By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 22:33 EDT
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I have to take a break from blogging about minor concerns like crime, the environment, and health care to announce that I agree with SEK that this list from Entertainment Weekly about the 10 best shows from the past 10 years is bullshit. How dare they put “The Wire” at #6? How dare they include “American Idol” and not “Mad Men”? That alone has put them on notice. Yes, for those about to express concern, I realize that it’s the nature of these lists to be controversial, but good lord, that was fucked up.

That said, one thing that the list does prove is that television in the past decade has really exploded in quality, because despite the inclusion of “American Idol” instead of a worthier show, the rest of the list seems really solid. Here’s my thoughts on the winners, and thoughts on other shows that are easily good enough to make it onto the list.

10) “The Comeback”.
Haven’t seen it, so can’t say.

9) “Gilmore Girls”. Same problem.

8) “The Shield”. We just started watching this show on DVD a few months ago and are well into season 2. This show is to “The Wire” like a Victorian melodrama was to Thomas Hardy. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different. It’s gritty and morally ambiguous, but I don’t really think you get much out of it besides the shock value. But it’s tightly written and hella entertaining, and that’s often enough.

7) The original British version of “The Office”. No quarrels there. I go back and forth on the American and British versions of the show. Certainly, the British version is braver in terms of its ruthless approach to the characters. Too brave, apparently, which is why they went back and had Dawn and Tim get together during the Christmas episode. But the British version had the luxury of being deliberately short, which made it easier to be completely ruthless—you never had to see a more human side of David Brent. The American version has to rationalize Michael Scott more, and so they chose to depart from the British show by making him nerdier (if that’s possible), but also more competent, so you can understand why he doesn’t get fired. The British version, however, just has that character fired.

All that said, I do think I prefer Tim and Dawn to Jim and Pam. Jim and Pam are just too clever and cute; Tim and Dawn are a more accurate portrayal of the kind of people that would live in that kind of world.

6) “The Wire”. The main travesty is that this isn’t #1. I often debate whether or not this or “Mad Men” is the better show, and I have to say “The Wire” is. “Mad Men” doesn’t cause that gasp of revelation as everything falls together. “The Wire” also does a better job of handling a large cast, and showing you sympathetic portrayals of people from all walks of life. The execution of Stringer Bell still haunts me in its narrative perfection, every step that led to that moment.

5) “Arrested Development”.
The best thing about this show is that they went with what they thought was funny, without trying to reach for that lowest common denominator aspect. That’s why it was doomed. A lot of the stuff they think is funny is absurd, or satirizing the sort of things we’re not used to seeing satirized, and so it was just way ahead of its time. But it paved the way for “30 Rock” for sure. Too bad Jason Bateman hasn’t found his groove since then; he was the perfect straight man on the show, the master of the double take.

4) “American Idol”. Whatever. I’m sure it’s fun, but it’s not Great Television like the rest of the choices.

3) “The Daily Show”. It probably deserves the medal for being the first, but “The Colbert Report” is better. The one advantage “The Daily Show” has is that it reports actual news in a way that probably educates as well as entertains. But that’s a sad commentary on the real news programs.

2) “Lost”. Before season 4 of “Battlestar Galactica”, I would have given “BSG” the sci-fi slot. But “Lost” really is turning out to be the better show. Who knew?

1) “The Sopranos”.
You all will kill me for this, but here goes: I haven’t seen it and can’t say.


*”The Venture Brothers”. Just started watching it, and finished the first two seasons. I have to say, that’s some brilliant comedy. Even if you don’t have a lot of direct experience with the show it’s parodying, “Johnny Quest” (and I don’t), it’s still fucking hilarious. Bonus points for the random punk and art rock references.

*”Firefly”. Upon further reflection, the TV show is way better than the movie “Serenity”. Does this count as the past decade? I think so. “Buffy” misses the mark, having started more than 10 years ago.

*”30 Rock”. They win for having the most laughs per episode packed in, period.

*The American version of “The Office”.
It has its flaws, but they get in for having a really strong cast and writers who really enjoy writing to their strengths.

*”Parks and Recreation”.
The newest inclusion on my list. It just found its feet this season, but boy it’s knocking each and every episode out of the park. I’m even able to get over my jealousy of Amy Poehler for getting to be married to Will Arnett.

*”Pushing Daisies”. I wanted to hate this show for being so twee, but it was just subversive enough to get away with it. Really amazing production values.

*”Deadwood”. I think I need to rewatch this show, because sometimes I’m still amazed that it worked so well. I need to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Canceled because it cost too much, and therefore they wrapped it up too quickly. At first, I wasn’t so sure about this show, but when the two characters that represented the ordinary Roman soldiers started to really take off as characters, there was no turning back. I wished that the magical funding fairy had given them at least a 3rd season, so they could have done the war with Egypt some justice.

*”Battlestar Galactica”.
The ending will never stop being controversial, but the first 2 seasons were some of the most daring television I’ve ever seen to this day. And Starbuck is both the antithesis of Buffy and the result of the path that Buffy laid down.

*”The Colbert Report”. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s funnier than “The Daily Show”, still.

*”Curb Your Enthusiasm”.
Gets the Ricky Gervais award for unflinching willingness to push the awkward button for comedy.

*”Friday Night Lights”. Again, a show that I was wary of, but I adore it. It gets West Texas right, almost too right. What surprises me is how much this show really takes football seriously, and expresses a love of the game, and that adds to it. It’s almost surely the most earnest entry in this entire list, but somehow it manages to work. I can’t understand why it didn’t get better ratings, since you’d think the public would love a show about such interesting, complex characters that also treats high school football with respect.

The should have been award: “Heroes”.
The first season of that show was amazing, right up until the end. And then they didn’t know how to move the story forward, and everything fell apart.

So, thoughts and opinions, Pandagonians? Am I full of shit? Did I miss a great TV show that should be included?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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