Okay, this is my final 2009-related list. I was going to post my favorite TV shows of 2009, then figured, what the hell, I’d do it for the decade that just ended. Here we go:

TV SHOWS – BEST OF THE DECADE (2000 to 2009)

  1. DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – David Milch goes West. When I was a kid, I hated westerns. Then I discovered Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah and realized that every genre has its masters. DEADWOOD is probably the best TV show ever set in the old west. Ian McShane as Al Swearengen is the sun around which every other character orbits. The entire cast is amazing. Other standouts include Timothy Olyphant as Sheriff Seth Bullock and Keith Caradine in an amazing turn as Wild Bill Hickock. I don’t think any show has ever used the word “cocksucker” as much, either.
  2. MAD MEN (2007 – Present) – It’s amazing how this show seems to take us to another time so effortlessly. The early 1960s, New York Ad Men, and Jon Hamm as one of the most fascinating anti-heroes in television history, a flawed character that you can’t help but root for.
  3. THE SHIELD (2002 – 2008) – All I have to say is Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey. He was a force of nature. Never has someone made corrupt cops looks so exciting. From the kick-ass theme song to the great ensemble cast, to Chiklis bypasses anti-hero status and gives us a total villain who still shows glimpses of humanity and is one of the most fascinating characters you’ll see onscreen. Gotta love it.
  4. DEXTER (2006 – Present) – Another morally ambiguous character. Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a serial killer who just kills bad guys. During the day, he’s a blood spatter expert for the Miami PD. Another show that works so good because its entire cast is excellent. Each season has a guest star who shakes everything up, and doesn’t disappoint. In recent seasons we got Jimmy Smits as a politican who wanted to learn how to kill from Dexter, and John Lithgow as the emotionally fucked-up Trinity Killer, who Dexter tries to learn from, and then realizes he can’t.
  5. TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present) – Maybe the best vampire series ever. Based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Anna Paquin is a waitress in a small Louisiana town who can read minds. Vampires are out of the closet (and trying to assimilate with regular folks), and “tru blood” is a synthetic subsitute that’s supposed to keep the vampires from biting us – but where’s the fun in that?
  6. LIFE (2007 – 2009) – Damian Lewis as a cop who is falsely imprisoned for 12 years, get cleared, gets a big settlement from the state, and gets his job back. As a homicide detective, he also investigates who set him up and sent him away. A great show that was canceled before its time. Lewis was incredible as a character whose life appears to revolve around zen.
  7. TORCHWOOD (2006 – Present) – John Barrowman is Captain Jack Harkness, who has traveled through time (he first appeared on DR. WHO, and this show is a spin-off), is immortal, and who leads a secret task force bent on protecting the earth from creatures from other planets and dimensions. The show’s last short season (miniseries) CHILDREN OF EARTH, might have been the science-fiction event of the decade – a smart, scary story about alien invasion that gave us a completely fresh take on the subject.
  8. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005 – Present) – This show started out a little awkward, and got better with each passing season. Four complete idiots run a bar (Dennis, Mac, Charlie and Dee). In season 2, Danny DeVito joined the cast as the father (stepfather?) of Dennis and Dee. There probably aren’t bigger idiots on television right now. Which is why this show is so great. And it’s turned into some kind of cult hit. And it’s funny as all hell. If you don’t watch this show yet – give it a chance!
  9. BIG BANG THEORY (2007 – Present) – The only network sitcom on this list, and the best sitcom of the decade. Four highly intelligent nerds hang out together, and with the cute girl who lives next door. The biggest star here when the show first started was probably Johnny Galacki, who was previously on ROSEANNE. But the break-out star since is easily Jim Parsons as ubergeek/supergenius physicist Sheldon Cooper. This show is friggin hilarious.
  10. THE WIRE (2002 – 2008) – Baltimore in all its gritty glory, from cops to politicans to drug dealers to newspaper men. One of the best written shows on television. Ever. It’s the kind of show you have to give a chance – and then it will hook you. Another incredible ensemble cast (something all these shows seem to share).
  11. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006 – Present) – I hate football. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (based on the movie of the same name) is about a high school football team in Texas. Somehow, it’s also one of the most interesting and well-written shows on TV. Great acting and great characters don’t hurt.
  12. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2000 – Present) – Larry David (writer and co-creator of SEINFELD) gets his own show on HBO and proves he’s 100 times more obnoxious than George Constanza (who was based on him). David is one of the most offensive, obnoxious characters ever to have his own show. Yet, he’s also very loveable. Watching him offend and shock people is downright enjoyable.
  13. LOST (2004 – Present) – A plane crashes. The survivors struggle to survive on an uncharted island. There are mysteries within mysteries, and every time we get answers, there are new questions. With storylines involving islands that move, time travel, and a crippled man who can suddenly walk. It had its good seasons and its bad seasons, but overall, it has been one of the most unique and best shows of the decade.
  14. BREAKING BAD (2008 – Present) – Brian Cranston (the father on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE) is Walter White, a chemistry teacher who finds out he has terminal cancer. In order to pay for treatment, and to leave his family the money to keep going after he’s gone, he decides to use his knowledge to make crystal meth, and ends up becoming an unlikely druglord. Terrific show. With standout Aaron Paul as Walter’s partner in crime Jesse Pinkman.
  15. VERONICA MARS (2004 – 2007) – Kristen Bell as a modern day Nancy Drew with attitude, who’s also trying to survive high school. She’s the daughter of the former sheriff of Neptune, California, and she solves crimes. Much cooler than it sounds. With the coolest theme song of the decade – “We Used to Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols.

Shows that just missed the time frame:

FREAKS AND GEEKS (1999 – 2000) – it only lasted one season, but this Judd Apatow high school drama/comedy was terrific (every episode was a gem!) and a large part of the cast has gone on to movie stardom since (including Seth Rogan, James Franco and Jason Segel, to name a few). I just wish it had lasted longer.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003) – By the time 2000 came around, BUFFY had already been on the air for three seasons, but it was such a great show, I had to at least mention it. I avoided this one for a long time because of the title (Buffy?), but once I gave it a chance, I became totally addicted. With Sarah Michele Gellar as the titular vampire slayer, and her “Scooby Gang” of friends, both human and undead. My favorite will always be Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, who becomes an almost goddess-like witch at one point.

ANGEL (1999 – 2004) – The BUFFY spin-off, starring David Boreanaz as a vampire detective in L.A. He’s got his own gang of friends/sidekicks. At one point this show was even better than BUFFY (in my opinion), before it was canceled before its time.

THE SOPRANOS (1999 – 2007) – Probably the best gangster TV show ever. James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob bossman who has an existential crisis, sees a shrink, and shows that he’s as flawed as the rest of us, when he’s not killing people in violent ways. A milestone series. Tony became something of a pop-culture icon by the time this show ended.

OZ (1997 – 2003) – This brutal prison drama from HBO featured everything from full-frontal nudity to vicious rape to bloody murder. If a prison was really like this and people were murdered constantly, they’d lock it down immediately. But this show’s another instance of amazing acting and great writing. And its another instance where a large percentage of its cast moved on to bigger and better (or at least more commercial) things.

XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS (1995 – 2001) – One of my favorite shows ever just barely makes this list by ending in 2001. This story of woman warrior Xena (Lucy Lawless) and her sidekick Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) was one of the rare instances where a spin-off show totally kicked the ass of the original (in this case, the original was HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, which seemed silly and juvenile in comparison). In some seasons (especially the last) the show got downright dark and brutal. And the two main characters grew throughout the show’s run. At first, Gabrielle was pretty much naive and useless – a girl who wanted to follow in Xena’s footsteps. By the end, Gabrielle was a seasoned warrior in her own right. With a not so secret lesbian subtext. This is the show that made me a Lucy Lawless fanatic. I just never understood the title. Xena wasn’t a princess. She was a friggin Warrior Queen!


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