There are many who are predicting the imminent death of television as a medium because the increasing popularity of internet and mobile offerings is stealing viewers from the couch. However, judging from the quality of this list of the best TV shows of the 2000s, the television studios aren’t about to give in without a fight, and the past decade featured some of the greatest television ever produced. I believe I’ve done a thorough job with this list, and there should hopefully be no glaring omissions. However, I do expect some controversy over the order of the shows I’ve picked, and I welcome you to debate it in the comments below. Here are my picks for the top 50 best TV shows from 2000-09.
50 – Eastbound and Down – Longevity was certainly one of the criteria in compiling this list, but it is far from the only factor. Regardless of whether a show is brand new or if it only enjoyed a single season before getting cancelled, if it is/was good enough I have included it on this list. Such is the case with my #50 pick. Danny McBride is absolutely hilarious in the lead role of Kenny Powers, a former MLB baseball pitching star who washes out and returns to his home town. As funny as McBride’s character is, it is Steve Little’s character Stevie Janowski, who idolizes Powers, who really steals the show.
49 – How I Met Your Mother – Few sitcoms have been blessed with as much movie star talent as this clever comedy. Film veterans like Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan all lend their incredible acting ability and comedic talent to the show, making this sitcom one of the funniest shows on television over the past half decade.
48 – The Flight of the Conchords – This HBO sitcom is a little off the wall, and might not be everybody’s cup of tea. However, if you have a quirky sense of humor and don’t mind the main characters breaking into song every five minutes then you’ll love this show. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are both brilliant as a pair of New Zealanders trying to make it as a band in America. The songs themselves are what really makes the show, and the soundtrack to Season One is an absolute classic.
47 – That 70’s Show – Though the luster wore of this show towards the end of the series, the first few seasons were absolutely fantastic. Foreman, Kelso, Fez, Hyde, Donna, Jackie, Red and Kitty were all hilarious in this homage to life in the 70s. The show served as a launching pads for the acting careers of Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace, and Mila Kunis, who have all gone on to become major Hollywood film stars.
46 – Burn Notice – This is a show that will have gone under the radar of a lot of television viewers, which is too bad, because it deserves more attention than it has garnered so far. However, the USA Network doesn’t quite have the clout of NBC, ABC or CBS so the show continues to be a well-kept secret. The story focuses around a former intelligence operative who effectively “gets his walking papers” and is reduced to using his super spy skills for taking on so-called friendship jobs. However, these supposedly simple jobs have a way of getting complicated in a hurry, and in the end aren’t any less dangerous than his former profession. Jeffrey Donovan stars in the lead role as Michael Westin and Gabrielle Anwar and the always-amusing Bruce Campbell are fantastic in support.
45 – The King of Queens – Though it started in the 90s, the bulk of this series took place in the 2000s, and thus earns a spot on the list. Kevin James has had an up and down movie career, starring in such films as Hitch and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but there was nothing up and down about this series. James is absolutely hilarious as Doug Heffernan, an IPS driver in New York with a love of food and big screen sports. His wife Carrie (Leah Remini) is amazingly patient with Doug’s quirks, and plays off him well in a believable domestic atmosphere. And Jerry Stiller is a scene-stealer as always as Carrie’s widowed father Arthur.
44 – Chappelle’s Show – Though it only ran for a total of 33 episodes between 2003 and 2006, anyone who saw this show from the comedic genius mind of Dave Chappelle know that it ended far too soon. A combination of stand-up and sketch comedy the show never shied away from the most taboo of topics. Chappelle introduced several memorable characters on the show including Robot Dancing Man, Tron Carter and Tyrone Biggums.
43 – Angel – Joss Whedon has a huge cult following for a reason – he makes great TV shows. This spin-off of mega-hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no exception. The show, starring David Boreanaz as Angel, ran for 5 seasons, and at times even managed to trump the show that spawned it in viewer ratings. Viewer outrage was palpable when the popular show was cancelled after 110 episodes, but sadly even the huge backlash could not convince studio executives to bring back the show for a sixth season.
42 – Scrubs – This show certainly didn’t have the staying power of sitcom classics like Seinfeld or Frasier, but the first two or three seasons this creative medical comedy starring Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Donald Faison, and John C. McGinley were laugh out loud funny.
41 – Everybody Loves Raymond – Another show that started in the 90s, but continued its impressive run into the 2000s.. Ray Romano and Brad Garrett in particular are hilarious, and the show featured some of the best dialogueue ever seen in a sitcom.
40 – True Blood – Yes, people are probably getting pretty tired of the vampire craze by now, following the enormous success of Stephanie Meyer’s massive hit book (and now movie) series Twilight. However, this HBO show is world’s apart from Meyer’s teen romance books. Bloodier, grittier, and a whole lot darker True Blood helped reestablish the coolness factor of the vampire genre.
39 – Alias – Jennifer Garner has enjoyed a pretty good film career to date, starring in such films as Daredevil, Juno and Pearl Harbor. However, she’ll forever be known as CIA Agent Sydney Bristow from the hit TV series Alias. The show was hugely popular in the first half of the decade, and Garner’s performance was spectacular. Her acting ability certainly didn’t go unnoticed as her performance nabbed her 4 consecutive Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama.
38 – Undeclared – Another show whose star shone only too briefly, Undeclared was the brainchild of comedic genius director Judd Apatow. Jay Baruchel, who just appeared in the comedy film She’s Out of My League stars as a college freshman trying to sort out his classes, his love life, and adjusting to being on his own. Apatow protégés Seth Rogen and Jason Segel both co-starred in the show that was a spiritual follow-up to Apatow’s cult show Freaks and Geeks.
37 – Rome – Critical reaction to this show was mixed, but I absolutely loved this incredibly detailed (and expensive) fictional look at the Roman Empire. Like other HBO shows Rome was gritty, brutal and realistically depicted. The costumes and sets were like nothing ever seen on the small screen before, leading to a massive budget that ultimately spelled the demise of the show after just two seasons.
36 – Entourage – Yes, there is not a lot of depth to this show about a young superstar actor and his hanger-on buddies living the high life in California, but this show earns a spot just based on Jeremy Piven’s performance alone. Piven is brilliant as cutthroat agent Ari Gold, and from one minute to the next you don’t know what absurd (but hilarious) profanity is going to come out of his mouth. Johnny Drama is nearly as good, and always has a few quotable lines. Vince, Eric and Turtle round out the gang, and while not as funny as the other two, are good enough to keep the show entertaining. Entourage was definitely one of the best guy shows on TV during the 2000s.
35 – House, M.D. – There has been no shortage of medical dramas over the years, and at first glance you might dismiss this as just another hospital show in an already too crowded genre. However, House, M.D. set itself apart simply on the strength of its main character. Hugh Laurie was absolutely spectacular as a brilliant doctor with less than stellar people skills. His sarcastically witty dialogueue alone made the show worth watching as he solved one rare medical mystery after another.
34 – Rescue Me – This drama/comedy about a group of firefighters in post-9/11 New York was one of the most underrated shows on TV for the first few years following its 2004 FX network premiere. Denis Leary once again proved he has plenty of acting ability to go along with his sarcastic comedy. If you missed this show because it didn’t air on a mainstream network definitely check it out on DVD.
33 – Veronica Mars – A teenage girl moonlighting as a super sleuth doesn’t sound very believable. However, it does sound like the recipe for a cult hit TV series, which is exactly what Veronica Mars became. Kristen Bell, who went on to star in the TV show Heroes plays the lead role, as Veronica Mars, a high school student who solves a mystery an episode while compiling clues to solving a bigger mystery throughout the course of the season. The show only aired for 3 seasons, but during that time had plenty of critical acclaim heaped upon it.
32 – Californication – While The Flight of the Conchords might not be everyone’s cup of tea, this edgy, sexually charged comedy drama will definitely alienate a large chunk of viewers. Airing on the Showcase network, and starring David Duchovny, the show certainly doesn’t pull punches, and features a multitude of bizarre sexual situations, drug use, foul language, and the occasional bit of violence. If none of that stuff tweaks your sense of propriety too badly then this show is definitely for you. If you’ve typecast David Duchovny as Fox Mulder for life, then be prepared to have your eyes opened, as he completely reinvents himself as Hank Moody.
31 – Battlestar Galactica – Building an audience of science fiction fans is a tough challenge. These viewers tend to be more demanding than your average television viewer, but once you earn their loyalty it is a fierce thing to behold. Battlestar Galactica managed to earn that loyal following, and is arguably one of the best science fiction TV shows of all time. For the older demographic in the crowd who enjoyed the original series way back in 1978, let me just say you will love this fresh version.
30 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Though this cult favorite only aired until 2003, it is hard to justify keeping it off the list of the best TV shows of the decade. Another Joss Whedon creation, and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, this show garnered a massive following during its run, and spawned the spin-off Angel.
29 – Extras – From the brilliant comedic mind of Ricky Gervais this show from “over the pond” delivers just as many laughs as the original BBC version of The Office did earlier in the decade. Gervais and Stephen Merchant (Gervais’s co-writer on the show) co-star in this hilarious show about the movie biz. Though, like the original Office there are only a small number of episodes, it is definitely a show worth checking out.
28 – Freaks and Geeks – Speaking of shows that only had a small number of episodes, few made a bigger impact during a short run than Judd Apatow’s turn of the millennium creation. Set in the 80s, the show follows the misadventures of several socially challenged high school kids as they try and fit in with their peers to no avail. Major movie stars like Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel all leapt into the public spotlight with this phenomenally popular cult TV show.
27 – The Simpsons – Though the show started in the 80s, and probably enjoyed its best years in the 90s, it is still going strong to this day and is a no-brainer for inclusion on the list of the greatest television shows of the Noughties. Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, Maggie and a whole host of Springfield’s other characters have become pop culture icons over the past two decades, and creator Matt Groening continues to make worldwide audiences laugh with his irreverent animated show.
26 – American Idol – There have been many shows that attempt to find the next big music star over the years, but none have manage to concoct a recipe for success like American Idol has. Since it first introduced the world to Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, Idol has launched the careers of a multitude of artists, including Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert. Even the judges of the shows – particularly Simon Cowell – have become huge pop culture icon.
25 – Survivor – Though much of reality TV is absolute crap there are a few gems that stand out from the rest. One of the best of these shows is the one really responsible for launching the craze. Survivor wasn’t the first reality show, but it really put this genre on the map, and for good reason. Since Richard Hatch shocked his way to the crown in the first season Survivor has continued to enjoy immense worldwide popularity.
24 – Family Guy – Like Californication this animated show may be offensive to some audiences. It isn’t quite as boundary-pushing as South Park, but parents who discover their young children watching this cartoon might be a little shocked. Fox again pushes the envelope with the misadventures of the Griffin family, and no pop culture reference is safe from mockery in this witty, but often raunchy animated show.
23 – Firefly – Okay, so I like Joss Whedon shows. What can I say? Several million rabid fans agree with me. Though his relatively recent effort Dollhouse was only so-so, his earlier work is legendary among television fans. In my opinion, his short-lived one season sci-fi/western series Firefly is his best work to date. With memorable characters, a tongue-in-cheek attitude, a theme song that you just can’t get out of your head, Firefly had it all. What a shame we only got to follow the crew of the Serenity for such a brief time.
22 – 24 – Dennis Hopper’s horrendously bad accent aside, season one of 24 was one of the most addictive, creative and gripping television shows I’ve ever seen. 24 episodes in 24 real time hours was a brilliant plot device and casting Kiefer Sutherland as CTU agent Jack Bauer was one of the best decisions in recent TV history. Unfortunately, the very premise that made the first season so unique made it stale in years to follow. However, though the show definitely overstayed its welcome there can be no question it is easily one of the best shows of the past decade.
21 – Breaking Bad – Another show that airs on a fringe network, this intensely powerful work is a project that deserves a much larger audience. Hopefully word of mouth will alert viewers just how good this show is. Bryan Cranstron, who most people know as the goofball dad, Hal in Malcolm in the Middle completely reinvents himself in the role of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who goes to extreme measures to provide for his family after learning he is dying of cancer. The acting is top-notch, and Cranston has earned successive Emmy awards for his work on the show.
20 – Friday Night Lights – I’m sure there are many that will be aghast that I’ve ranked this show so low. But, to be fair, I’m Canadian, and thus am not familiar with the cultural American phenomenon that is the love of high school football. That being said, there is still a lot for non-U.S. audiences to like about this show, and that speaks volumes about its strength. There is a lot more depth to it than just football, and its excellent writing and strong characters kept millions of viewers coming back.
19 – The Daily Show – Though it may seem sacrilege to some, I actually prefer the Colbert report for my dose of political and news mockery. Don’t get me wrong, I still love The Daily Show I just think that Stephen Colbert, despite his habit of mocking Canadians, is a bit funnier than Jon Stewart. Still, Stewart’s brand of biting humor does to make me laugh, and I try and tune into this “fake news show” as often as I can.
18 – The Amazing Race – As good as Survivor is I have to give this show the title of best reality TV show of all time. A phenomenal premise where competitors race one another across the globe, this formula just never seems to get tired. With so many interesting characters, a non-stop string of interesting and complex challenges, and a chance to see some of the world’s most exotic destinations there are plenty of reasons why this show has become so monstrously popular among its viewers.
17 – Sex in the City – A romantic dramedy, this show is aimed squarely at the women in the crowd. To be honest, I’ve never sat through a single episode of this show. Still, this is a list of the best TV shows of the 2000s, not my personal favorite television shows. Though I’ll admit to some personal bias creeping through in some of my rankings I cannot deny the massive popularity this show gained during the first half of the decade.
16 – 30 Rock – Back in her early days on Saturday Night Live I always thought Tina Fey’s comedic ability was underrated, and she always seemed to toil in the shadows of the more boisterous Amy Poehler. However, right from the first episode of 30 Rock in late 2006 it has been readily apparent just how funny this actress really is. Of course Fey is just one of the components that make this such a great show. Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and the rest of the stellar cast have made this one of TV’s best sitcoms over the latter half of the 00s.
15 – Mad Men – Though AMC doesn’t produce very many television shows the few they do get out the door are of the highest quality. Mad Men is no exception, and over the past few years this 1960s-era show about the lives and work of advertising execs in New York City has garnered plenty of critical acclaim. The show earned a whopping 9 Emmy Awards in its first three seasons.
14 – The Office – I am going to lump both the UK and the US versions of The Office together. Though some might rank one much higher than the other I find them both equally good, despite being quite different in nature. Both Steve Carell and Ricky Gervais were consistently funny in their respective roles as office bosses Michael Scott and David Brent, and the supporting casts for both shows were strong as well. The situational comedy is often ludicrous, but almost always hilarious, and anyone who has worked in an office environment will recognize plenty of “exaggerated” but familiar scenarios when watching the show.
13 – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Another absolutely hilarious show that too many people have never heard of . Fans of shows like Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office will probably like this clever comedy as much or more. Though it shares a similar brand of humor to those shows it is completely original and stands on its own as one of the most refreshing shows on TV. If you don’t get the FX network then definitely pick this up on DVD.
12 – CSI – Though two spin-off shows and hundreds of episodes between them have made this crime drama a little stale, there is no question the first few seasons of this show were as interesting as any in the genre. CSI might not always be scientifically accurate there is enough truth mixed in to be both educational and entertaining, a recipe that has made the show and its spin-offs one of the most popular franchises in television over the past decade.
11 – The Colbert Report – A spin-off of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report has become a television institution every bit as popular as the show that spawned it. Stephen Colbert has amazing comedic timing, delivery, and a razor sharp wit. The writing is top-notch, and Colbert never seems to hear crickets whenever he cracks a joke. Being Canadian, I am at best only marginally interested in American politics, but I will admit I really enjoy Colbert’s take on them.
10 – The West Wing – Speaking of American politics, there has arguably never been a TV show about that particular subject matter as gripping as The West Wing. In the first half of the 2000s this show was arguably the best show on network television, earning a whopping 27 Emmy Awards, including four consecutive nods for Outstanding Drama Series.
9 – The Shield – I’ll admit to being behind the eight ball with this one. Up until last year I’d never seen a single episode of this amazing show. That all changed when a friend lent me the season one DVDs. From that point forward I was hooked, and my wife and I had a Shield marathon, watching the show nearly non-stop for the next few months. Michael Chiklis turns in one of the best performances in recent memory in the lead role. If you are like I was, and haven’t yet tuned into this show, make sure to change that in a hurry. I cannot recommend this show highly enough.
8 – Dexter – Television networks are in the business of garnering viewers and making money. This is an understandable, but unfortunate reality as they are forced by the nature of business to pander to the crowds who are happy watching the same formula rehashed over and over again. That is why a show like Dexter is so refreshing in this day and age. A show about a serial killer who works for the Miami police department as a blood spatter analyst during the day and hunts other serial killers during the night is as cool a premise as I’ve ever seen in a TV show. The acting is superlative, the characters are well written, and the plot is a deft blend of thriller, drama and comedy. Due to its mature subject matter this show won’t appeal to everyone, but if you aren’t squeamish definitely check it out.
7 – Curb Your Enthusiasm – Seinfeld co-creator Larry David stars as himself in the show, and his personality can be described as a mix between Jerry and George. Being an HBO show allows the comedy to explore more adult humor than Seinfeld ever could on network television.
6 – Deadwood – This is another show I checked out because of a friend’s recommendation. I had some reservations because Westerns are far from my favorite genre, however, those reservations were quickly dispelled, and from the first episode I was completely engrossed in the show. Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen is one of my favorite television characters of all time, and I have been a huge fan of his work ever since. Sadly the show only lasted 3 twelve episode seasons, and never did have a proper season finale.
5 – Lost – Though Lost may have lost its way towards the end, the early part of the series was incredibly addictive, mysterious and was arguably the best show on regular network television since The West Wing went off the air.
4 – Six Feet Under – It’s amazing how many people have never heard of this show. I’ve talked to any number of people about the show Dexter and when I mention how good Michael C. Hall was in Six Feet Under I just get blank looks. Created by Alan Ball, who is now earning rave reviews over his vampire show, True Blood, Six Feet Under is a brilliant TV show with incredibly strong characterization and superb writing. Few shows in history have elicited such a wide range of emotions in their viewership. In a nutshell, it is an absolutely extraordinary show.
3 – Arrested Development – This gem earns the title of my favorite sitcom of all time. Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett and even Liza Minelli star in this quirky Ron Howard vehicle. Though the situation comedy is great, the brilliance in the show is in the dialogueue between the dysfunctional Bluth family. Double entendres abound, and Ron Howard’s dry voice-over narration only adds to the humor. Though its run in the 2000s only lasted a mere three seasons, it has been reborn as a Netflix exclusive with a fourth season airing in less than a week’s time.
2 – The Sopranos – This is one of those rare TV shows that is as immersive and as carefully crafted as a well-written novel. James Gandolfini and the entire cast give superb performances through the entire span of the show. This is easily one of the best shows of all time in any decade or genre.
1 – The Wire – Narrowly edging out The Sopranos for top spot on the list of the top 50 best TV shows of the 2000s is the equally gripping HBO crime drama, The Wire. Set in Baltimore the show follows both sides of the law, giving a gritty and realistic at life seen through the eyes of drug dealers and the law enforcement officials who hunt them. Dominic West gives the performance of his career as Detective Jimmy McNulty, and his fellows actors are every bit as good. This is a heavy drama, and to be properly enjoyed should be watched uninterrupted, without distractions. Grab the DVDs, lock your doors, turn your phone off, and prepare to be immersed.