What was the best year for television?
Was it 1994, when Friends hit the small screen? Or maybe 1999, when the world was introduced to Tony Soprano and his family? It could also be 1972, when M*A*S*H taught the world how to laugh at the futility of war.
Nope. The best year for television was 2002.
The tragic events of September 11 had not only left the Western world in a state of existential despair, but also triggered the War on Terror that would leave many cultures and communities around the globe wrapped in apprehension and fear.
History has shown that people longing to escape their woes lean heavily on entertainment like cinema and TV to lose themselves in exciting stories and memorable characters.
By 2002, thanks to television series like The Sopranos, The West Wing and ER, programs once deemed too complex or ‘slow burn’ were now lapped up like sugar sticks at an eight-year-old kid’s party.
In the years following 2002, we would see series like Breaking Bad, House, Sherlock, Dexter, Lost, Rome, Community, Mad Men and Game of Thrones – television which has left an indelible mark on popular culture, all built on the foundations of the stories that came before them.
Here is some great TV that defined that era and those beyond to get your teeth into.
In the years since the only season of this Joss Whedon sci-fi dramedy aired, Firefly continues to grow as the perfect examination of the wild frontier nature awaiting us in the future of space exploration and colonisation. Heartfelt and lovable, terrifying and harsh, the universe inhabited by the crew of the cargo ship Serenity is a lonely one.
Where to watch: Netflix
Gritty, uncompromising, gutwrenching. If you’re a fan of procedural investigative television, The Wire is your Holy Grail. A collection of reluctant police detectives embark on various wire tapping cases to bring down organised crime, drug rings and human smuggling operations, but only if they can leave their flaws at the door long enough.
Where to watch: Presto
Technically from 2003, Arrested Development took the awkward nature of Curb Your Enthusiasm and turned it up to 11. What resulted is a comedic and sometimes surreal exploration of the Bluth family; each member bent on bringing down the rest of the family to hilarious consequences, apart from Buster, the runt of the family. He only ever wanted to be loved! Getting the picture?
Where to watch: Netflix
In black and white, this program sounds like a cliché: the story of a Los Angeles Police Department precinct where the ends justifies the means. But as we scratch the surface and go deeper into the world of the LAPD, we find flaws and motivations so tragic and passionate, it’s almost Shakespearean in nature.
Where to watch: Stan
One of the longest-running (19 seasons and counting), lowest-rated (2.8/10 on IMDb) TV programs of all time, The Bachelor took one of the world’s hardest endeavours – dating – commercialised it and turned it into the proverbial train wreck. You’ll loathe yourself for watching it, but it can’t be denied that it changed (trivialised?) the way we watch TV.
Where to watch: The Australian version is currently airing on Channel Ten, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm.
The Life of Mammals
A documentary series from David Attenborough, The Life of Mammals explores the world of mammals that inhabit the earth and the fragile nature of environmental interdependence. For many, this series would open their eyes to the impact humans have on the planet and the growing signs that we may be too late to reverse environmental disaster. A fascinating if sometimes chilling portrait of our world.
Where to watch: Clips available on YouTube
These days the world of espionage is becoming an increasingly open book. But in 2002, Spooks showed us a side of law enforcement known only to few. Combining fast-paced action with slow-burn character development, this series set new benchmarks for TV thrillers with each new season.
Where to watch: Stan
While 22 seasons in, just like innovation in the automotive industry, this program shows no signs of slowing. From heart-pounding test drives to mind-boggling technological innovations, this show has created a blueprint for light entertainment for years to come. After a recent controversy centred on presenter Jeremy Clarkson, Amazon Prime has announced a new series is being developed, starring ex-Top Gear talent James May, Richard Hammond and Clarkson. Stay tuned.
Where to watch: BBC Knowledge channel on Foxtel
Do you have a favourite TV series from the early 2000s? Let us know in the comments below.