Ranking the best television shows of any decade is a complicated task, but some decades are easier than others. At the end of the 1970s, for instance, you could easily assemble a sterling top 10 featuring Roots, the four sitcoms that aired together in CBS’ legendary 1973 Saturday night lineup (All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show), and a handful of the Seventies’ other great sitcoms. (Say, Taxi, Barney Miller, The Jeffersons, and Laverne & Shirley?)
Identifying the best series of the 2010s isn’t nearly as simple. Some of that is the fact that several inner-circle TV Hall of Famers began in the 2000s and continued into the 2010s. Should they be eligible? If so, do we factor in their entire runs, or only the episodes that aired this decade? Mostly, though, it’s just about how much television we’ve gotten over a period that’s come to be known as Peak TV. The rush for cable networks to follow HBO, FX, and AMC into the prestige-drama business, plus the arrival of Netflix and the Streaming Wars, means there’s exponentially more programming to consider. And a lot of it is terrific.
The last time I ranked this many shows, there were a lot of rules involved. Here, we decided on only two: 1) The majority of episodes had to have aired in this decade; and 2) No more than two seasons can have aired prior to 2010. So Breaking Bad qualified for both, while Mad Men qualified for the first rule — and would have made the top 10 just based on its 2010s seasons — but not the second. (Apologies to all who want to make like Joan in the SDCP elevator now.) Otherwise, this list leans heavily toward scripted series and narrative fiction — and often towards series that deftly balanced comedy and drama — with a sprinkling of sketch comedy and children’s programs. It also largely foregoes miniseries, even great ones like Show Me a Hero or Chernobyl, favoring instead the idea of television as an ongoing experience over years.
With those caveats out of the way, here are the shows I considered the 50 best of the 2010s.