For television, the past decade has been “as the sixties are to music and the seventies to movies”—some of the worst content ever was produced, but the cream of the crop rose to the level of art, Emily Nussbaum writes. Sure, “you could easily memorialize the aughts as the Decade of Reality TV,” but then you’d be leaving out The Sopranos, Mad Men, and, most important, The Wire. The best of the best dared audiences to take them seriously and didn’t have time for those who wouldn’t.
Shows in the past decade were “willing to alienate viewers,” Nussbaum writes in New York, “capable of a slow build not over episodes but over whole years—in striking contrast to the slick, interchangeable legal and medical procedurals.” And the people who made them were the first auteurs of the TV era: “arrogant, grudge-bearing, with a bullheaded sense of artistic entitlement.” Pleasant? No. But we got The Wire, “the single best show in the history of television.”