Top 10 TV shows of the decade – Intro
I figure by the time December rolls around, we’re all going to be drowning in top tens or top fifties from every conceivable angle and genre (“Top 50 Celebrity Downblouses of the decade!”) until actual numbers physically leak out of our eyes like a horrible dream about Ebola finding its way to Sesame Street. Worst still, we’ll have to go through it all again next December, when those tiresome people who say “yeah, but the decade doesn’t really end until 2010…” bring out theirs, although nobody cares about the opinion of someone who presumably thinks 1980 was part of the seventies, so fuck ’em.
As such, all aboard the List-Train, toot toot! In compiling this Top 10, I gave myself just one rule, which was that shows had to have started airing in this decade. This ruled out a lot of stuff that might have made a pretty decent showing, and which certainly kept me entertained during the 2000s. South Park, Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, HBO’s Oz and The League of Gentlemen all suffered from this age discrimination, like some MILFs being turned away from a wet t-shirt contest they’d probably have won.
Before I get into the Top 10, let’s take a look at the shows which didn’t quite make the list, but are more than worthy of a write-up.
If you’ve even heard of this, you are cool, and let’s be friends! If you actually watched it, I’m already bending over. A high concept show based around a modern day retelling of the Biblical story of King David and set in an alternative reality where the monarchy essentially fill the role taken up by celebrities in our real world, it was a weird fit on NBC, and died a horrible death. It feels like if HBO had had this concept, it’d be on everybody’s list, and not just rotting here on a blog that nobody reads, but NBC hung it out to dry. With huge sections of the United States constantly harping on about how much they love Jesus, if they’d played up the Biblical angle in the promotion instead of bizarrely shying away from it, it would have been the hit it deserved to be, but they settled for the typical “airbrushed people looking all serious in a line” promo shots and confusingly vague allusions to the show’s butterfly motif, so nobody watched and it was taken off the air.
Kings had an incredible visual style, with the slightly off-kilter fictional warring kingdoms that made up the world, as well as note-perfect performances all the way through. It was a phenomenal cast, centred by the craggy, frightening rock that is Ian McShane as King Silas, in a performance that was absolutely monumental. Seriously, it’s the greatest performance nobody ever saw, just racked with gravitas and anguish, while some moments kindly and charming, others vengeful and insane with megalomania, literally standing on a rooftop arguing with God – a God who, in this supernaturally-tinged reality, in his own way, answers back. King Silas was truly one of the most layered characters ever created. Anyone watching would have swung back and forth between being thoroughly enraged by his actions and empathising so hard they tried to climb into the screen and do his dirty work for him. Without a doubt, if Kings had been on a network that knew how to handle it, Silas would be up there with Ben Linus and Stringer Bell as one of the all-time great conflicted characters. Alas, nobody saw any of this, so it was the equivalent of a blindfolded man knocking a basketball 50 feet into the hoop with his cock while your back was turned.
The failure of Kings to find an audience was more than just a loss of forty weekly minutes of cracking entertainment, it was depressing confirmation of being forced to live in an artless fucking world where the only way people would have watched was if there’d been a phone number at the end of each episode to vote off their least favourite character, or if Ian McShane had worn a pair of plastic vampire fangs and a little cape. Despite everything I’ve said, it was only the second most galling cancellation of the decade. More on that when we get into the Top 10. Kings is available on R1 DVD, and I obviously recommend you check it out.
The Ultimate Fighter
Man, I love this show, but the thing that kept it out of the Top 10 was the number of weaker seasons. When it’s great, it’s absolutely spectacular, but it’s hard to imagine putting, say, a sitcom in the list with the caveat of “apart from the four really boring seasons, this was great!” so I had to be strict. It’s cool as an MMA fan that we get weekly fights and new stars out of these shows, but we also get great TV moments. There’s obviously way too many to list, seeing as we’re currently on Season 10, but it’s hard to top Ross Pointon introducing himself to Dana White with the almost indecipherably accented (even to an Englishman) words “How’s yer wild thing?”
As a negative, the format of the show, right down to the editing, is the most stale thing since the X-Factor boot camp shows or the cheese and ham roll in DJ AM’s fridge, and that theme music could probably do with an update too (“The stealth of a sniper, the strike of a viper, the training to challenge the Ultimate Fighter, BOOM!”) but TUF is one of those rare shows that I immediately seek out every week. As one specific highlight, I’d put the infamous “fatherless bastard” episode of the first season up against anything in terms of emotion and human drama. To my mind, that episode is the finest single hour of reality TV ever broadcast, and reason enough to roll your eyes at people when they start honking on about how all reality TV is terrible like they know what they’re talking about, which they don’t. To this day, whenever I see Josh Koscheck, I start snapping all the fingers in my left hand, just because I need to feel some bones breaking.
FUN FACT: When I used to review the show for an MMA publication, I got a threatening email from the brother of one of the contestants, due to my sarcastic ways, and it was all in capital letters, even the email address.
This was in the 10 for a while, but got shunted off, and the only thing really keeping it off the top is how recent it is. I’ll keep it brief here, because the first season is only halfway through airing in the UK and I’m not going to spoil anything, but I love True Blood because it’s just so fun; filthy, filthy fun. It works because although the setting revolves around the conceit of vampires and were-beasts, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and thusly is not shit, like Twilight. Deal with it, fatties.
That’s not to say it’s throwaway pap with no emotional investment, or that there aren’t enough twists and shockers to throw you for a loop, because it’s got heart too. I haven’t been so SHOOK by a season finale cliffhanger since Uncle Phil was trapped in that burning ice-cream truck. In Lafayette they have a character who doesn’t so much as steal every scene he’s in, but brazenly stuff the entire show into his pocket and slink around with his nob out like he owns the place, which he does. Not since the days of Simon Adebisi bumming his way around the cells of Oz has a character so taken a show by the back of the neck and said “I’m having this.”
True Blood is also pretty raunchy, everyone’s always at it. I’m now more familiar with Anna Paquin’s breasts than I am my own reflection, although I’m sure to people like me who watched Home and Away in the mid-late 90s, the image of Vinny Patterson getting the blood drained from his erection with a needle is akin to watching Alf Stewart massage his prostate.
Like Seinfeld, there’s no hugging and no learning. Sure, there’s plot – which boo-hooing messageboard critics often complain about – but after six seasons, everyone’s pretty much at the same level of wretchedness they were in episode one.
I’ve read the theory a few times that the reason Peep Show works so well is because everyone watching thinks they’re Jeremy (or how Jeremy sees himself) while they’re actually more like Mark, which we are. Well, I am, anyway. Christ knows I’m so riddled with neurosis I can barely type this blog because of the unrelenting internal dialogue about much of a failure I am and how I should remember to put my hand over my mouth whenever I laugh because I’ve got the sort of teeth that would never be allowed on television other than the ‘before’ section of a face-makeover show.
The thing I love most about Peep Show is that it’s still truckin’. Any of the decent British sitcoms of the last twenty years have had really short runs, especially when you compare our weedy 6 episode seasons to the girthier US ones. People always cite Fawlty Towers, and now The Office, as examples of why it’s better to go out while you’re fresh and before you run out of ideas, but Peep Show is six seasons in, and with no decline in quality and losing none of the sharpness that made it so fantastic from the start. This kind of lifespan is a nice counterbalance to the fact that there were, for example, 95 episodes of The Upper Hand and 102 of Birds of a Feather. Seriously, 102. Think about that. Think about the combined 54 hours of Birds of a Feather that pumped into the living rooms of the nation like plops from the arse of a deflating corpse. The prize of absolute shame goes to anyone who can remember a single thing that happened in those 54 hours. “The neighbour one said something about willies!” doesn’t count.
Next up – Number 10.