Have we reached peak TV? Hard to say. So many people suffer from recency bias and are quick to declare what they just watched the Best Thing Ever. I remember thinking in the 1990s that The X-Files could never be topped. Then in the 2000s it was The Sopranos. These days, I still love both series, but would not call them the best of their respective decades.
These kinds of lists are always subjective and restrictive in terms of stuff I’ve actually seen. Why create such a list? Because I am offering a service to you, the reader, should you have need to watch something of quality.
Some shows that started in the aughts and ended their runs in the 2010s aren’t include. Notable examples are Mad Men, 30 Rock, and Breaking Bad. If I thought their best years were in the decade prior, then they were excluded.
Noteworthy honorable mentions: Chernobyl (HBO), The Good Place (NBC), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), True Detective (HBO), Silicon Valley (HBO), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Fringe (Fox), Succession (HBO)
10. Justified (FX) — Name a more iconic duo than Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)? As a native of southeast Kentucky (the show is set mostly in Harlan), I greatly enjoyed that the series antagonist, Crowder, was an intellectual. Too often, villainous rednecks are portrayed as stupid. Certainly many are.
The final scene encapsulated the series perfectly. These two old frenemies have binds deeper than the coal they had once dug together.
9. Black Mirror (Netflix) — Had I made this list before the awful fifth season, this show would be in the top three. But those three episodes happened, so here we are.
Not that clunkers hadn’t happened to the show before. The first episode focused on a British Prime Minister being forced to have sex with a pig on television to save a member of the royal family. It wasn’t awful, but I nearly didn’t bother with episode two.
That episode was 15 Million Merits and featured a pre-Get Out Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), and Rupert Everett (Cemetery Man). The technological cautionary tale became a recurring theme of the series and made me a permanent fan. It also echoed what I was doing with Apex Magazine.
8. Hannibal (NBC) — The fact that this ran on network television is still one of the most unlikely things to have ever happened.
Mads Mikkelson’s iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter stands alongside Anthony Hopkin’s iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter as two of the greatest anti-heroes in the history of popular media. Hugh Darcy plays Will Graham in the series with haunted eyes and a just right amount of moral ambiguity.
The heartbeat of the show was the on-screen chemistry of Will and Hannibal. The sensuality between the two transcended homoeroticism. It was simply…murderous…how well the two complimented each other.
7. The Americans (FX) — From the moment Fleetwood Mac’s pulsating “Tusk” booms to life in the opening heist scene you’ll be hooked. My lifelong crush on Keri Russell pays dividends as she gives a scene-stealing performance as Spy Momma Elizabeth Jennings. Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich round out the cast in a Cold War period drama that was great through all six seasons.
6. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX) — For this one, I’m only going to throw some words to the screen:
Implications. Wild card bitches! Playing nightcrawlers. Troll toll. Rum ham. Charlie Work. Fight milk!
Those who have seen the show are giggling and smiling. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
5. Community (NBC) — The 2010s have been a dire time for network sitcoms. Sure, there have been a handful of good shows: Parks & Rec, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish (the first couple of seasons), and The Good Place come to mind. But, to me, one show stands above the rest.
Sporting an incredible cast and whip-smart writing, the show transcended ‘good’ to ‘god tier’ in its second and third seasons. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as I did during Jeff Winger’s naked pool showdown (set, inexplicably, to “Werewolves of London”) with Coach Bogner. The show had a knack of taking down Hollywood tropes in the funniest ways possible. Long live the crew of Community!
4. The Leftovers (HBO) — Based on a Tom Perotta novel, this is the story of a family struggling to keep it together after 2% of the population disappears. It’s about the biggest bummer of a television show I’ve seen, but it is flat-out incredible.
The series starts slow. And then arrives Carrie Coons. I’ve seen a lot of folks call her portrayal of Nora Durst as the best acting of the decade. I can’t argue with that assessment.
The series also delivered one of the most fascinating episodes of television I’ve watched with its season two entry “International Assassin.”
To give away anything about The Leftovers is to give away too much. The show is a slow burn that will rip your heart out.
3. Veep (HBO) — Despite an awful swan song season, this is one of my favorite shows of the decade. The first few seasons gave me belly laughs beyond what any other show has ever provided.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the titular VP. She’s surrounded by an army of idiots (Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh) that enable her worst whims and desires. Because it’s what they’re paid to do, right?
The show is a perfect take down of American politics.
2. Fargo (FX) — Yet another FX series. The creative director over there takes risks, I’ll say that. The Coen Brother’s theatrical version of Fargo is fantastic. The television adaptation is even better.
Every season has been great. Certainly, some seasons are better than others, but the acting, the writing, and the direction is strong throughout. Standouts of the anthology series includes Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thorton, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemmons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Bokeem Woodbine.
Each season starts with a crime. The path it traverses from there is a wonder.
1. Atlanta (FX) — Sorry HBO, but FX has you beat. Long live basic cable!
This is Donald Glover’s second appearance (see Community) on this list. Third, if you count 30 Rock.
I’m a big fan of experimental storytelling. When it works, it adds a whole layer of interesting to a tale. Donald Glover has mastered the art of absurdity.
The show’s plot is unfocused. Barely holding it all together is the thread of Earn (Donald Glover) managing the on-the-rise rapper Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry), who is also his cousin. Zazie Beetz plays Glover’s love interest. Lakeith Stanfield turns in a star-making performance as the unflappable and perpetually high Darius. Each episode focuses on one or multiples of these core characters.
The show smartly addresses social issues and even takes jabs at certain pop culture icons (look out Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber). And it produced the most thrilling episode of television of the decade: “Teddy Perkins.”