this is part of an ongoing series called 25 in the 2000s. if you want a bit of information about the series, you can find the introduction here.
you absolutely cannot talk about tv in the 2000s without immediately turning to reality television. it’s certainly the hallmark of the decade and reveals a lot about cultural attitudes and values. but even beyond reality tv (which you’ll find over in and over in my list), tv, in general, reveals the cultural climate during a time period. so, with this list, my selections should tell you something about both the decade and the lens in which i viewed it (both literally and figuratively).
25. jackass. let’s just start this list off with some good, old fashioned keepin’ it real. yes, mtv’s jackass was a great showed. whether it was johnny knoxville testing out tasers or the boys playing nutball or the frequent trips into bushes thanks to shopping cart, jackass was must-see in my household.
24. chapelle’s show. surprisingly, i didn’t really get into chapelle’s show until late in the series. but once i did, i quickly discovered its greatness. dave chapelle was doing brilliant stuff and, for my money, none is better than this.
23. the sopranos. admittedly, i’m only a very casual fan of the sopranos. nevertheless, though, this is sort of the nirvana nevermind of this list: i know it’s great, but i’m just not a huge fan personally. despite that, though, this is a piece of 2000s tv culture that is essential to any list.
22. the tom green show. at the dawn of the decade, tom green mania swept across the nation, making fans long for the slutmobile, poo on microphones and the bum bum song. yes, we were young. we were starved for entertainment. and we loved it.
21. meet the press. if there’s an anti-tom green show, i guess this could be it. meet the press is must-see tv on sunday morning, bringing an assured media legitimacy and trust that few others can supply. the show is a piece of 2000s tv history with the passing of tim russert, who i personally still miss each week.
20. jimmy kimmel live. by far, kimmel is my favorite late-night talk show host. whereas the rest of the guys, by and large, rely on one-liners and carefully crafted jokes, kimmel comes across as a regular dude who you just want to hang out with. and because of his time slot and likable personality, he gets away with things that the other late night hosts just couldn’t pull off.
19. the soup. the soup, in various incarnations, has been around for a very long time, but it has never been better now that it is hosted by joel mchale. mchale is snarky and has perfect comic timing. the soup also highlighted one of my favorite talk show clips ever. see it remix here.
18. dexter. the reality is that i’m only 5 episodes into season 1 (the show is currently in season 4). after hearing people talk about how great it is, i finally gave in and began from the beginning. showtime has crafted a great show that deals with blood, guts and the internal conflict of a man driven by the need to kill.
17. eastbound and down. allow me to summarize this show: drugs, gratuitous cussing, brief nudity, coarse joking. oh, and hilarious. from the minds of will ferrell and danny mcbridge, eastbound and down is a show from hbo about a washed up former major league baseball player who returns to his hometown to teach high school gym. brilliant.
16. real time with bill maher. real time is the dirty and funnier version of the aforementioned meet the press. whether you love or hate bill maher (i often have both those feelings at the same time), his shows brings together varying minds to discuss the current politics of the day. in the end, it’s, at minimum, a conversation starter.
15. mad men. you know, this almost falls in the category of the sopranos: brilliant, but i’m just not a huge fan. while i’ve gotten into it, it’s just not a show that particularly connects with my sensibilities. nevertheless, it’s easy to see the greatness of the show and i look forward to seeing where it’s going.
14. united states of tara. put together diablo cody’s wit and toni collette times 4 and you’ve got a great show in the making. the show centers around tara—who has dissociative identity disorder—her 3 “alters” and her sordid family. it’s great viewing and has proven to be yet another hit for showtime.
13. the apprentice. let’s just clear the air right of the bat: yes, i think donald trump is a royal douchebag. but, the show isn’t about donald trump. it’s about people who are hungry to make it in business and their ensuing quest to achieve greatness in the tough new york business world. after slumping ratings, celebrity apprentice has helped to bring a bit of revival to the show.
12. the real world. please do your best to erase the sad and pathetic real world that you’ve come to know over the last 6 or 7 years and go back to the first couple years of the 2000s. in the early 90s, mtv created a show that was somewhat revolutionary and continued to produce a compelling show about real people up until 2002’s raunchy season in las vegas.
11. rob & big. here’s your challenge: watch the 1st episode of season 1 and try to not want to watch more. you absolutely can’t do it. this is one of the most hilarious shows of the decade thanks to professional skater rob dyrdek’s unlikely relationship with larger-than-life bodyguard big black. unfortunately, after just 2 seasons, rob & big moved on to other endeavors, ending the show’s brief run.
10. the wire. i truly had zero interest in the wire up until a few months ago when, much like dexter, the buzz won me over and i had to check it out. what i found was a cast of characters who you love and hate and dislike and want to know more and more. beyond that, the grim realities of street culture and racial wars make the show deeply compelling.
09. desperate housewives. yes, i’m putting this on my list. at #9. when the show began several years ago, i refused to watch. it looked shallow, cheap and soap opera-ish. but after literally watching one single episode with christen, i had to watch the next one and the next one and the next one. it’s fun, it’s light-hearted and it’s a great show.
08. top chef. the irony of my loving this show is that i would eat very, very little of what they cook. but, watching it all unfold on the screen is intensely captivating. top chef is able to go beyond your generic reality show competition blue print and create a show that is very real and very compelling. as long as the show continues to find top-tier up-and-coming chefs, it should continue to see excellent response.
07. the office. i’m not a bandwagon kind of person. when everybody talks about something, i tend to shy away. so it was with the office. several years ago, it was the must-see show to watch and talk about in your office the next morning. much like desperate housewives, though, after one viewing, i was absolutely hooked. i think it’s safe to say that it’s—bar none—the funniest show on television.
06. american idol. i have no shame whatsoever in my love for american idol. does it cheapen music? maybe. does it commoditize musicians? maybe. either way, though, it’s our generation’s fame and it provides week after week of an exciting and compelling rise to fame by many, young, talented singers. while the show has produced some not-so-great artists, it’s hard to argue with the likes of kelly clarkson, carrie underwood and other sustained talents.
05. project runway. much like top chef, i acknowledge the irony of me liking a show that creates high fashion that i will never wear. but it’s brilliant tv. not only is there the interpersonal dynamics essential to a good reality show, but there is simply incredible raw creative talent. when you win project runway, you aren’t just seen as a “reality show star”, but as a legitimate force in the fashion industry.
04. friends. although friends, ultimately, is a “90s” show, it wrapped up in may 2004 with a memorable final episode in which ross and rachel, of course, end up together. until it got bumped—for me—at thursday night at 7 pm by a certain upstart reality show that we’ll get to shortly, friends was my only scheduled viewing each week. the characters were iconic, the scenarios seemed so shared by the viewer and it was just a flat-out hilarious show.
03. breaking bad. here’s yet another show to file in the “watched it because of the buzz” category. several months ago, after much hype, i decided to get seasons 1 and 2 and catch up. what i discovered was a show that i would literally stay up til 2 or 3 in the morning just to watch another episode. i felt, ironically, like a junkie with my need to see what happens next. the show is about joy and pain and sorrow and lies and deceit and truth and family and loneliness and disease and about everything that makes for deeply, deeply compelling tv.
02. survivor. here’s the scenario: you take a group of strangers, put them on a deserted island with little to no food, no contact with the outside world and make them vote each other off the island. that, my friends, is the making of not only a great tv show, but a fascinating study in human nature and sociological phenomenon. while the show will never be as great as the initial season, it continues to rely on its never-failing original concept to create great television.
01. big love. what have i not already said about big love that i can add here? it only took the better part of a single season (now approaching season 4) to make this shoot right to the top of this list. there are so many layers to this show: religion, family dynamics, current news headlines and more. the show is perfectly cast and perfectly written to strike a balance of this other-worldly feeling while still feeling completely genuine and straight from real life. season 4 starts next month and it looks like we’re going to see the beginning of the unraveling of the family. so, as always, we can expect the unexpected. most of all, though, we can expect a show that transcends what we know as tv.
so there you have it. there’s the list. what do you think? i’ve certainly missed some big stories. what are they? i’ve, no doubt, ranked some things too high or too low. what are they? help me to flesh out and “correct” my list.
see you in a few days with my next list: movies.