The Best TV Series 1999–2008, #1 and #2
By Bert Ehrmann
December 4, 2009
#2 Deadwood (2004-2006)
By all outward appearances, Deadwood (link NSFW) seemed to be a generic "cowboys and Indians" drama that has been a TV staple since the beginning of TV. In reality, though, Deadwood was FAR more complicated than that. The real strength of this series was two fold. First, the story of Deadwood was deep in nature. There was everything one would expect from a western; like shootouts, horses and saloons. But in addition, Deadwood featured a deep underlying story on how civilization is born out of muddy, lawless towns like Deadwood.
The second strength of Deadwood was its cast of characters. Each and every character felt like a real person with their own needs, wants and desires. And it's where these needs, wants and desires crossed and collided that the interesting bits of the Deadwood story would really emerge.
It's a shame, then, that this brilliant story was cut short when HBO shortsightedly decided to cancel Deadwood after just three seasons. Meaning that we'll never learn the ultimate fate of characters like Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), ultimate power-broker of Deadwood who's killed more people than Tony Soprano but, once you get to know him, is an alright guy or Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) who leaves being a sheriff in Montana to open a hardware store in Deadwood but finds that not being a sheriff might be more difficult than being one or Alma Garett (Molly Parker) who finds that she's a stronger person than anyone suspected after the murder of her husband.
Starting last summer I began watching Deadwood again. And though I hadn't watched an episode of the series since it was canceled, watching Deadwood some half-decade after the series originally began made me realize just what a gem of a show HBO had and what we lost when the series was unceremoniously dumped leaving the story of Deadwood to be forever unfinished.
#1 Arrested Development (2003-2006)
If Deadwood is the best drama of the last decade then surly the best comedy was Arrested Development. Arrested Development followed the Bluth family, headed by George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) who in the first episode is arrested for embezzling from his company (as well having committed some "light treason") and is thrown in prison. The rest of the family has been living off the riches of the company their whole lives and, save brother Michael (Jason Bateman), is completely unprepared for the realities of life. Michael, as the series narrator puts it, (sic) "...had no choice but to keep the family together."
Arrested Development had an extremely interesting mix of character studies, some absurdist and self-referential humor as well as some scathing commentary on what America was like just before the current economic crisis. Essentially, the entire series was one gigantic in-joke for those that "got it" and a kiss off to those that didn't. Not only was Arrested Development arguably the funniest TV series of the last 25+ years, it was also unusually influential. I don't think current series like The Office, Flight of the Conchords or Modern Family could exist in their present forms without the trail blazed by Arrested Development.
Out of all my “best of” shows of the last decade, I miss Arrested Development the most. I often wonder what would've happened if Fox, the network that aired the show, had put a little more faith behind the series, hadn't move the show around to different nights, then different times then would go for long stretches of not airing Arrested Development at all? Would the series have lasted a few more seasons? Would it still be on today? Regardless, I still laugh whenever a friend answers "hello" with "Annyong" or talks about Lucille, or is it "loose seal?"
Reportedly an Arrested Development movie is in the works. All seasons of Deadwood and Arrested Development are available on DVD and digital download. Reruns of Deadwood air every Sunday night on The 101 (a DirecTV exclusive channel) and reruns of Arrested Development are currently airing on IFC.