In most other ways though, picking TV shows is a lot easier. You don't have to sift through previous lists to find the brightest gems; these are shows we've watched for years and spent countless hours obsessing over. So before I begin, I just want to explain a few high-profile omissions: The West Wing may very well deserve to be on this list, but I never regularly watched it, something I'll someday remedy on DVD. While I do love The Wire, the two seasons I've seen aren't enough to beat what's already on here. And finally, I've never seen a single episode of The Shield.
With that out of the way, let's get to it:
11. Freaks and Geeks
Ok, I'm cheating, but I couldn't leave Freaks and Geeks off. In only 17 episodes, Freaks and Geeks became the most believable high school show on TV, with kids that actually looked their age and problems they would actually face. And in one of my favorite storylines, the geek won his dreamgirl...only to immediately realize she's boring! The show would go on to launch the careers of Judd Apatow, James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen, to name but a few, but on its own it's a high school show that anyone can relate to, even those of us too young to be there in 1980.
10. Mad Men
Mad Men may still be young in its run, but it's gone through so much in three seasons that it has certainly earned its spot. A historical show so compelling it actually got me to watch (unlike Deadwood and Rome), Mad Men makes 1960s New York come alive while also serving as a great character piece for any age. In every way it earns the title of "the next Sopranos."
9. Battlestar Galactica
It may have been set in a sci-fi universe, but Battlestar Galactica had more to say about our world than anything else on TV, and showed sci-fi can be a powerful way of making a statement. With fascinatingly dark characters and twists out of nowhere, BSG's four seasons stand as a fully realized vision complete with a great ending.
Keeping up with the sci-fi theme, Farscape may be the least watched and least remembered show on this list, but it's also the first sci-fi show I loved and one of the first shows that showed me what TV can do. With cool plots, great characters, and muppets, Farscape was the kind of cult show you felt unique for watching, which just made its cancellation all the more difficult.
7. The Office (UK)
The American remake may have more viewers and has certainly had more episodes, but I still say the original 12 episodes + Christmas special of the British version accomplished more. Less cartoonish and more heartfelt, the original let Tim be as pitiable as he was likable and made Gareth the kind of rule-following dork you might actually find in your office (as opposed to Dwight's over-the-top buffoon). The second series finale is still one of the most depressing TV endings I have ever seen, and the Christmas special one of the happiest. That's some impressive range.
Hard to believe a show about a likable serial killer could be one of the best shows of the decade, but with other shows glorifying killers like Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey, Dexter Morgan's killer with a code doesn't seem so bad. More importantly, Dexter started big with the Ice Truck Killer, and every year works to up the ante with the Bay Harbor Butcher and the Trinity Killer. With four great seasons, it's not only one of the most consistent shows on this list, but also the most addictive show to ever air on cable.
5. Six Feet Under
Further proof that Michael C. Hall has had a great decade: that he was equally convincing in the most un-Dexter part imaginable. You didn't always like everyone in the Fisher clan (in fact, I hated everyone for a full season each), but that just made their stories all the more compelling. It may have started as American Beauty: The TV Show, but by the time it reached its unforgettable ending it had evolved into something more.
4. The Sopranos
No show had more of an influence over the '00s than The Sopranos. Not only is it single-handedly responsible for the emergence of cable as a place for quality original programming, but it also led television to be taken seriously as an art form. Without The Sopranos, there would be no Mad Men, no The Shield, and no Dexter. And regardless of what you thought of the still-discussed finale, it had a pretty remarkable run.
The Sopranos may have had the biggest influence on TV this decade, but 24 best represented the decade on TV. Premiering right after 9/11 in 2001, 24 brought the War on Terror to TV screens, and cemented terrorists as the new communists as far as action villains go. With its crazy twists and infamous character deaths, 24 is the reason every show goes kill crazy each May. And as much as I like Christian Bale's Batman, Jack Bauer is the real superhero of the decade.
2. Arrested Development
It may have only lasted three low-rated seasons, but Arrested Development is also the smartest and funniest comedy of all time. That's right I said it: Arrested Development is better than Seinfeld. After all, what other show do you need to watch five times just to get most of the jokes? Or features so many recurring gags that real fans always laugh harder than casual ones? With one of the looniest ensembles on TV and the most endlessly quotable lines, Arrested Development is a no-brainer for comedy of the decade.
So many shows have tried to imitate it (cough FlashForward cough), and so many have tried to explain its roots, but the fact is that Lost is a true original, the kind of experience that can only come but once a decade, if ever. A cult show that finds room for oven ten million viewers. A mystery that asks three new questions for every answer it gives. And a character piece that regularly makes even the most minor supporting character seem fascinating after a few well-placed flashbacks. With some of the most iconic characters, images, and storylines currently on TV, Lost is more than a more popular Twin Peaks, a more serialized X-Files, or a more intelligent Gilligan's Island. It's the show of the decade.
So there's my picks. Some shows that just barely missed the cut include The Wire, Veronica Mars, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Alias, The Office (US), and 30 Rock.
Which shows topped your decade? What am I overrating? What am I missing? And what do you think will make this list ten years from now for the 2010s? Let me know in the comments.