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The 20 Best TV Shows of the Decade (2000-2009)

November 4, 2009  |  7:00am
The 20 Best TV Shows of the Decade (2000-2009)

This list of 20 phenomenal TV shows from 2000-2009 reinforces our belief that the young millennium has launched a new Golden Age of Television. Granted, there are countless terrible shows polluting the airwaves. But there are also more smartly written, well-acted epic storylines playing out on the small-screen than ever before. There were certainly plenty of great shows that didn’t make the list, so let us know your picks for the best in the comments section below.

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20. Deadwood
Creator: David Milch
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Jim Beaver, Brad Dourif, Paula Malcomson, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, Keith Carradine
Network: HBO
Sure, Deadwood does a fine job within the revisionist Western sub-genre’s traditional trappings, but ultimately it’s less concerned with its setting and historical accuracy (though it has plenty to spare) than it is about accurately portraying humans. Why do societies and allegiances form, why are close friends betrayed, and why does humanity’s best seem to always just barely edge out its worst? These are the real concerns that make Deadwood a masterpiece. David Milch created a sprawling, fastidiously detailed world in which to stage his gritty morality plays and with it has come as close as anyone to creating a novel on-screen. With assistance from some truly memorable acting by Ian McShane, Brad Dourif and Paula Malcomson, Deadwood ‘s sometimes over-the-top representations never veer far enough from reality for its inhabitants to become “just characters.” Sean Gandert

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19. Dexter (2006-present)
Creator: James Manos Jr.
Stars: Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, Erik King, C.S. Lee, Lauren Vélez, David Zayas, James Remar
Network: Showtime

Dexter Morgan is a family man and a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. Oh, and a serial killer. The fact that Dexter is governed by a strict moral code, only preying on murderers, makes the series uniquely fascinating and challenging—as a viewer, you find yourself rooting for a killer, caring for his family, hoping he’ll do the right thing, and wondering: Can slicing someone to pieces and dumping the body in the ocean ever be right? Kate Kiefer

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18. Breaking Bad (2008-present)
Creator: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte
Network: AMC

The premise alone could carry a show: A high-school chemistry teacher with a baby on the way finds out he’s dying of lung cancer, so he goes into business with a drug-dealing former student and starts cooking near-perfect meth in order to pay the bills. Bryan Cranston is pitiful and disgusting as main character Walter White, and a convincing supporting cast provides just enough comic relief for a show that’s violent, heartbreaking and incredibly dark. Kate Kiefer

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17. Family Guy (1999-present)
Creator: Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Mike Henry
Network: HBO

It’s the show that made Seth MacFarlane a household name, and unfortunately, the one it seems he’ll never top. This is with good reason. MacFarlane created a family that’s easy to relate to despite the fact that it includes a talking dog and an inexplicably British, bloodthirsty infant. Combine the characters’ eccentricities with jokes that (sometimes literally) won’t quit, and you’ve got one of the most important cartoons to grace the small screen. Austin L. Ray

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16. Weeds (2005-present)
Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould, Allie Grant, with Justin Kirk, Kevin Nealon
Network: Showtime

When widowed soccer mom Nancy Botwin started selling pot in order to maintain her family’s suburban California lifestyle, her life took a turn for the dangerous. Weeds is a dark comedy at its finest—Nancy’s behavior grows progressively darker, but supporting characters like alcoholic neighbor Celia, stoner CPA Doug and irresponsible brother-in-law Andy provide just enough comic relief. Kate Kiefer

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15. Friday Night Lights (2006-present)
Creator: Peter Berg
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett
Networks: NBC/The 101

Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meat-heads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show manages to convince week after week that, yes, football somehow really is life. Rachael Maddux

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14. The Colbert Report (2005-Current)
Creators: Stephen Colbert, Ben Karlin, Jon Stewart
Stars: Stephen Colbert
Network: Comedy Central

Opting for a different approach to news satire than his mentor, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert takes his potshots at the shouting-match mess of modern cable-news partisan commentary by hilariously inhabiting a blowhard persona himself, and playing it for all it’s worth with only the slightest wink. He does this so well that a recent Ohio State University study found that there’s actually a sub-group of viewers who believe that Colbert “only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said.” Wow. Steve LaBate

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13. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Creator: Paul Feig
Stars: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty
Network: NBC

We’ve had eight years to come to terms with Freaks & Geeks’ untimely cancellation, and while the axe’s blow still smarts, in some ways the series’ scant 18 episodes have proved an ideal offering. Like a musty old yearbook, the short run preserved one gloriously specific time in the lives of McKinley High’s do-gooders and reprobates, and now we remember the trials and tribulations of Lindsay and Sam Weir, Daniel Desario, Bill Haverchuck and the whole gang like those of so many long-lost high-school friends of our own. Despite the intervening years (and starring roles in raunchier Judd Apatow fare), we remember the characters precisely as they were then, in 1980—sweetly fraught, awkward, hilarious and unsullied by the harsh realities of post-graduate life (or trite plot-lines, forced love triangles or sweeps-week shenanigans). Rachael Maddux

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12. 30 Rock (2006-present)
Creator: Tina Fey
Stars: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander
Network: NBC

The spiritual successor to Arrested Development, 30 Rock succeeded where its competition failed by largely ignoring the actual process of creating a TV show and instead focusing on the life of one individual in charge of the process, played by show creator Tina Fey. 30 Rock never loses track of its focus and creates a surprisingly deep character for the its circus to spin around. But Fey’s not the only one that makes the series. Consistently spot-on performances by Tracy Morgan—whether frequenting strip clubs or a werewolf bar mitzvah—and Alec Baldwin’s evil plans for microwave-television programming create a perfect level of chaos for the show’s writers to unravel every week. 30 Rock doesn’t have complex themes or a deep message, but that stuff would get in the way of its goal: having the most consistently funny show on TV. Suffice to say, it’s succeeding. Sean Gandert

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11. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-present)
Creator: Larry David
Stars: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman
Network: HBO

Curb Your Enthusiasm spreads its cringe-worthy neuroticism like a contagious disease, infecting us with horror and laughter alike. Currently in his seventh season, perpetually farklempt writer, producer and star Larry David still hasn’t run out of that vintage arrogance that skewers every race, color and creed with undiluted misanthropy. Riding strong off constantly clever writing and a recent Seinfeld cast reunion, there isn’t much to complain about—we’ll leave that to the professionals on this show. Sean Edgar

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