Usually at this time each year, my fellow TV critics across the nation assemble our Ten Best TV Shows of the Year lists. But this year, many are issuing their lists of Top 10 best shows of the decade about to end.
Here's this critic's holiday "gift" to readers - my Top 10 shows of the almost-past decade: (Note that many of these were on HBO, which hit its creative stride this decade before fading.)
1. The Sopranos. Great writing plus superb acting equals - ba da bing - uncommon excellence. Normally, I don't watch mob movies or shows. This one I couldn't miss. Adult entertainment at its best. Two staffers told me that producing scripts for this HBO Emmy-winning series was "a writer's dream."
2. Deadwood: This HBO wild-west anarchy drama, which ran, sadly, for far too few episodes, featured stellar performances (most notably, Ian McShane as the cynical boom-town overlord) and jaw-droppingly dense dialogue, almost Shakespearean in its tone and style. (That's not an overstatement, either. Rent it and see.)
3. The Wire (HBO). Possibly TV's most compelling drama ever, and the fact that this extended story set in Baltimore's drug-saturated inner city didn't win Emmies is, well, criminal and possibly even racist. Another series one must rent, this feels as authentic as a slap in the face. Much more than a cop show, David Simon's masterwork also examined the brutal realities of urban politics and also, inner-city school blight.
4. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central): Currently my one won't-miss show, it combines bright, hip, first-rate comedy writing with a host who's ultra-smart and an unusually gifted physical comic. And no one else is talking about gun control (or Canada.)
5. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central): This acclaimed and informed faux newscast is a shade behind Colbert in quality - mostly because of annoying and untalented "correspondents" like Rob Corddry, Samantha Bee, and Rob Riggle. But Stewart does some great shtick, and he alone calls out cable news for its too-common excesses and biases. The Republicans and Fox News looneytoons have been comedy gold for Stewart.
6. Mad Men (AMC) Currently TV's standout drama, this stylish ad-agency workplace tale is the one show HBO never should have let get away. It could have perpetuated the proud brand name that's lost some lustre.
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) Currently TV's funniest show hands down, creator/star Larry David's neurotic daily adventures (Seinfeld's George Costanza is his alter ego) are where I first heard the term "teabagging," and where viewers have found TV's edgiest comedy for several years.
8. Extras (HBO) Rick Gervais' original The Office on BBC remains by far the best version. This, Gervais' follow-up Beeb series, examines in painful (but funny) detail the indignities and insecurities performers bear -- also, the dubious fame conferred by stardom in a dimbulb sitcom was fertile ground for this ultra-bright comedy frequented by big-name guest stars like Kate Winslet and David Bowie.
9. The Shield (FX): Michael Chiklis was brilliant and even scary at times as a pit-bull cop. Along with "The Wire," one of the best two police-centered shows ever.
10. The West Wing (NBC): About the only escape we had from the Bush White House for several long years, it was an understandable, welcome fantasy. Too bad the show went downhill so fast after 9-11 when it began taking itself (like M*A*S*H did) too seriously.
Honorable Mention: Countdown With Keith Olbermann (MSNBC); Weeds (Showtime); Fareed Zakaria GPS (CNN); The Office (BBC version).