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Clip Show: The Best TV of the Decade

Let's face it, this was the decade when TV got great, maybe even better than movies. For every show that made my list, there was a Firefly or Project Runway or Friday Night Lights or Deadwood or Flight of the Conchords or Glee that you'll argue should be on the list instead, and you may be right. Again, this is my list, reinforced by video clips to justify my DVR season passes. (P.S.: I've since removed those clips to hasten load times for the rest of the page.)

30 Rock -- As the Onion's A.V. Club points out, it wasn't supposed to be good, at least not as good as Aaron Sorkin's similarly themed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Tina Fey was a funny writer but no actor--Sarah Palin was still on the horizon (see below). But 30 Rock is consistently funny, week after week, and if Alec Baldwin does retire in 2012 as he promised Playboy, it'll be as crummy a moment as the Mayans predicted.

Honorable mention: Saturday Night Live -- but only when talking about the 2008 presidential race, and really only when [Tina Fey skewered Sarah Palin.]

But I [also enjoyed] Ben Affleck as Keith Olbermann.

The Amazing Race -- Not only is the show consistently thrilling, but we also explore unfamiliar cities and cultures. It's edutainment! This is the show that taught us running at "Level Five, Level Five!" can make awesome TV.

Arrested Development -- There had never been a sitcom like it, and now there are several (e.g., Better Off Ted). Consequently, the world is a happier place. Tobias F√ľnke forever!

Battlestar Galactica -- Take one cheesy Star Wars knockoff. Remove everything that didn't work and a few things that did (e.g., Starbuck). Then add a big pile of awesome and the best visual effects in TV history. Repeat as necessary.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- The Colbert Report is hit and miss, frankly, but Stewart has literally become our most trusted newsman [1]. Yet never has he been more emotional and flat-out necessary than on his first show back after 9/11. Don't watch this one at work; it's a tear machine, even eight years later.

Freaks and Geeks -- High school in the '80s was exactly like this, only duller. Judd Apatow began his decade-long reign of terror with this show, and long may he live. This show is literally the reason I first got Netflix, and it'd sure make a fantastic application of yours.

The Late Show with David Letterman -- There's still only one Uncle Dave, and he's still funnier than Jay Leno, and he's still getting trounced thanks to people who aren't as brilliant as us. We'll turn on the tear machine again for the clip [from 17 September 2001].

Lost -- Scripted network TV got better as a direct reaction to J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Lost. It's as simple as that.

Mad Men -- My mom and I watch this show together. She's addicted. Maybe that explains some of my attachment to a show that's been accused of dragging, but the stellar opening credit sequence is a big factor as well. And then there are episodes like the Kennedy assassination episode below (directed by Barbet Schroeder), followed by the lightning-fast season 3 finale, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat."

The Office, U.K. -- "I don't give shitty jobs," David Brent assures us, the first line of a Ricky Gervais performance that is among the richest characters ever invented for TV comedy. I love the American version, too (see below), but I cherish the nights my friends and I would gather to chortle at this show on DVD. I've included the first scene of episode 1, but don't forget the Christmas special and David's jaw-dropping music video.

The Office, U.S. -- It's a different show, yet exactly the same in its ruthless assault on office logic. I also admire its willingness to discomfit rather than amuse, a trait it inherited from its BBC predecessor.

Planet Earth -- My family hasn't been this excited about a nature documentary since the glory days of Marlin Perkins. I'd include a clip, but Planet Earth needs to be in HD. Some would argue it's why HDTV was invented.

The Sopranos -- I know, you're annoyed by how it ended. (Tell that to Galactica fans.) Am I alone in actually kind of liking the series finale and its singular blackout? But no, that wasn't the best episode ever. I nominate either "Pine Barrens" or...well...heavy spoiler alert if you're still catching up on DVD...

Survivor -- Yes, Mark Burnett basically cursed us with a thousand reality shows, but at least he produced one terrific one first. I could name a lot of favorite competitors, episodes, and ad libbed diatribes; but really, it all comes down to this...

Top Chef -- I've been an Iron Chef fan from way back, both Japanese and American, and Food Network is pretty much my go-to diversion, but Top Chef is the best food show since Julia Child, maybe ever. I know most people's favorite season was the second (with Ilan and Marcel), but man, I'm all about Hung Huynh from Season 3. He slices, he dices! Just don't let him near your truffle oil.

Undeclared -- A little-seen Apatow gem. What Freaks and Geeks was for high school, Undeclared was for my undergraduate college years. By the way, both shows starred a super-young, super-awkward Seth Rogen, and are worth seeing if only for that. Amy Poehler turns up as an R.A. ("No judgment, only pizza"), and Loudon Wainwright III stars as the protagonist's haplessly sensitive dad.

Weeds -- Yeah yeah yeah, the show is very well written and acted, blah blah blah. Mostly, though, it's on my list because it stars Mary Louise Parker, the sexiest woman on Earth. Uh, next to Amanda, of course. The show really is brilliant, though. Seriously. I mean that. Juvenile drooling aside.

The West Wing -- Let's forget about most of that final, Aaron Sorkin-free season, shall we? No show has ever made me feel smarter, while simultaneously reminding me how much I failed to learn in high school civics.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts -- I damn near put this on my movie list. Spike Lee tells it like it was, and we watch as the America we thought we knew falls apart before our eyes. We're still trying to get it all back, one dream deferred at a time. Rather than include a clip from that show, which would only make you bawl like an infant, I've attached the most memorable news interview of the decade [Anderson Cooper in New Orleans].

The Wire -- A lot of people think it's the best series in television history, and if you haven't seen it, then Netflix awaits, Gentle Reader. Each of the five seasons is different, each stunning, each a classic. My personal favorite is the last.

Guilty pleasures? Reno 911, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Family Guy: Blue Harvest, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

So what are your favorite shows and episodes of the last ten years?

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