Edited and Compiled by Matt Ashworth, Todd Bunker, Adam Lawrence and Brendan O’ Brien.
Introduction by Todd Bunker.
With possibly the biggest news event in modern American history sucking everybody in, there was no lack of viewers for the now-nearly ubiquitous glowing box of information and entertainment. We’re not talking about computers â€“ the Internet is entertaining for about half an hour to an hour at most, and that’s if you’re looking at porn. Weâ€™re talking about high quality moving pictures that do all the work for you, instantaneous channel switching, and more viewing options than ever: We’re talking about television. As the numbers of viewing hours per person continue to slightly rise for yet another year in 2001, there’s no doubt that TV is still media king.
Just when we thought that reality TV programs could get no more numerous or any more inane, the nation got sucker-punched by the REAL reality, and we think you all know what we’re talking about. Consequently, most reality programming was summarily canned, starting with the worst of the worst. While Survivor continues to pull in respectable numbers, it’s not quite the cultural phenomenon it used to be. Suddenly, having to forage for food and boil your water didn’t seem soâ€¦ exotic. If any good could come out of such a tragedy, it would have to be that it spared the nation from the long and painful death of reality TV.
Apparently we’re all staying at home a lot more now, and guess what we’re doing? Escaping back into the fantasy of sitcoms and dramas? Possibly, but as the stalwart networks continue to milk the old formulas dry â€“ with the exception of a handful of promising newcomers â€“ cable has finally seemed to draw enough talent away (most likely with the carrot of creative control) and develop some, at the least, risky (but not merely “shocking”) programming. As well, cable edutainment continued to grow, from home improvement to nature to history to travel to cooking. TV as a form of self-betterment, who woulda thought? It’s good to see that quality is finally starting to catch up with quantity on cable â€“ a trend supported by the fact that six of our favorite shows of the year were shown on cable networks.
Television continues to be the cheapest and most versatile form of entertainment out there. If you can’t find anything entertaining on television these days, you’re just not trying. Either that or itâ€™s Saturday afternoon, in which case you should be out taking a walk anyway. You could stand to lose a few pounds, couldn’t you?
30. Who wants to be a Millionaire? (ABC)
What can we say, weâ€™re trivia geeks.
29. South Park (Comedy Central)
Skeptics cite the showâ€™s lowbrow humor and profanity as redundant and tiresome, but what they fail to notice is that beneath the fart jokes and expletives there is nearly always incredibly clever social commentary.
28. Justice League (Cartoon Network)
Justice League is a comic book fanâ€™s wet dream. For some reason, animated programs based on comic books have been, well, kinda cheesy. Sure, itâ€™s always cool to see superheroes on the small screen, but their behavior has traditionally been awkward and most sidekicks have left much to be desired. Shows such as Spidey and His Amazing Friends and the original Superfriends always left the comic book nerd inside us wanting for something more. Justice League is here to scratch that itch. So far the creators have tried to stay faithful to the Leagueâ€™s already-developed comic book personas, giving the show a real feel of authenticity. The story lines have been great and the animation is first class. If you enjoy comic books, or great cartoons, then you could do a lot worse than spending a half-hour with these crime fighters. Besides, Wonder Woman is FINE.
27. Boston Public (Fox)
Boston Public can at times feel like a bit of a soap opera, but unlike typical mid-day fare, the show deals with real issues that affect high schools today. Wisely, Boston Public focuses on the teachers rather than students, which keeps the drama level down… a little.
26. That 70s Show (Fox)
Rather than relying strictly on campy, obvious disco jokes, That 70s Show gives us good characters and strong, funny writing. What sets this show apart from so much â€˜70s retread schlock is that it would be entertaining set in any time period.
25. Will and Grace (NBC)
We get that the â€œhomosexualityâ€ of Will and Grace rubs some people the wrong way. Will and Jackâ€™s sexuality is almost always at the forefront of this show â€“ itâ€™s not that theyâ€™re gay, itâ€™s that thatâ€™s all that anyone on the show talks about. If youâ€™re OK with that, this is a smart, brutally funny, generally over-the-top sitcom. Just when the characters are on the verge of being one-joke wonders, the writers switch directions and give Jack a son, throw Karenâ€™s husband in jail, and break Graceâ€™s heart. Whatâ€™s amazing is that most weeks, this show is 22 minutes of cat fighting, but you never doubt for a minute that the characters still care about each other. Thatâ€™s great writing carried to fruition by great actors. This is the one â€œmust seeâ€ in NBCâ€™s Thursday night line-up.
24. Absolutely Fabulous (Comedy Central)
After a five-year hiatus, Eddie and Pats (quite possibly the two drunkest women in Britain) return. A sitcom is only as strong as its characters, and AbFab has strong characters in spades. As well, thereâ€™s the top-notch writing, which defies American sitcom tendency to stick to one particular style of humor. Drunken slapstick mixed with political and social satire, unapologetic familial bile, and sometimes-indiscernible British â€œin-jokesâ€ all occur at rapid-fire pace. You will either love or hate this show two minutes into watching it for the first time, and thatâ€™s a testament to its strength. No watered down, politically correct humor here â€“ and no moralizing or feel good endings either. What American TV would be like if execs would let the creative people do their thing unmolested. Pass the Stoli.
23. Smallville (Fox)
Smallville plays out like Dawsonâ€™s Creek meets Superman, taking the viewer into the small town world where Superman spent his formative adolescent years. It answers the question of how Clark Kent (Tom Welling) dealt with his emerging powers and what responsibilities came with these gifts. Just like his teenage friends on the show he has wants, needs and problems. And like most teens, Clarkâ€™s problems are with the opposite sex, which in this case Lana Lang, played by the astonishingly cute Kristin Kreuk. The modernization of the characters and behavior humanizes Clark more so than any Superman weâ€™ve ever seen, going so far as to make Clark into a sympathetic character. The dialogue isnâ€™t always sharp, but the stories are always entertaining. For nothing else tune in to catch a young Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum. He might just be the most compelling villain currently on the small screen.
22. The Bernie Mac Show (Fox)
Who would have guessed that the humor of Bernie Mac, a stand-up comedian famous for non-prime-time-ready bits like â€œWhen a kid turns two I think you should be allowed to hit him in the neck and the stomachâ€, would translate so well to network television? This show works because Bernieâ€™s able to be funny within the confines of a TV sitcom, and the writing and plot devices he and his writing team come up with give him to enough room to maneuver deftly between hard-line parenting and his downright sickly sweet persona. Add on the showâ€™s excellent use of music, unique cinematography, and Bernieâ€™s hilarious interaction with the audience, and youâ€™ve got a fun, unique show. Kind of gives us that same feeling the Wonders Years did in its prime â€“ sweet, funny and endearing without being too sappy.
21. Behind the Music (VH1)
OK, so you know the storylineâ€™s going to be the same every episode: 1) Talented young artist achieves success. 2) Success sends artist into a dark period involving depression, self-destructive behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and/or violence. 3) Artist a) pulls through tough times and makes a comeback, or b) dies long before his or her time.
But who cares? When have we had a better chance to learn about the rock icons that we so dearly worship? Heck, when have we had a better chance to learn about the rock stars we so dearly despise? The perfect show for rock trivia nerds and voyeurs of all varieties.
20. Sex and the City (HBO)
The adventures of Carrie and friends continues. The show revolves around the friendship between four women and addresses the themes of love, sex and the differences between men and women. The dialogue often makes one blush, as the gals gush on about sex like sailors, but beneath the salty language lie grains of truth laid out in a very human and quite often hilarious way. Whatâ€™s great about Sex and The City is that they will do and say shocking things because these conditions exist in our society, which brings a realism rarely seen on TV, and NEVER seen on network TV. We can honestly say itâ€™s the first time weâ€™ve seen one woman ejaculate onto anotherâ€™s face. We laugh, we cry and we learnâ€¦ oh, and we get to see boobies in the process.
19. The Gilmore Girls (WB)
The WB’s Gilmore Girls is a feast for the senses. What could be better than watching the hi-jinx, the heartbreaks, the triumphs, and the tribulations of a hot young mother and her witty (not to mention beautiful) teenage daughter? With a backdrop of the lovely and spectacular seasons of New England, a few soulful soundtrack selections, and cameo appearances by the always funny and oh-so sultry-sexy Grant Lee Phillips, this show is absolutely irresistible! And all this comes from a group of cynically twenty-somethings that would rather drink their own urine than watch any of the other WB offerings (i.e.: Felicity, Dawson’s Creek… you get the idea). So go on, drag out that ol’ pesky feminine side, blow the dust off of it and tune in to the Gilmore Girls. If you don’t get as much out of the program as we do, you can at least just grab the lotion and an old sock: These chicks are HOT!
18. King of Queens (CBS)
Doug (Kevin James) is a bumbling, chubby everyman. Carrie (Leah Remini) is his hot volatile, sarcastic wife. Arthur (Jerry Stiller) is Carrieâ€™s father, who just happens to live in their basement. Itâ€™s all simple humor and most of it has been done before â€“ fat jokes and marriage jokes are a recurring theme â€“ but The Heffernens are not your average sitcom family. They lie to their friends. They lie to one another and rarely escape any situation with grace. Throw in the fact that Jerry Stiller is gloriously insane and you have a bizarre comic mix that manages to not stray too far from the truth. (Except for the fatty with the yummy lady, a sitcom staple, which as we all know, is a crock of shit.)
17. Friends (NBC)
This show is never as good as people make it out to be â€“ but itâ€™s never as bad as the nay sayers would have you believe. Friends is not the funniest show youâ€™ll ever witness, but it is consistently good for a few laughs. Open yourself up to the joys of a brainless sitcom: this is escapist TV at its finest. And say what you want about the cast, but Jennifer Aniston consistently proves herself to be a solid comedic actress.
16. Ed (NBC)
Every week, Ed unfolds like a low-key fairy tale, entertaining â€“ and often touching â€“ without fail. After Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is the best hour-long show going right now. Stuckeyville is Mayfield without the extra cheese. The characters are amazingly well written: no one is too good or too bad, people who obviously love each other canâ€™t ever seem to get together, secondary characters who initially appear entirely one-dimensional continually prove that they exist as more than comic relief. Much credit needs to go to the ostensible leads, Tom Cavanagh and Julie Bowen, for their believable chemistry as both friends and would-be lovers. Great stuff, and great soundtrack too: weâ€™ve heard the Old â€˜97s on here more than once.
15. 24 (Fox)
24 is the best new action-drama of the 2001 season. With this nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat serial cliffhanger FOX again proves itself as the most innovative and unique non-cable television network in the broadcast universe. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Jack Bauer, a trusted yet maverick CIA operative trapped in the most nightmarish day of his life. His daughter has been abducted by “roofie”-popping, pot-smokin’ punks hired by international terrorists to throw Jack off the trail of their plot to kill a black presidential candidate on the day of the influential California Primary. The series is told in real time so that each hour episode takes up one of the 24 hours Jack will need to save his family and the would-be president. Viewers keep interest and come back week after week because itâ€™s so difficult to figure out what is going to happen next, an element missing from many television dramas.
14. Malcolm In The Middle (Fox)
Although it is losing a bit of luster as the boys grow up (suddenly Malcolm and Reese are interested in girls â€“ yecch!), Malcolm in the Middle is still one of the most original and wacky sitcoms on television. Watching Dewey, the youngest of the four boys, remains our personal twisted pleasure, as he continues to live in his own little world and communicate with bugs, animals, and toys.
13. Undeclared (Fox)
Judd Apatow was Ben Stillerâ€™s right hand man when they were a couple of bright-eyed comedy writers struggling to make a name for themselves. One of them went on to fame and fortune; the other had his authentic high school series, Freaks and Geeks, unceremoniously cancelled after one critically acclaimed season. Apatow got another chance to shine in 2001 with Undeclared, an irreverent college comedy. Itâ€™s all there: the giddy first taste of freedom, the adolescent madness of dorm life, and the instant crushes that form within moments of starting classes. And itâ€™s funny. An excellent cast and solid writing brings everyone who spent any time in college dorms right back to those frightening and priceless moments that almost always included beer and casual sex. Undeclared also wins points for being one of the first sitcoms to use Will Ferrell as the comedic genius he is.
12. The Tick (Fox)
To say that the premiere of The Tick this fall was met with equal parts skepticism and anticipation would be a tad understated. You see The Tick was a well-respected but little-seen cartoon back in the day. Those who watched it swore by it, those who didnâ€™t claimed they didnâ€™t get it. So when plans were announced to turn it into a live-active series, longtime fans rejoicedâ€¦ with much predictable trepidation. (Anyone remember the Rocky & Bullwinkle or Flintstones movies?) So who could blame the average viewer for doubting The Tick would be worth watching. As it turns out, the â€˜toon translates very well to live action. Patrick Warburton (Seinfeldâ€™s Puddy) was born to wear the blue body suit. As The Tick battles evildoers with an impossibly positive attitude, a remarkable vocabulary, and a hint of true insanity, we can look forward to years of smart writing and bizarre villains.
11. Angel (Fox)
Angel, like itâ€™s progenitor Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is basically a young adult drama set in a fantasy world where creatures of the night battle for no other reason than Good vs. Evil. Ah, if only the real world were so black and white. Since there are only so many vampires and demons you can kill before it gets old, Angel has resorted to using convoluted, ongoing story lines, which at the very least makes it interesting, but can also be frustrating at times. Really, when you have to use the first five minutes of each episode showing â€œPreviously on Angelâ€ clips harkening all the way back to the beginning of the series, it can get to be a bit much. Fortunately Josh Whedonâ€™s skilled writing and fine balance of drama and mindless ass kicking still has the ability to surprise and delight.
10. The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
How fun would it be to work on The Daily Show? With a rotating writing/acting stable of stand up comedians putting out the best TV comedy this side of SNL, and near-spontaneous news satire thatâ€™s second to none, Jon Stewart and company are still hitting on all cylinders. On top of that, The Daily Show is perhaps more informative than any local 5 p.m. broadcast, and yet manages to find the humor in absolutely everything, even the most tragic of situations. The way they handled themselves after the 9/11 tragedy was perfect â€“ the right amount of levity tempered carefully by people with working brains. If comedy history tells us anything, the brilliance of TDS canâ€™t last forever. So catch this smart and sometimes laugh-â€˜til-you-cry hilarious show while you can.
9. West Wing (NBC)
Could West Wing be the show to renew our collective faith in the oft-unwatchable format known as the hour-long broadcast TV drama? Perhaps. Even before the events of September 11 put the spotlight back on national politics and the federal government, it was interesting to see a dramatic representation of what goes on inside the White House â€“ from how they deal with the press, to the role of lobbyists, to the interpersonal relationships and social events of the various characters. Combine this with great writing and excellent acting, on top of the fact that people currently want as much information as they can get when it comes to the inner-workings of government, and youâ€™ve got fine a very interesting and watchable show.
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Larry David created Seinfeld and was the basis for that showâ€™s George Costanza. Curb Your Enthusiasm is basically an expansion of that character, only this time Larry David plays Larry David. He freely expresses his opinions and generally eschews our accepted codes of social grace. His unwillingness to go with the flow usually leads to confrontations, altercations and quite often discomfort for the viewer. At times you literally can feel your own face turn red as he once again mangles an interaction with a network head, waiter or child. Maybe our laughter is a nervous reaction to the uncomfortable scenes Larry David gets himself into, but whatever it is, this show is funny dammit!
7. Six Feet Under (HBO)
Even if you didnâ€™t like American Beauty, the controversial Oscar-winning film written by Alan Ball, chances are good that youâ€™ll relate to his HBO series 6 Feet Under. Built around a family whose patriarch dies unexpectedly, sending the family business into turmoil, 6 Feet Under makes its mark by treating the benign family drama with dignity and intelligence. The premise is nothing new, but itâ€™s the little details that set the show apart. The family business is a funeral home; two diametrically opposed brothers are forced to take over and the quirks of this hyper-dysfunctional family are magnified ten-fold. In three short years, Ball has defined his style and set himself apart by viewing everyday family life through a distorted lens. Next time you think television lacks the acumen and grace of satisfying drama, watch 6 Feet Under and prepare to be proved gloriously wrong.
6. Jackass (MTV)
Itâ€™s hard not to admire a bunch of guys who get paid to get together and act like idiots. Stupid stunts, pranks and general buffoonery were the order of the hour for what looks to have been the final season of MTVâ€™s Jackass. Did they pierce their butt cheeks together? Check. Have a contest to see who has the most prolific sperm? Check. Artificially inseminate a cow? Check. Have a boxing match on stilts? Check. But what made Jackass so endearing wasnâ€™t the selection or execution of unique and often dangerous stunts and pranks, it was the sense of enjoyment, camaraderie and purpose displayed by the participants. You had the feeling this is what these guys would be doing even if they werenâ€™t on TV.
5. Family Guy (Fox)
Pray for Family Guy. There is no conceivable way that Seth McFarlaneâ€™s brilliant animated comedy should remain on network television. The much-maligned series has seen its share of troubles; taken off and on the Fox network for the last few years, facing cancellation at every turn, and skirting the fine line of tastelessness and obscenity. Whether you are sickened or inspired by the Griffin family, you must admit that Family Guy is damn funny. Even if Stewie never manages to either conquer the world or get out of diapers, or if the deity that has made this showâ€™s existence possible keels over and dies, Family Guy has secured its spot in the pantheon of comedic brilliance. If you watch Friends on Thursday nights instead of Family Guy, hang your head in shame â€“ you may have pounded the nail in the coffin of American comedy. If Family Guy follows in the footsteps of the Ben Stiller Show and The Critic, we may never get a chance to laugh like this ever again.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fox)
Buffy’s journey to UPN came with a very pleasant surprise: darker themes and dirtier lighting. The evil and angst came together when our heroine and bad-boy vampire Spike beat the shit out of each other then had violent, angry, hot-as-fuck sex. Buffy is currently exploring themes that most realistic, “adult” dramas are scared to touch. Also the actors are pretty.
3. Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
Williams Street Productions, the fine folks behind the assortment of cartoons known as Adult Swim, have figured out a way to tap the part of the brain that desperately wants to untether itself from reality. A trio of food-product detectives, an undersea research facility staffed by baby-eaters and lunatics, and a painfully stereotypical sit-com starring a cat/alien-type kid all form the most bizarre, surreal and downright disturbing night of television this side of sanity. Throw Space Ghost Coast To Coast into the mix and youâ€™re well on your way to two hours of blissful delirium every Sunday night. If you manage to watch this block of cartoons with a straight face, consult a physician. Youâ€™re dead.
2. Sopranos (HBO)
It’s official. Since the Yakima Herald-Republic published its 4-page full-color pullout spread on the Sopranos, there is nothing left to tell or show about this program. Just watch it.
1. The Simpsons (Fox)
Still the greatest television show known to God or Zuul. Two things: 1) What is with starting the new season so late in the year? I remember back in the proverbial â€œdayâ€ when the new TV season began in late September and ended in late May, no strings attached. The Simpsons has been starting in mid-November and producing about eight new episodes a season. Re-runs after just three weeks of new episodes? 2) The Simpsons is the best of shows even at its own worst, and the 2000-2001 season was perhaps that nadir. Most episodes started out strong and fizzled in ten minutes. What will be the 2001-2002 season has been playing out much better â€“ the 12/9 episode about Flandersâ€™ dad recalled the hilarious, strange, touching days of season five. Hereâ€™s hoping it stays on track.
(Editorâ€™s note: AmyLynnWow!, Josh Goodman, Sean Oliver and Adrienne Wilson also contributed to this report.)
The Year in Music
The Year in Movies
The â€œNadaâ€ Awards