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Best TV of the '00s: Drama

by Bob Sassone, posted Dec 29th 2009 10:02AM
The West WingJust like the rest of the universe, we've been thinking about the best TV of the decade. But instead of putting out a top ten list, we decided to let each Squadder comment on the show or shows he/she thinks was the best of that category.

We're splitting this out in a number of different categories; you'll see the posts through Sunday. Today, we start off with a biggie: Dramas. -- Joel

It's weird that an entire decade has gone by already, isn't it? I don't even think we've decided on what to call the 00s exactly. And isn't it amazing how many good shows can be jam-packed into 10 years? Sometimes people moan about the state of television, but there were some fantastic TV shows in the 2000s, including dramas.

Here are our picks for the dramas that stood out since 2000.

The West Wing

Bob says: This may be an outrageous statement to some, but I'll put the first four seasons of The West Wing up against any other TV show in the history of television. It was that good. After Aaron Sorkin left it wasn't as good (until its final season, when it was revitalized with new cast members and the Santos/Vinick election). But overall this show was a masterwork in writing, direction, and casting. And it wasn't just a drama, it was the ultimate workplace drama/comedy, and a love story about the love between a group of people and their country.

Mad MenMad Men

Joel says: This is a pretty tough choice to make, as the decade was just chock full of high-quality, innovative dramas, the likes of which hadn't been seen before: The Sopranos, The Shield, The Wire, The West Wing, Lost, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, 24, CSI, NCIS, and a whole bunch I'm not remembering. But I give Mad Men the nod here because of the degree of difficulty involved.

Not only did Matthew Weiner need to create a world of deeply-written characters, he had to put them in advertising, an environment that isn't exactly known for complex or sympathetic personalities. Layer on the freewheeling but tumultuous period of the early sixties, and you've got a lot of things to keep track of on top of the stories you're telling. And Weiner somehow manages to get everything right, from the subtle performance of Jon Hamm as Don Draper all the way down to the period-appropriate labels on the bottles of booze consumed at Sterling-Cooper.

Bob says: I can't really add anything beyond what Joel said, except to say that I remember being really excited about Mad Men when the show was first announced a few years ago. 1960! New York City! Advertising! It's just been massively satisfying to see that the show not only reached my expectations but also soared way beyond them. It's a gorgeous show in all ways.

Gilmore Girls

Allison says: Other shows were bigger. They were more dramatic and bold. They had scope and grandeur. I loved The West Wing and Sopranos and Mad Men and Breaking Bad and many others on this list, but in my heart of hearts, I adored The Gilmore Girls. The essence of drama is character and the group created by Amy Sherman Palladino were wonderful. It wasn't just the great relationship between Rory and Lorelai, it was Star's Hollow. It was Emily and Richard's Friday night dinners. It was Mrs. Kim's disapproval of everything. Luke's coffee. Sookie's kitchen. Michel's haughtiness. It was that incredible, rapid-fire dialogue. It was the whole thing. I wanted to wallow in Gilmore Girls and I still do.


Isabelle says: I was sucked into the mystery and mythology of this cryptic series as soon as I finished watching a rough cut of the pilot a few months before it officially premiered on ABC. The scenery, the setting, the editing, the weirdness, the mysterious characters, and, I'll admit it, the wonderful Matthew Fox sucked me right in and made me a fan instantly.

Lost came at a time when I needed a head-scratching series that would make me get involved in the game. I was all over the net, looking for clues, screen captures, theories, etc. And even took part in most of the summer official web games! As soon as the show's Powers That Be made a pack with the network to air the series finale in 2010, the episodes were better planned and answers (as well as more questions) were finally provided. Lost, which will air its final season starting on February 2, was a captivating series that also changed TV: flashbacks, flash-forwards, and non-English speaking main characters. Okay, Lost didn't invent all three, but the series used these three features in a way that had other series join in on the fun.

Annie says: Lost's twists, turns and attention to detail reward loyal viewers, especially those that stick around even when the show stumbles. That's something I love about Lost: it takes risks that pay off so spectacularly that I don't even mind when it messes up sometimes. Everything it's thrown at me, from time travel to polar bears to Hurley's burrito sneak attacks, has only fueled my fascination for the show.

Also, I am a total sucker for strong ensemble casts, and this one has been incredible (with a few exceptions that the writers took care of with a swift hand). I can appreciate how incredibly difficult that is to maintain, from picking the right actors to nurturing believable chemistry. Totally Unexpected Bonus: They hired one of my favorite comic book writers, Brian K. Vaughan. Its evolution has been ever-captivating, and up to this point in (our) time, Lost completely deserves to be on this list.

Criminal MindsCriminal Minds

John says: It's not the most sophisticated show, a la The Sopranos or Mad Men. It's not the most realistic show, like In Therapy or Ghost Hunters. (OK, not Ghost Hunters.) But the mix of grim portrayals, haunted characters and solid good vs. evil story lines makes Criminal Minds a show sure to draw you in every hour -- even if you're a casual viewer. Of course, you will get sick of hearing the word "un-sub" every two minutes, but, if you can forgive that, you'll be treated to well-paced storytelling and a cast of actors who know less is more.

Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica

Mike says:
Simply put, Battlestar Galactica was challenging, uncompromising and rewarding television. Ron Moore and company took the premise for a mostly cornball '70s sci-fi franchise and delivered a sometimes haunting and sometimes thrilling meditation on loss, faith, identity and community.

reminded us that science fiction could offer great entertainment and special effects along with absorbing drama and cutting social commentary. As the humans on BSG faced extinction and battled the Cylons, we were reminded of our own real-life nightmares (the occupation of Iraq, the urgent threat of terrorism, the disparity between faiths).

It's hard to argue with star Edward James Olmos, who called BSG "the finest dramatic show in TV history so far," especially while watching the season three finale.

Doctor WhoDoctor Who

Brad says: TV Squad didn't plan a science fiction category for its "Best TV of" lists, but the incredibly successful 2005 relaunch of this British institution certainly belongs on some list. Since the program is more drama than comedy, I picked this category. In a role restarted by Christopher Eccleston and made famous again by David Tennant,

The Doctor proved that a not even a major hiatus, a 1996 American TV movie and a conceptual overhaul could keep him from defeating alien monsters wherever he traveled. The beautiful thing about this program is that it's geared towards children, and British children tend to be about as sophisticated as American adults.

CSICSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Michael P. says:
I can't believe that CSI has run for a decade. I couldn't imagine what CBS would be like if CSI never existed. I am still intrigued by the graphics (I love when they zoom into wounds), multiple flashbacks from different witnesses, the locale, and the use of The Who for their theme song. I will miss the interaction between William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, but Laurence Fishburne fits right into the show.

The ShieldThe Shield

Jason says:
It was like nothing I'd ever seen on television before. Right from the first episode, I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey. As the years went by, Shane became a loose cannon, Lem fell victim to his guilty conscience (and Shane), while Ronnie stayed loyal to his bitter end. These guys weren't heroes. In fact, the Barn was full of flawed characters and brilliant acting.

At 88 episodes, The Shield was one of the most impressive long-form narratives in the history of television, and it even managed something many long-running shows can't pull off: a fantastic ending to an outstanding series.

Danny says: The most amazing thing about The Shield wasn't what it did for itself, but what it did for television. It proved you can make an edgy, honest and dangerous show about a very touchy subject and if it walks a fine line without becoming too ridiculous, it will attract an interested audience, a loyal following and just as many accolades as the most watered-down dramas on the formerly-free TV dial. It also turned FX into a powerhouse of original dramas and comedies and gave all of television a major game changer by turning the tables on the networks and showing them that you didn't have to charge your audience a subscription fee to get a quality show.

If NBC had hired goons on their payroll, the cast and crew of The Shield would have been at the top of their "Skulls To Crack" list.


Bob says: Not only am I one of the few people to even remember this show this fondly, I'm probably the only person in the world who is going to include this on a "best of the decade" list. But oh, this show was so much fun. It had a great cast (led by Timothy Daly) and plots that were 1000 times more complex than I thought they would be (that's a good thing). I actually thought that ABC was going to get behind this show and then...well, they didn't. A damn shame.

The Wire

Nick says: I came late to this one, watching it on DVD. Now I'm glad I did it this way, because it would have pained me to have to wait a whole week to find out what happened next. The Wire is as well-written a drama as I have seen on TV (not surprising coming from David Simon). There are no cheesy cliffhangers, with an obvious set-up like a cop surrounded by gunmen. No, this is just one good story from the beginning of each season to the end, which makes for compulsive viewing. There are no cookie-cutter characters (the closest thing to a stereotype is Jimmy McNulty, the hard-drinking cop who loves his job, but that's just the surface of a character with tremendous depth).

Every good thing you've heard is true - go get the DVDs.

Jonathan says: Let's make this simple -- when it comes to TV dramas of the last decade, no other show on this list, or any "best of the decade" list really matters. The Wire is the only one you need to talk about. While everything else on TV told stories, The Wire told life. Buzz words -- gritty, sophisticated, realistic, and yes, Dickensian -- don't even begin to do this show justice. A masterpiece from start to finish that paints a world so rich and deep, you owe it to yourself to start off 2010 by watching this great piece of TV perfection, David Simon's love-letter to Baltimore, Maryland.

The Wire

Read the rest of our Best TV of the '00s coverage.

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Lane Wright

Although it was originally a Canadian series and was shown here on the Sundance Channel, which many people don't get, I would say that "Slings and Arrows" was maybe one of the best series ever created for television, and certainly the best from beginning to end during the past decade. So I didn't want to see it completely omitted from the discussion.

January 04 2010 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the mention of Criminal Minds in this article, but I have to wholly agree with Di (Comment 12). The show is a lot more realistic than most, especially considering they have the real BAU's backing - and have a real BAU agent who works as a consultant for the show (and who has written a few episodes). They also don't pepper the show with UnSub nearly as much as they did in previous years.

December 31 2009 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nice choices. Eyes is a great show. I just don't think it was around long enough to be considered as one of the best.


December 30 2009 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't forget ROME on HBO. Loved that show.

December 30 2009 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with West Wing, Criminal Minds, and CSI. Not sure how it's possible to not mention the Sopranos, which is perhaps one of the better and most talked about dramas of the decade.

Others that I think merit consideration are ER, Law & Order, The Practice, 24, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Oz, NYPD Blue, House, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, and possibly The X-Files (which by 2000 unfortunately was in decline).

December 29 2009 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just started watching The Wire, mostly because people like you guys never stop talking about it.

December 29 2009 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Daune Calovini

The great thing about lists is, everyone's is different. But, I enjoyed reading your thoughts and liked the format. Lost and The West Wing are on my list. I was so emotionally invested, I still cry, thinking of characters we lost (Mrs. Landingham! *sniff*).
Allison made me tear up, writing about Gilmore Girls, another show I loved. And, I'd almost forgotten how involved I was. Thank goodness they were able to right the ship for the end of the last season!
My list would also include Friday Night Lights and Deadwood, favorites for all time. Eyes was okay, but if we're going to add a shortlived series... come on, it's got to be Firefly!
And you have given me another nudge. Friends have been pummeling me for not watching BSG for years. Maybe I'll start the new decade with that project.
Happy New Year!

December 29 2009 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with most of these. Some of my favourites of the naughties are Dexter, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Lost, BSG, Supernatural, The Shield, there are too many.

December 29 2009 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for the nod to Doctor Who - the only thing on this list I actually watched, aside from the stray episode of West Wing.

I am wondering why whoever makes these decisions decided to forgo a sci-fi category in the "best of" lists, though.

December 29 2009 at 4:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to RobynM's comment

the past decade was great for new sci-fi: the new doctor who, battlestar galactica, journeyman, the middleman, lost, the first (and only good) season of heroes, plus i'd count big bang theory as honorary sci-fi given its many sci-fi allusions.

this is of course apart from the obvious: the eight year-run of an evil war-mongering group of aliens who took over the country and called themselves the bush administration. ;-) thank goodness that series ended!

December 29 2009 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like how you have Criminal Minds on the list. HOWEVER, "Not the most realistic shows?" I guess having the FBI's backing doesn't count as "realistic" eh? A profiler has written for the show. And the cases are from the FBI text-books, they of course have to change everything around. The things that have happened on the show have happened in life in one way or another. And I don't think you watch the show often, cause they don't say "unsub" that much anymore. They've pretty much stopped that.

December 29 2009 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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