The 2000s starts on CNN on Sunday (June 8), from the makers of acclaimed decade documentaries called The Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and (you guessed it) The Nineties.
The decade that saw 9/11, Katrina and the invention of the iPhone also ushered in some great TV, as cable networks revolutionized the way television was made, people who usually worked in movies began to see the opportunities offered by the small screen, and many of us increasingly sought escapism from reality.
Below are 10 shows from the Noughties that changed TV forever.
10. Pop Idol (2001 – 2003)
The first talent show of this ilk began in New Zealand in 1999, but we’re dating it back to its U.K. incarnation, which gave us the inimitable and age-defining Simon Cowell. His brand of rude, some might say brutal honesty quickly made him a star, and meant he was the only U.K. judge to make the move across the Atlantic when the show was reinvented as American Idol in the U.S. the following year. Judge-led talent shows like The X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars and even The Great British Baking Show followed.
9. Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009)
Doctor Who wasn’t the only retro show to get a reboot in the noughties. Ronald D. Moore turned a cheesy 1970s show into a gritty, unflinching look at what it means to be human, and ended up with one of the best sci-fi series of all time. It took time travel to an extreme in the two-part season two finale “Lay Down Your Burdens,” when new president Gaius Baltar (James Callis) lays down his head after having given the order to settle on promising planet New Caprica, then lifts it up one year later, when things are going very wrong — and the Cylons are about to invade. The on-screen “time jump” took viewers by surprise, and has since been replicated in shows as disparate as Desperate Housewives, Parks and Recreation and Breaking Bad.
8. Skins (2007 – 2013)
Not only was this the first credible “Generation Y” drama, complete with impossibly hip characters living a hedonistic lifestyle, but it also brought us Nicholas Hoult, Daniel Kaluuya, Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Sula, and Dev Patel, to name a few.
7. Lost (2004 – 2010)
None of us knew what we were in for when J.J. Abrams first marooned his plane-crash survivors on a remote island. What started as a survival drama quickly led to a scientific conspiracy, a secret civilization, and, errr, time travel. Whatever your attitude to its final throes, Lost was one of the first television shows to take full advantage of the internet, where fans made sense of the intertwined storylines and hidden clues on forums and crowd-sourced blogs.
6. The West Wing (1999 – 2006) / The Thick of It (2005 – 2012)
Two versions of politics came to the fore in 00s television: Aaron Sorkin‘s magnum opus depicted a White House run by quick-witted, tireless, and well-meaning public servants who believed in governing with decency. And then there was The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s coruscating depiction of bumbling political incompetence and spin that led to Veep, the feature-length In the Loop, and reached a sinister apotheosis in Death of Stalin. Arguably, it was Armando’s vision that won out.
5. Big Brother (2000 -)
There have been shows that had a “reality” air to them ever since television was invented, with Candid Camera and Totally Hidden Video just some examples of shows that secretly filmed the public for entertainment. Big Brother took surveillance to a whole other level when it premiered in 2000, rendering mass voyeurism not only legitimate but enjoyable, and delivering a shock that reality TV is yet to recover from.
4. Arrested Development (2003 – )
Mitch Hurwitz‘s sitcom about a “wealthy family who lost everything” and “the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together” took self-referencing postmodernism to an absurd extreme. Packing in jokes as tightly as The Simpsons or South Park, its brand of clever wordplay and layered comedy set the measure of sitcoms for years to come. (Until season five, that is.) We also have Arrested Development to thank for the “narrator” meme, named after the show’s narrator, voiced by Ron Howard, who often interjects during scenes to clarify falsehoods made by the show’s characters.
3. The Sopranos (1999 – 2007)
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is the closest to a Shakespearean hero TV has ever gotten: a loving family man, a goodhearted friend, and the master of sardonic one-liners, he’s also a racketeer, a serial adulterer, and a remorseless and brutal killer. Inspiring fear and sympathy in equal measure, his complex characterization paved the way for Don Draper (Jon Hamm in Mad Men) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad).
2. The Office (2001 – 2003)
Ricky Gervais remorselessly exposed the tedium and pettiness of modern office life in this landmark sitcom of the 00s, which moved to Scranton, PA for an equally successful U.S. version. His character David Brent’s ability to pump out excruciating, cringe-inducing comedy moments puts him up there with Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge and his American counterpart Michael Scott (Steve Carell). But it was The Office creators Gervais and Stephen Merchant‘s knack for mining quiet human tragedy for laughs that went on to inspire countless other shows.
1. The Wire (2002 – 2008)
If The Sopranos was Shakespearean in its scope, then David Simon‘s sharply written, brilliantly acted Baltimore-set drama was a modern morality play. It set a television benchmark for complex long-form storytelling and realistic portrayals of urban life, where no-one is good or bad, everyone is compromised and conflicted, and individuals are consistently failed by the institutions meant to protect them. A scathing indictment of the American Dream, it introduced us to Idris Elba and Dominic West, who, it turned out, weren’t even American.
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