Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Okay, so this post marks the start of the largest series in this blog's existence. I have ranked the top 68 television shows of the '00s, and will be presenting them, one-by-one, starting with 68 and working down. The rankings are more or less based on the show's popularity, it's cult status, it's critical acclaim, and my personal liking of it, with a heavy dose of arbitrariness added in. If a show was a big enough phenomena, I'll keep it on the list - but if I don't like it, I may drop it some spots. One other caveat - these are primetime shows (I apologize if I put a cable show that wasn't, I thought they were all primetime shows - the main point of this is just that no talk shows, no Colbert and Daily show that would be on otherwise).

Why 68, you may ask? A incredibly arbitrary number, yes. Basically, I ranked shows until I ran out of ones that either were notable or I could possibly think of anything to say about. Honestly, there are a few on the bottom that just as well could have been left out, but I figured the more the merrier, and I pretty much kept thinking of new ones as I was making the list, and didn't feel like taking any out, just rearranging the order. Don't worry, there's no According to Jim.

Edit: If I do miss some super obvious show over the course of the list, I apologize. Either I had a good reason for it, or I forgot about it until I had already formulated my list.

That said, it's time to begin, with number 68.

68: Top Chef

I draw the line here at Top Chef. Around the bottom of this list, there's a number of different shows where I could have drawn the line, which all kind of represent the bare minimum in some combination of genre and criteria. In addition, some of them will be in a way placeholders for all of their ilk which couldn't quite make the cut - there is only so much to say about certain things. And in that way, Top Chef represents some reality shows. It wouldn't be an accurate list of the '00s if I didn't have at least a few reality shows, but Top Chef stands for those of perhaps similar prestige and fame which represent more combined as a genre than any of them as one show - the America's Next Top Models and Project Runways and probably a few other similar but even a tier lower - the Next Food Network Stars. These shows have clogged up cable channels over the last 6 or 7 years.

That said, Top Chef, to me ranks ahead of most reality shows, and most of these types of reality shows in particular, and is the main chosen representative of the genre because it's just about the only reality show I watch on my own with any regularity. Part of this is undoubtedly because I like food, and watching shows about food, and any reality show featuring food is going to have a leg up on any reality show featuring something I don't like as much. But even accounting for that, Top Chef contains many aspects I appreciate.

I like the way the people have personalities on the show, but they're both real personalities - no one is too cartoonishly evil or catty or anything (they seem like real people - maybe some you wouldn't like, but no one you can't believe exists), and that the personalities fall squarely behind the food in importance (and in a way become intertwined - some chefs get reputations for being only able to make asian foods for example, or not being able to bake). The challenges remain interesting and engaging - they force the contestants to go outside of their comfortable food preparation range, without generally being so ridiculous as to produce no good food, and the judges are very fair and even-minded, starting with the head judge Tom Colicchio - they will both praise or criticize any or all of the competitors based on their performance, and their criticism (with the exception of Toby Young - the guy who Simon Pegg portrayed in the flop How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, who tried a bit too hard to be clever) is just muted enough (though don't they don't get angry sometimes) not to make them the stars of the show.

Of course, what makes or breaks any seasons is the quality of the chefs, both foodwise and personality wise, and that makes one season better or worse than another - it's far harder to watch when you don't like any of the contestants, or after your favorite contestsants get eliminated - Season 5 for example contained a lot more chefs I liked towards than end than season 4.

What Top Chef is to me, is the one show that opens the door to see why other people might like reality shows - it kind of has some of the aspects of sports, if you don't actually like sports - competition, being pleased when your favorite contestants win, disappointed when they get kicked off, you can yell at the refs/judges if you feel they did you wrong. It's like the marijuana of reality shows - while it doesn't make me want to do anything harder, at least it lets me see the appeal.

So, to sum up, it's not that special, it's not that popular, but I like it, and that's why it's the bottom - it's impossible get to 68 with all 24 carat gold.

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