Next, here are my top 10 TV shows. Some started in the ’90s, but for this list, I am just showing the years they aired during this decade. This top 10 is front-loaded (the most recent shows ended three seasons ago), reflecting the downhill trend as the decade wore on.
1. “Once and Again” (2000-02, ABC) — Remarkably, the roster of fully formed characters on this show went about 20 deep. For example, Patrick Dempsey memorably played Lily’s socially challenged brother, and he ranked about 17th on the depth chart. His “Once and Again” character makes me not hate him for gaining fame in a medical soap opera. If you ever need a good cry, just pop in an episode of “Once and Again.” Any episode.
2. “Futurama” (2000-03, Fox) — It’s set in a future that is different from the present only in superficial ways (pneumatic tubes instead of subways, for example). It shows that the silliness of the human experiment hasn’t changed in 1,000 years. And yet it wasn’t a depressing show, even though Bender was trying to kill himself in a suicide booth when we first met him. On one level, “Futurama” was about Fry’s search for belonging, even if he had to journey to the 31st century and his best friend turned out to be a drunken robot.
3. “Firefly” (2002, Fox) — This beautiful-looking space Western was set a few decades down the road, and featured instantly iconic characters. It wasn’t groundbreaking — “Star Wars,” deservedly so, gets credit for innovating future worlds that look lived-in — yet it contrasted nicely with the various “Star Trek” series and reminded us how few sci-fi shows took the cool things about “Star Wars” and ran with them.
4. “Dead Like Me” (2003-04, Showtime) — The pilot episode, where Rube tells George that the little girl’s version of heaven is not for them to know, will challenge your tear ducts. Many more quiet, poignant moments made the show great. And there’s something about an every-episode gathering place — in this case, Der Waffle Haus — that can make a TV show so inviting.
5. “Freaks and Geeks” (2000, NBC and Fox Family) — Usually shows take a while to grow into their greatness, but “F&G” was a fully realized masterpiece from episode one. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, armed with a stable of actors who would all go on to great careers (but lesser projects, naturally), got all the painful details of the universal high school experience exactly right — that’s why it was both funny and sad.
6. “Veronica Mars” (2004-07, UPN/The CW) — With a lovable lead, smart mysteries and a sunny setting, what wasn’t to love about this Rob Thomas drama? “Veronica,” which instantly made a star of Kristen Bell, had an appealing suburban San Diego setting, but it could get dark in a hurry when Veronica and Keith started digging into their cases. Those mysteries included both the season-long and the episodic varieties.
7. “Gilmore Girls” (2000-07, The WB/The CW) — The show made me want to move to Stars Hollow, Connecticut. The only problem is that the town doesn’t really exist. Well, at least it did for an hour every week, as viewers got to escape their worries (and get lost in those of Rory and Lorelai) like Lane escaped by listening to her under-the-floorboards music collection. No surprise — but no less enjoyable for that — “Gilmore Girls” wrapped up the long-simmering Luke-and-Lorelai plot by getting the two soul mates together.
8. “Angel” (2000-04, The WB) — Anytime Eliza Dushku’s Faith stopped by, great television ensued — first Angel turned her back from the dark side; later, Faith tried to return the favor when Angel went all Angelus on us. Toward the end, we saw the versatility of Amy Acker as she morphed from lovable Fred to the ancient demon Illyria, whose tentative explorations of human emotions would’ve made a great study in a sixth season (which is happening in comic book form, but it’s just not the same).
9. “The Office” U.K. (2001-03, BBC) — It introduced the world to the awkward pause, and let’s not forget what a pathetic but almost sympathetic, well-meaning but well-nigh-impossible boss David Brent was, as played by Ricky Gervais. By making it’s main character the villain of the piece, this British show did what few American shows are brave enough to do (note how much more likable Steve Carell’s character is on the U.S. version). This willingness to get real is also reflected in Tim’s painful, seemingly doomed pursuit of Dawn.
10. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (2000-03, The WB/UPN) — Yes, the best seasons were in the ’90s, but the ’00s produced “The Body” (the greatest episode of TV ever; it’s so good that I can’t bring myself to watch it a second time, although it is seared into my brain pretty well), “The Gift,” “Once More, With Feeling” and “Normal Again.” Also, iconic characters like Dawn, Anya and Good Spike emerged during this decade.
For the record, here are my next 10. “Arrested Development” and “Wonderfalls” totally earned top-10 status (both shows are pretty much perfect), but I just couldn’t figure out how to fit 12 shows into 10 slots. And believe me, I tried. Four of these shows will continue into the ’10s, indicating that the future of the boob tube is far from hopeless.
11, “Arrested Development” (2003-06, Fox) 12, “Wonderfalls” (2004, Fox) 13, “Privileged” (2008-09, The CW) 14, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008-09, Cartoon Network) 15, “Fringe” (2008-09, Fox) 16, “Undeclared” (2001-02, Fox) 17, “Friday Night Lights” (2006-09, NBC and DirecTV) 18, “The Office” U.S. (2005-09, NBC) 19, “quarterlife” (2007-08, Internet and NBC) 20, “Roswell”(2000-02, The WB and UPN)
By the way, if an obviously brilliant show (“The Wire” was the Onion AV Club’s best of the decade, and “The Sopranos” topped Entertainment Weekly’s rankings) isn’t on this list, it’s probably because I’ve never seen it. The reason for me not seeing it is generally that the topic doesn’t appeal to me, although sometimes it’s simply because it was on a channel I didn’t get (for example, I’m just starting to watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on borrowed DVDs, and rest assured that I like it). No disrespect is intended by these omissions, just ignorance.
What are your favorite TV shows of the ’00s?