The Definitive Show of the Decade?


Anthony Strand tries to identify the definitive TV drama of the ’00s — not necessarily the best, just the one that best embodies all the TV trends we’ve been seeing in this almost-ended decade: ambiguity, continuity, and other elements that don’t rhyme. His choice is Angel, and his reasons are pretty convincing.

Of course Angel didn’t actually start in the ’00s. But its first season, in 1999-00, was more of a straight-ahead episodic show with some continuing storylines (and of course, being me, I kind of liked it better that way), so in its eventual development into a show where new viewers can’t have any idea what’s going on, who half the characters are, or even where the show takes place, it mirrors the development of all of TV in the transition from the ’90s to the ’00s.

The question then becomes, what shows that are starting late in this decade will develop into templates for the shows of the next decade?

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The Definitive Show of the Decade?

  1. Sadly, I fear, television is too fragmented and mired in reality TV to produce a template for the ‘next big thing’. There are some good shows out there (at least, shows that I’ll watch on a regular basis): Terminator, Grey’s, Earl – shows that have good character development, an over-arching plotline, plus the subplots that need to be resolved that particular episode (which, I guess, was also Angel, another show I really enjoyed – but Strand is right; without knowing all the backstory, between previous seasons of Angel and Buffy, it would be difficult to jump in the middle of a season). Then there’s Jon Stewart and Colbert, but I only watch that to get my fix of ‘Merican news…
    However, these days I find it hard to get into a show simply because I don’t have the time to find the shows I want to watch; having satellite doesn’t help, either, because it just means surfing through a gazillion channels in order to find something worthy of watching, when I could be paddling or going to the Y or blowing things up on the X-Box…

  2. Yeah, I mostly disagree. While Angel captures a LOT of the decade’s trends, it absolutely misses all the dramas pushing in the OTHER direction, thanks to The Sopranos — namely, in favor of slowly-paced stories that were more about character dynamics than anything else. Of course, there’s no show that’s a combination of the decade’s three most influential dramas (CSI, Lost and The Sopranos), and I’m not sure there should be. I think one could make a strong argument for House, actually, which has both strong procedural elements (like CSI), strong plot-continuation elements (like Lost) and strong stories that rely almost entirely on character dynamics (like The Sopranos). I don’t think it’s AS good as any of the three shows I named at doing these sorts of things, but it blends them all together very well — whereas Lost and The Sopranos have basically no interest in procedural matters and CSI’s character dynamics are fairly simplistic. Granted, the character dynamics on House are all of the “Here’s how the ensemble relates to the main character” variety, but all of those characters relate to House in different ways.

    But, hmmmm … I’m not sure that’s quite right either.

  3. Actually, a friend suggests 24, which really almost works. The show even has a pseudo-procedural element, in that every episode has a concrete task to accomplish to get to the next episode’s concrete task.

  4. Except that being a definitive show of the decade when the decade is over is a similar vein to shark jumping. You’ve noted all the risks everyone else took (not least Whedon himself on “Buffy”) and blended them – sort of like the generic drug industry.

    Better to be at the inflection point – shows like Buffy and Babylon 5 and the X-Files – than the plateau like Angel, Millennium and Star Trek Voyager.

  5. That being said, though, are we in a position to really hold up 24 as an example when its immediate predecessors on the hyper-serialized bandwagon (Prison Break is the most prevalent one, I’d say) utterly faltered, and no one is actually following 24’s pattern anymore? And while the introduction of Chloe did help emphasize character, the cast turnover is so strong that it’s a highly individualistic drama, moreso than even House. It’s a Jack Bauer world, they just get in his way/illegally assist him.

    And while I do like the House example, I think that Dexter might be ideal: it has procedural elements (weekly targets), it has moral ambiguity out the ying-yang, it has plot continuation, and it’s entirely about complicated human interaction (The one thing Dexter can’t actually do).

  6. The definitive show of the decade must be…Battlestar: Galactica. (Paul Wells will back me up on this…come on, Paul, where are ya?)

  7. Yeah, 24’s a good one. I hadn’t considered that.

    Thanks for the link, Jaime!

  8. I’m just going to throw into the mix the interactivity that’s become a popular element of some shows. With all the hype about user input and response to a show influencing it in some way, (à la Firefly and Heroes), I’d say the shows of the next decade are going to involve more user interaction, if not directly with the screen, than with its peripheries. A little less sitting back and watching, a little more interaction with the story, characters, and the creators, perhaps.

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