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Ten for 2000

Back in the early days of TeeVee -- when this Web site was just an informal mailing list among a small group of friends, and not the massive corporate entity it is today -- I used to mail out an annual Top 10 TV Shows list. What prompted me to do it, I can't rightly say, except to suggest that I was writing a book at the time and was desperately looking for anything to distract me, especially if it came in the way of an argument from the group of people who would end up being known as The Vidiots.

Now, as the year 2000 draws to a close, I figure it's time to revive the tradition. And looking back on my lists from 1995 and 1996, I can say with certainty that The X-Files, my favorite show of both those years, is not on this list at all. Neither are other list-makers from the mid-'90s like Frasier, ER, and Friends. Times have changed.

Will this article be the beginning of an avalanche of end-of-year favorites lists? I don't know. But in any event, I figure it's a good way to see the year 2000 to a close and fill some valuable everyone's-gone-for-the-holidays space on the web site. Onward!

10. Good Eats, Food Network. Never in a million years would I expect that there would be a show on the Food Network that would eclipse Iron Chef as my favorite. And yet, here we are. Alton Brown's funny, pop-culture-literate, and (most importantly of all) accessible cooking show is the best example of how-to information on the air today. Brown manages to do what all the other hosts can't: check his ego at the door and inspire his audience to get out of their La-Z-Boys and cook the same good food he's cooking.

I have recommended Good Eats to numerous friends and family members, just as it was recommended to me by our own Chris Rywalt. Many of them have been skeptical at first; but after watching a few episodes, not one of them has been disappointed.

9. Now and Again, cancelled by CBS. This genre-busting romantic adventure about a man who's run over by a train only to be reborn in the genetically-engineered body of a young man was romantic, exciting, funny, and apparently not quite popular enough for CBS' tastes. And so, despite an impressive ensemble cast and the deft touch of Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron, Now and Again got run over by its own subway train last summer. It was struck down before its prime, and all of us have lost what could have been a cozy longtime companion.

8. Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The WB. Oh, the trauma of creating a best-of list at the end of a calendar year, when the cycles of television production run from fall to spring! How to judge Buffy, which has come off last year's weak collection of episodes with a much stronger run this fall? And Angel, which by the end of its first season was humming right along, but seems to have gotten a bit lost in its own plot machinations this fall?

In any event, Joss Whedon's pair of Vampire-themed action series are both still winners, even if Buffy is no longer my clear favorite TV series, as it was a year ago. Though it's showing its age, Buffy is still consistently good and capable of hitting one completely out of the park on occasion, as in last winter's mostly-silent "Hush." Angel is dark and brooding and new, and has almost as much of an upside as Buffy had, what with its conflicted undead lead character.

In the end, I can't separate the two. They're both good shows. But Buffy is on the way down, I fear. Angel just might be on the way up.

7. Ed, NBC. It's a rare example of a show that has lived up to its hype, this quirky hourlong comedy produced by David Letterman's production company. Incorrectly billed as a Northern Exposure clone, Ed is sweet without being sappy, funny without being overbearing, and poignant without being manipulative. Ed's (Tom Cavanagh) mating dance with high-school teacher Carol (Julie Bowen) could have become tiresome quickly, but the show's writers have managed to sidestep the will-they-or-won't-they trap so far. After only a handful of episodes, it's clear: Ed is the real deal.

6. Futurama, Fox. For years, we've been burying The Simpsons, claiming it's not as funny as it used to be. And you know what? It's not. But it's still damned funny. The thing is, Futurama is funnier. Matt Groening and David X. Cohen have managed to combine the goofy humor and pop-culture references of The Simpsons with a futuristic setting that allows for a much broader canvas for goofy plot situations. The Simpsons is a landmark TV show -- perhaps the best TV comedy ever created. But in the year 2000, Futurama was just plain funnier.

5. The West Wing, NBC. No, it's not realistic. It's a liberal fantasy, and sometimes the arguments the show makes fly in the face of reality. And yet Aaron Sorkin's snappy dialogue, well-drawn characters, and the mystique of the White House that exists today despite all that's happened there lately, all mix together to create something special. You couldn't re-create The West Wing if you tried, and believe me, they're gearing up the cloning machines right now.

Want to bet me that West Wing won't end until Jeb Bartlet concludes his second term in office? West Wing is a two-termer all the way.

4. Malcolm in the Middle, Fox. It's the funniest show on TV today. Why Fox held it back to midseason is anyone's guess, but Malcolm is a huge hit, and deservedly so. Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston hold the show together as the heads of the loony family of four boys. Frankie Muniz is great as Malcolm, even if his voice is getting a bit deep lately. And cute as a button Eric Per Sullivan is rapidly becoming the star of the show as Dewey, Malcolm's little brother. If you missed the episode where Dewey and his dad constructed an entire Lego city (which Dewey ruled as a far-from-benevolent dictator), you missed one of the funniest half-hours of the year.

3. Stargate: SG-1, Syndicated. I have written about this show's merits before, so I'll try to avoid repeating myself too much. The true inheritor of Star Trek's legacy, Stargate is the best science fiction show on the air today. Full of adventure, excitement, a great set of lead characters, and an ongoing story that's not particularly difficult to get into or follow, Stargate is the show on the air today that I most look forward to watching.

2. Survivor, CBS. Our emotions have cooled now, just as the air temperature has cooled. But the fact is, every Wednesday of this summer I was glued to the TV set to watch the latest installment in this brilliantly conceived and even-more-brilliantly-executed game show... the best game show of all time. Sure, Survivor: The Australian Outback will probably suck. But so what? You can't take those 13 weeks of great TV away from me. If Richard Hatch wasn't the TV star of the year, I don't know who was. Love it or hate it, Survivor is a television landmark. Personally, I loved it.

1. Freaks and Geeks, cancelled by NBC. Gone but not quite forgotten, it's worth mentioning this show one last time before it passes completely into the realm of the dead. I recently watched the show's entire 17-episode run again on the Fox Family Channel, and was even more impressed by it than I was during the original, fractured run on NBC. Of all the shows about life as an adolescent, only Freaks and Geeks gets it exactly, painfully right. It was clearly the best show on the air in the year 2000, and let's give it one last bit of applause, because it ain't ever coming back.

Thanks a lot, NBC.


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