We’re being told all the time that we’re living in the Golden Age of Television. Maybe so, but if that’s the case then many shows from the last decade were well ahead of their time. These were the shows that pushed the boundaries of television, which saw the potential of the medium to be better than it was. As the 00’s becomes a tiny spot on our rear view mirrors, let’s take a look back on the very best TV the decade had to offer.
The show that acted as a precursor to modern “prestige” TV, The Sopranos also established HBO as the home of layered human drama. Tony is a mobster who, after a panic attack, starts visiting a psychiatrist. The main conflict of the show is between the good man that exists within Tony and the cruelty his work demands. Morally ambiguous lead characters have become pretty standard these days but in all of television, there has never been a character quite like Tony Soprano.
When the Bluth property empire comes crashing down, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) tries to free his father from prison while staving off bankruptcy. His job is made harder by the shenanigans of his other greedy, entitled family members. Incredibly sharp and well-written, there are so many callbacks, sight gags and easter eggs that even hardcore fans will find a new laugh every time.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
This HBO comedy chronicles the awkward misadventures of Seinfeld creator Larry David. Blunt and with an inability to let anything go, David has a penchant for getting himself into trouble in social settings. The real-life man is a master of comic timing and the situations he gets his character tangled up in are just genius.
Many shows tout their “realism” but few are as devoted to it as The Wire. Set in a Baltimore rife with drugs and corruption, the police and their work aren’t glamorised nor are the criminals they chase. These are people on opposite sides but at the end of the day, they really are just people. The Wire is a scathing indictment of the War on Drugs, the political establishment and a bevy of other factors that stop any real solutions to the problems that plague society.
The Office (UK)
This seminal series combined heart-breaking drama with riotous comedy, making stars of Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman. It also revived the mockumentary, which became one of the most popular comedy formats of the decade. So the next time a character looks at the camera in bewilderment, you know who to thank.
The Office (US)
There’s a long history of the US botching UK properties. This can be down to cultural jokes not translating or a misunderstanding of what made the original version so popular. While the US Office is very different from the original in tone and style, it retains its heart and humanity. An exceptional cast doesn’t hurt either.
Malcolm in the Middle
Malcolm is a genius level kid living with a family that could be called dysfunctional on a good day. Apart from being hilarious, the show broke many conventions at the time. There was no studio audience or laugh track, Malcolm regularly broke the fourth wall and the series was shot on film, not video. These days, the show is remembered for introducing a generation to future Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston.
A plane crash leaves a group of survivors stranded on a strange island. A TV phenomenon when it first hit screens, Lost roped viewers in with mystery after mystery. Amateur sleuths pieced together grand theories in the race to be the first to solve the island’s secrets. It soon became clear, however, that the writers were more or less winging it, making new mysteries as they went.
Already a well-known comedian in the UK, Hugh Laurie found success across the Atlantic playing the titular Dr. House. Cocky, condescending and almost always right, audiences loved him and the show’s fresh approach to the medical drama. These days, Laurie is more likely to be found playing jazz. He’s not half bad actually.
Six Feet Under
Along with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under cemented HBO’s reputation for high-quality programming. It follows a family that runs a funeral home. As you might expect, the show often dealt with death in creative and insightful ways. It ran for 6 seasons, with its finale reguarly being called one of the best last episodes ever made.
Created, produced and mostly written by David Milch, Deadwood follows the growth of a town in South Dakota in the 1870’s. The show mixed historical figures like Wyatt Earp and George Hearst with a more than a few fictional elements. Though the show only ran for 3 seasons, it was reported earlier this year that a Deadwood movie may be on the cards.
Dexter Morgan balances his work as a forensic analyst with his side-gig as a serial killer. This set the stage for an unbearably tense but gruesomely satisfying watch. The show overstayed its welcome as the years went on and the final episode tainted all remaining goodwill it had built up over the years.
In a distant solar system, human colonies are at war with a cybernetic race called the Cylons. After the humans are nearly wiped out, the crew of a battlestar journey to seek out a legendary colony called Earth. A “re-imagining” of the 1978 series of the same name, Galactica was like Star Trek for the umm…next generation.
Band of Brothers
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks masterminded this gripping World War 2 series. It charted the journey of Easy Company, from to D-Day landings to the French countryside to the horrors of the concentration camps. Hugely ambitious, it set a new bar for presenting the biggest conflict in human history on TV screens.