50 Best TV Shows of the 2010s - Rolling Stone
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50 Best TV Shows of the 2010s

From obscure, oddball masterpieces (‘Baskets’) to epic, blockbuster-grade spectacles (‘Game of Thrones’), this decade gave us almost too much great television to handle. Here are the 50 shows that stand above the rest

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Michael Parmelee/FX; Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios; Suzanne Tenner/FX; Van Redin/HBO

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.


THE GOOD WIFE reaches its dramatic conclusion on the series finale, Sunday, May 8 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick.Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS.©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Jeff Neumann/CBS


‘The Good Wife’

Debuting on CBS a few months before the start of the decade, The Good Wife neatly bridged the gap between TV’s past and its future. Structurally, the show — starring Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, disgraced wife of a disgraced politician, forced to finally make use of her law degree to pay the bills — was a traditional broadcast network legal drama, where cases were introduced and resolved over the course of an hour. But creators Robert and Michelle King kept smuggling in more serialized elements when their bosses weren’t looking. It was a running gag that Alicia was obsessed with fake cable antihero drama Darkness at Noon, yet the writing and Margulies’ performance made Alicia herself enigmatic antihero too. When Margulies opted to hang up her wig, the Kings made the transformation to the modern era complete with spinoff The Good Fight, made for a streamer (CBS All Access) and even more serialized and morally ambiguous than its predecessor had been.
Streaming on CBS All Access, Amazon Prime, and Hulu

BASKETS -- "Basque-ets" --Season 3, Episode 9 (Airs Tuesday, March 20, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Zach Galifianakis as Chip Baskets, Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets. CR: Colleen Hayes/FX

Colleen Hayes/FX



This incredibly dry FX comedy about clowning, Costco, and Arby’s feels like Peak TV in a nutshell: an oddball series dialed into a very small and specific frequency that sounded gorgeous to those who could pick it up, and improbably stuck around a while in spite of its limited potential audience. (See also: AMC’s Lodge 49.) The magic trick of Baskets was how it took broader-than-broad comic devices — Zach Galifianakis as identical twins, Louie Anderson in drag as their mom — and played them absolutely straight. (Anderson won an Emmy for the largely dramatic role.) As its cartoonishly dysfunctional family helped one another towards extremely modest improvements, the basic fact of Baskets’ ongoing existence grew almost as charming as the show itself.
Streaming on Hulu 




Cinemax has long existed in the shadow of sister network HBO, and has long been the butt of jokes about how its name should start with “Skin” rather than “Cin.” But for a while this decade, the pay cabler carved a more respectable identity for itself as the home of a series of muscular, pulpy action dramas that were always better than they needed to be. The best of these was Banshee, the giddily violent story of a master thief (Antony Starr) who assumes the identity of Lucas Hood, the murdered new sheriff of a small town in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Every week, Banshee presented fight scenes so lavishly choreographed and filmed, they put the rest of television — yes, even Game of Thrones and Daredevil — to shame. (This one is a masterpiece.) And every week, the fake Hood was surrounded by a small army of colorful characters like gender-fluid hacker Job (Hoon Lee) or ex-Amish crime boss Kai (Ulrich Thomsen). Banshee kicked ass, took names, and cracked wise to a delirious degree.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tnt/Kobal/Shutterstock (5882928u)Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, Scott BakulaMen Of A Certain Age - 2009TntUSATelevision



‘Men of a Certain Age’

Men of a Certain Age seemed designed to be lost to history. It arrived in December of 2009 (making it barely eligible for this list), a time of year when linear TV shows don’t typically premiere, since no one is paying attention. It was part of a TNT push into the FX/AMC “quality drama” space that was over practically before it began, and it’s never had a significant streaming home. (Maybe it winds up on HBO Max?) For that matter, it was a deliberately very small show, about a trio of buddies — Ray Romano as a divorced gambling addict, Scott Bakula as struggling actor who never grew up, and Andre Braugher as a married car salesman battling his father’s disapproval and his own expanding waistline — approaching 50 with resignation, but not fear. The stakes of the stories were modest, like Braugher’s desire to win a company softball game, but the performances were strong and lived-in enough to convey how important this tiny stuff was to the guys. In particular, the acting role reversal between Braugher (a dramatic heavyweight doing his first significant comic work) and Romano (a sitcom star turning into a dramatic powerhouse) was a marvel.
Episodes available for purchase, or to stream on Hoopla

NEW GIRL: L-R: Jess (Zooey Deschanel), Cece (Hannah Simone) and the gang go on an epic Valentine's Day pub crawl in the "The Crawl" episode of NEW GIRL airing Tuesday, Feb. 10 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Adam Taylor/FOX

Adam Taylor/FOX


‘New Girl’

The 2010s were a fine decade for the hangout comedy, a sitcom sub-genre where the pleasure is often less in the individual jokes than in the experience of spending a short time every week with a collection of charming goofballs. (See also Cougar Town and Happy Endings.) Fox’s New Girl didn’t begin life as a hangout series, but rather as a showcase for the adorkable charm of star Zooey Deschanel, who played a hyper-emotional woman who moves into a loft with three confused dudes after a messy breakup. She was meant to provide all the weird comic energy, while they would be her straight men. Instead, New Girl quickly realized that the guys — Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, and Lamorne Morris — could be just as strange as the gal, often more so, and New Girl began to sing even when Deschanel wasn’t warbling her character’s own theme song. The series suffered from narrative ADHD — the slightly more focused second season, which teased out a romance between Deschanel’s Jess and Johnson’s eccentric bartender Nick, was by far its best — until it eventually gave up on plot altogether, understanding that all viewers wanted was to see likably funny people be likable and funny together.
Streaming on Netflix 

PARENTHOOD -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) top row; Peter Krause as Adam Braverman, Sarah Ramos as Haddie Braverman, Dax Shepard as Crosby Braverman, Lauren Graham as Sarah Braverman, Miles Heizer as Drew Holt, Sam Jaeger as Joel Graham, bottom row; Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman, Max Burkholder as Max Braverman, Craig T. Nelson as Zeek Braverman, Bonnie Bedelia as Camille Braverman, Mae Whitman as Amber Holt, Erika Christensen as Julia Braverman-Graham, Savannah Paige Rae as Sydney Graham -- NBC Photo: Art Streiber.

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via



Very loosely adapting the 1990 Ron Howard/Steve Martin film, this NBC family drama from Friday Night Lights showrunner Jason Katims could feel like a competitive crying event, for both viewers and the deep, versatile cast playing the huge but pathologically close-knit members of the Braverman clan. (Of the actors, Mae Whitman was the undisputed weeping champ.) As the Bravermans grappled with a wide swath of issues — infertility, special needs children, cancer, personal and romantic disappointments — Parenthood at times risked doing its tear-jerking job too well. The Bravermans began to feel so real that it became easier to complain about specific parenting or marital choices than about the show’s creative decisions. (Though there were some dumb ones, like when Monica Potter’s Kristina ran an improbably strong campaign for mayor of Berkeley, despite her lack of qualifications.) Like actual family life, Parenthood could be terribly messy, but it was almost always time well spent.
Streaming on Hulu 

Jane The Virgin -- "Chapter Eighty-Six" -- Image Number: JAV505a_0356.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Gina Rodriguez as Jane and Andrea Navedo as Xo -- Photo: Richard Foreman, Jr./The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC  All Rights Reserved.

Richard Foreman, Jr./The CW


‘Jane the Virgin’

Making something that functions simultaneously as a parody of a genre and a straightforward example of it is damned hard. But when it works, in movies like The Princess Bride and Galaxy Quest, or in this delightful CW riff on telenovelas, few things are more pleasurable. So on the one hand, this loose remake of a Venezuelan series offered one ridiculous, melodramatic contrivance after another, starting with the titular premise about a young woman (Gina Rodriguez, in a role that rightly made her a star) who gets artificially inseminated by accident. But on the other, Jane showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman was aware of how silly this all was, and she made sure the show — narrated in cheekily self-aware style by Anthony Mendez — acknowledged it at every turn. Whether straightforward or spoofing, Jane was a joy.
Streaming on Netflix 

Disney XD


‘Gravity Falls’

This wonderful Disney cartoon series threw The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Lost into a blender for the supernatural adventures of tween twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal). The cherubic siblings spent a summer exploring the mysterious doings in a Pacific Northwest town where their larcenous great-uncle Stan (series creator Alex Hirsch) ran a bogus tourist attraction. As they battled an army of indestructible garden gnomes with a leaf blower, discovered America’s “eighth-and-a-half president” alive and encased in a block of peanut brittle, or tried to prevent extradimensional monster Bill Cipher (also Hirsch) from conquering the universe, Dipper and Mabel’s love for one another kept all the madness neatly and warmly grounded.
Streaming on Disney+ and Hulu 

Jennifer Clasen/Amazon



This Amazon Prime dramedy about a literal trans parent (Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman) coming out late in life began as the first great show made for streaming, with a level of intimacy that blended the best of independent moviemaking with the best of serialized TV storytelling. Eventually, it turned into a wreck off-screen, as Tambor was fired for allegedly harassing trans cast and crew members, while the show itself gradually lost the thread on most of its erratic and narcissistic characters. It concluded as a bizarre feature-length musical that killed off Maura so that no one had to keep working with Tambor. But before things spun out of control, Transparent opened up huge new possibilities for whose stories TV could tell, and how they could be told.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 

MR. ROBOT -- "Unauthorized" Episode 401 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, Christian Slater as Mr. Robot -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Fisher/USA Network)

Elizabeth Fisher/USA Network


‘Mr. Robot’

This USA cyberpunk thriller centered on a brilliant hacker (Rami Malek, who won an Emmy for the role before he got his Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury) looking to lead a revolution against evil corporations. Briefly, it felt like the series was going to revolutionize television, too, thanks to its off-kilter visual style and addictively paranoid sensibilities. That never quite happened, but Malek’s raw performance and the Hitchcockian direction of creator Sam Esmail kept Mr. Robot interesting straight through this final batch of episodes.
Previous seasons streaming on Amazon Prime Video 



Steven Universe

Courtesy of Cartoon Network


‘Steven Universe’

Kindness proved the most important power of them all in this empathetic Cartoon Network adventure about a half-alien boy (Zach Callison) being raised by the three alien sidekicks of his late mother. As he and the other Crystal Gems tried to fight back an alien invasion of Earth, Steven learned to fly, create an impregnable shield, and — in one of many queer story points — merge with his female best friend into an intersex superbeing. More often than not, though, Steven saved his universe by seeing the best in his opponents and finding ways to help them through their worst moments.
Streaming on Hulu 




Girls got itself into trouble from its opening scene, where struggling young writer Hannah Horvath — played by the series’ creator, lead writer, and director, Lena Dunham — told her parents, “I think I might be the voice of my generation — or, at least, a voice of a generation.” Hannah is high on opium at the time, and the second half of the sentence is meant to acknowledge how ridiculous the first half is. But between that line, the universal/generic title, and the bevy of glowing profiles on the previously-obscure Dunham, the HBO newcomer was suddenly expected to be a grand statement on millennial life in the big city. Instead, all it wanted — and was so often fantastic at — was to tell a very specific coming-of-age story about a young woman as annoying as she was damaged, and about the many women and men (including Adam Driver in his first major role) riding the emotional roller coaster of being friends with her.
Streaming on HBO Now; first two seasons also streaming on Amazon Prime Video

POSE -- "Blow" -- Season 2, Episode 7 (Airs Tues, July 30, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured (l-r):  Billy Porter as Pray Tell. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX

Michael Parmelee/FX



In 2014, Transparent broke ground as a show with a trans main character, even if it had to compromise to the realities of the marketplace by casting a familiar, cis actor like Tambor in the role. Four years later, FX’s Pose left that show in the dust by debuting with a cast filled with trans actors — including Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore — playing trans characters to tell a story about the ball scene in Eighties New York. The icing on the cake: Emmy winner Billy Porter as that world’s catty but ultimately caring emcee. As the characters dealt with the AIDS crisis and the many other perils of being poor, brown, and queer, the Pose creative team turned modern cable-drama convention on its head by letting good things happen to our extremely vulnerable heroes. Co-creator Ryan Murphy’s work often suffocates under too many layers of irony; Pose (and, for that matter, American Crime Story, another runner-up for this list) demonstrates how powerfully he can be sincere.
First season streaming on Netflix 

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Universal Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock (5879048b)Lena Waithe, Aziz AnsariMaster Of None - 20153 Arts Entertainment/Universal TVUSATelevisionComedy



‘Master of None’

The cast of Parks and Recreation came, saw, and then conquered Hollywood when the show was done. But while Chris Pratt was off battling Thanos and Nick Offerman was becoming America’s most beloved craftsman, Aziz Ansari opted to co-create (with Parks Alan Yang) and star in this charming and visually lush Netflix series about a would-be actor trying to find his own passion, often by learning about other people’s. The innate curiosity of Ansari’s Dev was embodied by the entire show, whose best episodes often told stories about his loved ones (his father’s immigrant journey, his best friend Denise — played by Lena Waithe — gradually coming out to her family), or even people he barely knows (the poetic “New York, I Love You,” a collection of short stories about doormen, immigrant cab drivers, and other New Yorkers whose inner lives are often ignored).
Streaming on Netflix 

YOU'RE THE WORST -- "No Longr Just Us" -- Episode 313 (Airs Wednesday, November 16, 10:30 pm e/p -- Pictured: (l-r) Aya Cash as Gretchen Cutler, Chris Geere as Jimmy Shive-Overly. CR: Byron Cohen/FX

Courtesy of Byron Cohen/FX


‘You’re the Worst’

Like Jane the Virgin with telenovelas, You’re the Worst (which debuted on FX before moving to FXX) aimed to deconstruct romantic comedies even as it was telling a very clear romantic-comedy story. In this case, it was about two terrible people — Chris Geere’s vain author Jimmy, and Aya Cash’s selfish publicist Gretchen — who found the very idea of romantic love contemptible, and were baffled and even horrified to recognize their growing feelings for one another. Absurd on many levels — Jimmy kept a disguise kit with a cartoon mustache handy, while Gretchen’s best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue) often seemed too dumb to function — the series also successfully navigated a lot of tricky emotional terrain in its depiction of Gretchen’s clinical depression or the PTSD of Jimmy’s freeloading sidekick Edgar (Desmin Borges). Even completely conventional romances are tough to land, but You’re the Worst pulled it off with grace.
Streaming on Hulu 

Korra demonstrates fire and waterbending in THE LEGEND OF KORRA on Nickelodeon. Photo: Nickelodeon. ©2012 Viacom, International, Inc. All Rights Reserved



‘The Legend of Korra’

Nickelodeon’s Korra was a sequel to animated epic Avatar: The Last Airbender, set in a parallel reality. In this world, some people are born with the ability to manipulate one of the four core elements, while one person per generation — in this case, impetuous young Korra (Janet Varney, who also had a recurring live-action role on You’re the Worst) — can master earth, fire, water, and air, and is asked to use those gifts to bring spiritual balance to the world. Set decades after the events of Airbender, and with an older Avatar this time around, Korra was a more emotionally complicated and narratively adventurous series, meant, like the later Harry Potter books relative to Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, to be consumed by an audience that had grown up on the earlier stories. Great as both an action epic and a coming-of-age story.
Streaming on the NickHits Amazon channel; episodes also available for purchase 

Paul Schiraldi/HBO


‘The Deuce’

This HBO drama from frequent collaborators David Simon and George Pelecanos (The Wire) traced porn’s rise through the mainstream across the Seventies and Eighties, and the parallel transformation of New York’s Times Square from filthy vice haven to corporate-run tourist playground. Despite the ugly subject matter — unflinchingly portrayed throughout, particularly in the slow-motion tragedy of prostitute-turned-porn-star Lori (Emily Meade) — The Deuce could be startlingly fun in the dark comedy its characters found in their work. Its huge, deep ensemble included familiar members of the Simon repertory company mixing with more famous faces like James Franco (whose alleged misconduct elsewhere cast a shadow over a series covering many of the same issues) and Maggie Gyllenhaal. If the sprawl occasionally made the show feel diffuse even by Simon/Pelecanos standards, the highs were equal to anything the creators have done in their more famous series.
Streaming on HBO Now 

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.Season Two of "Key & Peele" premieres September 26.photo credit: Ian White/Comedy Central

Ian White/Comedy Cen


‘Key & Peele’

Often, when comedians transition into working with darker material, it’s a shock. But few who watched the five hilarious seasons of Key & Peele could have been startled by how great Jordan Peele has been at crafting horror movies like Get Out and Us. The Comedy Central sketch series began as a relatively gentle but funny exploration of Peele and Keegan-Michael Key’s place in America as biracial men not fully comfortable in either black or white culture. See the pair as gentrified businessmen trying to one-up each other at a soul food restaurant, or Key playing President Obama’s “anger translator” Luther. In time, though, Key & Peele became famous for its commitment to its jokes, and to the fundamental darkness lurking underneath them. When Peele played Family Matters star Reginald VelJohnson complaining about the increased prominence of Steve Urkel, the sketch ended on a note as terrifying as our first glimpse of the Sunken Place. 
Streaming on Hulu 

Ed Miller/Amazon Studios



A romantic comedy in which the relationship plays out in the wrong order: American businessman Rob and London-based teacher Sharon (played by co-creators Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) meet and have sex during one of his trips, then they move in and have a baby together, then they get married, and only then do they fall in love. Creatively profane in a way that could be as jarring as it was funny — a friend of Rob’s suggests of childbirth, “You see a little troll tobogganing out of your wife’s snatch on a wave of turds, and part of you will hold her responsible” — the Amazon series was also bracingly good at illustrating the hard work that goes into maintaining a marriage, even one where the partners really enjoy each other’s company.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 

THE GOOD PLACE -- "The Book of Dougs" Episode 311 -- Pictured: (l-r) Ted Danson as Michael, Kristen Bell as Eleanor -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

Colleen Hayes/NBC


‘The Good Place’

Over the course of this decade, the traditional broadcast networks largely ceded experimentation and ambition to cable and streaming. But there may not be a show on television that reaches higher than NBC’s The Good Place, whose core subjects are the fundamental nature of life on earth, whether humanity has been a worthy or worthless endeavor, and what we owe to each other. The ensemble comedy takes place largely in a broken version of the afterlife. It quotes famous philosophers so often and at such length that its fans could probably write a paper on Kant by now, and the only other show on this list that gets as much value out of digital effects is Game of Thrones. It asks deep questions about who we are and why we’re here, and then tells ridiculous jokes about how stupid everything is in Florida. It is a much bigger swing than the other two series from Good Place creator Mike Schur on this list, and unsurprisingly is less consistent as a result. But its highs are deliriously high.
Previous seasons streaming on Netflix

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Home Box Office/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884589d)Laura DernEnlightened - 2011Director: Laura . White DernHome Box OfficeUSATelevision




Laura Dern (who co-created with Mike White) starred as Amy Jellicoe, a pathologically irritating corporate executive who has a nervous breakdown, goes to a spiritual retreat, and returns determined to save the world, if she can get anyone to talk to her. So grating was Amy’s presence that large swaths of this HBO show’s first season were unbearable to sit through. Until, that is, an episode late in that season, told from the point of view of Amy’s mom (played by Dern’s own mom, Diane Ladd), made it clear that White and Dern knew just how difficult Amy was to be around. (A pair of similar diversions from her POV in Season Two did the same.) Once that was obvious, it became much easier to see Enlightened for what it was: a lovely, if challenging, meditation on modern life in which even someone with the best of intentions could create trouble for herself and the people she cared about.
Streaming on HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video 



HBO's :"Treme"- Season IIEpisode #201 "Accentuate the Positive"Cast:Melissa Leo- Toni BernetteJon Seda- Nelson HidalgoIndia Ennenga- Sofia BernetteGeorge Wilson- PokeVenida Evans- Mrs. BrooksJeffrey Carisalez- Arnie ReyesAngelo Brocato- HimselfSteve Zahn- Davis McAlaryClarke Peters- Albert LambreauxKhandi Alexander- LaDonna Batiste-WilliamsPhyllis Montana-LeBlanc- DesireeWalter Harris Jr.- FranklinTim Bellow- RileyWendell Pierce- Antoine BatisteRob Brown- Delmond LambreauxLucia Micarelli- AnnieMichiel Huisman- SonnyPaul Sanchez- HimselfJohn Boutte- HimselfDanai Gurira- Jill HudsonKim Dickens- Janette DesautelDavi Jay- RobinetteDan Ziskie- CJ LiguoriDavid Morse- Lt. ColsonMatt Perrine- HimselfTommy Malone- Himself (Subdudes)Craig Klein- Himself (Bonerama)Terius Grey- Juvenille

Paul Schiraldi Photography



Beginning a few months after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, this HBO series created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer (the latter of whom would go on to make Amazon’s nifty cop drama Bosch) followed a disparate group of New Orleans natives: chefs and lawyers and cops, among others. Treme’s first love, though, was the city’s jazz scene and its musicians, and the series as a whole often had the loose feel of a jazz composition. It wasn’t so much a story you followed as a place you got to visit for an hour at a time, soaking in the atmosphere while admiring the subtle dramatic work being done by Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Clarke Peters, Kim Dickens, and the rest of a deep ensemble. Less accessible even compared to other Simon shows, Treme nevertheless offered potent drama for those willing to swing to its rhythms.
Streaming on HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video 

Comedy Central


‘Broad City’

Many of the “comedies” on this list are arguably just dramas that run a half-hour, or 50/50 balances of laughter and tragedy. Comedy Central’s Broad City occasionally tugged at the heartstrings — particularly in a finale that saw BFFs Abbi and Ilana (creator/stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer) saying goodbye to one another — but it was first and foremost a balls-out, hysterical buddy comedy that could go gut-buster for gut-buster with anything else on television. The leads proved a classic type of duo — Ilana all unbridled id, capable of pulling off whatever lie she was telling herself that week; Abbi the ball of angst perpetually getting in her own way — and their adventures mixed slapstick, stoner comedy, pegging, and more inspired lunacy. Oh, and Hillary Clinton (who got to hear about the pegging, of course).
Streaming on Hulu

Lacey Terrell/HBO



When Veep debuted on HBO in the spring of 2012, American politics still felt stable, even sane. Arriving in this bygone era of normalcy, the series turned out to be less a takedown of any particular American ideology than about the way our system made it so easy to not have one at all. Title character Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her greatest performance) was never even explicitly identified as a Democrat or Republican, because it didn’t matter. All Selina Meyer truly cared about was Selina Meyer. The same proved true of almost every senator, congressperson, ambassador, and aide who crossed her path, all of them as desperate, venal, and foul-mouthed as she was. The final two of its seven seasons (run by Seinfeld alum David Mandel after original showrunner Amrando Ianucci left) played out in a political universe that seemed to defy satire, where too many of the people in power seemed dumber, more inept, and more narcissistic than even the wildly overgrown man-child Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons). By the end, it was less parody than documentary. But thank goodness for the great JLD.
Streaming on HBO Now; first two seasons also streaming on Amazon Prime Video



Craig Blankenhorn/HBO


‘Boardwalk Empire’

David Chase’s two top lieutenants on The Sopranos were Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, whose respective follow-up series split Tony Soprano’s world in two. Weiner’s Mad Men could feel like a mix of interpersonal Sopranos-style stories with a sociological examination of the Sixties; Winter’s Boardwalk Empire often felt like the straightforward Mob drama many Sopranos fans wanted. The HBO show featured a lot of infamous mobsters like Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham), but its focus was a fictionalized one: Steve Buscemi as Prohibition-era Atlantic City crime boss Nucky Thompson. The reserved Nucky was less exciting than the supporting players — the series’ best season, its fourth, treated Nucky’s African-American counterpart Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) as his narrative equal — but the others were so vivid, and the directing style (kicked off by Martin Scorsese) so dynamic that it didn’t matter. Lots of series this decade adopted the “10-hour movie” style, and turned into dramatic mush by midseason. Boardwalk had an impressive gift for concluding each season in ways that made all that had happened earlier feel like more than the sum of their parts.
Streaming on HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video 

Mark Hill/HBO



Considering this HBO series debuted only seven weeks ago, it seemed unfair at first to pit such a small sample against shows that were either complete or have been running several years now. (Ditto Netflix’s great Russian Doll.) But the more we saw of Damon Lindelof’s racial remix of the legendary comic — which here pits costumed cop Regina King against an army of masked white supremacists, with periodic trips to the Twenties, the Thirties, and a moon of Jupiter — the more it proved itself a clear contender for a spot on this list. Watchmen is that audacious, that exciting, that forceful about what it has to say regarding America’s terrible legacy of race relations. At this writing, I haven’t seen the finale, which could stumble so badly or (like Lindelof’s previous HBO series, The Leftovers) end so triumphantly that I’ll wish I’d placed it much lower or higher. For safety, if not posterity, it lands right here in the middle.
Streaming on HBO Now 



BROOKLYN NINE-NINE -- "Hitchcock & Scully" Episode 602 -- Pictured: (l-r) Andre Braugher as Captain Holt, Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, Melissa Fumero as Amy Santiago, Joe Lo Truglio as Charles Boyle -- (Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC)

Vivian Zink/NBC


‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’

Many of the shows on this list could only have been made during the Wild West trailblazing days of Peak TV. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, though, is a fairly old-fashioned workplace sitcom that could have existed in many prior decades. The series, created by Mike Schur and Dan Goor, finds its way into the top 25 not through innovation, but execution. Like New Girl (with which it once did a crossover, when it was still airing on Fox), it’s a hangout comedy where half the pleasure is just being around the silly members of one NYPD detective squad, and in particular witnessing the comedic yin and yang of sloppy Die Hard- and boy band-lover Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and repressed-bordering-on-robotic Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher). Where even great sitcoms tend to run out of steam by their fourth or fifth season, Brooklyn feels as strong as it’s ever been, with a simple-yet-sturdy foundation that seems designed to keep it funny for however long its second life on NBC lasts.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu

Hank Azaria as Jim Brockmire - Brockmire _ Season 3, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Kim Simms/IFC

Kim Simms/IFC



Hank Azaria, in the live-action part he was born to play, is Jim Brockmire, a honey-voiced baseball announcer infamous for the on-air meltdown he had upon discovering his wife’s infidelity. Years later — now a sexual libertine himself with a taste for every illicit substance known to man — Brockmire attempts to start over in baseball from rock bottom, narrating every event in his life like it’s a double to the gap in left. (When new girlfriend Jules, played winningly by Amanda Peet, puts her finger up his ass mid-coitus, Jim intones, “And Jim Brockmire is into it! The old fastball makes for a real snug butt plug!”) The IFC series is filthy on a level that would leave Rob and Sharon from Catastrophe feeling alarmed. Yet Brockmire treats Jim’s friendships with Jules and Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) completely seriously, just as it does Jim’s struggle to find real, long-lasting pleasure in a world he finds terribly broken and sad. Juvenile and mature in the exact right proportions.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- "I Have To Get Out" -- Image Number: CEG413a_0296.jpg -- Pictured (center): Rachel Bloom as Rebecca -- Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.



‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

The heroine of this CW musical dramedy, attorney Rebecca Bunch (played by Rachel Bloom, who created the series with Aline Brosh McKenna), is Jewish, a cultural detail that fueled memorable songs like “JAP Battle” and “Remember That We Suffered.” To borrow a line from a Hebrew tune Rebecca would know by heart, if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had only given us two or three note-perfect original songs a week like those (or “Don’t Be a Lawyer,” or “The Math of Love Triangles” )… dayenu. (Translation: It would have been enough.) But Crazy Ex went well beyond its earworms in ways ridiculous (Rebecca relocates her entire life to West Covina to pursue a summer-camp crush) and sad (Rebecca is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder). The songs tended to be the highlight of each episode, and they proved essential to giving Rebecca’s story the proper ending. But the parts where people were talking proved splendid, too.
Streaming on Netflix

Orange Is The New Black Season 5

Jojo Whilden//Netflix


‘Orange Is the New Black’

Each episode of this Netflix dramedy set at a women’s federal prison opened with a long main title sequence, in which we saw extreme close-ups of women’s faces: some young, others old and wrinkled, some in between. They were white, black, brown, and more, unadorned or pierced and tattooed. They weren’t the women we would see on the show itself, but they signaled that Orange would be presenting a wide array of faces and voices the likes of which television had rarely touched on in the past. Though our point-of-view character was Taylor Schilling’s annoyingly privileged Piper, the series quickly expanded its gaze to include women (and even a few interesting men) from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities, and more. In trying to do so much with so many different kinds of characters, Orange was often erratic. But its ambition was endearing, and its sweep ensured that if one story wasn’t working, another one would be along in moments that might be more to a viewer’s fancy.
Streaming on Netflix

Danny Feld/Comedy Central



There are performers who are said to be game for anything. Then there’s what Andy Daly did as “reviewer of life” Forrest MacNeil, a depressingly chipper and oblivious WASP who made it his mission to experience and review whatever his audience asked him to, from something silly like eating 15 pancakes in one sitting to something horrible like divorcing his wife (and then, in the series’ masterstroke, following that by immediately having him eat 30 pancakes). The series, adapted for Comedy Central by Daly and others from an Australian show, was a loose collection of sketches that were hilarious on their own as Forrest continually and voluntarily made an ass of himself. But what made it extraordinary was the way the American Review slowly but surely depicted the show-within-the-show destroying every aspect of Forrest’s life, because he could never bring himself to say no to anything. Fifteen is an upsetting number of pancakes, and three was a painfully funny number of Review seasons.
Streaming on Comedy Central app; episodes also available for purchase 

BOB'S BURGERS: On a Belcher family trip to the mall, Tina is mistaken for a sleeping boy's girlfriend. Meanwhile, Gene and Louise are turned loose on motorized animals, Linda disrupts a book reading and Bob struggles to shop for acceptable pants in the "Legends of the Mall" episode of BOB’S BURGERS airing Sunday, Nov. 3 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. BOB'S BURGERS™ and © 2019 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. CR: FOX



‘Bob’s Burgers’

Crazy things sometimes happen to low-rent restaurateur Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), wife Linda (John Roberts), and unruly children Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Merman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal again) on this Fox animated family comedy — like the time Gene had an E.T.-esque adventure with a robotic toilet voiced by Jon Hamm. For the most part, though, the show is a relatively simple, small-scale story in the mold of King of the Hill, with Bob as the reasonable man in an increasingly unreasonable world. Still, Bob’s Burgers is pretty darned elegant in its simplicity, with the Belchers and their assorted friends, family, and enemies fitting together like a well-oiled, albeit noisy, comic machine that feels heartwarming even as nothing ever goes right for poor Bob. Bonus secret ingredient: the regular song parodies on each episode’s Burger of the Day.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu

Kerry Bishe as Donna Clark, Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark, Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 10  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

Tina Rowden/AMC


‘Halt and Catch Fire’

When this drama about the rise of personal computers and the internet debuted, it seemed an uninspired rehash of elements from other prestige cable dramas, particularly ones from the same network, AMC. Lee Pace’s slick, enigmatic salesman Joe MacMillan felt like Don Draper in Eighties fashions, while Scoot McNairy’s bitter engineer Gordon Clark could come across as a less homicidal Walter White. By the end of its bumpy first season, though, Halt revealed itself to be much less interested in antihero cliches than it was in powerfully depicting the ways that we connect with one another, and how technology can bring us closer or push us apart depending how it’s used. By quickly expanding the roles of antisocial software designer Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Gordon’s gifted wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), and by making their partnership the series’ emotional centerpiece, Halt quickly left the knockoff accusations behind and transformed into its own incredibly moving story.
Streaming on Netflix

HANNIBAL -- "The Wrath of the Lamb" Episode 313 -- Pictured: Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter -- (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via



Long swaths of this adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels — starring Mads Mikkelsen as the titular cannibal serial killer — presented itself as the nightmare visions of unwell FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). The series itself still feels like a dream. How in the world did a show this gory — and, more importantly, this queer, in every sense of the word (Hannibal and Will were clearly one another’s One True Pairing) — run for three seasons on a broadcast network (NBC)? Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller got away with a lot because the series was basically a foreign acquisition that cost far less than another Chicago Fire spinoff would have. And while the last thing the world needed this decade was another serial killer story, let alone another one about this killer, Hannibal’s baroque style was so absurdly gripping that the series often felt less like a thriller than abstract science fiction. We didn’t need it, but thank goodness we got it. 
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

FARGO -- “The Myth of Sisyphus” -- Episode 203 (Airs October 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Brad Mann as Gale Kitchen, Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan, Todd Mann as Wayne Kitchen. CR: Chris Large/FX

Chris Large/FX



If Hannibal seemed a terrible idea on paper, at least there was ample precedent for different takes on the story from directors as disparate in style as Michael Mann and Jonathan Demme. The Coen brothers’ Fargo, on the other hand, was such a product of their idiosyncratic style that the idea of anyone attempting to adapt it — even in a series that was only loosely connected to the events of the film — felt ludicrous. Somehow, though, Noah Hawley’s Coen-cover-band approach for FX worked beautifully. The best of the decade’s many anthology miniseries (see also American Horror Story and True Detective), Fargo was set in Coen country, featured some Coen actors (Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Stuhlbarg), and had a recognizable blend of quirky humor and morality play. Some characters might directly evoke figures from the film (as small-town cops, Allison Tolman and Carrie Coon both had more than a little Marge Gunderson in them), while others (Bokeem Woodbine as loquacious gangster Mike Milligan) felt like wholly new creations. None of it should have worked, yet almost all of it has. You betcha.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu



‘Game of Thrones’

The scope of this fantasy epic was as big as television has ever seen. So, it often seemed, were the wild swings in quality from Thrones at its best (the battle of the Blackwater, the knighting of Brienne of Tarth) and Thrones at its worst (all the rape and torture, most of the final season). How do you properly rank a show whose strongest moments left much of the medium in the dust, and whose weakest ones seemed almost comically inept? Just making it into the top 15 feels about right, even in the wake of that ridiculous finale. The HBO series’ sheer ambition, and its ability to most of the time keep all of its disparate threads feeling vital and tied to one another, remains a staggering achievement. And even if the story didn’t always serve them well, the cast — Lena Headey as the ruthless Cersei, Peter Dinklage as wryly bitter Tyrion, Maisie Williams as world-saving assassin Arya, and so many, many, many more — worked wonders in bringing George R.R. Martin’s strange parallel world to life.
Streaming on HBO Now 

Kyle MacLachlan in a still from Twin Peaks. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME


‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

The entire TV-revival trend may have been worth it to get us these 18 confounding, riveting episodes, which resurrected David Lynch and Mark Frost’s defiantly weird, hugely influential early-Nineties drama set in a surreal Pacific Northwest town. Much of the return seemed deliberately designed to troll fans who’d been waiting 25 years for the story to resume, like the way Kyle MacLachlan spent the majority of the season playing idiot man-child Dougie Jones rather than coffee-loving G-man Dale Cooper. And who could even begin to explain what happened to the frog-bug that climbed into that girl’s ear in the 1950s flashback episode, or how Cooper and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) wound up in the real world in the season’s closing scenes? But The Return’s best moments were so breathtaking in their raw artistry that fidelity to the original series, or even to basic narrative coherence, seemed beside the point. Watching it was among the most emotionally rich experiences this decade of TV had to offer.
Streaming on Showtime; episodes also available to purchase 

COMMUNITY -- "The First Chang Dynasty" Episode 320 -- Pictured: (l-r) Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, Joel McHale as Jeff, Chevy Chase as Pierce, Jim Rash as Dean Pelton, Donald Glover as Troy, Alison Brie as Annie, Danny Pudi as Abed, Gillian Jacobs as Britta -- (Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via



Pop culture-obsessed Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) somehow understood that he was a character on a television show, and frequently baffled his community college classmates with dialogue acknowledging that fact. The self-awareness of this cult comedy, created by Rick and Morty’s Dan Harmon, went well beyond Abed, though. Few shows in TV history have been so palpably conscious of their status as a piece of pop culture than this one, where in any given week, the Greendale campus could feel like it was part of the set of Goodfellas or Die Hard. But the show also used those pastiches to deepen our understanding of the characters. So when Asperger’s-ish Abed and cool guy Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) share a meal together, it’s an obvious riff on My Dinner with Andre, but it’s also about the struggle they have in connecting. The later seasons were a behind-the-scenes roller coaster that included Harmon’s ouster and surprise return, plus a shift from NBC to the now-defunct Yahoo Screen streaming platform. But when Community kept its film and TV obsessions closely tied to the conflicts among the study group, it was (to quote Abed) cool cool cool cool.
Streaming on Hulu 

TERRIERS, (from left): Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James, Noel Fisher, 'Missing Persons', (Season 1, ep. 107, aired Oct. 20, 2010), 2010. photo: Patrick McElhenney / © FX Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection

©FX Networks



Between the title and a poster image that saw stars Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James lurking behind a snarling dog, viewers couldn’t be blamed for thinking FX’s Terriers was about dogfighting rather than the buddy private-eye drama it actually was. Even without that confusing title, the show may not have been an easy sell. “Buddy private eyes” runs neck-and-neck with “noble cowboys” as the oldest and most picked-over TV premise, and the fringe nature of our heroes’ business made Terriers seem even lower than low-concept. But the chemistry between Logue and Raymond-James was the kind of thing you can’t bottle. The dialogue crackled. And as the series moved back and forth between shaggy standalone investigations and a more complicated film noir mystery about shadowy rich people up to no good, it became one of the most satisfying single seasons of TV made over the last 10 years. 
Episodes available for purchase 

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Michele K.Short/AMC/Sony Picture


‘Better Call Saul’

Perhaps the clearest example of the Alonzo Mourning gif in televised form is Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad prequel telling the origin story of Walter White’s slick lawyer Saul Goodman — or, as he’s called here so far, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). Breaking Bad was so perfect that any spinoff seemed destined to be a letdown, and one about a relatively thin character like Saul seemed a particular folly. (Even Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan thought so for a while.) Instead, AMC’s Saul has proven so emotionally complex — particularly in depicting Jimmy’s relationships with his arrogant brother Chuck (Michael McKean) and tenacious girlfriend Kim (Rhea Seehorn) — that it stopped being surprising a few seasons ago to hear people suggest they prefer it to the original series. Essentially two shows in one, the other follows the unflappable Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) as he gets deeper into the local drug cartel. That side of things is more susceptible to playing like Breaking Bad fan service, but both halves demonstrate the technical mastery and commitment to character that made Breaking Bad an all-time classic.
New episodes on AMC; previous seasons streaming on Netflix 

BETTER THINGS "Easter" Episode 8 (Airs Thursday, April 18 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. CR: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Suzanne Tenner/FX


‘Better Things’

Despite their ample artistry, Louis C.K.’s Louie and Horace and Pete aren’t on this list, after sexual misconduct allegations against C.K. cast a shadow over his work (as discussed here). Still, many of the shows made possible by Louie are here, including this FX dramedy that he helped make with longtime creative partner Pamela Adlon. A thinly-veiled memoir of Adlon’s life as a mother and vaguely famous actress, it has an invitingly loose, almost dreamlike vibe where scenes flow together not to let an elaborate plot unfold, but so we’ll understand how it feels for Adlon’s alter ego Sam to parent three challenging but loving daughters, or to lower her expectations about her romantic prospects at this stage of her life. Adlon ran the third season on her own after C.K.’s misdeeds came to light, and Better Things didn’t miss a beat, remaining a TV show you don’t so much watch as comfortably sink into.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu

Aden Young - in the SundanceTV original series "Rectify" - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden

Tina Rowden/Sundance



As a teenager, Daniel Holden was convicted of the rape and murder of his girlfriend and sentenced to death row. As Rectify begins, Daniel (Aden Young) is an adult startled to find himself released from prison after new DNA evidence turns up. That plot description suggests a thriller where Daniel and his crusading sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) begin an intense hunt for the true killer. But the Sundance series wasn’t particularly interested in the law-and-order of it all, preferring to focus on the emotional wallop of his return to a world that he never expected to see again. An ethereal, deeply spiritual experience, Rectify was a series in which very little seemed to be happening in terms of plot (Daniel listens to Harry Nillson’s cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” with a new friend), even as everything seemed to be happening in terms of how Daniel, Amantha, his sister-in-law Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), and more made sense of their unlikely new existences. An achingly beautiful series.
Streaming on Netflix 

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Fx Network/Kobal/Shutterstock (5885693i)Timothy Olyphant, Erica TazelJustified - 2010Fx NetworkUSATelevision

Fx Networks



“You make me pull, I put you down.” This was the motto of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a modern-day gunslinger created by the legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard, embodied for TV by the superhumanly charming Timothy Olyphant. Raylan’s threat wasn’t an empty one, but the efficiency of those eight words was pure Leonard: lean, mean, evocative, and terribly entertaining. As Raylan was assigned to his home state of Kentucky, he was pitted against one colorful villain after another, but always returned to his combustible old frenemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, somehow even more charming than Olyphant). The rare great drama that was also a fun drama, the FX show employed a structure that many “10-hour movie” series would have done well to follow, with a spate of self-contained episodes in the season’s first half to keep things lively before the more serialized mayhem followed. In one episode, Raylan finds Boyd on the verge of killing a man Raylan needs to take elsewhere. As the longtime foes stare each other down, Boyd wonders, “Well, are you asking me or are you telling me?” Raylan quips, “Makes you feel better, you can tell people I asked.” No bullets fly that day, because Raylan’s words are the only violence needed.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 

ATLANTA Robbin' Season -- "Crabs in a Barrel" -- Season Two, Episode 11 (Airs Thursday, May 10, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured (l-r): Lakeith Stanfield as Darius, Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles. CR: Guy D'Alema/FX

Guy D'Alema/FX



Before Donald Glover was one of the funniest actors on Community, he was one of the sharpest writers on 30 Rock. He moved on from the world of sitcoms to focus on his rap career as Childish Gambino, but also so he could write his own material rather than being a cog in another TV show’s machine. The result: this profoundly specific, always surprising FX comedy where Glover plays Earn Marks, a Princeton dropout who tries to escape poverty by managing the hip-hop career of his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), a.k.a. Paper Boi. More than any other series on this list (and more than any series this decade other than Louie), Atlanta kept you guessing as to what kind of show it wanted to be. One episode might be a light, hilarious shaggy-dog story about the indiginites Paper Boi suffers to to appease the one man in town who knows how to cut his hair. (Henry’s exasperated scowl is an incredible comic weapon.) The next would be a horror tale — and incisive commentary on the connection between abuse, self-loathing, and some of the great black musicians of the 20th century — where Alfred’s buddy Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself in the haunted mansion of a deracinated ghoul named Teddy Perkins (Glover, unrecognizable under a pile of makeup). Like a number of series on this list, each new season seems contingent on the schedule and inspiration of its busy creator. The indelible first two make the next one worth waiting for.
Previous seasons streaming on Hulu 

THE AMERICANS -- "Start" -- Season 6, Episode 10 -- (Airs Wednesday, May 30, 10:00 pm/ep) Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: FX



‘The Americans’

The best TV dramas of the start of the 21st century were Trojan horses that used genre tropes (Mafia for The Sopranos, cops and crooks for The Wire, Western for Deadwood) to smuggle in much bigger commentary about the birth and/or death of the American dream. The 2010s show that best followed that model was this period spy drama (from FX again) that was not-so-secretly a show about marriage. It is suburban Virginia at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s America, and a pair of KGB deep-cover operatives calling themselves Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have been pretending to be married for so long that they have two adolescent children, while Philip has begun feeling like he wants to treat their relationship as the real deal. The Americans worked stupendously well as a spy thriller, particularly as Philip stumbled into becoming best friends with Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the FBI counterintelligence agent who moved in across the street. But its most painful moments — particularly a train moving past a platform as “With Or Without You” played — were about the hard compromises husbands and wives, parents and children, have to make even in a far less dangerous life than the one Mr. and Mrs. Jennings led.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 

Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios



More humor and heartbreak in expert proportions, courtesy of genius creator-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a well-meaning, self-destructive woman who can’t get out of her own way. On the one hand, Fleabag settles comfortably into a long tradition of bawdy farce as the title character makes one bad choice after another, often turning to us in the audience to share her disappointment with herself and those around her. (Where other shows of this decade drove the direct-address device into the ground, Waller-Bridge’s expressive features made it a delight; in the second season, it even became a commentary on the relationship between fictional characters and their audiences.) On the other, the show is a profound, heartbreaking meditation on loneliness, as Fleabag copes with the death of her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), estrangement from her sister Clare (Sian Clifford) and their widower father (Bill Paterson), and — in the phenomenon-making second season — her inescapable attraction to a hot priest (Andrew Scott). In an era where no show ever seems to be truly dead, Waller-Bridge has been adamant that Fleabag’s wave goodbye to us is the last she wants to show of her alter ego. The ending, and the series as a whole, are so perfect, I hope we never see Fleabag again.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video 



‘BoJack Horseman’

Yet another series capable of making you laugh or weep uncontrollably from one moment to the next. What had initially seemed like a clever but familiar animated showbiz satire — about a washed-up Nineties sitcom star (Will Arnett, never better) struggling with his own irrelevance — soon revealed itself to be something much deeper, even as it never lost its comic edge. As BoJack battles depression and addiction, the series (created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg) is simultaneously a hysterical parody of TV antihero clichés and a genuinely moving example of the genre. BoJack deploys every comic tool in the book, from wordplay (as BoJack’s manager/ex Princess Carolyn, Amy Sedaris is frequently called upon to deliver shockingly intricate tongue-twisters) to bawdy slapstick (BoJack’s asexual buddy Todd, voiced by Aaron Paul, once got into a lube-soaked brawl with his girlfriend’s libertine parents). But it’s also keenly aware of the loneliness that can cripple BoJack, Princess Carolyn, Todd, Diane (Alison Brie), and even the gregarious Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). The show can go anywhere and be anything, from BoJack’s silent misadventures at the bottom of the ocean, to him delivering an episode-length monologue about his late mother. Most Netflix shows top out at very good; this one is phenomenal.
Streaming on Netflix 

Jesse PInkman (Aaron Paul) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston)  - Breaking Bad - Season 3, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Ursula Coyote / AMC


‘Breaking Bad’

For the purposes of this exercise, we’re only counting the episodes that aired starting from January 1, 2010. That means we lose the origin story of teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White — one of the great pilots in television history — as well as some other classic installments from the AMC series’ first two years, like “4 Days Out,” where Walt (Bryan Cranston) and his pupil Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) got stranded in the desert together. But Breaking Bad in its first season was a show still figuring itself out, and even in its second wasn’t quite the Mt. Rushmore edifice it would become starting in Season Three. Virtually all the iconic moments we think about when we think about the ballad of Heisenberg — Hank vs. the Cousins, Gus Fring straightening his tie, and especially the series’ relentless, devastating endgame — took place in this decade. Breaking Bad in many ways remains the pinnacle of what dramatic storytelling on television can do, with its mix of riveting episodic plots and the long, gradual, brutal moral descent of Walt playing out across the whole series. We got an awful lot of that starting in 2010.
Streaming on Netflix 

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nbc-Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock (5881897e)Rob Lowe, Amy PoehlerParks and Recreation - 2008-2013NBC-TVUSATelevision



‘Parks and Recreation’

Losing the episodes from 2009 is even less painful here than it is with Breaking Bad. All that costs us is the NBC sitcom’s mostly underwhelming first season, where Amy Poehler’s civil servant Leslie Knope mostly came across like a clueless cousin of The Office’s Michael Scott, plus a handful of episodes from the start of Season Two, where co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur were starting to figure out how best to write Leslie (less oblivious, more a friendly force of nature), her stoic, meat-loving boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), eager puppy dog Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), and the rest. On May 13, 2010, an episode called “Master Plan” added Adam Scott (as buttoned-down numbers man — and future Leslie love interest — Ben Wyatt) and Rob Lowe (as terrifyingly enthusiastic political fixer Chris Traeger) to the ensemble, and Parks went off on one of the great runs in sitcom history. A sincere, and sincerely ridiculous, ode to civil service, friendship, and breakfast foods, Parks captured Obama-era optimism to a T.
Streaming on Hulu 

Mark Hill/HBO


‘The Leftovers’

Two percent of the world’s population just vanished without any explanation from either science or religion. What now? Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s adaptation of Perrotta’s novel about the aftermath of this sideways Rapture was often — particularly in its bumpier first season — among the most emotionally grueling television dramas of this or any other decade. It did not flinch in the face of the grief and madness of characters like irrational small-town cop Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), his mute wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman), or, especially, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon, in an all-time performance), who lost her husband and both kids in what became known as the Sudden Departure. But that commitment to exploring the heartache of this parallel reality also meant that Lindelof, Perrotta, director Mimi Leder, and company were remarkably well-equipped to delve into its odder, even funnier, aspects. The show’s slightly less grim second and third seasons stack up comfortably with the best that HBO’s classic dramas of the previous decade had to offer, as the characters traveled to Texas, then Australia, and occasionally to a hotel in the afterlife where Kevin had to sing karaoke to make it back to his family in the real world. Where Lindelof’s Lost was attacked for not providing satisfying answers to the island’s mysteries, The Leftovers began by promising that it would never explain the Departure. Then Nora kind of did anyway in the gorgeous finale, but in a manner that felt utterly true to the spirit of this amazing, inscrutable achievement. No show of the 2010s was sadder — or more cathartic, especially as our own world began to make less and less sense — but no show was also more creative, or unexpected, or just plain entertaining as The Leftovers could be.
Streaming on HBO Now

In This Article: 2010s, 2019YearinReview

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