Defying Old Logic: The Decade in Television

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It's been a good 10 years for the boob tube. The decade saw television evolve from simple entertainment into an art form that finally rivals its ostentatious older brothers: film, music and literature. It's not that there weren't good shows 10 years ago or that this decade was entirely devoid of fat dads and overabundant laugh tracks. Yeah, TV still made some huge mistakes. ("Arrested Development" canceled after 53 episodes? C'mon!) But Cal is teaching a class on "The Wire" (and so is Harvard, who got all the press for it, those highfalutin bastards). Colbert makes jokes about (gasp!) the news. You can finally prove to mom that those hours in front of the small screen weren't completely wasted.

In fact, you don't even have to watch television when it's on TV anymore. DVDs let programs live beyond their Nielsen Ratings and allow anyone to see what life outside basic cable is like. This near universal exposure was reciprocated; it's safe to say television quality increased as creators learned that somewhere out there at some time, they'd find their audience. The Internet furthered television's power by creating and uniting communities of fans.

So without further ado, the Daily Cal's five favorite series since Y2K.

-Bryan Gerhart

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

2003-2006

For two and a half seasons, the nine cast members of "Arrested Development" made comedic magic on the small screen. Well, eight of them did. The ninth actually performed illusions.

This short-lived ensemble-cast sitcom put former teen idol Jason Bateman back on the map, shot baby-faced Michael Cera to superstardom, turned Mr. Amy Poehler into Will Arnett-and gave show creator and writer Mitch Hurwitz a creative outlet for his twisted storylines about Segways, frozen bananas and the Blue Man Group.

Thanks to a bevy of hilarious quotes, an endless supply of comedic talent and an outpouring of support from numerous guest stars, the show's still-growing audience will always have something to smile about. In fact, the only unfunny thing about the show was its premature demise in 2006.

There's only one way to say it: If you haven't seen "Arrested Development," you've made a huge mistake.

-Stefanie Lee

THE COLBERT REPORT

2005-Present

Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, has built more than just a TV show in "The Colbert Report." He has created an entire mythology around his populist conservative pundit character and wields an uncanny power over his followers. At his slightest whim, the Colbert Nation will mobilize and take to the Internet, open their wallets, deliver a "Colbert Bump" or vote for him for President.

Colbert also happens to be a brilliant actor and improviser, maintaining his character and elaborate back story against imposing foes, from Bill O'Reilly to Jane Fonda to President Bush, who he brutally roasted at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. Every night, this vanguard of American humor proves the importance of comedy as a vehicle for change, even if that change is no more than the name of a Hungarian bridge. As a comedian, he has all the power and none of the responsibility. We are members of the Colbert Nation, and proud.

-Hannah Jewell

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

2000-Present

With the ironic spirit of O. Henry and the absurdity of the Marx Brothers, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is the most sophisticated comedy of the decade, and the most adult. In every riotous episode, Larry David is a victim of circumstance as he alienates everyone in his social circle, from Wanda Sykes to Christian Slater. In the vein of "Seinfeld," also produced by David, "Curb" is a series of avoidable, seemingly unrelated mishaps that eventually all come together. There's racism, sexual harassment and endless verbal abuse, yet Larry and his cast never cease to put a comedic spin on some very uncomfortable scenarios. Currently in its seventh season, this remarkable show continues to capture what everyone thinks in public but doesn't necessarily say. Hopefully for another season or two, we have David (often called "bald asshole" in the series) to say it for us.

-Ryan Lattanzio

HOUSE M.D.

2004-Present

TV critic Tim Goodman once wrote that Hugh Laurie was the only reason to watch "House." For the most part, that was a fair assessment. But having a fantastic actor play one of the most complex characters in television does have its benefits. "House" is an ethics course disguised as a medical mystery show, and Laurie's Dr. Gregory House is the cruel professor making (and breaking) the rules.

Each episode titillates with an often highly bizarre medical mystery while letting House's mathematical personality and stubborn attitude provide both amusement and conflict. Add to this House's (original) surrounding team-the mostly detached Chase, the optimistic Cameron and the stately Foreman-and you have a recipe for thoughtful drama. "Isn't treating patients why we became doctors?" Foreman asks House in the pilot episode. "No, treating illnesses is why we became doctors," House responds. "Treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable." "House" has slipped recently, but the first three seasons are some of the most involving and stimulating TV you'll see.

-Rajesh Srinivasan

THE WIRE

2002-2008

Beginning with "The Sopranos," HBO spent a good part of the aughts producing sweeping, zeitgeist-savvy opuses. With David Simon's "The Wire," they reached the apex of this form. Season by season, its writers bravely plunged into the stinking depths of Baltimore's institutions and dredged up rusted wrecks of inadequacy, venality and general fucked-upedness.

This isn't to say that "The Wire" is all debate-club sociology. Simon's Baltimore is as mythic as Homer's Troy. Its conflicts are rousing and its characters' speech is as poetic as it is profane.

At its core, though, the show is about failure-noble, well-intentioned failure, but failure all the same. We've heard this stuff before. We need to hear it. It's just jarring coming from foul-mouthed cops instead of, say, Aeschylus.

"The Wire" is all the proof you need that television is going to be the vehicle for our generation's defining epics. It belongs at the top of your Netflix queue.

-Zachary Ritter

Tags: ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, HOUSE M.D., THE COLBERT REPORT, THE WIRE, DECADE RETROSPECTIVE


Contact the arts desk of The Daily Californian at [email protected]



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