2003’s Most Daring TV
Top 10 shows that broke
the rules, kept us guessing
By Dave McCoy
"Challenging television" used to be an oxymoron: Most shows were made for formula and comfort. Sure, you had your "All in the Family," your "Prisoner," your "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But networks wanted viewers to feel familiar with the characters and plots beamed into their homes every week; the last thing they aimed for is stimulation. Why do you think soap operas have been so popular for so long?
However, the recent successes of cable — starting with HBO and "The Sopranos" — created a mini-revolution. The huge following of the morally ambiguous mob family showed that Americans were ready for something a bit more daring. And after FX, Bravo, Comedy Central and other cable networks found audiences for their original content, even the major networks have started to rethink their strategy.
So in honor of this trend, we list the top 10 shows that kept us engrossed in 2003. Did they rule the Nielsen ratings, among shows like "Friends," "Will & Grace" and "C.S.I."? Well, with one exception, no. But did they keep us guessing, break the rules and treat us like we had a brain? Without a doubt.
10. "24" (FOX)
9. "Alias" (ABC)
8. "Survivor: Pearl Islands" (CBS)
7. "The Shield" (FX)
6. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO)
5. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (Bravo)
4. "The O.C." (FOX)
3. "Angel" (WB)
To be honest, the last several seasons of Joss Whedon’s brooding vampire-with-a-soul-kicking-demon-ass-in-Los Angeles show were stronger, smarter, more inspired than the final seasons of "Buffy." With "Buffy" retired, its spin-off can finally get the respect it’s been deserving for the past four years. A lot went down for Angel and his crew in 2003, and in typical tradition, most of it was very, very dark, as the show required a lot from its audience. Angel had and then lost a son. He fell in love with Cordilia, only to have her fall into a coma (and off the show). His crew battled and defeated a god-like demon that felt like a pointed (and very daring) metaphor for the religious right. And finally they took over a corporate law firm that may or may not be corrupting them. Oh, yeah, and Spike (James Marsters) from "Buffy" joined the show, sending the humor quotient even higher. As long as the execs at the WB keep giving this show air time, Whedon and company will continue to turn out the smartest drama on network TV.
2. "The Wire" (HBO)
1. "The Office" (BBC America)
"Arrested Development" (FOX)
"Da Ali G Show" (HBO)
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Cartoon Network)
"The Bernie Mac Show" (FOX)
"Dinner for Five" (Independent Film Channel)
"K Street" (HBO)
League of Its Own:
"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central)
Gone But Not Forgotten: