"Breaking Bad" certainly deserves top or near top billing as one of the best American TV dramas of the 21st century. But what are the others? Here's my list, but be warned -- it is arbitrary.
10. "Lost" (ABC, 2004-10)
Down the hatch, into one of the strangest, most beautiful, most interesting TV trips of all time. "Lost" accomplished much, in particular by driving fans into other (mostly Internet-related) dimensions where they explored its meaning or even contributed to it. "Lost" may have been TV's first fully interactive series.
9. "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08)
This drama explored the lives of good cops and bad cops with a ruthless precision, while gutting their frayed moral compass. Sounds like fun! And it was.
8. "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05)
Death and repression starred here, and were linked here as well. "Six Feet Under" could arguably move up a bit higher on the list, but as you'll see, it's already kind of of crowded with quality.
7. "Deadwood" (HBO, 2004-06)
David Milch's masterpiece, in which even the mud acted brilliantly, was raw, raunchy, brutal, and chaotic -- an exploration of society, and humanity, when stripped bare of every social convention, fueled by greed and whiskey -- and how something fundamentally human emerged from that chaos, at least after everyone had sobered up.
6. "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, DirecTV, 2006-2011)
Life in a small Texas town was never so compelling on the tube, peopled with characters who came alive with every word uttered - and some of those words were even improvised, giving "FNL" an ever richer (and deeper) texture of ordinary small-town life.
5. "Battlestar Galactica" (SyFy, 2004-09)
The Glen A. Larson creation has been around in some form or other for over thirty years, but for the purposes of our discussion today, let's just stick to the Ronald D. Moore adaptation that began in '03, ending six years later (before sailing off into a short-lived prequel, "Caprica"). Featuring a long and memorable list of characters, both human and Cylon, "Galactica" is one of TV's finest sci-fi shows ever.
4. "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08)
Most critics would give this top billing, but -- altogether now -- arbitrary list! "The Wire" is, remains, an almost-journalistic exploration of institutions (politics, law and order, education, even journalism itself) and how easily corruptible they are.
3. "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-15)
Only question about "Men" is what position it should land on a top 10 list; some would have "The Wire" ahead of it, others would even have "Deadwood" outranking it. So to an extent this is a matter of taste, but "Mad Men's" top-three billing here needs no defense; a rich TV novel that grew in complexity season to season.
2. "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007)
Some may argue that the best episodes were in the last century, but let's let them argue..."Sopranos" has to make a top list of the 21st century if only because it had such a profound impact on some of the others that appear in this list.
1. "Game of Thrones" (HBO, 2011-)
As mentioned, arbitrary, but "GoT" has established its bona fides as TV's best. Reasons are many, but "Games" has managed to capture the texture of George R.R. Martin's sprawling saga just about perfectly, pleasing fans of the books, while also drawing a crowd of new readers to "The Song of Ice and Fire" series.