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The gap year: 24 hours of Y2K TV

Clockwise from top left: Girlfriends (Photo: CBS), Saturday Night Live (Screenshot), Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law (Screenshot), Malcolm In The Middle (Screenshot), Queer As Folk (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top left: Girlfriends (Photo: CBS), Saturday Night Live (Screenshot), Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law (Screenshot), Malcolm In The Middle (Screenshot), Queer As Folk (Screenshot)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples
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The year 2000 was a transitional one for TV, which might speak to the number of teen-centered stories on the air. The premiere of The Sopranos in 1999 helped usher in another golden age of television, its second season heralding the time when, according to some critics, TV became art. The West Wing was starting to take off, while ER, Friends, and Frasier were still scoring high in the ratings alongside the newest game show giant, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But 2000 might be most notable for introducing reality TV game changers Survivor and Trading Spaces, which kicked off new epochs of cutthroat competition and unabashed consumerism on the small screen, respectively. The programming landscape also continued to expand with the launches of channels like SoapNet, Oxygen, and VH1 Classic, another incremental step toward the era of Too Much TV.

The New Year saw the networks both play it safe and take a few risks: CBS played to its audience with the October debut of crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (which spawned multiple spin-offs), while Cartoon Network did a kind of soft launch of its Adult Swim programming block. Black creators made strides in the drama and sitcom genres, as queer representation got a boost from a smooch and the U.S. adaptation of a Russell T. Davies series. A David Simon miniseries had critics and Emmy voters talking, we made our first trip to Stars Hollow, and Larry David showed up at an opportune time (for once) in one of the exemplars of cringe comedy. In short, 2000 was a year of growth for television—somewhat ungainly, but full of promise. For our 24-hour marathon of Y2K TV, The A.V. Club has selected episodes from an array of shows that debuted, ended, or otherwise stood out. As befits this “year of TV finding itself,” we kick things off with a day at school, make some time for family (dramas), and then deliver some late-night laughs and tears.

 8 a.m.: Boston Public, “Chapter One” 

By 2000, David E. Kelley had already explored the secret and public lives of lawyers, doctors, and lawyers again in series like L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, and The Practice. So the mega-producer turned to the noble profession of teaching for his Fox drama, Boston Public. The show starred Chi McBride as Steve Harper, the dedicated but no-nonsense principal of the Boston public school of the title. Principal Harper struggled against bureaucracy and budget cuts the same way his students tried to overcome disinvestment and puberty. Though things got increasingly outlandish as the series progressed, the premiere, “Chapter One,” wasn’t exactly an exercise in restraint: The episode includes a shooting, a school gossip site (complete with animation), fraternizing, and Freaks And Geeks’ John Francis Daley as another put-upon teen. Still, Boston Public was hailed early on for its mix of melodrama and more grounded storytelling, as well as a diverse cast that included Loretta Devine, Rashida Jones, Anthony Heald, Sharon Leal, and Picket Fences alum Kathy Baker. [Danette Chavez]

9 a.m.: Boy Meets World, “Brave New World, Parts 1 and 2”

Any good series finale can get the waterworks flowing, but there’s something special about saying goodbye to a show that lasts as long as Boy Meets World. Over seven seasons, Cory (Ben Savage) evolved from a baseball-obsessed sixth grader into a married college sophomore about to embark on a new life in New York City. A generation grew up with Cory, his childhood sweetheart Topanga (Danielle Fishel), best friend Shawn (Rider Strong), and older brother Eric (Will Friedle). The characters’ journeys were revisited through flashback clips throughout the series’ hour-long finale. Normally, clip shows are an eyeroll-inducing trick that seem like an easy way for production to save money, but the look back feels especially earned in “Brave New World,” parts one and two. As Cory says his goodbyes, we get to relive his first introduction to Topanga, his early shenanigans with Shawn, and other highlights of a full adolescent life well lived. The clips all culminate with the show’s central four characters returning to their grade school to say farewell to their neighbor, teacher, mentor, and friend, Mr. Feeney (William Daniels). Just try not tearing up as Feeney imparts his last nugget of guidance in the series’ final moments: “Believe in yourselves. Dream, try, do good.” [Patrick Gomez]

10 a.m.: Opposite Sex, “Pilot”

Opposite Sex’s legacy is mostly as a footnote in the careers of Chris Evans and Milo Ventimiglia, who starred as archetypal teens in this Fox dramedy from Never Been Kissed writers Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn. But it’s also a veritable time capsule of the turn of the millennium. Teeny cardigans paired with teeny tank tops and clunky platform sandals? Check. A theme song and original music by That Dog’s Anna Waronker, plus music from Elliott Smith and Ben Lee? Check, check, and check. Opposite Sex carried on the traditions of late ’90s teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Felicity, while also reflecting the identity crisis of newcomers to the genre. Its premise was somewhat novel: An all-girls school goes co-ed, creating an opportunity for the female students and their newly arrived male peers to think about gender roles and privilege. In practice, though, the show mostly focused on Jed (Ventimiglia) moping as Cary (Evans) got really familiar with the student body. This was Evans’ first major role, and you can see how playing a cocky teen here led to his casting in Not Another Teen Movie. But Opposite Sex never could figure out whether to be more or less earnest (and horny) than its predecessors and contemporaries, and it got lost in the shuffle. Still, where else are you going to see Evans, Ventimiglia, and My Boys’ Kyle Howard dressed in drag and doing a lip sync of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive?” [Danette Chavez]

11:00 a.m.: Freaks And Geeks, “Discos And Dragons”

“Discos And Dragons” is a storytelling feat for several reasons, not least of which was finding a way to condense a Dungeons & Dragons campaign into an enjoyable, two-minute montage. The Freaks And Geeks series finale was actually filmed as part of the original 13-episode order NBC gave to series creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow. The duo read the cancellation writing on the wall, what with the show’s shifting schedule and dwindling support from the network, and channeled their frustration into a superlative final hour. Nick (Jason Segel) finds disco and a new love; D&D turns out to be the perfect outlet for Daniel (James Franco), who’s desperately trying to be someone other than himself—something the geeks, including Sam (John Francis Daley), can relate to. And, after finding common ground with her parents once more, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) gambles on their truce to follow the Grateful Dead for the summer with Kim (Busy Philipps). Feig, who wrote and directed “Discos And Dragons,” paved new paths for his teen ensemble while also leaving room for these stories to coalesce into another season of the show (it didn’t happen). Though it didn’t look anything like the spiky-haired era it debuted in, Freaks And Geeks opened the door for ever more nuanced depictions of adolescence in series like Veronica Mars, Sex Education, and Big Mouth. [Danette Chavez]

12:00 p.m.: Gilmore Girls, “Rory’s Dance”

The conflicts between various generations of the Gilmore family were present from the very first episode of Gilmore Girls, as Lorelai (Lauren Graham) is forced to reconnect with her long-estranged parents to get the tuition money for her daughter Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) fancy new private school. Those long-simmering resentments flare up again in “Rory’s Dance,” the show’s first truly great episode. Rory, who considers herself the “Ponyboy” at her school full of Socs, gets new boyfriend Dean (Jared Padalecki) to accompany her to a Chilton school dance. The dance proves to be extremely gratifying for Rory: she learns head mean girl Paris (Liza Weil) had to bribe her cousin to escort her, then Dean faces off against Chilton bad boy/frequent Rory tormentor Tristan (Chad Michael Murray). It’s all teenage idyllic until Rory and Dean take a walk and wind up accidentally crashing in Miss Patty’s dance studio overnight. This brings up all sorts of horrific flashbacks for Rory’s mother and grandmother (Kelly Bishop), who have another in a long string of showdowns over how Lorelai walked away from her parents and the privileged life she grew up with after having Rory as a teenager. The rollercoaster of emotions would become a Gilmore Girls specialty, but “Rory’s Dance” was a strong indicator of the many family fireworks to come. [Gwen Ihnat]

1 p.m.: Beverly Hills, 90210 series finale, “The Penultimate” and “Ode To Joy”

As Beverly Hills, 90210 neared its end in 2000 at the end of 10 seasons, it barely resembled the show that had debuted 10 years before. The Midwestern-fish-out-of-water Walsh family that kicked off the series had disappeared completely. Instead of the show focusing on the travails related to the students of West Beverly High, the main characters were now college graduates, twentysomethings that seemed more domestic than Jim and Cindy Walsh themselves. Steve (Ian Ziering) and Janet (notorious showkilller Lindsay Price) were married with a baby (and strangely living in the old Walsh home); David (Brian Austin Green) and Donna (Tori Spelling) got engaged; even Noah (Vincent Young) was in a relationship with a single mom who was also the former keyboardist on California Dreams (Heidi Lenhart). The series culminated with two hour-long episodes involving David and Donna’s inevitable wedding, with former characters like Brandon (Jason Priestley), Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris), and Valerie (Tiffani Thiessen) returning to wish the bride and groom well. But it was the never-faltering chemistry between Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Dylan (Luke Perry) that propelled 90210 right until the end, as the two finally reunite at the wedding with a kiss (feel free to ignore the messed-up K&D relationship hijinks from the 90210 reboot that debuted eight years later). [Gwen Ihnat] 

3 p.m.: X-Men: Evolution: “Rogue Recruit”

Image for article titled The gap year: 24 hours of Y2K TV
Screenshot: X-Men: Evolution

The beauty of the high-school-set animated series X-Men: Evolution was that most teenagers feel like mutants anyway. New recruit Rogue exclaims in episode three, “What’s happening to me? What am I? Who am I?”—a refrain that any adolescent could repeat in a heartfelt matter. Rogue, though, as X-Men fans know, is an extremely powerful mutant, who can absorb anyone else’s abilities just by touching them, and her frightening powers manifest as she reaches adolescence. As the X-Men head out to help her, the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants’ Mystique takes on the personas of Wolverine and Storm in a threatening manner to make Rogue immediately fear the other team. In the early days of the series, “Rogue Recruit” perfectly sets up the conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood, by showing what was at stake (with a sly nod to the Brotherhood’s true leader, Magneto). But it also highlighted the teenage emotions that helped set Evolution apart from other X-Men versions: Kurt’s true form as Nightcrawler freaks Kitty out even though he keeps trying to be friends with her; Jean and Scott are still more in crush category than true-love endgame; and Kitty’s insistence on not being treated like a kid results in her messing up the mission. The combination of adolescent angst and classic X-Men adventures led the series to four full seasons and even a few Daytime Emmy awards. [Gwen Ihnat]

3:30 p.m.: Malcolm In The Middle, “Rollerskates”

Like Married... With Children and The Simpsons, Fox’s Malcolm In The Middle challenged TV notions of the nuclear family. Lessons were still imparted, albeit with a little more abrasiveness than we’d come to expect from a family comedy. More often than not, that tough love was doled out by the beleaguered family matriarch, Lois (Jane Kaczmarek). But in the season-one episode “Rollerskates,” Hal (a pre-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston) is left in charge when Lois throws out her back yelling at their sons Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), Reese (Justin Berfield), and Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan). The more permissive of the two, Hal does things like feed the boys deep-fried monstrosities called “gutbusters.” But when Malcolm asks for skating lessons, Hal takes the opportunity to mentor his son seriously. He’d mostly been portrayed as a big kid, but in “Rollerskates,” Hal is firm, knowledgeable, and even graceful, which is more disorienting for Malcolm than one of his mother’s tirades. “Should I be impressed or horrified?” the gifted tween wonders as he watches his father glide around the schoolyard. Hal’s desire to pass on knowledge is as relatable as Malcolm’s shock at seeing his father in a new light. The father-son bonding hits multiple snags in this canny episode, which lends equal credence to both sides of the split. [Danette Chavez]

4 p.m. (or whenever you typically started your after-school job): Clerks The Animated Series : “The Clip Show Wherein Dante And Randal Are Locked In The Freezer And Remember Some Of The Great Moments In Their Lives”

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Screenshot: Clerks The Animated Series

After securing a rather fervent cult following, Kevin Smith decided to expand his View Askewniverse beyond the big screen with an adult animated TV series based on his debut pride and joy, Clerks. With the help of Seinfeld writer Dave Mandel, Clerks The Animated Series meant to expound on the humdrum lives of New Jersey over-the-counter slackers Dante and Randal. Like its cinematic predecessor, Disney-owned Miramax produced the cartoon and ultimately swayed the creative team’s decision to enter a deal with ABC. The team-up proved to be just as disastrous as one would imagine. With its brand of risqué humor, Clerks didn’t exactly blend with the network’s family-friendly programming. Furthermore, ABC wasn’t as committed to the episode order as the writers, who had fashioned a clip show around their proposed pilot. “The Clip Show…” episode poked fun at both the popular sitcom format and themselves by pulling a bunch of “memories” from the first episode and even the beginning of the second. The problem, however, was that the network chose to air the fourth episode for the series premiere, rendering the bulk of the running joke null and void. It didn’t take long for ABC to check out entirely: After the fledgling clips episode, the network pulled the rest of the episodes from the schedule and ended the season early. Luckily, the show found success a little later when all six episodes were released on DVD. [Shannon Miller]

4:30 p.m.: Trading Spaces, season-one premiere

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Screenshot: Trading Spaces

Everyone loves a good before-and-after moment, but the world had seen nothing like Trading Spaces when the series premiered on TLC. The concept was simple: Arrange for a pair of neighbors to redesign a room in each other’s home. The DIY decorating tips and cost-saving suggestions were useful, but what producers may or may not have predicted was the entertainment value of watching homeowners love—or really, really hate—the final result of their new kitchen. It was the perfect mashup of traditional home-design shows and the cringe-inducing programming that defined much of the basic-cable reality wave of the early 2000s. Trading Spaces was a hit, solidifying its network’s transition from The Learning Channel to TLC, kicking off an onslaught of design and home shows that somehow hasn’t reached an oversaturation point yet. The series also made stars out of later-host Paige Davis; designers like the always reliable Vern Yip and Hildi Santo-Tomas, who once put red and yellow circus stripes on the walls and filled the room with real sand; as well as carpenter Ty Pennington, who would go on to supersize the big reveal as the host of ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. It’s a testament to the strength of Trading Spaces’ concept that the series was able to return in 2018 with the format relatively unchanged. Frank Bielec would admire the upcycling. [Patrick Gomez]

5:30 p.m. (dinnertime, for some): Aqua Teen Hunger Force, “Rabbot”

Adult Swim didn’t premiere as a standalone programming block until the following September, but the stoner-friendly surrealism that still marks the Adult Swim house style emerged fully formed—even if the episode was still a rough cut—on December 30, 2000 with the stealth premiere of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Led by an absurdly conceived trio of sentient fast-food menu items, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro’s 15-minute pilot, “Rabbot,” combined a high-concept sci-fi premise—a giant robotic rabbit escapes a mad scientist’s lab and goes on a rampage—with humorously low stakes: The robot smashes Jersey everyman Carl Brutananadilewski’s car while on said rampage. That comedic formula has proven influential in the 20 years since, appearing even in more conventional sitcom material like NBC’s short-lived Powerless. But that’s nothing compared to the power of Aqua Teen’s absurd non sequiturs, which continue to make bloodshot eyes crinkle with merriment on subsequent Willis creations like Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell. [Katie Rife]

Bonus clip: The opening ceremony for the Millennium Dome, which turned out to be as significant as the Y2K bug

6 p.m.: Da Ali G Show, “Neil Hamilton”

At the start of the new millennium, Sacha Baron Cohen brought a guerrilla sensibility to the realm of high-profile interviews with Da Ali G Show. The British comedian was greatly influenced by Peter Sellers to create a whole host of distinct characters to share with—but mostly inflict upon—the world. Da Ali G Show comprised three of them: The eponymous host, a ridiculous chav; Borat, a Kazakh journalist who began his life as a backwards reporter character named Kristo; and Bruno, a catty fashion show presenter. Each guise was disarming in its own way, which led to heads of state and other influential figures inadvertently admitting to scandals and misdeeds, or making other kinds of provocative statements. The high production values of the show, which made its way to the United States in 2003, undoubtedly reassured them that their secrets were safe, or at least editable. Baron Cohen’s Ali G Show alter egos all received spin-off films, and they all wore out their welcome fairly quickly. But we have to admit, contemporary talk show hosts—earnest and otherwise—could learn a thing or two from Baron Cohen’s knack for getting his subjects to condemn themselves with little prodding. [Danette Chavez] 

6:30 p.m. (family time begins): The Sopranos, “The Knight In White Satin Armor”

The penultimate installment of season two of The Sopranos managed to surprise even those viewers accustomed to the mob drama’s knack for abruptly knocking off cast members. Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his second-in-command Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) begin plotting to bump off underling Richie (David Proval) after learning he tried to get approval to kill Tony. Only, they don’t have to: After a domestic squabble that escalates to violence when he hits her in the face, Richie gets his clock punched by none other than Tony’s sister, Janice (Aida Turturro). It’s a shocking death—Janice shoots Richie right in the chest after he hits her—and it sets up one of the best endings the show has ever done. Tony spends the entire episode trying to do the right thing: breaking up with his girlfriend Irina (Oksana Lada) and attempting to be respectful of her mental health issues (even after she tries to commit suicide and threatens to tell his wife), cleaning up after Janice when she murders Richie so his sister won’t be arrested, and even defending Janice—with whom his relationship is far from agreeable—when their mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) starts bad-mouthing her. And yet all of that can’t hold a candle to the force of his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) calmly informing him she’s going to Italy for three weeks, and he’ll have to find their daughter a new tennis clinic: “Because if I have to do it, Tony… I just might commit suicide.” There’s a reason the show is still the gold standard for HBO dramas. [Alex McLevy]

7:30 p.m.: Soul Food, “The More Things Change”

In 2000, the TV landscape featured several established Black-led sitcoms, including Moesha, The Parkers, The Steve Harvey Show, and Kenan & Kel. Where the industry lagged behind was in Black-led dramas. Debuting in 2000, City Of Angels was CBS’ first—and last—medical drama with a predominantly Black cast. Despite having Steve Bochco as a co-creator and small-screen fixtures past and future like Blair Underwood, Viola Davis, Maya Rudolph, and Gabrielle Union in the cast, the show was canceled after just four months. Felicia D. Henderson’s Soul Food, an adaptation of George Tillman’s 1997 film of the same name, premiered in the same year as City Of Angels, but it fared considerably better at Showtime. The drama starred Rockmond Dunbar, Nicole Ari Parker, Malinda Williams, and Boris Kodjoe as members and friends (and lovers) of the Joseph family. Directed by ER’s Eriq LaSalle, “The More Things Change” is a snappy but moving reintroduction to the family, and a welcome look at Chicago. Soul Food quickly became the first hit drama with a Black-led cast on primetime TV in the U.S., thanks to its poignant storytelling and thoughtful treatment of racism, sexual assault, substance abuse, and disparate political beliefs. [Danette Chavez]

8:30 p.m.: Girlfriends, “Girlfrenzy”

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Screenshot: Girlfriends

Mara Brock Akil’s Girlfriends introduced primetime viewers to an exciting new quartet of sexy, whip-smart, and exceedingly well-heeled women far from the very white New York City of Sex And The City: Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross), an attorney and the linchpin of the group; egotistical Toni (Jill Marie Jones); ambitious Maya (Golden Brooks); and free spirit Lynn (Persia White). But friendship was the order of the day, as the four women supported (and chided) each other through career changes, romance, and heartbreak over eight seasons. “Girlfrenzy” marks an important development in the group dynamic that began with Joan and Toni in childhood, added Lynn when they reached college, and expanded once more in adulthood to include Maya. Toni and Maya verbally spar over where to hang out for girls’ night, but when push comes to shove—or rather, when a fellow Angeleno threatens Toni outside of the club—they stand together. Joan steers clear of the fight, and ends up arguing with Toni about the strength of their friendship. Toni wonders how and why their twosome became a foursome; it turns out Joan’s imperious bestie is insecure about the state of their friendship. Girlfriends often contended with uncomfortable truths, and “Girlfrenzy” digs into just how difficult it is to maintain adult friendships. [Danette Chavez]

9 p.m.: Sex And The City, “Running With Scissors”

Sex And The City was at the top of its game in its third season—so the showrunners wisely threw a giant wrench into the works. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) started cheating on her nice furniture-making boyfriend Aiden (John Corbett) with Big (Chris Noth), her now-married ex-boyfriend. In “Running With Scissors” the powderkeg relationship came to a head. As Carrie’s afternoon trysts with Big get more frequent and more sordid, the two get closer and closer to getting caught. Someone’s bound to get hurt, and unfortunately that someone is Natasha (Bridget Moynahan), Big’s wife, who falls down and loses a tooth while chasing Carrie after finding her in her apartment after another Big hookup. SATC was obviously known for its comedy, and there are some great moments here with the introduction of Mario Cantone as Charlotte’s wedding planner Anthony, screaming “Hates it!” at various gowns in bridal salons, while Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is off answering every question in the affirmative at that Y2K rite of passage, an AIDS test. But the drama was never more effective in SATC than in this episode. It’s so obvious that the palpable chemistry of Carrie and Big swamps whatever she has with Aiden, but the two part at the end seemingly for good, with Carrie delivering a knockout exit line: “We’re so over, we need a new word for over.” It didn’t last. [Gwen Ihnat]

9:30 p.m.: Saturday Night Live, “Christopher Walken”

Christopher Walken had already hosted Saturday Night Live three times before returning to Studio 8H in 2000, but something was different about the time he hosted SNL on April 8, 2000 (with musical guest Christina Aguilera, a very 2000s choice). See, Walken had… a fever. Not just any fever, either; A fever that could only be cured with… one of the greatest SNL sketches of all time. “More Cowbell,” written by Donnell Campbell, Erika Perez, and sketch centerpiece Will Ferrell, is arguably the definitive sketch of this era of SNL. It not only has Ferrell’s cowbell player acting increasingly deranged as Walken’s record producer character (the Bruce Dickinson!) demands more and more cowbell during the recording of Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” but it also has Horatio Sanz stealing some laughs as the band’s slightly spaced-out guitarist and Jimmy Fallon breaking so often that he’s barely on camera. People might have soured on Fallon, but it’s impossible to deny that his giggles were a key part of the show at the time. The episode also serves as primer of big 2000 news events, with Rachel Dratch starring in a musical about Elián González and a cold open with Dana Carvey stopping by for a cameo as George Bush so he can give his son (Ferrell’s W., one of the most popular SNL political impressions ever, still in its early going here) some advice on how to beat Al Gore. Really, though, everyone’s just here for more cowbell. [Sam Barsanti]

11 p.m.: Dark Angel, “Pilot”

A new generation of ass-kicking women led the charge in genre TV during the end of the millennium, with Buffy, Xena, and La Femme Nikita all building loyal audiences and popular support. Into that landscape came James Cameron; fresh off the unprecedented success of Titanic, he formed a production company to create Dark Angel, a dystopian sci-fi actioner that launched the career of then-unknown Jessica Alba. She played Max Guevara (really), a genetically enhanced 19-year-old who as a child had escaped the secret government facility where she and others were being engineered and raised as super-soldier assassins. Living in the oh-so-distant future of 2009, the series imagines a United States plunged into a pre-electronic age after an EMP wipes out the entire computer and communications systems. Max spends the series tracking her fellow escaped enhanced siblings and working to bring down the government agency and program that created her, all while trying to maintain a normal life as a bike messenger (again—yes, really). After a relatively successful (though wildly over budget) first season, Fox essentially banished the series to the Friday night death slot, where even the might of James Cameron was no match for the bottoming out of its numbers. (Though many series now would kill for the audience then considered paltry—around 6 million viewers a week.) It was canceled the following year, though costars like Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) and Kevin Durand (Lost, The Strain) probably weren’t complaining about the post-2000 career boost. [Alex McLevy]

12 a.m.: Curb Your Enthusiasm, “Affirmative Action”

By now, most fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm know it’s a primarily improvised show—the core cast riff with ringers like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mel Brooks based on a story outline (under 10 pages) from series creator Larry David. That free-associating style makes the show rife with potential, but going off the cuff doesn’t typically work for Larry David, the character. In this season-one episode, Larry immediately puts his foot in his mouth when he meets Dr. Grambs (Gregg Daniel), a dermatologist who counts Richard Lewis among his patients. No sooner have they exchanged names than does Larry crack a joke about “affirmative action” and Dr. Grambs, who is Black. Larry can’t even bring himself to explain the joke further, much less defend it, though he insists that the real culprit is his overwhelming desire to be affable. Like so many Curb scenes, it’s excruciating to watch, not least of which because Larry goes through it all over again when he and Cheryl have to drop in on Dr. Grambs at home to beg him for a prescription. “Affirmative Action” is early proof of how often Larry David, despite his many rules for social interaction, ends up hoisted on his own petard throughout the series. [Danette Chavez]

12:30 a.m.: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Restless”

With its overlit night scenes and of-the-moment musical cues, Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer is very much a time capsule of turn-of-the-millennium television, even as its superlative quality continues to draw new fans nearly two decades later. But in the show’s fourth-season finale, Whedon and company managed to craft a dream-sequence episode unlike just about anything that had been seen on TV before. After another climactic battle royal, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and friends decide to celebrate their hard-won victory with a sleepover movie marathon—only to all pass out within minutes. But there’s a problem: The spirit of the very first vampire slayer was awakened during this last mission, and she’s steadily hunting down and trying to kill each of them in their dreams. Each act follows a different character through their individual dream, and Whedon—who wrote and directed the episode—manages to not only reveal new aspects of each character and their respective emotional arc, but does so utilizing a whip-smart application of dream logic, be it the way one character reimagines Death Of A Salesman as a stage show where everyone sort of plays funhouse-mirror versions of themselves (complete with the dreamer not knowing their lines), or how the dream denizens will communicate verbally without opening their mouths. It’s whimsical, and weird, and bizarrely relatable in how understandable these dreams are. Buffy would run three more seasons, but this might be the apex of its imaginative rewriting of TV conventions. [Alex McLevy]

1:30 a.m.: Coupling, “Size Matters”

Coupling was the BBC’s wittier, more sophisticated, more sexually candid Friends (unsurprisingly, the attempt to bring the sitcom to the States failed miserably). Steven Moffat created the series that essentially documented his relationship with wife Sue Vertue—the central relationship featured Steve (Jack Davenport) and Susan (Sarah Alexander). Coupling’s pilot set up the friend group that would last (almost) intact throughout the series’ run, but by episode two, “Size Matters,” the show was off to the races. First Steve calls Susan and goes blank after saying hello, resulting in a pause so massively awkward, he finds it impossible to surmount. Nevertheless, Susan invites Steve over for dinner for their first official date. Jeff (Richard Coyle) then offers Steve a legendary cautionary tale about getting stuck in the “sock gap” while undressing. Steve later points out to Susan that on a date, women have the advantage, as they’re the ones who know whether sex will occur or not. Meanwhile, Sally (Kate Isitt) fights her attraction to the reportedly well-endowed Patrick (Ben Miles) because he’s an extremely conservative Tory, while Jane (Gina Bellman) is on a date with a gay man, which she says works out fine because “Hello? I’m bisexual!” Over the course of its four seasons, Coupling became famous for crafting all-encompassing theories about the ties between men and women, voiced by funny, compelling characters that immediately drew us into relationships of their own. [Gwen Ihnat]

2 a.m.: Survivor, season-one finale

Survivor could have simply been The Real World set outside. When it was first adapted from the Swedish show Expedition Robinson, executive producer Mark Burnett envisioned a series in which 16 contestants battled the elements more than each other and voted people out based on survival skills. Instead, Survivor helped usher in an entire new genre of television full of alliance-building, backstabbing, and anything-goes gameplay where people are willing to do whatever it takes to win money. Yes, there was the rat eating and blurred nudity, but the CBS reality competition also introduced game theory to the masses and had audiences tracking intricate social dynamics between more characters than they ever had to pay attention to on their favorite scripted series at the time. It all culminated with a full-night event that began with four contestants—Sue Hawk, Rudy Boesch, Richard Hatch, and Kelly Wiglesworth—still in play. Almost 52 million viewers tuned in for the jam-packed finale, which ended with strategic mastermind Hatch (who basically invented the concept of a reality-competition alliance) besting Wiglesworth for the $1 million prize. But viewers probably most remember the episode for Hawk’s infamous final Tribal Council speech: “We have Richard the snake, who knowingly went after prey, and Kelly, who turned into the rat that ran around like the rats do on this island, trying to run from the snake. I feel we owe it to the island’s spirits that we have learned to come to know to let it be in the end the way that Mother Nature intended it to be: for the snake to eat the rat.” [Patrick Gomez]

3:30 a.m: Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, “Bannon Custody Battle” 

Another classic of adult animation that premiered randomly in the middle of the night under the generic heading of “Special Presentation,” Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law is emblematic of Adult Swim’s other signature in-house schtick: Taking the piss out of old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law did have a precedent in Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, which re-framed a noble superhero as a Garry Shandling-style talk show host. That show had been on the air for six years by the time Harvey Birdman tried his first case on December 30, 2000, the same night as Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s debut. But Harvey Birdman expanded its scope beyond Space Ghost’s cartoon foursome to accommodate an extended universe’s worth of Hanna-Barbera characters, each imbued with an eccentric trait that parodied the subtext of their original characters. (Harvey Birdman represents Shaggy and Scooby-Doo in a drug possession case, for example.) The pilot sees Harvey Birdman parading a sequence of Jonny Quest characters before Judge Mightor, reframed here from a prehistoric superhero to a learned man of the law with an appropriately Foghorn Leghorn-esque accent; the argument being heard in court is whether sidekick Race Bannon is a better father than the boys’ biological dad Benton Quest, a premise that would carry over to another Adult Swim series, The Venture Brothers, three years later. [Katie Rife] 

Bonus clip: Denise Lewis crushing it at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

4 a.m.: Spin City, “Goodbye, Parts 1 and 2”

Spin City comes from a very specific era of American politics, after the Bill Clinton administration had established that our elected officials could make mistakes and still be surprisingly likable but before the second Bush administration established that being an outright buffoon was a little more worrying than funny (and also, perhaps most notably, before 9/11 made American politics much more grim). For reasons that actually aren’t related to the shifting tides of how we feel about our elected officials, though, Spin City found itself in a transitional period in 2000 due to star Michael J. Fox’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease. Fox played the Deputy Mayor Of New York, serving under Barry Bostwick as a proto-Dubya-type politician, and he was the main lead of the show until season four when Heather Locklear joined to take some of the load off of Fox’s character (and Fox himself). By the end of the season, though, Fox’s symptoms had progressed to the point that he decided to step down from the show, with Spin City sending him off in a two-parter about him taking the fall for the mayor’s previously unknown mob connections, saving everyone else’s jobs in the process—though a few other actors and co-creator Bill Lawrence also left with Fox. Hold on, someone working in government sacrifices his own career to save the people he cares about? Yeah, this is definitely from a different era. Fox was replaced by Charlie Sheen in the next season, which is also a good illustration of how the tides were shifting. [Sam Barsanti]

5 a.m.: Queer As Folk, “Queer, There And Everywhere”

After the shock value of the series premiere, the U.S. version of Queer As Folk set out to expand its world beyond the gay bar and the bedroom: In episode two, we learn how being gay impacts Michael (Hal Sparks), Brian (Gale Harold), and Ted (Scott Lowell) at work; meet Justin’s (Randy Harrison) family and schoolmates; and witness Brian’s first parental fight with Lindsay (Thea Gill) and Melanie (Michelle Clunie) when the new moms want to have a bris for their son, Gus. But “Queer, There And Everywhere” is probably most notable for its introduction of Michael’s mother, Debbie (the crackerjack Sharon Gless). Audiences had seen moms of gay characters onscreen before, but none like this PFLAG-pin-wearing waitress with no filter or boundaries. There’s also a possible hint at Emmett’s (Peter Paige) “scared straight” arc later in the season, a storyline that leads to one of the series’ most poignant lines: “God is love, and God doesn’t make mistakes,” Ted tells his friend. “We’re all his, Emmett. He loves us all.” Will & Grace let audiences laugh at gay characters; Queer As Folk aimed to show they could be more than a punchline. [Patrick Gomez]

6 a.m.: The Corner, “Gary’s Blues” 

The Corner is more than just the spiritual precursor to the cultural behemoth that is The Wire. Yes, this HBO miniseries was also made under the auspices of David Simon, who’d previously adapted his investigative reporting for TV with Homicide: Life On The Street. And yes, both The Corner and The Wire followed the action on the streets of Baltimore, where human lives were at once priceless and expendable. Several cast members, including Clarke Peters and Reg E. Cathey, also went on to star in the 2003 crime drama. But this Emmy-winning miniseries didn’t just set up Simon’s prestigious run at HBO. Based on Simon’s and Ed Burns’ book, The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighborhood, the series told a singular story of a Black family caught in the drug war waged by politicians who’ve always had little empathy for casualties. Each of its six episodes focused on a different character, from T.K. Carter’s Gary McCullough to Sean Nelson’s DeAndre “Black” McCullough (whose real-life counterpart served as the inspiration for The Corner book), examining how they weathered or railed against the storm. It’s an expertly directed, compassionately written miniseries that managed to feel both close-ended in its narrative and neverending in its devastation. The Sopranos opened the door for ever more impressive and serialized storytelling on TV the year prior, but The Corner proved old standbys like the miniseries could still be revolutionary. [Danette Chavez]

7 a.m.: Sliders, “The Seer”

Image for article titled The gap year: 24 hours of Y2K TV
Screenshot: Sliders

Having slid their way through nearly as many cast members (and networks!) as alternate universes by this point, the cast of then-Sci-Fi’s Sliders finished their five-season run by taking a swift turn into meta. Landing on an Earth where one man’s prophetic visions allowed its residents to develop a Sliders fandom of its own—complete with fan conventions, trivia games, and a cheesy TV series—the show’s cast (Kari Wuhrer, Robert Floyd, Tembi Locke, and last original Slider standing Cleavant Derricks) got to make a bunch of jokes about its troubled history, and its frequent goofy indulgences. (When presented with a problem scenario, the episode’s villain cheerfully says she’ll toss it to some TV writers; “They’re hacks, they’ll do anything for a buck.”) Sliders might have lost the plot a bit as it bounced around the universe—and was a John Rhys-Davies cameo really too much to ask?—but at least it went out with a sense of humor about itself. [William Hughes]