December 13th, 2009
Ten years ago, I did not watch television.
That’s a terrifying thought for someone who now lives and breathes the medium, spending a great deal of time and energy to criticize television in my spare time for little to no monetary gain, but it’s true. To be entirely fair, this isn’t entirely uncommon (the fundamental life change, not the insanity that is my devotion to television criticism): a lot can change in a decade, especially when that decade represents over forty percent of your existence. But there is some sort of fascinating narrative of self-actualization in how I went from the occasional episode of Friends and a teenage love of The Simpsons to watching anything and everything that the end of this decade has to offer.
I’ve been grappling with how, precisely, I was going to offer my own perspective on the television decade that was, primarily because the above fact puts me at a distinct disadvantage. I did not start watching television obsessively or critically (if we can pinpoint the moment we start forming opinions, which seems a bit slippery) until 2004, which means that there are some shows that I simply have not watched, and more importantly half of the decade where I had a limited view of the industry and how it was operating. Now, all critics have their gaps (there are, after all, some critics who haven’t seen The Wire or who never watched Battlestar Galactica), but my gaps aren’t gaps at all since there’s nothing on one side – I came to this decade late, and as a result understanding its .
However, reading Emily Nussbaum’s seminal rumination on the decade that was and its transformation of television from idiot box to cultural discourse, I realized how much my own experience with television in this decade is actually reflective of, well, television in this decade. The story of how I became the television viewer I am today is not that fundamentally different than how the cultural perception of television became what it is today, a relationship that has less to do with me (I am but a simple man) and more to do with the quality, diversity, and industry changes that defined this industry over the past ten years.
And since I’m not comfortable enough defining the best television of the decade (outside of serving as a peanut gallery on TV on the Internet) when I’ve yet to see The Sopranos, or The Shield, or The Office UK, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Angel, or Breaking Bad, or all of Deadwood, or all of Big Love, etc., I’ve decided to take an autobiographical journey through the decade in search of those shows which changed my television viewing habits and helped define a decade of television in the process. And while it may seem strange to define the decade through my own experiences, one of the things I’ve learned at Cultural Learnings is that everyone and no one is unique when it comes to television: we may all have different stories about how we came to be fans or appreciators of television, but we all have stories, and I can only hope sharing my own will inspire some of you to offer your own tales of television addiction (or, should you be so moderate, television interest) in the various posts that will follow (and you’ll be prompted to do so) in order to shed light on experiences beyond my own.
I’ll be posting six “essays” (if that’s what we choose to call them) over the next six days, and in the process I will specifically highlight a number of shows which defined my televisual experience over the past ten years. However, there are a few things you need to know about this collection of shows:
- Some shows included would not make an attempt at an actual “Top 10” or perhaps even “Top 20” list of best shows of the decade, while others most certainly would.
- The most common reason a hit show you really like didn’t make the list? I haven’t watched it.
- Other common reasons? That it wasn’t “important” enough to my television experience (like Freaks and Geeks, which I came to only very recently), or was so similar to another show on the list that including both would have been redundant. Or, it’s entirely possible I just didn’t like it.
- Yes, I plan on watching all of the shows I haven’t watched named above (in fact, the DVDs for many of them are on the shelf above my desk right now).
- In terms of spoilers, I don’t plan on going into anything too specific, but I do discuss the end of a few series so if you’re really paranoid just check the Post Tags to see if there’s a show you’re actively avoiding.
And so, with those details out of the way, the lineup: