tracy Morgan's ridiculous, yet always endearing Tracy, and Jack McBrayer's wonderfully ignorant Kenneth, will all go down, along with the rest of the wonderfully funny writing staff as some of the most endearing, funny, and legendary television characters of the last couple of decades. Of course at the heart of 30 Rock was the incredible Tina Fey. Her talents as a writer, actor, and producer on the show is what gave it its spark, and I do hope that we don't have to wait too long for her return to television, because these last eight months without her have felt a bit empty to say the least.

22. Downton Abbey (2010-2013) - Not since Upstairs, Downstairs was a hit in the 1970's has a British television show made such an impact on the American populous. The closest we have gotten is a remake (see The Office above). After the initial miniseries surprisingly rocked the awards circuit several years ago, Americans began to finally catch on to what the British had already figured out, that Downton Abbey was an instant and unforgettable classic. A luscious, countryside manor filled with Lords and Ladies, and of course their loving, and sometimes devious servants, faces the crises that tormented Europe during the early part of the 20th Century, including World War I. Downton Abbey may be seen by some as stately, overly British, and boring. But if you take the time to dive into the intricacies of Downton Abbey, I think you will find that it is worth the journey. Not one
character is one-dimensional, as all have been given major storylines throughout the first three seasons, fully fleshed out storylines that challenged their actors' emotional range, and challenged the proper conventions of early 20th century England. More importantly, we see, just like in post-war South between African American servants and maids and their white employers, there is so much day to day interaction between the upstairs and the downstairs, that it is those relationships that move the story forward, and we see how much they care about each other and how close they are despite the social restraints that ultimately keep them apart. Downton Abbey is chocked full of talented actors, all giving A+ performances particularly Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Joanna Frogatt, and the always incredible Maggie Smith who steals every scene she is in with a quick wit and sharp tongue. Downton Abbey is a classy, soapy, engaging drama that brings a social history of the UK to the rest of the world. It has definitely become a hugely successful phenomenon around the world, and if you sit down and take a trip to Downton, it is not hard to see why.

21. Louie (2010-2013) - When I heard Louie announced as one of the six nominees for Best Comedy Series this year, all I could say was: Finally! While it is only three seasons in to what I'm sure will be a long run on FX, Louie has already cemented its status as one of the funniest and best television shows currently on the air. And I'm sure that if it continues its run in the same manner as its first three seasons that it will one day be remembered as one of the best comedies of all time. Louis C.K., who I will get to in a moment, plays a divorced father of two girls, who must deal with the separation of his family, his everyday struggles of being a single father, and his usually failed attempts at finding new
love at middle age. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm before it, Louie has a realism behind its take of middle age crisis, but, in my personal opinion, Louie has exceeded its theme predecessor, thanks almost completely to the talents of the comedian Louis C.K. This year, C.K. earned nine individual Emmy nominations for both his show and his HBO stand-up special, a stunning number for one person. But it is proof that there is no one working in television today that commands the respect, the honor, and the gravitas of Louis C.K. He is literally everywhere and is definitely the best and one of the most popular comedians working today (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can also be added to that prestigious list), and as writer, director, lead actor, editor, and producer of Louie, the show's successes rest on his shoulders. And boy has this show suceeded. It now has a legion of devoted fans who appreciate C.K's comedy, and who reach out for high-quality that exudes from this show every week. Louie isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it is an incredibly authentic comedic experience, as C.K. reaches to his own life, his own struggles, and his own limitations to find the humor in everyday situations. It is this authenticity that is missing from so many of today's television comedies, and it is what sets Louie apart from the rest.

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