The Best TV Shows of 2009 ... and the Decade

  • Publish Date: January 2, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 245 user comments

Best ... decade ... ever?

Image

While we don't have any scientific proof to back up such an assertion, the past ten years of television appear to be unsurpassed by any other decade in TV history in terms of quality.

Sure, the period from 2000-09 gave us a never-ending supply of reality programs -- some good, others more like "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" -- but the decade also produced some of the most compelling, involving and complex dramas of any time period (or medium), from the urban realism of "The Wire" to the mind-bending mystery of "Lost." And comedies broke free from their studio constraints and laugh tracks, with highlights including cult favorites like "Arrested Development," and the UK version of "The Office" to Jon Stewart's ongoing blend of media criticism and satire offered on "The Daily Show." The increasing relevance of cable meant that there were a number of new outlets willing to take a chance on unconventional fare, and the introduction of high definition meant that everything looked better, even if it wasn't.

But don't take our word for it. (As a matter of fact, you can't, even if you wanted to. Metacritic's television coverage launched in the fall of 2005, so our data for the decade as a whole is incomplete.) What shows did the critics enjoy when they first premiered, and what shows have they selected now, at the end of the decade, as representing the best of the past ten years? We answer those questions below.

On the following page, we'll also recap the best (and worst) that 2009 had to offer on the small screen. First, let's explore the entire decade of television in further detail.

The best and worst shows of the decade

When a film critic reviews a new movie, or a music critic critiques a new album, they can base their analysis on the finished, whole product. A television critic, on the other hand, typically has just a few episodes on which to base her opinion, and those episodes may make up just a small portion of the series as a whole and may not even be representative of the eventual quality of the ongoing work.

However, that small sample can be enough to determine whether a new show is very good or very bad. And what we have next are lists of just that: the very best -- and very worst -- series premieres, based on reviews compiled since the fall of 2005.

Best Reviewed New Television Series by Season, 2005-09
Season Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
Fall 2005 Everybody Hates Chris (UPN) Comedy 88 8.1
Midseason 2005-06 Big Love (HBO) Drama 72 7.5
Summer 2006 Brotherhood (Showtime) Drama 75 9.4
Fall 2006 The Nine (ABC) Drama 81 7.9
Midseason 2006-07 This American Life (Showtime) Anthology 79 9.8
Summer 2007 Mad Men (AMC) Drama 77 8.6
Fall 2007 Pushing Daisies (ABC) Fantasy 86 8.0
Midseason 2007-08 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) Sci-Fi 74 8.5
Summer 2008 The Middleman (ABC Family) Action 73 8.0
Fall 2008 Life on Mars [US Version] (ABC) Drama 74 8.4
Midseason 2008-09 Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (Sundance) Music/Talk 74 10.0
Summer 2009 Nurse Jackie (Showtime) Dramedy 76 7.2
Fall 2009 Modern Family (ABC) Comedy 86 8.6

American television series with seven or more reviews and debuting between August 1, 2005 and December 31, 2009 were eligible for the above list. (Metacritic's television coverage began in 2005 and thus earlier years from the decade are not available.) Shows are scored and ranked based on reviews published at the time of the original first season debut; returning series are excluded from this list. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, movies are ranked prior to rounding. User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

Two other first-year shows topped the 80 mark -- indicating "universal acclaim" from critics -- but didn't finish on top in their season: the HBO/BBC Ricky Gervais comedy "Extras" 81, and the CW fantasy "Reaper" 81.

Next, let's revisit some of the bigger mistakes of the past five years. In case you were wondering, the absolute worst-reviewed first-year show of the past half decade was NBC's "The Real Wedding Crashers," NBC's poorly-conceived attempt to capitalize on the popularity of both MTV's "Punk'd" and the big screen's "Wedding Crashers." Just a fraction of a point behind was another cautionary tale: ABC's "Cavemen," the rare program based on a television commercial. Let's hope there isn't another one.

Worst Reviewed New Television Series by Season, 2005-09
Season Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
Fall 2005 Killer Instinct (Fox) Drama 25 8.5
Midseason 2005-06 Modern Men (WB) Comedy 23 4.8
Summer 2006 How to Get the Guy (ABC) Reality 26 7.2
Fall 2006 The Game (CW) Comedy 22 8.6
Midseason 2006-07 The Real Wedding Crashers (NBC) Reality 19 3.1
Summer 2007 Lil' Bush: Resident Of The United States (Comedy Central) Comedy 31 4.1
Fall 2007 Cavemen (ABC) Comedy 19 5.2
Midseason 2007-08 The Return of Jezebel James (Fox) Comedy 29 5.4
Summer 2008 Farmer Wants a Wife (CW) Reality 31 7.5
Fall 2008 Knight Rider (NBC) Drama 21 5.9
Midseason 2008-09 Momma's Boys (NBC) Reality 19 4.5
Summer 2009 Mental (Fox) Drama 40 6.1
Fall 2009 The Jeff Dunham Show (Comedy Central) Comedy 20 2.4

A roundup of television critic Top 10 lists for the decade

Much to the consternation of the Metacritic Features staff, while most television critics analyzed the past decade in television, many of them did so with "words" and "sentences" rather than easy-to-summarize lists. Having said that, we were able to collect enough lists (summarized below) to notice some trends.

ImageOnly #2? That's bunk!

The two most popular shows among the critic community -- even among those who didn't explicitly list their picks -- were a pair of groundbreaking HBO series: "The Sopranos" and "The Wire." And cable in general was the place to find the best shows of the decade; only three of the ten most-cited programs were on the traditional broadcast networks. While one of the defining trends of the past decade of television was the rise of reality television, only two such programs ("American Idol" and "Survivor") were saluted by more than one list-making critic -- and the Emmy-dominating "Amazing Race" was ignored. Also of note: many of the best programs of the decade actually survived for many seasons, with just one ("Freaks and Geeks") getting the ax after a single year.

Note that the list below is not weighted or scored in any way; shows are simply ranked by the frequency with which they appear in critic Top 10 lists, in any position on those lists. (The number of times they appear in the #1 position is indicated as a convenience.) A full list of publications used -- with links to many of the individual lists -- appears beneath the table, and you'll notice that we have expanded slightly beyond our usual group to include a few additional publications and critics.

TV Shows with Most Mentions in Critic "Best of the Decade" Top 10 Lists
  Show (Network) Years # 1's Top Ten Lists
1 The Sopranos (HBO) 1999-2007 7 16
2 The Wire (HBO) 2002-08 6 15
3 Arrested Development (Fox) 2003-06 1 14
3 Mad Men (AMC) 2007- 0 14
5 Lost (ABC) 2004- 0 11
5 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) 1999- 1 11
7 The Office [UK Version] (BBC Two / BBC America) 2001-03 1 9
8 Deadwood (HBO) 2004-06 0 7
8 The Shield (FX) 2002-08 0 7
10 American Idol (Fox) 2002- 0 6
11 Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi) 2004-09 0 5
11 The West Wing (NBC) 1999-06 0 5
13 Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) 2000- 0 4
13 Freaks and Geeks (NBC) 1999-2000 0 4
13 The Office [US Version] (NBC) 2005- 0 4
16 24 (Fox) 2001- 0 3
16 30 Rock (NBC) 2006- 0 3
16 Friday Night Lights (NBC) 2006- 0 3
16 Survivor (CBS) 2000- 0 3
20 Breaking Bad (AMC) 2008- 0 2
20 Six Feet Under (HBO) 2001-05 0 2
20 Veronica Mars (UPN/CW) 2004-07 0 2

The 17 individual Best of the Decade lists used to compile the above data were from (with their #1 picks indicated):

The following lists are not included in the results above because they either are divided into multiple categories, exceed 10 shows without indicating rankings, or offer an alternative take on the decade (e.g., worst of the decade lists, best episodes, etc.).

On the next page, we examine the top shows from the past year.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (245)

  • jen  

    The number doesnt mean anything, is just as i remember some of them.

    1. Sex and the city(of course im a woman lol)
    2. Oz
    3.The pacific(band of brothers, too)
    4.Big love
    5.Alf
    5.spongebob squarepants
    6.The Simpsons
    7. Medium
    8. The X-Files
    9. The smurfs
    10. V
    11. Fame
    12.North and south(almost forget that, was great old tv mini series)
    13.Shaka zulu
    14. Little House on the Prairie
    15. The Twilight Zone

    In spanish 1. El chavo de el ocho(best all time still laugh with the same old jokes)

    Reality tv

    1.american idol(some seasons, this is no the best)

    2.so u think u can dance(some seasons, not the last one)

    3.America's Psychic Challenge(i love that reality i hope they do it again)

    4.can you duet

    5.flavor of love(even i hate it i watch the first season)

    6.Who want to be a super hero( those people make me laugh in those clothes that reality was very unique)

    Old cartoons i always remember and love

    1.Candy(cute)

    2.Remi(charming)

  • jen  

    ohh i forgot!

    Planet earth
    Life

    haha! my list is best all time, not best this decade, sorry! actually i was looking 4 best all time when i found this site. lol! no excuse but is hard to forget old good ones.

  • so say we all  

    It's tough to say what the best shows of the decade are because there are so many types that have stories that span over seasons or in one hour, and so the comparison becomes difficult. My rankings are:

    1) The Wire (HBO)
    2) Battlestar Galactica (SyFy)
    3) Lost (ABC)
    4) Dexter (Showtime)
    5) Scrubs (NBC/ABC)
    6) Friday Night Lights (NBC/DirecTV)
    7) 24 (Fox)
    The Sopranos (HBO)
    9) Entourage (HBO)
    10) Californication (Showtime)

  • Mariam  

    it should be like this :-
    1) Heroes
    2) Top Gear
    3) Psych
    4) Scrubs
    5) Seinfeld
    6) White Collar
    7) V
    The Vampire Diaries
    9) House
    10) F.r.i.e.n.d.s
    11) Frasier

  • Mariam  

    and 12) Doctor Who

  • Abrar  

    1. Dexter
    2. Prison Break
    3. Monk
    4. 24

  • andre  

    the best tv show ever is SUPERNATURAL!!!! It has the best characters, the best fans, etc!

  • anam  

    Hey where's Boston Legal........it has 2 be in the list

  • Mark  

    1- FRIENDS (I still liked the last seasons)
    2- How I met your mother
    3- The Simpsons
    4- The Big Bang theory
    5- Scrubs
    6- Lost
    7- House
    8- Chuck
    9- Cold case
    10- The ghost whisperer

    thats my list

  • saffy  

    WHERE IS UGLY BETTY?! That show has probably the best dialogue EVER. AND an important message!
    The one saying Sex and the City, c'mon. You must be out of your mind.

New in Metacritic Features

What Our Users Are Talking About

  1. /feature/predict-the-2016-emmy-awards Image
    Predict the 2016 Emmy Award Winners
    July 19, 2016 - 4 comments
    1. Hufter : The Americans, all over. Far out Read »
    2. aydge89 : American Crime deserves to win best limited series along with Felicity Huffman or Lili Taylor for best actress. The... Read »
    3. emilyay : I also want Mr. Robot to win. It was one of the best first season of any show I've ever seen. It had flaws, but it... Read »
    4. DanBurrito : I want Mr. Robot to win best drama. Most engaging and addictive tv show in recent memory. Read »
  2. /feature/68th-primetime-emmy-award-nominations Image
    2016 Emmy Nominations
    July 14, 2016 - 5 comments
    1. DetonNation : Yes. What about Penny Dreadful. Besides Eva Green, every actor in the series put in a ground-breaking performance... Read »
    2. Gamexpert : And again, not one nomination for "Always Sunny in Philadelphia"... Family Guy Korea Episode should also been on... Read »
    3. Ryan_Parkinson : I think it's really strange that Christian Slater would win the Golden Globe for best Supporting Actor and then not... Read »
    4. FleshWorld : Same old comedies nominated ever year. Where's It's Always Sunny? Red Oaks? Read »
  3. /feature/dvd-blu-ray-release-calendar-july-2016 Image
    DVD/Blu-ray Release Calendar: July 2016
    June 29, 2016 - 1 comment
    1. FleshWorld : Everybody Wants Some is BRILLIANT! An absolute must see - esp if you love Dazed & Confused. Read »
  4. /feature/tv-premiere-dates Image
    2016 Summer/Fall TV Premiere Calendar
    May 10, 2016 - 112 comments
    1. SuburbanGal : FOOD NETWORK'S CAMP CUTTHROAT - Premieres Wednesday August 24, 2016 @ 10 PM Read »