Sunday, October 13, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Part IX

20. Family Guy (1999-2013) - It takes a lot for a show to come back after being cancelled. A huge, passionate fanbase must petition to save the show, and the network has to be willing to give something they had deemed a failure a second chance. It is a huge undertaking. So when Family Guy was revived long after it was cancelled, due to DVD sales and reruns on Cartoon Network, you know you are not dealing with an ordinary television show. Since its inception, ordinary has never been a word to describe Family Guy. Its premise of a loving, and sometimes ridiculous and stupid dad, who
lives his life with his wacky family, is not some fresh and inventive premise for a television show, just look at most of the sitcoms of the 1980's and 90's. But Family Guy completely blew convention out of the water from its first frame. It is a completely hilarious satire on politics and pop culture, taking no prisoners with it on its path to destroy everything. Of course I mean that in a good way, as Family Guy's skewering of popular figures and events is what makes it so incredibly offensive, and incredibly brilliant. It is one thing for a show to be balls-out offensive on cable, but Family Guy has the guts to do it week in and week out on a major broadcasting networks, always keeping the FCC, the political Right, and its fans on their toes, because you literally have no idea what is coming next. But what separates Family Guy from any of the other animated programs that have similar premises and approaches? First, its characters are some of the most original, quirky, and outrageous on television, with no show quite matching their notoriety. Second, it is one of the originals. All of the spinoffs, and new creations that have come in the last thirteen years can trace their roots back to the Family Guy. And most importantly, despite all of its ridiculousness, there is, at its center, a lot of heart. That statement may surprise a lot of people, but whether you like it or not, it is true. Family Guy may skewer pop culture, but it is in fact a pop culture phemonenon, that will be remembered as one of the best of this generation.

19. Game of Thrones (2011-2013) - George R.R. Martin's science fiction epics were some of the most involved, in-depth, and character driven novels I had ever read. They are expertly put together, slowly building over their incredible length to inexplicably dramatic final pages. But, to be
completely honest, I was worried about their visual adaptation. There are so many characters, so many tiny details to keep up with, and we all know that adaptations tend to mess with their source material. Luckily for me, and for the cult followers of his novels, the television adaptation of Game of Thrones has not only met the high expectations, but has far exceed anything I could have possibly imagined. Epic in scope, precise in its details, perfectly matching the descriptions and characterizations of its source material (it doesn't hurt that Martin himself wrote some of the screenplays), Game of Thrones is a sprawling fantasy television masterpiece that has surpassed almost all of its predecessors in the genre. Its characters are fully developed, and impeccably acted by a talented cast, many of whom are getting their big break protraying these characters. Martin and the team of talented writers and directors, have perfectly captured the darkness and essence of the brilliant novels, and have created an breathtaking adventure that has the production value of Hollywood's best films, while also being ten times better than most of the dreck that major film studios produce each year. Game of Thrones is not just a great show, but I think it is an important show. It is a sci-fi geek's paradise, but it also has a literary, almost Shakespearean flavor to it, as well as incredible production value that allows it to stretch out beyond its cult following and reach a broader audience. It shows a cult-classic sci-fi/fantasy premise, can lead to a high quality, critically acclaimed, and record-breaking, Emmy-winning show, and one of the best to hit the air in recent memory.

18. The Shield (2002-2008) - Some of the biggest shows on television are cop dramas, or versions of cop dramas. They attract large numbers of fans, and tend to last for years. Over the last thirteen years or so, the best cop drama to hit the airwave was FX's The Shield. Like most cop procedurals, there are twisty cases, and sometimes they get them right, sometimes they don't. So what sets The Shield apart from the rest of the similar shows to his the airwaves since 2000? The Shield was by far the
grittiest, the most balls-out, the best written, and the best acted of anything else in its genre. Led by Emmy winner Michael Chiklis, in the role he was born to play, the cast of talented actors including the likes of CCH Pounder, Walton Goggins, Michael Jace, Catherine Dent, and plenty of others fully inhabit their roles as cops, finding the deep conviction it takes to dedicate your life, and the moral issues that present themselves, as many of the characters fell into the pits of their jobs that sometimes led them to bend, and many times, break the rules and the codes they swear to. But great actors can only do so much. If they are backed by a really bad script or sloppy direction, a lot of the times they simply can't save it. Luckily, the tense, taut, and absolutely bad-ass storylines always remained thrilling and original, and the gritty direction style perfectly captured the moral dilemmas, and the rough nature of the streets of Los Angeles. I also appreciated The Shield, because it never shied away from the rough moments, it embraced the realistic violence with gusto, and works incredibly hard to deliver full episodes, chocked with content, details, characterizations. Most importantly, The Shield is the kind of show that is simply unforgettable. It stays with you long after you have watched it. The cases, the characters, the shocking violence, all light up the screen and take you into this world like so few shows can accomplish. It is a shame that it never attracted the audience that it deserved, but it is definitely worth a second look.

17. The Colbert Report (2005-2013) - Starting out on The Daily Show, in 2005, Stephen Colbert broke off and took on his own project. Spin-offs are rarely successful or as good as their predecessors, but every once in a while, something comes along that proves the norm wrong. In this
decade, the best example of this is The Colbert Report. Like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report is basically a glorified news program. However, neither are anything like say Fox News, CNN, or the nightly news programs. Instead, they take real facts, real events that are occuring across the world, and turn them into incredibly hilarious variety programs, jabbing political leaders, entertainment icons, with satrical and biting humor, especially if they are conservative, which I particularly enjoy. So what makes The Colbert Report different from its predecessor? Or are they just interchangeable? No they are not, they may have a lot of similarities, but they both have distinctive flavors that make both of them worth watching. In the case of The Colbert Report, the biggest difference is Stephen Colbert himself. Off-screen, Colbert is a poltically active liberal, with a loving family, and roots from South Carolina. But when the cameras turn on, he blazes onto the screen as his ridiculous alter-ego. He suddenly transforms into a hardcore, stalwart conservative, blistering Obama, Pelosi, and the Democratic Party as a whole. Of course, some people might actually think he really is that way. I had a roommate in college, who purposely chose to believe that he really believed those things he said. Yeah, he really did. But of course, what Colbert has done, is take sarcasm, parody, and insult to an entirely new level, in a way that brilliantly, and hilariously makes fun of his political rivals. It is clever, fun, brilliant, and also incredibly well-written, and incredibly intelligent. It is that last point, intelligence, is what separated The Colbert Report above so many other programs, and what makes the comedy so effective.

16. Arrested Development (2003-2006; 2013) - After seven years off the air, Arrested Development did the impossible. It came back! Pairing up with the new techonolgy and medium of Netflix, Arrested Development provided us another chapter in the saga of the Bluth family. The new season got off to a rocky start, but by the end, it reminded us of the old days, once again perfectly capturing the wackiness, the darkness, and the hilarity of one of the best sitcom families of all time. In the mid-2000's we started to see this great change from traditional laugh-track sitcoms, to more mockumentary, more modern style comedies. Two major shows helped usher in that change in full force, leading to the likes of shows like 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, and Modern Family. The
first was of course The Office. It was the ratings boon, and recently wrapped up its long and successful run on NBC. But the other show was Arrested Development. Sure, its ratings were never great, forcing Fox to cancel it in its prime, but even in those few brief original seasons, and in the newest one on Netflix, we couldn't help but realize that we were watching something really special. Arrested Development was in 2003, the freshest, most lively, and most original sitcom to hit the air in a long time. As some of the great 90's sitcoms were starting to fade like Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace, and Everybody Loves Raymond, Arrested Development broke new ground on what was to come in the future of television comedy. Its cast including standouts like Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Jason Bateman, Porta de Rossi, David Cross, and my personal favorite, Emmy-winner Tony Hale (I love saying that now) each inhabited their characters with gusto, most of which were both simultaneously beloved, and hated, showcasing deep and fleshed out characters that are simply uncommon, especially in a lot of television comedy shows. The writing was just jaw-dropping good, and it never seem to fall flat. I can't wait to see if the gang will get back together, even if it takes another seven years.

15. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1996-2013) - Okay, so it was definitely a close race, but in the end, I had to go with the original, the one that stared it all, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart beating out The Colbert Report by two spots on the list. Honestly, they probably could have been tied, as their shows are so tied to one another in terms of actual people, style, political leanings, and most importantly, humor. But Jon Stewart, unlike Stephen Colbert, did not create some crazy
character. No, for the last seventeen years (has it really been that long?), Jon Stewart has gone out every night and simply been Jon Stewart, and it, like Colbert' creation, simply works. He became a pioneer in the entertainment buisness. His show was part news, part commentary, and 100% satire. He was unashamed of his liberal roots, and attracted a large group of teenagers, college students, and 20/30 somethings, who usually stayed away from politics, to the political fold in numbers that were unprecedented. A recent study showed that a large, and growing, percentage of Americans, particularly my generation of younger Americans, were getting their actual news from funny variety shows like Colbert and The Daily Show. This number alarmed many serious-minded journalists, who fear declining viewers and readers, and older Americans who felt that they were missing something in the process. If you use these two shows as your only news source, that may be a bit of a stretch. But I think that those numbers show that while The Daily Show is essentially a variety program, with lots of deserved laughs, it is also an intelligent, well-written, and biting commentary program that does tackle today's major issues, in a way that is accessible to a group of individuals who used to simply not care. Apparently, it was also extremely accessible to Emmy voters, as it has won a total of 19 Primetime Emmy Awards, including a streak of ten Best Variety Series trophies in a row. Yes, it was a bit excessive, even for this high quality program, but it proved the reaching power of Stewart and his team, and the incredible impact that have made, and continue to make, on politics, on pop culture, and television.

14. Parenthood (2010-2013) - A lot of people will be surprised to see Parenthood so far up the list. Of course, if you have been following me on The Award Psychic it is probably not as surprising. I have made no qualms about the fact that I absolutely love Parenthood, and think that it is one of the best shows on television, and one of the most underrated and underappreciated. I think it will be one of those shows that gains popularity and notoriety unfortunately after it is gone from the air. So, I am fully admitting that this is a purely personal choice, but I hope that maybe it will spur others who have wanted to watch, but havent, to catch up and finally see why I love this show. So many family
comedies and dramas reach for laughs or for dramatic impact so far that they lose their sense of authenticity. Have you ever watched a show that is supposed to be about everyday families and think: this has never happened to me or my family, and it never will? That is what sets Parenthood apart. It never reaches to far for its natural humor, or for its heart-breaking dramatic moments. It simply tries to display real life. It is incredibly authentic, which is why it is sometimes hard to watch. Because you really can see yourself or your family going through the same upheavels, the same tragedies, and sometimes the same triumphs. It has a huge dose of humanity that is simply missing from television nowadays, making in a welcomed break from the norm and an anomaly in the modern television era. A lot of credit goes to the outstanding cast who have created incredibly well-designed and human characters. The outstanding Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Bonnie Bedalia, Meg Whitman, Craig T. Nelson, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Joy Bryant, and some excellent guest turns from the likes of Jason Ritter and Ray Romano, manage to make their characters believable despite having to split the screentime so much. Each year we wonder whether Parenthood will make it to another season. This year getting a full 22 season was amazing, despite moderate ratings. But I hope that all of you start to tune in on Thursdays and make it a ratings hit. It is one of the few shows currently on primetime television that really deserves it.

13. The Good Wife (2009-2013) - Is is possible that this season of The Good Wife, its fifth, will be its best yet? The first couple episodes, after the explosive season 4 finale promise that whether it's its best season or not, it is going to be one hell of a ride. For the record, The Good Wife is currently the best primetime drama on broadcast television (Parenthood, a close second), and is probably the only one that even comes close to the great dramas of the day that are all on cable networks or PBS. It
definitely has somewhat of a serial aspect to it, throwing in new cases each year that last for one or two episodes. But as the show has gone on, we have seen more and more recurring guest characters and arcs including knock out performances from guest performers such as Carrie Preston, Michael J. Fox, Dylan Baker, Stockard Channing, Anika Noni Rose and Martha Plimpton. These recurring characters allow for contitunity within the storylines, and avoiding too many new cases per season, and the stale stench of most serial law and crime television shows (most of which are currently on CBS along with The Good Wife). But what really separates The Good Wife from other legal enterprises, are the main characters. By the time the episode end, what happens with the cases take a back seat to what has happened to our incredible well-drawn and beloved characters such as Julianna Margulies' Alicia, Archie Panjabi's Kalinda, Chris Noth's Peter, Alan Cummings' Eli, Christine Baranski's Diane, Matt Czuchry's Cary, and Josh Charles' Will. Their personal and professional struggles are fully-fleshed out, and usually reflect themselves impeccably well on the case. And in the last several weeks, I forgot that there are even cases these attorneys are dealing with, because the character drama has been so intriguing, so gripping. Once again, this is probably more of a personal favorite , and some people will complain it is ranked to high. But I dare you to watch The Good Wife, and not get hooked.

12. Mad Men (2007-2013) - I almost could not get through the first couple of episodes of Mad Men. It was so boring and so sexist, that I could not understand what the hell everyone was fawning over. Then I kept going, and going, and now, like most of the sane world, I firmly believe that Mad Men will go down as one of the best television dramas of this decade, maybe even of all time. Mad Men is a show that grows on you. It is not some fast-paced, action filled drama. It doesn't even have the witty cadence of many great shows on television. And yes, at times, it can be easy to understand why some people would consider it "boring". I've been there, so I get it. But if you are like me and had trouble getting past the first few episodes, hang in there, I guarantee you it is worth it. Mad Men is a slick,
impeccably written historical drama that deftly balances its large cast, with intriguing storylines
chocked full of vices such as drugs, sex, and alcohol, but also with complicated, story-driven characters acted by one of the best casts on television. Jon Hamm as Don Draper has been the fearless leader for years now, and he easily carries the lead performance with charisma, subtlety, and, at the right moments, and unbridled ferocity. Over the years other guys such as Vincent Kartheiser, Jared Harris, and John Slattery have added to the color and character of the show. But what I was most impressed by over the years, is how the women ended up holding their own, a welcomed relief after the sexism that almost turned me off. Of course sexism is still present, because it was present in the historical context, but the fierce female actors that grace the television screen on Mad Men have not only met the same level of acting as their male counterparts, but in most cases, exceeded it. January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, and most importantly, the incredible Christina Hendricks are just jaw-dropping week in and week out. Mad Men won the Best Drama Series award at the Emmys four years in a row. The Emmys love a sophisticated show, and Mad Men was right up their alley. Luckily for them, not many people could complain because Mad Men is not just sophisticated, but one hell of a show.

11. Lost (2004-2010) - When the plane crashed in the pilot episode of Lost, I'm sure many of us wondered what exactly was going to happen, and how were they going to sustain a multiple-season show without turning it into Gilligan's Island. But the pilot did enough to capture our interest, as well as introduce us to an incredibly diverse and quirky cast of characters led by some excellent performances from the likes of Michael Emerson, Terry O'Quinn, Evangeline Lily, Matthew Fox, Elizabeth Mitchell, Dominic Monaghan, Naveen Andrews, Jorge Garcia, and countless others. And then it is like the show exploded. Throughout its six season run, Lost remained one of the most intense, crazy, and surprising shows on television. You honestly did not know what was coming next,
and the tension was nail-biting, thanks to the efforts of some incredible writing, and some intense and taut direction, all led by the show's fearless creator, J.J. Abrams, who has relaunched the Star Trek empire into new realms, and will soon tackle Star Wars, which I think will lead to excellent results, if history is any indication. But there were so many shows that had all of those elements that made them work in the last decade, what made Lost so different, such a standout among so many standout programs? Lost was a ground-breaking technological achievement, being one of the first shows to bring cinema quality effects, sets, and sound to the small screen. It was the first show with constant adventure, and a huge dose of fantasy, to really crossover to mainstream audiences. And definitely the first of its kind to really hit with Emmy voters beyond the obvious tech categories, even winning Best Drama Series in its first season, a true feat considering the likes of the other major shows to have won the award in the last decade. I also think it really opened up the doors for other major science fiction, adventure, and fantasy shows to make an impact on primetime television including shows like Fringe, Once Upon a Time, and now shows like Marvel's Agents of Shield and Sleepy Hollow. Cable had been delving into this realm for years, but Lost made these types of shows popular and possible on a large scale. I'm sure some will complain that it is not in the top ten (I personally found it a lot less interesting once the hatch was opened), but no matter where any of us would put it, it is still one of the most daring, creative, and best shows to hit the air since 2000.

1 comment:

  1. I was not as huge of a fan of FG as most people were my age, but when it does it's job right, it can get mighty guffaws out of me. I don't actually think that the characters are really that original, in fact, I think that they are mostly clunky ripoffs of The Simpsons (especially Peter, who is in my mind, just Homer without common sense). But that's not to say that the show isn't a whirlwind of messed up tomfoolery, which it certainly is. But I still am and will always be a Simpsons fanboy.