The Best TV Series 1999–2008, #4 and #3
By Bert Ehrmann
November 6, 2009
What has come before; #10 Battlestar Galactica, #9 The Sopranos, #8 Spaced, #7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer/ Veronica Mars, #6 The West Wing and #5 Freaks and Geeks.
#4 The Office (UK) (2001-2003)
I think it's safe to say that there had never been a comedy series quite like the original UK version of The Office before that series aired. To be sure, there had been single camera comedies before The Office and sitcoms that focused on "the workplace" have always been popular. But it would take a series like The Office with co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and their unique sense of humor to make a comedy that focused on workplace characters that felt real and that wasn't all about the setup and punch line.
While most sitcoms can almost always be summed up in a line or two (like, "The one where they spend the entire episode waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant." Or, "The one where the goofy brother messes up at the wedding.") episodes of The Office were too layered and complex to boil down into such simple terms. Some dealt with employees fearing that they're about to be laid off or what it's like to spend one's day stuck in a dull modern office all day surrounded by people, as to quote a character from the show, "...all you've got in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day..." The genius of Gervais and Merchant was that they were able to find comedy in those real life moments.
I don't want to spend too much time in comparing and contrasting the UK version of The Office with the US one, but I do think it's important to say that though the series share a name and many of the characters, they are two completely different shows. While I think that the UK version of The Office and the first few seasons of the American one excelled at a dry, uncomfortable humor, I think in recent years the US The Office has left much of this behind and has instead turned more towards being joke based as well as having a cast of characters that feel more like characters than real people. Let's put it this way, I feel like at its best the US The Office is a great show while at its best the UK The Office was brilliant and groundbreaking and heartfelt and real and one of the best series of the last decade.
#3 The Wire (2002-2008)
The structure of most TV cop dramas are stories set within single episodes where each episode features a crime that leads to detectives investigating that crime which leads to a few false suspects which leads to the final suspect admitting to everything. It's essentially the same structure the series Dragnet established way back in the early 1950s. Episodes are mostly self-contained and viewers who might miss a few episodes would still be able to watch future episodes and not be lost as to what's going on.
Where The Wire differed is that the entire series, from the first episode to the last, some 78 episodes, were presented as essentially one GIGANTIC story. And while a casual viewer can miss episodes of a series like CSI or Law and Order and still be able to follow the story, woe is the person who'd miss even one of those 78 episodes of The Wire as each episode acted as an individual chapter within the series.
I can think of few other cop dramas that presented modern inner-city life as realistically as The Wire did to the city of Baltimore. The series never shied away from showing what the city was really like; be it drug dealers warring with one and other for territory or stretches of city that looked absolutely devastated and uninhabitable. Also interesting was that The Wire didn't present the cops or the criminals in any different light to one and other. No one was ever shown as pure good or evil, everyone was varying shades of grey.
The Wire was never about mere morality tales as most cop dramas are. It was about something much more deep.
Every episode of The Office and The Wire are available on DVD.