Sunday, November 17, 2013

Top 100 Television Shows Since 2000: Finale

5. Friends (1994-2004) - Once again, this is a case of: it would be higher on a 90's list. In fact it might be my number one or near it (along with The Simpsons and Seinfeld) on a 90's list. But even as a new decade dawned, Friends was still one of the best sitcoms on television (in my opinion the best period), and while its
last two season lacked its previous luster, its 6th, 7th, and 8th seasons were some of its best yet. Good enough to put it in the top five. For its decade run, Friends was never the critics favorite. And despite the season 8 Best Comedy Series win, it was never really an Emmy favorite either. Only two of the cast members ever won (Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston), and for some ungodly reason, Courtney Cox was never even nominated, a true travesty to say the least. But in the end none of that mattered. We see year after year excellent television series ignored by Television Academy voters. Friends never needed any of that, as nice as it would have been. It had a legion of fans, literally millions of them around the world, that adored their favorite characters, and tuned in every week to knock the Nielson ratings off the charts. There have been plenty of successful shows over the years, who had plenty of long runs. But none of them had the power of Friends. But what really made Friends so successful, such a phenomenon, was the heart. These six actors inhabited our wacky and beloved characters with ease. No matter what situation they were in, we were rooting for them to suceed, to be happy, and to always stay together. We all wanted our groups of friends to be as close as Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey. Friends was a success because we cared, and because their wacky, loving, and always funny shenanigans for a decade not only tickled our funny bone, but warmed our hearts as well. As of next year, it will have been a decade since Friends left us, and I think I can honestly say that the hole left in the heart of America will never quite be filled.

4. Breaking Bad (2008-2013) - When Breaking Bad first started, it was a good show, tackling a controversial subject, while also painting a portrait of the lengths some people must go to to survive. The story of a high school teacher who turns to cooking and selling meth after being diagnosed with cancer was meaty enough to begin with. But I don't think anyone knew what to expect, and no one could have guessed what was going to come. It didn't take long for Breaking Bad to literally explode into one of the best dramas to ever hit the small screen. The storylines became bolder and bolder, the twists more unexpected, and the characters became more engrained, deeper, and more explosive in each new season, that it took a couple of weeks after the final frame went black for all of our blood pressures to finally normalize. Vince Gilligan and his team of talented writers and directors impeccably created one of the most vivid, and dark views of suburban America, and never shied away from the horrors of the drug buisness, or the horrors of those facing crisis. At times it could be bleak, but it was always heart-stopping, brilliantly constructed, and utterly engrossing even in its darkest of times, and particularly in its moments of dark humor. Of course, it takes not just a talented cast, but a balls-out, willing for anything, group of actors to truly pull of the magnificence and darkness of Gilligan's vision. In particular, three stood out among a list of talented characters actors. First was the fantastic Anna Gunn, who finally got well-deserved recognition this year in the form of an Emmy. As the wife of our anti-hero Walter White, Gunn's Skylar brought her own brand of ferocity to the screen, while also maintaining a strong level of humanity. Her struggle as her husband descends into the drug world, and faces his illness was as compelling as the Walter's central struggle. At Walter's side was Aaron Paul's Jesse, who himself won several deserved Emmys. His intensity made him a star in his own right. But I think we can all admit that the real reason to tune in week in and week out, was because of Bryan Cranston's Emmy-winning portrayal, one of the greatest anti-heroes in television history, Walter White. His evolution from hardworking, cynical high school teacher, to full on breaking bad meth dealer was one of the most harrowing, entertaining, and fascinating portrayals on modern television, that will probably never be replaced.  

3. The Wire (2002-2008) - All of the great cop shows in television history were building towards one climatic point. And that point was HBO's The Wire. Considered by many to be the best show of the 2000's, and one of the greatest of all time The Wire never received much attention from Television Academy voters, and top-notch ratings always eluded it. But those of us who were brave enough, bold enough, and yes, cool enough to tune in, were treated to something spectacular, something never before seen on television. Yes, we all know about the police heroes who keep our streets safe. We even know the grittier versions that show the duplicity of most men in uniform, and the reality of a cop's life and career in shows like L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, and The Shield. But never have we quite seen the struggle play out between cops, and yes between the drug dealers and criminals. Given equal time, and tons of fiesty interplay, the drama that sparked was sent through the wire. It was daring to give time to drug dealers, to run parellel stories that
evenutually crash into each other, causing explosions of drama, violence, and realism. But everything here is so well crafted, so intricately drawn, every character so precisely and authentically created, that you forget sometimes who is the hero and who is the villain, and most importantly, you forget that you are watching television, and instead feel like you are actually transported to the gritty streets of urban Baltimore. So many shows pretend to be realistic, so many pretend to be gritty, but in the end, what they are really missing is a huge dose of authenticity. And that is what makes The Wire so special, that is what makes it stand apart from the rest: the realism. It dares to be profane, yet have a sense of literary complexity all at the same time. It dares to showcase the violence and the sex, and the drug use, as if it is an every day part of life, and it dares to go into a level of darkness that so few television shows utilize. The question for the non-believers, has always been: Why? Why is this show different from every other crime procedural on television in the last half-century? The answer is hard to put into the words. The best advice I can give you is to get your hands on a copy of the first season, pop it into your DVD player, and let the show soak into you, wash over you like a wave. Then maybe you will completely understand, then maybe you will get it. Until then, you'll just have to take my word for it.  

2. The Sopranos (1999-2007) - When I did my Best of the Emmy Awards, I had a tie in my Best Drama Series final. I chickened out. I could not find the strength within me to make the hard decision. Well, the time has finally come, and I'm pretty sure this decision will shock some, infuriate and baffle others, and I still would not change it. In my opinion, the two greatest television dramas of all time, came in the exact same year. One of those shows, and the one probably most recognized as the best since 2000 is HBO's stunning mob drama, The Sopranos. Watching The Sopranos every week was like watching one of Coppola's or Scorsese's best. But instead of having to wait for years for a new installment, you only had to wait a week. It was crime drama at its best. On the surface, it had all of the blood, the crime, the shady dealings, and the manerisms and culture of the mob, and of Italian-Americans at the turn of the century. It has every great plotline, character, and style of the great mob movies in American history. But make no mistake, there was
nothing cliche, nothing stale about The Sopranos. If anything, it was The Sopranos that added depth, emotion, and greatness to an already fantastic genre, and pushed the boundaries of the genre by making it a weekly television series instead of a film or a film series. It dared to show the underlying fears and passions of men that commit crimes for a living. At its center was a truly American story of family, faith, and the importance of love, even in a world of extreme violence and pain. Of course it was an impeccably written and directed drama with deep and colorful characters, and a style of its own. But at its hard and center were its fantastic characters, beautifully drawn by a cast of magnificent artists. The supporting cast held their own against two great personalities, standouts being Drea de Mateo, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Jamie Lynn-Sigler, and Aida Turtorro. But the real passion, the real conflict, and the real reason to watch The Sopranos was the relationship and the trials of Tony and Carmela Soprano. James Gandolifini and Edie Falco gave two of the best performances ever seen on television, and their growth as characters, their chemistry that built this powerful relationship between these characters was truly one of a kind. As was this remarkable television achievement.  

1. The West Wing - So what made the difference? What put The West Wing over the top? I graduated with a degree in political science and American history, and maybe I am a little biased. But there has never been anything on television, nor will there ever be, as unique and wonderful as NBC's The West Wing. As our nation becomes even more divided by the lines in the sand including: race, religion, sex, sexuality, and of course political persuasion, perhaps we need to revisit the White House of President Jed Bartlett. It fulfilled every political fantasy, every political desire, every liberal's dream, that has ever played out in my head. It was a pitch-perfect drama about the intricacies, the relationships, and the struggle that the President and its staff must endure on a regular basis. It brought in big guns, former White House employees, White House journalists, and other important political figures to ensure a sense of authenticity. And it turns out, that the
only real difference is that the staff members neither walked, nor talked as fast as the actors. But other than that, we might as well have been watching a documentary on the interworkings and the day to day world of White House staffers. It was an incredible achievement, and my favorite show of all time. Aaron Sorkin deserves most of the credit, because even when he left the show, his mark was long felt on the style, direction, and storylines of The West Wing. His idea of the perfect liberal president, was not a perfect man who did no wrong. Not a man who never saw fault in his ideas. But instead, Sorkin created an incredibly deep President, who made tons of mistakes, who sometimes compromised his goals to achieve political success, but never lost hope in the democratic process, in his ideals, and in the abilities of his smart, funny, and hardworking staff. Led by Martin Sheen's monumental creation, Jed Bartlett, the cast, and the beloved characters that they created will forever go down in television infamy. The late John Spencers noble Leo, Stockard Channing's loving and determined Abby, Bradley Whitford's brilliant and passionate Josh, Richard Schiff's cynical, yet loveable Toby, Rob Lowe's ambitious and enthusiastic Sam, Janelle Maloney's gullible, yet caring Donna, and Dule Hill's wide-eyed and loyal Charlie, were all Sorkin's creations that were brought to life by some fine actors. At the top of the heap, along with Sheen, is Allison Janey, and her creation of C.J. Cregg, probably the finest female character (along with Falco's) in television history, definitely the best since 2000. The West Wing won four Best Drama Series Emmys in a row, and it could have won seven, and you would hear no complaints on this end. There is a reason that Emmy voters were so enraptured by The West Wing. It was beautifully drawn, impeccably written in its fast-paced, constantly moving way by Aaron Sorkin, and perfectly acted by a wonderful cast, and it remains one of the best. There is also a good reason why Americans of all persuasions loved this show as well. At its core, it was a visual experience that showcased the power of American democracy, the ability of leaders to find solutions to challenges, and the ultimate truth that those that dedicate their lives to public servie, truly do so because they firmly believe that what they are doing is bettering people's lives. As a local government employee, it was nice to see the recognition. In this blogger's humble opinion The West Wing is quite simply: the best. 

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