The Best TV Series 1999-2008, #6 and #5
By Bert Ehrmann
September 18, 2009
What has come before — #10 Battlestar Galactica, #9 The Sopranos, #8 Spaced and #7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Veronica Mars.
#6 The West Wing 1999-2006
Admittedly, I came in late to The West Wing (TWW). I didn't watch the series when it was originally aired NBC and only discovered it a few years ago when repeats of TWW began running on cable. I liked what I saw enough that I went out and immediately rented the series on DVD and spent the next few months watching episodes of TWW nightly.
Anyone could have come up with a TV drama that focused on the White House, but it would take a guy like TWW creator Aaron Sorkin to somehow inject drama into things like conversations about farm subsidies. TWW would focus on a select group of White House staffers who spent most of their waking hours working in the West Wing for/with the President. In fact, the character of President Bartlet (played with impeccable believability by Martin Sheen) is nearly absent from the entire first episode and only appears briefly in the last few moments of the episode in quick walk-through.
Smartly written and never talking down to the viewers, scripts for TWW just seem to "pop" with energy and this, along with the acting and a White House set so large that characters could actually walk through it delivering dialog in continuous shots would separate TWW from every other drama of that period. Unfortunately, Sorkin would leave the series after the fourth season but even with his absence the TWW was still a good show right up until the end.
#5 Freaks and Geeks 1999
Interestingly enough, both TWW and Freaks and Geeks (F&G) premiered on NBC within days of one and other the fall of '99. While TWW went onto great acclaim, spanning seven TV seasons and winning numerous awards, F&G was unceremoniously dumped from NBC after just one season.
F&G follows two sets of high school kids usually completely ignored or caricatured past the point of believability in other TV series; the "freak" and the "geek." Typically, the "freaks," are really into cars, rock and roll and don't much care for school and the "geeks" tend to do ok in school but not well enough to be considered a "nerd," like movies and TV and are excited about their weekly rounds of playing D&D Friday nights. The series was told from two points of view, one from the character of Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) who was an honor student but who's entire world was shaken by the death of her grandmother and has started hanging out with the "freaks" and bother Sam (John Francis Daley) who, along with his two best friends, are the freshmen "geeks" but want out of the life.
Not only does F&G totally nail just what it's like to be a member of a fringe group in high school (I know, I was there) it was one of the most well written and acted "teen" TV shows in memory. Perhaps F&G was a bit too "real" in a TV landscape more in tune with teen series like Dawson's Creek and Beverly Hills 90210 in that the show never really found an audience until well after the last episode had aired. Regardless, the one season of F&G that exists is pure gold.
Don't feel too bad about the cancellation; many of the cast and crew of F&G have gone onto more successful ventures. F&G creator Paul Feig is currently a co-executive producer of the NBC series The Office. F&G executive producer Judd Apatow is, well, Judd Apatow who's had a hand in many of the most popular comedy movies of the last half-decade. Stars of the series have also done well, including Cardellini who spent many years on the series ER, James Franco who played Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man movies and Seth Rogen who's appeared in nearly 20 films since the end of F&G. And those are just a few who found success after F&G.
And remember, "The dance is tomorrow. She's a cheerleader; you've seen Star Wars 27 times. You do the math." The entire The West Wing and Freaks and Geeks series are available on DVD.