The 25 Best Television Shows of the Decade

Best TV Shows of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

Last week, the /Film team gathered for a surprisingly intense conversation about the best television shows of the past decade. The one rule: the show had to have premiered between 2010 and 2019 (sorry, Breaking Bad and Mad Men). When the smoke cleared, there were 25 shows remaining, along with five battered and bruised runners-up.

Here are the staff’s favorite shows of the past 10 years.

Honorable Mentions (Or, the Shows One of Us Loves But Could Not Convince the Team to Include on the Main List)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes the trope of, well, the crazy ex-girlfriend and turns it into one of the most nuanced, sensitive depictions of mental illness I’ve seen on TV. Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s satirical love letter to rom-coms takes the form of a cheery musical, with splashy dance sequences and hilariously smart lyrics that skewer every genre from the classic Hollywood musical to the Spice Girls. But the awe-inspiring number of original songs that Bloom and her co-writers composed for the CW series (157!) isn’t nearly impressive as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s consistently funny, frequently affecting depiction of a woman coming back from the edge. [Hoai-Train Bui]

Documentary Now!

Documentary Now!

Documentary Now! creators Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Myers and Rhys Thomas (who all hail from Saturday Night Live) have given audiences what is essentially a TV series that acts as a cinephiles version of SNL Digital Shorts. Each half-hour episode of the series is dedicated to sending up a specific, acclaimed documentary. Grey Gardens, The Thin Blue Line, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Kid Stays in the Picture and many more have been the inspiration for three seasons of hilarious documentary parodies. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader have starred in many of them, as well as guest stars such as John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Jack Black, Michael Keaton, and many more. You don’t even have to see the documentary being lampooned to get laughs from this show, but doing so will help you appreciate the craftsmanship and dedication of directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono for meticulously recreating the visual style of each film, right down to the cameras and lenses used. All three seasons are on Netflix right now. Give it a whirl. [Ethan Anderton]

The Leftovers

During the /Film team’s discussion about which films would make the top 25, it quickly became clear that the group would select the Damon Lindelof show that more people had seen. And that’s fine. But The Leftovers gets my honorable mention because no show this decade hit harder, asked more daring questions, and offered a comforting hand on the shoulder once it had plunged you into the void. This series explored faith, community, and despair, frequently confronting the unanswerable and returning with emotional truths because logical ones never quite fit the puzzle. And that was by design. Life is messy. Life is chaos. All we can do is hold on to one another and hope. [Jacob Hall]

Penn and Teller: Fool Us

Penn and Teller’s Fool Us is the anti-reality television competition series. There is no forced drama from pitting competitors up against each other for call-in viewer votes, there are no judges there to berate a bad performance. Instead, it’s a showcase for some of the best talent in the world and despite the lack of any manufactured drama, it’s one of the most-watched things in the Summer on its network. In fact, I would credit this show for helping to launch the careers of Piff The Magic Dragon and Shin Lim, both of who now have their own Vegas shows. This show also sparked the magic boom of the 2010s, which is why you’re seeing so many magic shows popping up on Netflix these days. Even a couple of magicians finally won America’s Got Talent. Magic has become cool again.

The premise of Fool Us is simple: magicians from around the world perform in front of the magician duo Penn & Teller for the chance to open for them during their Las Vegas show. If the hosts can’t figure out how they pulled off their trick, they get the gig. But even that premise is bait. Sure, Penn & Teller try to guess how the tricks are done with cleverly worded codes, but it’s not really a show about that. That might be why people started watching, but that’s not why people continue watch. This is a showcase of great artists performing for great artists. Instead of dramatic critique, we get to hear Penn & Teller explain what made the world-class act we just saw performed so great. It is a reality television show that is a celebration of talent and art. It’s honestly the show I look forward to watching the most. [Peter Sciretta]

Sharp Objects Closer Review

Sharp Objects

Featuring the best performance of Amy Adams‘ already acclaimed career, Sharp Objects is a sweaty, sexy, twisted Southern Gothic about trauma. Covered in self-harm scars, Adams’ heavy-drinking reporter character heads back to her home town to investigate a murder, and ends up having to face her past, and her monstrous mother (a delightfully sinister Patricia Clarkson) in the process. Directed by Jean-Marc ValléeSharp Objects employs the director’s trademark quick-cutting style to jump back and forth in time during scenes, conveying heavy beats of emotion in flashes that feel like memories. It’s haunting, funny, and altogether fantastic. [Chris Evangelista]

Terriers

Terriers

Created by the writer of Ocean’s 11 and overseen by the creator of The Shield, Terriers is a 2010 detective series which was terribly marketed and cancelled after just one season. But that season was pretty close to perfect: it’s about two hangdog private investigators working in San Diego who are constantly getting their asses handed to them, but refuse to give up once they’re onto a scent. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James have irresistible chemistry, and the show featured a mysterious season-long arc, crisp beach-noir writing from a fantastic group of writers, and stellar direction from people like Rian Johnson and Adam Arkin. If only more people had watched it… [Ben Pearson]

 

The Top 25 TV Shows of the Decade

cobra kai comic-con

25. Cobra Kai

This is a show that, by all accounts, shouldn’t have been great. It’s produced on a low budget for YouTube’s big play against Netflix (which has already dissolved into the main platform) and features a bunch of actors from the 1980s reprising roles they played as kids. Borrowing a bit from a Patton Oswalt premise, the series presents a legacy-equel to The Karate Kid, but imagined from the point of view of the film’s villain Johnny Lawrence (played by the great William Zabka). Every story has different point of views, so what if the classic Karate Kid story was only Daniel’s view of the events? What happened to Johnny and where he is today is only where this series begins. What makes it so compelling is that just when you think you have it figured out, it sweeps the leg and pulls a swerve. I’ve watched the first season of this series half a dozen times – that’s how much I enjoyed it. I believe you can now watch it for free on YouTube, so you have no excuse. Get to the end of episode three. Trust me! [Peter Sciretta]

24. Adventure Time

The favorite animated show for college stoners was never so wholesome, or so emotional. Pendleton Ward’s Cartoon Network fantasy series Adventure Time starts off with a simple, episodic premise — Finn the Human and Jake the Dog battle evil and get into various hijinks in the fantastical land of Ooo — before unfolding into one of the trippiest, surprisingly profound pieces of children’s entertainment. With an abundance of rich characters that are given sometimes-tragic, sometimes-nonsensical backstories, and a complicated mythology that hints at nuclear devastation, Adventure Time slowly revealed itself to be one of the most ambitious children’s shows on TV, frequently playing with format and our emotions. [Hoai-Tran Bui]

Rick and Morty

23. Rick and Morty

Even though this show’s fanbase has become rather toxic over the years, we can’t hold that against one of the most brilliant and hilarious adult animated shows, not just of the decade but ever. Creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have poured their heart and soul into this show, so much that their own struggles with depression and substance abuse are present in every single episode by way of the show’s asshole of a lead character, Rick Sanchez. It’s that element that actually makes the series even better than it would be if it had no emotional core and was just a series of random, raunchy sci-fi adventures and pop culture references. Granted, that’s probably how it seems to the more casual viewer, but there are some deep, emotional moments with characters here, and the entire series is an examination of one man’s struggle to keep fighting his own demons every single day. [Ethan Anderton]

22. Veep

Veep creator and expert satirist Armando Ianucci has a way with turning raunchy insults into music, and politics into pitch-perfect comedy. That’s because Iannucci understands that politics is inherently stupid — the fate of the country in the hands of a bunch of bumbling, well-spoken idiots. I was working at a political news site in D.C. when I first started watching Veep, Ianucci’s hysterical series about ambitious vice president Selina Meyer (a sublime Julia-Louis Dreyfus) as she juggles public and private crises and a dysfunctional relationship with the chief executive. I learned from coworkers who worked on the Hill that Veep is the most accurate representation of D.C. ever put to the screen, because there’s no truer depiction of our federal government than as a circus run by incompetent politicos who occasionally stumble into success. Though there is admittedly a lot less swearing. [Hoai-Tran Bui]

Twin Peaks Season 4

21. Twin Peaks: The Return

Has there ever been anything like Twin Peaks: The Return? Showtime brought back David Lynch’s cult classic show, and turned to Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost and said: “Feel free to do whatever the hell you want.” The result is the rare genuine pieces of auteur television – something that is entirely, wholly in the realm of Lynch’s weird, wonderful mind. It would’ve been so easy for Lynch to rely on coffee and cherry pie nostalgia. Instead, he created something so disturbingly weird and unclassifiable that it left viewers completely befuddled. What a masterpiece, the likes of which we will probably never see on TV again. [Chris Evangelista]

The Jinx

20. The Jinx

True crime experienced an explosion in the 2010s, and 2014’s The Jinx was among the most compelling entries in the genre. But “compelling” alone wouldn’t be good enough to make this list: HBO’s limited series about the eccentric Robert Durst carved itself into the pantheon through detailed interviews with its bizarre subject, a true story that’s stranger than fiction, and an all-timer, “holy shit” ending that you have to see (or, more accurately, hear) to believe. Unlike many true crime projects which throw up their hands and can’t provide answers about the truth, the implications of this finale had real-world consequences and are still being sorted through today. [Ben Pearson]

Nathan For You

19. Nathan For You

Comedian Nathan Fielder takes aim at all the reality shows out there focused on improving businesses, renovating houses, and making over people’s lives with Nathan For You. In the series, Nathan purports to be a business expert who can help reinvigorate struggling businesses in order to increase their sales and turn everything around. The hilarity comes from the fact that Fielder comes up with some truly oddball ideas to help these businesses, and for some reason, these people agree to go along with them. The show’s brilliance is undeniable as several seasons feature business innovations that went viral online before the episodes in question even aired. Combine that with the fact that Fielder executes this all without ever cracking his dry, awkward persona, and you’ve got one of the best, funniest, and most innovative shows of the decade. [Ethan Anderton]

Key and Peele

18. Key & Peele

Sketch comedy shows are a dime a dozen on Comedy Central, but few have penetrated the zeitgeist of pop culture as successfully as Key & Peele. Created by and starring comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, the series covers a wide swatch of comedic targets, ranging from film parodies to political satire. But what truly makes Key & Peele so special is their unique perspective on society through the eyes of two black men. The show doesn’t rely solely on that perspective, but it undoubtedly helps the duo tap into a side of comedy that we haven’t seen since Chappelle’s Show, and rarely see on television in general (though thankfully, that’s been changing more over the years). There’s something for everyone in Key & Peele, and so many of their sketches have gone viral online, quite an achievement in this day and age of too much content online. [Ethan Anderton]

haunting of hill house long take episode

17. The Haunting of Hill House

At first blush, The Haunting of Hill House seems like a wasted opportunity because it almost completely ignores the text of Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost novel. But once you get past that you discover one of the most emotional explorations of the horror genre in recent memory. Mike Flanagan is a master at balancing creepiness and pathos, and Hill House might be the best example of that. In exploring the troubled past and present of the Crain family, The Haunting of Hill House paints a portrait of life, death, and everything in between. The rest is confetti.  [Chris Evangelista]

The Americans

16. The Americans

There have been countless movies about spies infiltrating a foreign government, but few have ever done so from the perspective of the enemies of the United States of America. FX’s original series The Americans follows Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as two KGB spies in an arranged marriage who are posing as Americans in suburban Washington, D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected president. They have children, unaware of their parents’ true work. And as time goes on, it becomes harder to carry out their job as they become more comfortable with an American lifestyle, especially as this fake marriage slowly starts to feel like a real one. Unlike shows like 24 or Homeland, this is a slow burn, almost like Mad Men meets the Cold War. With incredible writing, riveting performances, and ever-building tension, this series deserved far more attention from Emmy voters throughout its entire run, and it’s absolutely one of the most compelling shows of the past 10 years. [Ethan Anderton]

Atlanta

15. Atlanta

I’m going to pull the hipster card and say that I’ve been following Donald Glover’s career since the Derrick Comedy days, and having seen an early glimpse of his drive and ambition, it was obvious that he was going to carve out a fascinating career path. But the multi-hyphenate rapper/actor/writer/director took things to the next level with Atlanta, a show which captures a completely unique tone that’s never been on television before. Do yourselves a favor and seek out the “Teddy Perkins” episode if you haven’t seen it. Once you do, you’ll never forget it. [Ben Pearson]

Game of Thrones

14. Game of Thrones

No other show dominated the 2010s more than Game of Thrones. It captivated the globe, became an international phenomenon on the level of something like Star Wars, and gave us multiple unimpeachable seasons of television. The final two seasons suffered in comparison; it really seemed like the showrunners wanted to just be finished with this gargantuan thing, and it’s tough to fully blame them after spending a decade of their lives on it. But despite the divisive ending, the highs on this show were out of this world, and established Game of Thrones as one of the premiere properties in all of pop culture. [Ben Pearson]

Bojack Horseman Season 6 Review

13. BoJack Horseman

With its focus on character-driven storytelling and its fearlessness in making choices that forever altered the shape of the show, BoJack Horseman quickly proved it was unlike any other animated series on American television. This Netflix show, about a depressed, alcoholic former sitcom actor, was as funny as The Simpsons was during its golden years. And perhaps more importantly, it’s proven itself to not content itself with being just funny – no other animated show has this decade has been for formally daring, telling stories in ways that not only push animation to its limits, but can only be told through animation. Here’s an animated comedy that takes full advantage of its medium, never hits the reset button, and infamously learned how to deliver brutal gut punches to make sure the dramatic beats landed with the required force. Masterpiece. [Jacob Hall]

Russian Doll

12. Russian Doll

Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) got tired of waiting around for Hollywood to present her with something good, so instead she co-created a show that’s great. Lyonne owns every frame in which she appears in Russian Doll, swaggering her way through New York City as a foul-mouthed video game designer who suddenly finds herself reliving the same night over and over again. But this drama series puts an innovative twist on the Groundhog Day formula, and results in an emotionally resonant link between two characters which drives the story through to its moving, memorable conclusion. [Ben Pearson]

11. Chernobyl

The most I knew about Chernobyl was that there was a nuclear disaster there sometime in the 1980s. Then came HBO’s miniseries, created by Craig Mazin. Focusing on several different perspectives of the disaster, and the attempt to contain it, Mazin’s harrowing saga focuses on how horrifying it all was – made all the more disturbing by the Russian government’s refusal to face facts. By highlighting this, Mazin is drawing a parallel to our own troubled political times, saying “Here is what can happen when governments are in the hands of delusional men with their own set of alternative facts.” Chernobyl is so disturbing that I’ll probably never watch it again – but I’ll never forget it, either.  [Chris Evangelista]

10. American Vandal

At first blush, American Vandal seems to have the paper-thin premise of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. The Netflix mockumentary series follows an intrepid high school AV club as they launch an investigation of the drawing of penises on dozens of cars in the school parking lot. The school immediately zeroes in on the class burnout (Jimmy Tatro), who aspiring documentarian Peter (Tyler Alvarez) believes to be wrongly accused. American Vandal approaches its absurd subject with a somber gravity, resulting in some gut-busting comedy bits that involve long, serious discussions about ball hairs. But in both of its two seasons, American Vandal transcends its overlong SNL sketch premise when it moves from the gut to the heart — delivering a surprisingly authentic and poignant snapshot of high school in the social media age. [Hoai-Tran Bui]

Mindhunter takes

9. Mindhunter

Mindhunter is the best thing Netflix has going for them. David Fincher lends his direction – and style – to this series about the dawn of criminal profiling and the country’s obsession with serial killers. Stylish, disturbing, and full of great filmmaking, Mindhunter is so special because it’s not a typical police procedural. The crimes aren’t glorified or sensationalized. And the lawmen aren’t running around shooting guns. Instead, they’re sitting around, pouring over paperwork or engaging in interviews, trying to classify the unclassifiable. [Chris Evangelista]

8. Fleabag

Breaking the fourth wall, at this point, has become an overused storytelling device — with TV shows or movies flagrantly breaking the invisible barrier between audience and the subject often at a whim. But Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s devastatingly caustic and heartbreaking dark comedy based on her acclaimed one-woman play, doesn’t just break the fourth wall, but tears down the concept completely. We’re not just the voyeurs of Fleabag‘s portrayal of a woman’s wanton self-destruction, but enablers — the imaginary friends that Waller-Bridge’s nameless protagonist winks at as she cuts a self-destructive streak through London to cope with her best friend’s death. The camera is her crutch as much as it is her friend, and we find ourselves rooting for Fleabag’s bad behavior as much as we scoff at her. It’s a sharp, funny, and fresh takedown of the oft-glorified flawed female character, and one that turns the camera at ourselves. [Hoai-Tran Bui]

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 6 Video

7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The best sitcom casts feel like a family, people who you welcome into your home on a regular basis to make you feel good about yourself and the world. And no cast feels more like a family, more like welcome guests in your home, than the ensemble of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Earnest and sweet and hilarious, Dan Goor’s series about lovable (and damn good at their jobs) NYC cops started strong and only got stronger, never generating false conflicts when it could mine humor from people actually liking each other and setting out to do the right thing. And unlike other feel-good television, Brooklyn Nine-Nine showcases as much bravery as does wit, tackling social issues with a ferocity and honesty lacking in even the most prestigious dramas. [Jacob Hall]

Stranger Things

6. Stranger Things

Stranger Things may rely on nostalgia for the 1980s for some of its appeal, but you can’t deny that the series has also done an incredible job of creating an ensemble of characters that audiences have come to embrace and love quite a bit in a short period of time. It’s not often that a show with only three seasons under its belt is so revered, but the fanbase for this series is massive, and it’s one of Netflix’s greatest successes. In fact, it might be the first show Netflix produced that proved it could create original programming that didn’t rely on niche demographics. It’s easy to call Stranger Things a ripoff of countless movies of the 1980s, but since there have been a lot of movies and TV shows that have tried to lean on nostalgia far less successfully, this series deserves a of credit for pulling off what it has so far. [Ethan Anderton]

Rhea Seehorn Better Call Saul

5. Better Call Saul

When Better Call Saul was first announced, I was skeptical. It seemed like an obvious cash-grab to me hoping to ride the popularity of the then-ending Breaking Bad. But when the spin-off/prequel arrived, I became an almost immediate convert, to the point where I now think the series is better than Breaking Bad. Rather than try to fill in the blanks, Saul instead forms its own stories, delving into story of Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who is depicted as a good guy who just keeps doing the wrong thing. Best of all, the series has a wealth of great new characters, especially Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s only real friend who watches helplessly as he slowly transforms into the sleazy lawyer we met in Breaking Bad. [Chris Evangelista]

Hannibal canceled

4. Hannibal

Let’s just get it out there: Hannibal isn’t just the best horror television show of the decade, but possibly the best horror television show all time. Too short-lived to ever disappoint and too ambitious to ever not surprise us, Bryan Fuller’s reinvention of the iconic literary and film villain was bloody treat throughout its three seasons, shifting genres and tone like a ballerina gracefully sliding across a gore-soaked stage. I remember the viscera, and how the show pushed the boundaries of what violence can look like on television. I remember the characters, brought to life by an ensemble of actors so damn good at bringing truth and honesty to absurdity. I remember the bravery, the show’s trust in the audience to keep up as it laid its traps and waited to spring them. What an experience this was. [Jacob Hall]

Barry

3. Barry

Everybody knew Bill Hader was funny from his days at Saturday Night Live, and maybe even a few of us knew he had dramatic chops from seeing him in indies like The Skeleton Twins. But Barry proved that even his biggest fans had been underestimating him. Hader gives a riveting, conflicted, and very funny performance as a hitman who desperately wants to leave that life behind him and become an actor, and while the first season of the show was great, the second season is even better. I’ve never seen this combination of harrowing and hilarious before, but it’s just about perfect. [Ben Pearson]

The Good Place - Eleanor Chidi

2. The Good Place

I always know I’m in good hands when I sit down to watch a Michael Schur show. The Office veteran, who created Parks and Recreation and co-created Brooklyn Nine-Nine, has a real love and respect for his characters, and below the genre trappings of any project he works on, there’s always a resonant message about putting love and kindness into the world. The Good Place is his most ambitious show yet, and it’s a miracle that any half-hour network comedy can be this dense, this funny, and this emotional all at the same time. It is – no hyperbole – one of TV’s greatest shows from any genre. [Ben Pearson]

Watchmen masks episode 3

1. Watchmen

Watchmen had no right to work. A sequel (and sneakily, also a prequel) to the most influential comic book of all-time? Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Really? But this HBO series made it clear that it meant business right out of the gate, continuously asking tough questions, providing revelatory answers, and embedding wise commentary on the very soul of America deep inside of a pulpy, gloriously weird, and eventually unabashedly romantic story about the dangers of nostalgia. Watchmen swung for the fences with every episode, every bold idea, and every wild concept. And it connected. With force. Again and again and again. Damon Lindelof found the halfway point between Lost and The Leftovers. And it is perfect. [Jacob Hall]

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