5. The Office (BBC, 2001-03; NBC, 2005-Present) - So this was a slightly harder show to appropriately place on the list, mostly because I've taken the liberty of lumping two distinct shows into one. Ricky Gervais' creation put 'mockumentary style' comedy at the forefront of sitcoms today and inspired the one and only Michael Scott that we all know and love. While the British version is arguably 'better' because it was the original, the U.S. version has spun-off an identity all its own - particularly one that plays better amongst American viewers. While there have certainly been lulls in the show (see the writer's strike season), from 'Diversity Day' to 'Niagra' the laughs keep coming. The mixture of awkwardness, romance, and day-to-day office monotony has proved a lethal combination for several seasons.
4. The Daily Show (Comedy Central, 1996-Present) - While The Daily Show began in 1996 with host Craig Kilborn, it didn't really become the show we all known and love until Jon Stewart came on board in 1999. Since then, The Daily Show has become a trusted source of comedic news - yes news - for viewers around the country. While Stewart takes great pleasure in mocking the current affairs of our great nation, he also presents them in a manner that has earned him immense credibility. Most importantly, he has shown no qualms with mocking all sides of the political world. Taking us through three presidential elections, The Daily Show has not only become one of the staple late night talk shows, it has also made politics cool again.
3. Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006) - If there is any more egregious show-cancellation in the history of network television, I can't think of it. What made this show so genius - the recurring inside jokes and layers of subtle, detailed and intelligent bits - is also what brought about it's demise. While unable to attract new viewers to this seemingly ridiculous show, Arrested Development succeeded in taking the thirty-minute sitcom to a place it had never been before. The sheer complexity of the on-going jokes and embedded humor relentlessly rewarded it's viewers but signed it's own death warrant. Luckily though, shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and Modern Family have succeeded in continuing the tradition of laugh track-less, absurd comedy.
2. The West Wing (NBC, 1999-2006) - There are few greater contributors to television than Aaron Sorkin (see: Sports Night, Studio 60), and The West Wing is truly his masterpiece. Despite the fact that Sorkin only wrote and produced the first four seasons of the show, his blend of incredible characters, non-cheesy political idealism, and fast-paced dialogue set the scene for three more (slightly less) successful seasons. The West Wing indulged, in dramatic fiction form, America's love affair with politics and the office of the Presidency. Every character was impeccably cast and it's hard to imagine any of these actors (Sheen, Janney, Whitford, Spencer, Lowe, Maloney, Schiff, Hill) ever being more closely identified with another role. At its core, though, was the show's ability to portray the successes and failures of governing and public service, while still carrying a tone of idealism, optimism, and - yes - liberalism.
1. LOST (ABC, 2004-Present) - While many skeptics argue that LOST's true value remains to be measured by it's impending final season (*tear*), there is no doubt that the show has gone further and bolder into realms of mythology, sci fi, plot twists, and head-scratchers, than any other show on television. The wisest move made by the shows' writers and ABC, though, was their decision to set an end date for the series. While LOST admittedly 'lost' it's way in the third season, every episode since the decision to end the show at six seasons has remained on track and been packed with punch. There is no denying that LOST has demanded a LOT of patience and attention from it's viewers - clearly explaining why it's ratings have dropped off since the first season - but unlike other shows in this ambiguous drama/scifi/mythology genre, LOST has made itself otherwise accessible. The levels and layers of the show are what allow it to appeal to so many different audiences. There are those, like actress Evangeline Lilly, who turn to the show for its characters. At the heart of LOST is a group of people interconnected through family, history, coincidence, and fate, and seeing their story unfold has been the most rewarding part of the show for some viewers. Others, like myself, take greatest pleasure in the underlying mythology behind it all: What are the numbers? Who is Jacob? What is Smokey?; and slowly having these questions answered while springing up infinite more has kept many viewers turning back. And then there are the true LOSTies: the bloggers, the message board posters and readers, the total LOST nuts who I love, admire, and like to think of myself on the fringe of, that research and study LOST. It's no coincidence that ABC has developed 'LOST University', a place to actually educate yourself about the science, history, religion, and numerous other fields of study behind the show. All in all, LOST is a theatrical masterpiece that has millions of viewers eagerly waiting in anticipation for February 2nd. Maybe most importantly, though, LOST showed the entertainment world that no concept or creation was too much for television.
Friends - Many addictive seasons, many laughs, but defined the '90s more than it did the '00s and is therefore undeserving of a spot.
Sex and the City- Changed the face of 'chick-flicks' for television and redefined the way young adult women viewed life, love, careers, and sex.
Project Runway and The Amazing Race - Probably the next two best reality competition shows after Survivor. Great concepts, even greater challenges.
American Idol - Pop culture phenomenon, no doubt, but too frustrating and idiotic of a show in many ways to deserve a spot in the top ten.
How I Met Your Mother - The last worthy laugh-track sitcom in my opinion, but does not define the '00s in the way that non-laugh-track sitcoms have.
Gilmore Girls - One of the best shows ever put out by The WB/CW. Intelligent, witty, emotional, great acting, great stories, and if this list was just a few longer, GG would definitely have a spot.
Desperate Housewives - Marc Cherry's hilarious and dark social commentary on materialism, scandal, and 'American values' has had some serious highs and serious lows, but is definitely worthy of a mention.
Pushing Daisies - Far too short-lived. The concept of two lovers being unable to touch was fascinating but probably too much for American culture to really latch on. Still, PD, is without a doubt the most visually and aesthetically impressive show from the '00s.
Modern Family and Glee - It's too soon to tell, but critics have high hopes for where these shows will go based on their premiere seasons. If the current trend keeps up, it's likely they will come to define the next decade ahead.