Two-thousand-one was quite a year for the entertainment industry. After the tragic attacks of September 11, it seemed that nothing could be less important than how many people watched “Inside Schwartz” on a Thursday night. The Emmys, sporting events and the entire fall television season were postponed. But slowly and surely, America came back strong. Ellen DeGeneres delivered on Emmy”s third try and a slew of promising new shows debuted. In a year where it was difficult to put together a list of the best music, and some of the year”s best films have yet to see a national release, it was the paramount images of television that captured our emotions, our sentiments and our most of all, our hearts. Here are my choices for the top ten television shows of 2001:
1. The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS) Even before September 11, Letterman was at the top of his game, ranting about anything and everything that came to mind. But after the tragedy, he not only paved the way for other comics to be funny again, his emotional return gave others the strength to move on and put a collective smile on the face of a grieving nation. Along the way, he also provided us with priceless Taliban jokes and introduced us to the “Oprah Log.” Despite losing in overall ratings to Jay Leno, Dave manages to trump him creatively night after night.
2. Ed (NBC) The second season of this NBC dramedy has proved to be just as entertaining and heartwarming as the first. In addition to building a solid audience on its own, it also leads off Wednesday night”s powerhouse lineup, along with “The West Wing” and “Law & Order.” Sharp wit and quirky banter aside, this is perhaps the finest ensemble cast on television, aided by the addition of John Slattery as Stuckeyville High School”s new principle. Audiences can never get enough of Ed and Carol”s flirtatious exchanges, leaving us wondering if they are ever going to get together.
3. Friends (NBC) After a sloppy and uneven seventh season, the NBC powerhouse is back on top both creatively and in the ratings, consistently finishing as the top show of the week. Rachel”s pregnancy, perhaps the television story of the year, has provided the show with a much-needed boost, and given new life to the tired Ross/Rachel relationship. And Chandler is funny again, too.
4. The Sopranos (HBO) The mob opus” third season continued to deliver as the most powerful and unforgiving show on television. Highlighted by Joe Pantoliano”s performance as Ralphie, the disturbingly cruel and violent disposal of his stripper “girlfriend” was possibly the most captivatingly repulsive scene television has ever seen. Unconventional, unexpected and rife with Emmy-worthy performances, this is drama at its best.
5. Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS) Ranking second among sitcoms to “Friends,” Raymond is still increasing its ratings after four years on the air. Plus, this dysfunctional family sitcom continues to find new viewers with its recent syndication launch. Along with “Survivor,” “CSI” and “The King of Queens,” it has helped CBS claim the title as the No. 1 network.
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) “Seinfeld” creator Larry David plays himself as a petty, stubborn and ridiculously rich bald Jew in this largely improvised HBO cult series. Refusing to accept some of the more pointless rules of etiquette, David brilliantly butchers societal norms and does what he wants, whenever or wherever he wants to, no matter how stupid he looks in the process.
7. Scrubs (NBC) It came as no surprise that this was the first new show to get a full-season order. Easily the funniest new show of the season Zany antics, charming characters and endlessly clever sight gags are all rolled into one witty, inventive and surprisingly touching medical comedy. Finally audiences have a reason to put the remote down after “Frasier.” If only we could say the same for the post – “Friends” slot.
8. James Dean (TNT) Relative newcomer James Franco gives an affecting performance as the titular icon in this made-for-TV-movie. Besides the physical resemblance, Franco gets under the skin of the insecure Dean, impeccably capturing the enigmatic star”s tragically short life. Ultimately, the film is a beautiful portrait of a misunderstood American idol.
9. 24 (FOX) This full-throttle thriller is sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, thanks to its inventive real-time structure. Taking place over the course of one eventful day in the life of Kiefer”s Sutherland”s CIA agent Jack Bauer, there is so much going on here that even Dan Rather would be confused. If you haven”t been watching already, good luck keeping up.
10. Undeclared (FOX) Proving that the criminally underappreciated and prematurely canceled “Freaks and Geeks” was by no means a fluke, producer Judd Apatow returned with this hilarious portrayal of college life. Kudos to standout Charlie Hunnam as Lloyd for somehow making cutting British wit equal parts smarmy and endearing.