People often say they don’t make TV shows like they used to, thinking back to a golden era, usually of the 1970s. And it’s easy to see why when looking at schedules full of weak reality TV formats and twee, dreary drama serials. But I think that these last ten years has seen some of the best television ever produced. Complex, intelligent and thrilling drama that compares well against any feature film, clever and hilarious comedies that can happily stand alongside the classics of previous decades, and well-crafted, beautifully shot documentaries.
Like pretty much every one else, I’ve decided to do some top tens of the decade as the “noughties” come to an end. I’ll list my favourite albums tomorrow, and the best movies of the year on Wednesday, but tonight I’ve tried to come up with a definitive top ten of my favourite television programmes of the decade. Like all these sorts of lists, it’s a completely arbitrary thing based on personal taste and each of us would come up with a different list, such as last night’s countdown on Channel Four which listed the best three shows of the decade as Doctor Who, The Apprentice and Top Gear. But it’s been interesting to look back at some great series, and the quality of programmes from the past ten years is highlighted by the shows I’ve not included.
Some of them I really wanted to fit into the top ten as they are programmes I’d have no objection to being named as the very best of the decade, such as the Larry David’s brilliantly funny misanthropic farce Curb Your Enthusiasm, Charlie Brooker’s stunning horror comedy Dead Set, or Adam Curtis’ outstanding documentary series The Power of Nightmares. I could also have happily included Spaced or I’m Alan Partridge, two of the finest comedy shows ever made, but it didn’t feel right when half the episodes of each were shown in the 1990s. There are also a few series I’ve heard amazing things about and might have included in my top ten, but just haven’t found the time to watch yet, such as The Sopranos, Mad Men and Friday Night Lights.
There have been other great programmes that failed to make the cut but deserve a mention, including The League of Gentlemen, The IT Crowd, Flight of the Conchords, Harry Hill’s TV Burp, QI, South Park, Dexter, The Office, Life on Mars, Nathan Barley, The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Nighty Night, Psychoville, The Inbetweeners, Misfits, Outnumbered, Planet Earth, The Corner and State of Play.
And, yes, Big Brother definitely deserves a mention. Love it or hate it, it has easily been the most talked about programme of the last ten years, shaping TV schedules and making countless headlines. Because of how dull and repetitive it became in later years it’s easy to forget how exciting and fascinating it was in those early years.