Somewhere around 1999 and 2000, television started to change. Sitcoms were still very popular, and weekly dramas were also big, but several shows revolutionized how we think of television. They turned television into a medium for long-form, poetic storytelling.
Before Netflix and streaming services pumped out shows as 8-hour binges, the following shows of the early 2000s began to set the groundwork for popular shows like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things.
Here’s a list of the TV must-watches that changed television forever.
Mad Men is a slow-burn show following Don Draper, an advertising executive in the 1960s. The cinematic spectacle is immaculately produced—the sets, costumes, and dialogue are eloquently crafted in concert to transport you back in time. Watching each episode places you right in a ’60s Madison Avenue office! The series deals directly with the politics of the time. It covers the countercultural movement clashing with Don’s uptight world while exploring the workplace dynamics of the time in a thought-provoking way.
Like most of the shows on this list, The Sopranos is considered one of the greatest television shows of all time. It follows Tony Soprano, an Italian mob boss, as he goes through his life. And while there is some amount of violence and mob intrigue, a lot of the show centers around his family and their interpersonal relationships. Watch the show to see the fascinating, relatable, and unrelatable ways Tony raises his nephew, how his wife deals with his constant infidelity, and how his children deal with Tony’s lifestyle.
The Wire is one of the greatest police procedural dramas ever made. It has a huge cast that covers life in Baltimore – from the police to the homeless and everyone in between – and it gives a complete picture of how the War on Drugs has affected everyone in the city. If you like the mystery and discovery elements of shows like CSI, this is a great pick.
Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is about a family that owns a funeral home in Los Angeles. The real hook of the show, though, is that it is filled with ghosts. They aren’t scary or disturbing at all. This is not a horror show in any way. There are no jump scares or dark rooms. The ghosts are just people that the characters talk to or see every now and then. It’s never totally clear if they actually see the ghosts or if the ghosts are just a way for them to think through issues they’re experiencing, but the mystery of it is extremely satisfying. The writing is top-notch, and the characters feel totally real. One thing to keep in mind: the first episode is the worst episode in the series! Don’t let the first episode turn you away. After the pilot, the work on the show is exquisite.
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