As a child of the 80s and 90s, I bore witness to the tail end of the so-called Golden Age of broadcast TV, when sitcoms, cop dramas, and (later) reality TV ruled the free airwaves. These shows routinely garnered sky-high ratings at a time when original cable shows were still far inferior in quality and certainly viewership.
But a strange thing happened once the new millennium turned. Some of the most creative minds in television—future pioneers such as David Simon (The Wire), David Chase (The Sopranos), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men)—started looking beyond the traditional formulaic TV formats and looked to films for inspiration. Instead of creating 24 essentially standalone episodes of a show spread out over 6 months, these and other early pioneers began creating what essentially amounted to 13-hour movies that rewarded careful viewing and attention to detail. And here’s the thing, even the most viewed shows’ ratings paled in comparison to some of the astronomical numbers of broadcast TV’s salad days. And I think TV is all the better for it. Once cable gained traction and writers were able to flee the FCC’s broadcast strictures, I believe a new Golden Age emerged, an age where quality trumps viewership numbers. So without further ado, here is my list of my top 10 TV series since 2000. Ranked. No copping out behind, “No, I can’t rank them,” blah blah blah.
1. The Wire (HBO, 2002 – 2007) – This show turned the cop show formula on its head. An unfiltered look at villainous heroes and heroic villains. Possibly the greatest anti-hero in TV history (Omar Little). Small characters routinely had big moments—a true ensemble cast. Rewarded careful watching. Underrated humor that helped soften some of the harder moments. For my money, I put season 4, which looked at a broken education system and the kids struggling within it, against any season of any show in the history of TV.