First, my top 10 entertainers. These are the people (and one fictional robot) who put a smile on my face in every project they tackled.
1. Joss Whedon. He delivered a fully formed futuristic world with “Firefly,” with all its Chinese swearing and registered companions. No other vision of the future has been so simultaneously accessible and fascinating. What’s great about Joss is that even when TV screws him over (“Firefly,” “Angel” and “Dollhouse” were all canceled mid-story), he does his best to keep the yarn spinning. He made the “Serenity” movie and a couple of comic series, and he’s keeping “Angel” and “Buffy” going in comics as well. Oh, and he also found time to make the internet series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” And four comic-book volumes of “Astonishing X-Men.” Not a bad decade’s work.
2. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to “Gilmore Girls” as a trendsetter, but here’s a theory for which I have no facts and only vague anecdotal evidence to back up. Back in the ’90s, kids didn’t get along with their parents. In the ’00s, they do. Lorelai and Rory pioneered the “parent and child as best friends” dynamic, and it was hard to argue with them (because they were too quippy for you to keep up). You wouldn’t want to advocate that setup universally (some parents don’t have the touch, such as the “Modern Family” dad, and not all kids are as great as Rory, so they may need more discipline), but it sure worked for this show.
3. Bender Bending Rodriguez. My favorite “Futurama” character is actually Dr. Zoidberg, but hey, we all love Bender, and he’s the face of the decade’s funniest show. I’d argue that he symbolizes our view of the future as the third millennium begins. Where we once had high technological hopes (“2001”) or fears based on the idea of what we’d inevitably create (“Terminator”), now we seem to believe that our amazing creations — like robots — will embody all the everyday, pathetic traits of humanity. Fortunately, this includes a humorous sense of the absurd.
4. Dave Filoni and the “Clone Wars” team. There were a lot of cool things about 2002’s “Attack of the Clones” and 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith,” but any discussion about those George Lucas-helmed films eventually gets bogged down in talk about a kid-appeal subplot or unnatural dialogue. With the “Clone Wars” TV series, showrunner Filoni has given us a weekly dose of “Star Wars” that we don’t have to apologize for loving (or make apologetic-style arguments to convince ourselves that we love something more than we really do). It’s all battles and quips and lovable characters, so I can honestly say “Clone Wars” is a great show without feeling hyperbolic.
5. Ricky Gervais. He’s the father of awkward-pause humor, which led into the non-laugh-track comedy that defined the Aughts on both sides of the Atlantic. And in a do-it-yourself decade where many entertainers made their own breaks, it’s appropriate that he showed his abilities on both sides of the camera, starring in and co-creating “The Office” (continuing the trend, many actors on the American “Office” also write episode scripts). Gervais now seems to have moved from the “awkward pause” to the “funny look that invites the audience to relate to him,” like in the “Invention of Lying” trailer (I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I expect I’ll like it) when he reacts to the lady telling him she must have sex with him now in order to save the world.
6. Kristen Bell. What Sarah Michelle Gellar was in the late-’90s, Bell was in the ’00s. She is that actress who is cute/hot/attractive, but also such a great actor that you can skip past her looks and appreciate her skill with the craft. Veronica Mars, like Buffy, was a girl with remarkable talents (crime solving, in Veronica’s case) but also the same problems as any real-world teen (her rocky relationship with Logan, for example). Bell gets bonus points for her turns in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Fanboys.”
7. Chelsea Handler. On “Chelsea Lately,” she has great roundtable guests (they’re her co-workers and friends, generally, but that’s why the rapport is so natural) and celebrity guests (if she likes a quality show like “Friday Night Lights,” “True Blood” or “Glee,” she’s not ashamed to use her pull to get those actors on the couch). Mainly, she’s a normal, albeit funnier-than-normal, woman whose shamelessness when talking about bad habits (Grey Goose, in her case) and hygiene makes for an open, inviting show (although, obviously, regular mentions of “shadoobies” and “kaslopi” are too crass for some viewers).
8. Judd Apatow. When I saw “Knocked Up” in 2007, I felt like characters such as Seth Rogen’s and Martin Starr’s represented where their “Freaks and Geeks” characters would’ve been at had that 1999 show kept going. Similar to what Whedon did with “Firefly,” Apatow finagled a way to keep his vision going in an unfair TV world when he switched over to film (actually, another very good Apatow show, “Undeclared,” aired at the beginning of the Aughts). He also wrote and directed “40 Year-Old Virgin,” and his mix of heart and humor rubbed off on many other films, many of them created by his core actors (Rogen made “Superbad” and Jason Segel made “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” to cite two examples).
9. J.K. Rowling. The author’s “Harry Potter” output this decade started with 2000’s “Goblet of Fire,” which is generally seen as the novel that brought adults into the fold. Rowling showed a deft touch with relationships — we, as readers, knew Ron was attracted to Hermione two books before he did, and isn’t that the way it goes with first love? Then “Order of the Phoenix” (the longest and richest book) brought together all our favorites at 12 Grimmauld Place and “Half-Blood Prince” (the best book) told Voldemort’s backstory. Meanwhile, the first six “Potter” films were released this decade, so we’ve seen the kids age visually as well as in our heads –episodes 3, 5 and 6 are genuinely good movies; the others are at least fan-pleasers.
10. Seth MacFarlane. “The Simpsons” would — and still does — only go so far in what it will make fun of, but MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” has no such compunctions. It’s more ridiculously broad (the sequence where everyone barfs on each other), but also more ridiculously detailed (the “Star Wars” parody, “Blue Harvest,” which works because of the insider humor). And “The Cleveland Show,” while just as funny, is warmer than its parent program because the problem-prone Cleveland Brown is smarter and more sympathetic than Peter, the type of oaf who proves the theory that God looks out for stupid people. In a decade with a lot of straight-up-stupid entertainment, MacFarlane found the smart side of stupid.
Who were your favorite entertainers of the decade?