This past week in the US marked the end of yet another fantastic series, 30 Rock, which finished up its 7th season with a fantastic series finale - ahead of the premiere of Community next week for its final season! Ah, it's the end of an era. We thought we'd take a moment and commemorate the loss of one of TV's greatest comedies, by looking back at ten of the best shows to grace our screens over the last ten years. The only rule for this list was that the series must have started (and in many cases finished) in the last decade... so without further adieu, here we go...
Special Mention: The O.C.
Every now and then a TV show comes around that seems to capture the spirit of the moment. Everyone you know is watching it, talking about it and in this unique case - listening to its music. When we come to look at the last decade of television, it's impossible not to talk about The O.C. in the same breath. With the generation that loved 90210, Melrose Place and Dawson's Creek (which finished the same year The O.C. started) getting older, The O.C. launched a new generation of "teen drama" that would go on to include Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill and many more - arguably none of which have captured the same level of excitement was O.C.. The story arc in the first series remains one of the best seen on Television in a long time. And though the writing bordered on criminal by the time the series had come to an end - a decline which started fairly early in the second season - its significance for the genre in the last decade, and for TV in general can not be ignored.
10. The Walking Dead
Arguably the most talked-about show of 2012 was The Walking Dead, thanks mainly to an absolutely amazing 3rd season [half of a season anyway]. Season 1 consisted of just six episodes and not much of a budget, but by producing quality TV and entertaining the hell out of viewers, the creators have managed to push demand far beyond whatever AMC could have hoped for. Gut-wrenching character deaths are the forte of this survival-horror epic and the writers have successfully ensured that we are all on the edge of our seats during every second of every episode; barring comic spoilers, we have no idea what’s around the corner.
The only animation to make the list is the genius that is Archer, an animated comedy for Adults about a womanizing secret agent, in the vein of 007, if 007 was written by (and for) stoners. But unlike many shows that make up the [Adult Swim] lineup, e.g. Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo which precede Archer on its creator's resume, this is a far more accessible series, full of genius references (Gator, anyone?), ridiculous but insanely hilarious characters and scripts that give all TV comedies a run for their money. The FX show just kicked off a new series in the US, which, much like Family Guy before it, has picked up a huge legion of fans over the years thanks to the sharing of DVDs and word of mouth. And given the amount of Arrested Development actors involved in the series, that was a pretty easy sell for many. It's brilliance that you rarely come across in the genre. Check it out.
8. 30 Rock
What is there that hasn't already been said about this show? Featuring well written, hilarious characters, and helmed by Tina Fey's "Liz Lemon", its a show that has been consistently entertaining from start to finish; something that few shows who have lasted as long can say. As the show moves into syndication, it will remain a favourite for years to come, much like Seinfeld and Friends before it. TV will be a little less quirky without these characters bringing us new episodes each week though, that's for sure.
It's a shame that more Australian series weren't voted in on this list. In fact this is the only non-USA show to grace the countdown - though Misfits and Skins (UK) came in at 11 and 12, respectively (and fans of these shows should definitely check out the newer Fresh Meat). But alas, thankfully Rake was given plenty of love. The ABC award winning series stars Richard Roxburgh as Criminal Defense Lawyer Cleaver Greene, a character who is summed up fairly well by the show's title. In its definition, "Rake is a historic term applied to a man who is habituated to immoral conduct, frequently a heartless womanizer." (Wikipedia) Indeed, this is the case for the show's protagonist, who makes James Spader's Alan Shore (from the brilliant Boston Legal) look like a saint. And much like Spader's Shore, the brilliance in the show's genius writing and acting by its lead(s) is that you genuinely root for Greene as he continually falls deeper into the rabbit hole. A third season is expected later this year and we can't wait.
6. Breaking Bad
One man’s strange, neurotic journey from protagonist to antagonist has never been so entertaining to watch as Walter White’s transition from loving dad to badass meth cook. The father-son type relationship between Mr White and our favourite ex-junkie Jesse Pinkman is the only heart-warming thing about this dark, Scarface-esque drama. The shots are artful, the storytelling is masterful, and detail is absolutely everything in this soon-to-be-finished series. Universal acclaim doesn’t lie.
5. Game of Thrones
Complex blood lines and violent treachery pervade this progressive epic. Game of Thrones has no mercy for the show’s many characters, or the viewer’s emotions – killing beloved characters for the sake of the bigger picture and filling our stomachs with dread, and hate. From Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to “King” Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the show makes sure the viewers’ reactions to every character are passionate and involving.
4. The Wire
David Simon has immortalised himself by creating what many consider to be the greatest achievement in television history. The Wire peeled away layer after layer over its five seasons, tackling a wide range of issues from many different perspectives. The drug-riddled streets of Baltimore are contrasted against various other settings; the distinctive and numerous characters throughout the show are put in intense situations; and the themes of each season are explored with no boundaries. The Wire has more social commentaries than Oz and The Sopranos combined, without being excessively preachy, but rather compelling with some of the greatest drama and action seen on any screen. This is a show designed to watch multiple times, and more importantly, it’s one that you actually want to.
3. Friday Night Lights
Despite a couple of missteps and embittering cast changes, Friday Night Lights stands as one of the most inspiring dramas to hit television. Kyle Chandler - as Coach Eric Taylor - and Connie Britton - as Tami Taylor - both portray the ideal husband and wife perfectly as they deal with the dramas of a high-school football team and the residents of Dillon, Texas. Through inspirational though phenomenal, involving storytelling, this show will do exactly as any great Coach does - it will turn a boy into a man. These characters will stay with you far beyond the series.
2. Arrested Development
Last month's official news about the release of the "fourth season" in May is no coincidence for why this article was put together. It reminded us of how many great shows over the last decade have been killed off before their time. With a show like The Office (US), maybe there is the argument that this is the better option than letting a show gradually move into a state of mediocrity. Just look at so many of the best shows in the UK - they often barely last two seasons before the creators bite the bullet and leave while the iron is hot. Seasons, I might add, which are often about 6 episodes in length. But this said, Arrested Development may have finished on top, but that doesn't mean we're counting down until the days we get to see the Bluths in action once again. If you haven't seen this show, do yourself a favour and pick up the series on DVD.
It’s such a shame that Lost has had to suffer a bad reputation due to bitter people with comprehension problems; rather than see the ending as a creative spin on a theological concept, many saw it as one big Deus ex Machina, assuming they all died in the plane crash and that the island was purgatory [seriously?]. The ending was so divisive that it is still being analysed 2+ years after our de-facto lead closed his eyes for the last time. I have met many people who flat out refuse to watch Lost based on the highly publicised, negative reaction many had to a the complex finale – they sure are missing out.
Lost has the richest mythology seen since The X-Files: from the numbers to the dharma stations; from the others to the freighter crew – everybody has a back story and every back story is like a TV show within a TV show. There are so many things to love and hate about Lost and the many mind-bending twists it hurled at us over its six year run, but above all, the characters were the most endearing. The character development in this show is unparalleled and whether it’s the tragic story of John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) or the equally sympathetic Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) that gets to you, each character’s pain affected millions of watchers around the globe and gave these actors/actresses the role of their lifetime.
There will never again be anything like Lost.
Honourable Mentions: The IT Crowd, Firefly, Dexter, Mad Men, Community, Misfits, Louie, Flight of the Conchords, Fringe, Boardwalk Empire, Skins (UK Series 1-2), Boston Legal and Episodes.
The segments about Lost, Friday Night Lights, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead were written by Chris Singh