My Favorite (but really Best) Television Shows: 2000-Present

A lot has been written about the so-called Golden Age of Television, which unofficially began with The Sopranos in 1999, and unofficially seems to transitioning into a new-era with the ending of Mad Men. I think those two moments are excellent bookends to the commonly accepted Golden Age. 

Side Note: what's next? Something to do with shows being designed to be devoured in marathon doses, I suspect. The Marathon Age? Anyway, who knows?  

I got to thinking about Mad Men and where it stands among the all-time greats. And it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Golden Age or otherwise. So, then I wondered about the next, and the next after that, and came up with the following list. My only rule for the Top 10 and Honorable Mentions categories was that I needed to have seen every episode. 

If we're talking off-the-record, of course this is a "best of" list, but, while I've seen a lot of television, I haven't seen everything, so I'm comfortable with calling this a favorites list. 

A bit on what I look for in television show: characters, relationships, and moments involving the previous two. I'd wager that whenever you talk to people about what you love in a movie, TV show, book, etc., it's when you recap a moment of character, and not just regurgitate the plot. 

I love long-form storytelling where the focus is not to rush headfirst through a plot to the ending. Give me a slow-burn where the characters can marinate and grow and develop, and any worries about plot take care of themselves. Meanwhile, take your plot and shove it up your ass.   

All of these shows could get an entire essay about their influence and place in history, and each probably deserve it, but ultimately here's a list and some thoughts. Have at it. 

THE TOP 10

Also pictured: Batman, Wonder Woman, Sterlingman.
1. Mad Men - The new champ. The new benchmark. Poised to be at the top for a very long time. For me, this is what other shows get compared to. Honestly, there's a huge amount of space between this and the rest of the list. 

2. The Sopranos - The former kingpin and former greatest of all-time. Much of this list doesn't happen with Tony and the crew. Like Citizen Kane, it may not still be the best ever, but there's a definite line of what existed prior to it and what was able to follow after. The show was an earthquake that forever reshaped and redefined the medium.  

3. The Wire - As much I said that plot isn't a huge consideration for me, I love me some thematic structure. The Wire structured the entire series better than any show before or since. It's a show where each individual season only gets better in hindsight once the entire picture of the series has been painted. And McNulty, say what you will, but he's good murder police.  

4. Breaking Bad - All the way down at number four? Am I crazy? I don't know. Maybe. But you know what, the first draft of this had it switched with the below entry. Scandalous, I get it. On the bright side, it's already climbing the list.  

5. The Shield - From start to finish, The Shield was the most enjoyable viewing experience for me for a television. The blend of character and action with humor and pathos was always on point and never lost that balance for me.  

6. 24 - There's been so many attempts to recapture this show and none of them hold a candle. Dismissed by many as a George W. Bush era fantasy of the war on terror, a criticism that's always been off-base and superficial at best. Like how The Sopranos changed the face of television as a whole, 24 made a similar impact on network television. Often overlooked department: the show's realistic (as possible, given the world of the show) attempt to show the toll of violence on the psyche of Jack Bauer.

7. Six Feet Under - This one is slipping down the list. In a couple years, this might become an honorable mention. It's excellent, and I'm glad I'm watched, but I will never revisit the Fisher family. 

8. Justified - As good of a genre show as you can get. A lot of people would swap this out with Deadwood or Game or Thrones and they wouldn't be wrong.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm - This show is "The Sopranos" of comedy television. Just about every comedy on television since CYE owes a debt to Larry David (fictional and otherwise). 

10. House - Yeah, I went there. Deal with it. I suspect that most people who dislike House never actually watched it. I have no proof of this theory of course. Just a hunch. Sure, the case-of-the-week formula approached parody at times, but Dr. House was as compelling of a character as there's been on television. He's in the same therapist waiting room as Tony, Don, and Walter are.

Honorable Mentions

Look out, Larry David.
Put any of these in slots 6-10 and you get no argument from me. 

Louie - The most likely entry to jump into the Top 10. It's the Mad Men to Curb Your Enthusiasm's Sopranos.  

Game of Thrones - Second only to Louie for me as a sure-thing Top 10.

Deadwood - Two seasons away from a Top 10 finish. The first-round draft pick who blew out his knee too early. What could have been..... 

Jackass - A guilty pleasure, but this is my list, so piss off. 

Homeland - A borderline pick. Let's check back in season five or six and see where we are. 

The Walking Dead - Probably never going to get much higher than here, but when it slows down and spends time with the characters it illustrates the show's dramatic potential, but dammit then those zombies attack, but it's those zombies that make the people and the situation so interesting. A vicious cycle. So goes life.

On the Cusp

I better be in that Top 10 soon.
These are the shows with a lot of upward trajectory that I expect to shoot up the list (Better Call Saul, I'm looking at you), but you never can tell because of the entries in the category below...

Better Call Saul - So far, it's a sure thing. 

True Detective - Time will tell here. Fingers crossed for greatness, but not tightly.

The Americans - More people should watch The Americans. 

Arrow - Probably has gone as high as it's going to go on my list, but a worthy show nonetheless. 

Daredevil - I'm curious to see how Marvel builds their Netflix television universe of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist. If the seasons of those shows build to an Avengers-like TV series in street crime world of New York, I would be very happy. 

Notable Declines

These were all solid shows, blue-chippers, sure-things, that just went off the rails badly for a variety of reasons. It breaks my heart thinking about some of these.

Dexter - This is what happens when the creators/network/whoever falls in love with the deplorable main character.

Sons of Anarchy - Remember when this was a retelling of Hamlet? That was a really good show.

Prison Break - A poor man's 24, but two great seasons of serialized action. Should have stopped there. Once you break out of prison, a show called Prison Break should be over.  

Californication - See Dexter

Weeds - See Dexter/Californication. Get your shit together, Showtime. 

LOST - Ugh. Just ugh.

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