"There's nothing good to watch on TV."
It's a familiar complaint, voiced repeatedly since Mom and Pop purchased their first black-and-white Philco. But if you uttered those words over the past 10 years, you weren't paying close enough attention - or didn't have cable.
Here are our picks for the best TV shows of decade - choices that were made on the basis of artistic achievement, originality and cultural impact.
1 "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007): Creator David Chase gave us a protagonist like none we had ever seen: A beefy, baggy-eyed mobster (and family man) with a hair-trigger temper, a weakness for the ladies and some very serious mommy issues. Impeccably played by James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano was both revolting and riveting. Chase surrounded him with a superlative cast, including the fabulous Edie Falco, and took them all on a wild ride with more twists and curves than a Bada-bing girl.
2 "Lost" (ABC, 2004-present): It's the Rubik's Cube of TV shows. This plane-crash survival drama has had fans obsessed with trying to crack its numbers-crunching, monster-chasing, time-tripping mythology. But in addition to an intricate mystery, "Lost" has offered us a compelling web of personal stories tied to a diverse and ever-engaging group of island castaways.
3 "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08): At a time when quick-and-tidy procedural cop dramas were rampant, Simon's grim urban masterpiece resisted the simplistic approach, unfolding in novelistic leisure while deftly exploring its flawed characters and pertinent social issues. The result was a monumental achievement that was as rewarding as it was challenging.
4 "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-present): Creator Matthew Weiner could have immersed his 1960s-era drama in sugarcoated nostalgia. But to his credit, he instead plunged us deep into the dark side of the American dream, exposing the lies behind our idealized pop-cultural imagery and the emotional scars that come with unbridled self-indulgence.
5 "American Idol" (Fox, 2002-present): Not even Simon Cowell could have predicted how big this show would become. Blending glitzy entertainment with heart-tugging stories, a parade of deluded oddballs (bless you, William Hung), and a heaping dose of Simon's snark, "Idol" became No. 1 with a bullet.
6 "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06): At first glance, David Milch's violent and vulgar saga recalled a TV era when the Western was king. But this complex series shot gaping holes in all the innocent illusions, cartoonish heroism and open-range romance traditionally associated with the genre.
7 "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004): Yes, much of it was about the shagging and the shopping. But Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her sassy gal pals also gave us a moving portrait of all-for-one friendship - the unbreakable bond shared by four soul mates. And that's something every viewer can admire, even if they don't wear Manolo Blahniks.
8 "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06): A perfect show for the post-Enron era, this sitcom about a family of wealthy buffoons done in by their own greed was so fresh and bizarre and bubbling with larcenous wit that we were stunned to find it on broadcast television. No wonder it didn't last long. Let's hope the Bluths wind up on the big screen very soon.