Watching television is a favorite pastime for many people the world over. Ever since the first working television in 1927, TV has taken an interesting journey, meandering through variety shows, game shows, and broadcasting that ended just after midnight and wouldn’t resume again until the next morning. There’s been lots of controversy over content; to curse or not to curse; how much skin to show; to address racial issues; whether it would be better to offer an unrealistic view of the world or more reality. TV programming today varies greatly from that which was offered your parents and grandparents. The advent of streaming and programming on-demand has certainly had its impact on all television. Here are the top 5 programs of the last decade:
The Sopranos (January 1999- June 2007)
Started at the tail end of the 90s, this gritty organized crime drama is the TV equivalent of The Godfather or Goodfellas. Often recognized as one of the greatest television shows of all time, The Sopranos was broadcast for six seasons on HBO, allowing significantly greater artistic freedom, which the producers did not shy away from. The show has been hailed by many as a masterpiece, setting a new standard for television that looks more like a big budget movie. The series finale, with its ambiguous fade to black at the end, has become one of the most-talked about finales in history, underscoring the cultural significance the show managed to achieve. Who can forget the first episode of season one where Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, is on his therapist’s couch having just suffered an anxiety attack? Not an image we tend to associate with gangsters, and for that, Americans were enamored with The Sopranos.
The Wire (June 2002- March 2008)
Although never able to realize the same viewership as The Sopranos, The Wire usually comes in first in terms of content and quality. An unflinching portrayal of the dark corners of human society through the City of Baltimore, The Wire reached a level of sophistication and depth that may never be seen again on television. Also broadcast on HBO, the series held nothing back. Starting out with the drug trade at the lowest levels, each season worked its way through another aspect of life in Baltimore, from drugs to the port system, politics, education and finally the news media. Running for five seasons, there were no big name actors on the series. A risky move by creator David Simon, but it paid off. Viewers loved the realistic camera shots, story lines and use of characters. Nominated for mainstream awards such as the Emmys, The Wire was also nominated for 15 NAACP Image Awards. It is one of the few episodic dramas that cast majority African Americans in key roles, from drug dealers, to police officers, attorneys, and politicians.
Arrested Development (November 2003- February 2006)
Much to the dismay of its wildly devoted fan base, this brilliant comedy from FOX only managed to stay on the air for three seasons, despite winning six Emmys. The show follows the ‘riches to rags’, formerly wealthy and highly dysfunctional Bluth family that owns a failing real estate development firm. Narrated by Ron Howard, Michael Bluth is the relatively sensible and honest son, trying to save the family business after his father is jailed for fraud and gross misspending of company funds, while contending with his spolied and manipulative mother, brothers and sister. Its ensemble cast featured Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, and David Cross, and who were routinely complemented by such A-list guest stars as Liza Minelli, Henry Winkler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlize Theron, Zach Braff, and Ben Stiller. Although fans could never revive the series, there has been continual talk of making a film, with a script currently in development. Hopefully, it too, isn’t arrested.
Lost (September 2004- May 2010)
Brainchild of J.J. Abrams, creator of Alias and Felicity, Lost told the audience as little as possible and it worked. America was instantly hooked by the many strange events that befell the survivors of crash of Oceanic Flight 815 on an apparently deserted island. Survivor meets The Twilight Zone, we watched as an ensemble cast fought to build shelter, find fresh water, fend off illness, wild animals and hostile ‘others’, while pulling in such science fiction twists as talking to the dead, time travel, secret societies, and eternal life. When the series finally did end after much struggle, camaraderie, and romance, the finale became an event of epic proportions, revealing conclusions to many of the unanswered mysteries. The 2-1/2 hour series finale was simultaneously broadcast internationally in seven countries and Lost assumed its rightful place as a cultural touchstone of the 2000s.
The Office (March 2005- Present)
Now entering its seventh season, The Office is one of those rare remakes that came into its own in an entirely satisfying way. In mockumentary style it depicts the everyday lives of a bunch of office coworkers, with all their hang-ups, rivalries, petty disputes, romantic crushes, and mutual discontent with their jobs. Steve Carell plays their idiotic boss at a regional branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Pennsylvania. Though consistently hilarious, this series rises above many other comedies by deftly adding in moments of true humanity, not to mention one of the best TV couples in Jim and Pam, two co-workers that take years to get together, even though everyone knew it was inevitable. A spinoff of the British, Ricky Gervais version, Carell confirmed that this will be his final season. Who will step in to fill the shoes of the obnoxious, clueless boss? Stay tuned…