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Tuesday, 15 December 2009


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Tom Elrod

Your link isn't working, though I went ahead to look up the list and...yeah, it's pretty bad. I mean, American Idol?

Also, where is Deadwood? Mad Men?


Sorry about the link, don't know why it didn't render. That said, I can see Idol on a list of the most important shows, but not the best. I haven't watched Mad Men yet, but everyone knows how I feel about Deadwood. From what I've seen, after The Wire, you have Deadwood and then a steep cliff into mere "high quality."


Well, I'm one of those who prefers The Sopranos to The Wire, but that's beside the point. I think your problem here is that of many film critics: you assume that the best work must necessarily be an R-rated drama. Obviously, there's a lot in the way of pathos and serious social issues, etc., that you can't get at except in a realistic drama, but no one can responsibly say that's all the medium is capable of. I mean, Arrested Development and The Office (and props to EW for using the British, not the American Office—that makes *me* take them seriously) are not only two of the best sitcoms we've had, but also helped to reinvent the genre. (Wouldn't you put Seinfeld pretty high on a list of the best TV shows of the 90's?) And the Daily Show surely deserves its high ranking: has any other comedy talk show ever achieved TDS's degree of consistency and political relevance? You can't even call it "influential," since no other show has even attempted what they do (except Colbert, which is a spinoff). I personally would have put The Wire higher than they have it (for one thing, Lost wouldn't make my top 10 at all), but I think that having a balanced view of what constitutes a "great TV show" is actually a sign of seriousness rather than the opposite.

(On the other hand, the utter absence of Battlestar baffles me. I mean, I never even heard of the show they have at #10; surely they could have slipped BSG in there?)


I think your problem here is that of many film critics: you assume that the best work must necessarily be an R-rated drama.

I do not! Buffy would've made my top ten had it been of this decade, and Arrested Development is up in my top five. Not only would Seinfeld rank highly on my hypothetical '90s list, I'm a little miffed that Curb Your Enthusiasm is absent from basically everywhere. It's going to go down in the annals of television like a mid-period P.J. Harvey record: unloved in its day, but every genius who comes after's going to be indebted to it.

That said, I don't think The Daily Show belongs on any such list. For one, Stewart took over in '99, so it's not even of this decade; for another, like Idol, it's not innovative so much as it is important (although obviously for different reasons). The exclusion of BSG is, I think, easily explained as blow-back against the finale. Had Caprica been released in November as originally planned, I think BSG would've been forgiven somewhat and made some lists.

Tom Elrod

Stewart took over in '99, so it's not even of this decade

Yeah, but it really came into it's own after Bush was elected.


"Yeah, but it really came into it's own after Bush was elected."

And especially after 9/11. Scott, I withdraw my libel about your undervaluing comedy programming, but I don't understand your comments about the Daily Show. Past a certain point we can agree to disagree, but what do you mean it's not innovative? Certainly there are standard talk show elements in it, but it pioneered techniques that not only had never been done before, but which also became a standard trope of modern, and especially online, rhetoric (the long chain of very short video clips in which everyone is saying the same thing, for instance), and Stewart's interview techniques certainly go beyond the standard talk show. For another thing, how could it be important if it were *not* innovative? And finally, this is after all not a list of the most *original* shows, but the *best,* which I think TDS has consistently been. But that point is moot, as it's also an extremely innovative show, so there.

American Idol, now there's a show where I think you can separate innovation (leaving aside the fact that it was a British show first, okay) from quality. The most I can say is that the people who enjoy it really enjoy it, but it's not my cup of tea. But I probably wouldn't leave it off of my Top 10, if I were going beyond the narrow point of my own preferences.


One quick note: I support leaving Mad Men off the list, just because I think it's a bit soon to rank it with other shows that have had their entire runs already. Of course, "Best of Decade" lists are pretty ridiculous, and shouldn't start until next year anyway, so the whole thing is just for fun.


Yeah, but it really came into it's own after Bush was elected.

Fair enough, but my main complaint, to address tomemos's point as well, is that it's fairly typical satire that just happens to be really, really good. They're not breaking new ground like, say, Arrested Development, they're simply schooling other satirists in the niceties of satire. Again, it's brilliant, but not ground-breaking; Idol, on the other hand, is neither, but right now it's propping up the entire recording industry, so its importance is sort of self-evident.

Also, I should add that I fully intend on watching Mad Men one of these days, but not until I finish writing this book with a former ad executive whose husband's currently an ad executive, as there's just something weird about that whole scenario.

Shane in Utah

I think your problem here is that of many film critics: you assume that the best work must necessarily be an R-rated drama.

My top 5 would be dominated by HBO and FX dramas, but not because they're R-rated. Rather, the networks that allow their writers to explore R-rated territory also allow their writers to take their viewers seriously and not treat them like idiots. Even when the networks venture into serious dramas, like the ill-fated Kings, the writers are constantly slowing down the dialogue to make sure the viewers are following the plot. It's quite irritating.

Also in my Top 5 or 6 would be the original British Life on Mars. I agree that the Daily Show deserves its ranking; I might even put it higher.


"They're not breaking new ground like, say, Arrested Development, they're simply schooling other satirists in the niceties of satire."

Well, I don't want to belabor the point, but I don't see the distinction here at all. I think the Daily Show has broken at least as much new ground as Arrested Development; if you disagree, I guess I'd want to know what TV show attempted that kind of satire, on that scale and with those methods, before TDS. Certainly Stewart and co. are continuing a satirical tradition—no show is sui generis, and that includes The Wire—but I can't think of a political comedy show that actually attempted to outdo mainstream news, and was so successful at it.

Tom Elrod

I think another problem with the list is the assumption on EW's part that "television" is a genre it and of itself. It's sort of like saying we should rate the best "writing" of the last year. A cookbook, no matter how well-written, is simply not the same thing as a Thomas Pynchon novel. We would probably laugh at that list a placed a cookbook above Inherent Vice, but such a list would be being disingenuous to cookbooks, too.

The Daily Show (and, moreso, American Idol) is simply a different sort of program than a long-form scripted drama like The Wire. That's partly why this list is weird. It's a list of "important things to be aired on a TV screen in the 00s," not the "best TV shows of the 00s." When we call The Daily Show a TV show do we mean the same thing when we call The Wire a TV show?

Also, I'll add my vote for Battlestar Galactica. The finale is not as bad as most people seem to think it is. It suffered from high-expectations, which I think happens a lot in finales for "mythology-heavy" shows. There's a lot of build-up and speculation leading up to the finale which makes the it inevitably disappointing. This is probably going to be the case for Lost as well. A little perspective and distance, plus the ability to view the final season as a larger narrative chunk on DVD (as opposed to smaller episodes separated by a week of speculation) will, I think, improve the reputation of BSG's finale.

Mark Wise

And no Buffy, either.



The fact of making these lists in the first place is the main reason for not taking too seriously, not what goes into the list.

I'm enjoying reading all these end-of-decade and end-of-year lists recently but they are essentially stupid things.

Richard Pennyfarthing

I agree the first season of Deadwood was great, but it faded worse than Heroes after that.


No one in this thread has any love for Veronica Mars? The first season is, in my book, a serious contender for best season of television ever, although The Wire clearly trumps it for best series.

Lost and American Idol clearly don't belong anywhere near a list of best television of the past decade.

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