The world has changed so much over the last 10 years, down to the very marrow of the media we consume and how we consume it. Like everyone else on the Internet, The Beat staff has spent a lot of time thinking about the media we loved this past decade, which of course includes television. Heading into 2020, we’ve compiled a list of what we think represents the greatest TV of the 2010s, including animated series, political dramas, reality cooking shows, sitcoms, and more.
If anything, this list displays how widespread our staff’s taste is; it also gives a fairly cohesive look at the kinds of shows that amassed huge fandoms, went viral for their Hot Religious Figures, surprised us in their subversion of genre, inspired us to think critically, or simply took us out of our reality for a little while.
As the streaming wars continue, the way we watch TV may continue to change, but hopefully the quality of programming won’t degrade. Looking at the last decade, there have been some truly iconic series laid to rest, as well as new ones launched, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.
Without further ado, check out our picks for greatest TV of the 2010s.
Adventure Time (2010—2018)
Set in the magical land of Ooo, Adventure Time follows Jake the magic dog and Finn the human as they take part in a plethora of dungeon-crawling adventures. As the series progresses, not only do the characters learn more about themselves and their relationships with one another, they also uncover the increasingly complex history of their world. Brightly colored and filled with irresistible music (“Bacon Pancakes,” anyone?), Adventure Time featured an incredible main voice cast and a ton of outstanding guest stars.
While the series was easy to pick up and follow, the depth of the show’s rich mythology is considerable, and the cast of idiosyncratic characters are charming enough to win anyone over — especially Marceline the Vampire Queen, whose on again/off again romance with Princess Bubblegum is the sort of love story that inspires epic songs… or at least some really epic bass lines, anyway! — Avery Kaplan
When a series has only produced two seasons, and it still can make a list like this, you know it’s must-see television. Donald Glover’s ode to his hometown that he initially pitched as “Twin Peaks but with rappers” is a magical realist odyssey of one rising hip hop star (Brian Tyree Henry), his manager cousin Earn (Glover), their somewhat off-kilter best pal (Lakeith Stanfield), and Earn’s on and off again lover (Zazie Beetz). While the central premise is generally built around the ever-growing popularity of “Paper Boi” and Earn trying to figure out how to support his daughter through the management of same, each episode shifts around to a different perspective character among this quartet and whatever imaginative adventures they might go on.
In this “golden age of television,” we constantly conflate TV and filmmaking, but in truth each episode of Atlanta is like watching a film in miniature. Director Hiro Murai and his colleagues bring such tacit artistry and striking visual identity to each hour. Every episode of Atlanta is its own event, filled to the brim with imagination, and its ability to ever so slightly bend reality to its whims blows the try-hard act of neighboring shows like Legion out of the water. — Kyle Pinion
I know it’s odd to designate a relatively young show to a best of the decade list, but anyone who has seen even a single episode of HBO’s Barry likely understands why it deserves a spot here. Co-Created by and starring Bill Hader as a former assassin turned amateur actor who keeps falling deeper into Los Angeles’ criminal underground, Barry is charming, sensitive and balls-to-the wall nuts all at the same time. The show has an amazing ensemble, but the real gem of the bunch is likely Anthony Corrigan as the lovable, polo-shirt adorned Chechen gangster NoHo Hank.
An extreme look at how hard it can be to walk away from one’s distressing past and start over, the series delicately blends emotionally small moments that have big consequences, like an actress choosing to propagate a lie for the sake of her career, with complicated action sequences in a way that makes it impossible to guess what’s happening next. With the show gobbling up awards every chance it gets and the second season ending on a major cliffhanger, hopefully the show will sustain its momentum and thrive in its uniqueness for years to come. — Nick Kazden
Bob’s Burgers (2011—Present)
Bob’s Burgers played a critical role in filing Fox’s spot as the genial animated comedy about a working-class family. But unlike The Simpsons, which plugged along this decade with a few standout episodes, or King of the Hill (which tragically came to an end), Bob’s Burgers‘ particular brand of comedy came from its gentle subversion of the genre. Here was a show populated with weird characters, a flamboyant penchant for crafting catchy tunes, and a love of gross humor that, when all mixed together, provided the perfect recipe for an endearing and lovable television program.
While I think the show has wavered slightly as of late—which honestly happens with all shows that have survived for 10 years or more—Bob’s Burgers was unstoppable earlier in the decade. Nearly every episode was smartly-written without stooping to the lowest common denominator. See the Season 4 episode “The Equestranauts” for how hilarious, deranged, and loving the show can be. — AJ Frost
When they first premiered, the Belcher family, yet another animated working middle class family on Fox, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Slowly but surely, creator Loren Bouchard’s trademark quirky humor that fans were already familiar with since Home Movies eventually led Bob’s Burgers not only to gain a cult following, but I daresay mainstream appeal. Attend any comic convention and it’s impossible not to find at least one Belcher family group cosplay.
Unlike other animated shows aimed at adult audiences that rely on shock-value comedy such as Family Guy, the driving force for the humor in Bob’s Burgers is primarily story and character based. In that regard, it’s very much the spiritual successor of King of the Hill, not surprising since many crew members are involved in both shows. Moreover, the animated series hosts a plethora of tie-in products and merchandise ranging from comics to apparel and toys that may rival the success of The Simpsons in its heyday. Time will tell if and when the Belchers will wear out their welcome like the 30-year old Simpson family. Until that time, sit back and enjoy Bob’s Burgers while it’s still as fresh as ever. — Taimur Dar
BoJack Horseman (2014—Present)
I’m not Horsin’ Around (anyone?) when I say that Bojack Horseman, a show about an alcoholic celebrity trying to recapture his personal and professional achievements, has left me on the verge of tears more than any other series in recent memory. The fact that this Netflix original takes place in a world where anthropomorphic animals are accepted, normal parts of society — and even dating humans no less! — is only icing on the cake that is this wonderfully complex, hilarious look at how addiction and depression can derail someone’s life.
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and starring a who’s who of fantastic voice performers like Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris, Bojack Horseman is incredibly witty on the surface level, ridiculing and satirizing the people and attitudes of Hollywood, but is elevated by a deep, long-threaded exploration of grief and how people react to trauma. Whether you’re someone who is interested in joining the entertainment industry or thinks it’s literally awful, the flawed characters and the relatable journeys each one undertakes will have you clicking “Next Episode” once the credits start rolling. The final string of episodes drop on January 31st, so if you binge the series quickly enough you can wallow along with the rest of us once it’s over! — Nick Kazden
The subtitle for this show might as well be “the reason why I don’t cancel my Netflix subscription.” This series follows its titular lead, a talking horse who starred in a popular 90s sitcom, as he navigates the modern Hollywood landscape. What starts as a broad parody of the entertainment industry quickly morphs into an insightful critique of how the trauma inflicted upon us as children can influence our own behavior and ripple into the lives of those around us in adulthood. In an era in which our own society is grappling with how to deal with the behavior of abusers, BoJack has been critiqued for offering its lead too long of a leash. Indeed, the show, which has consistently demonstrated a capacity for self-reflection, seems to believe in the possibility of BoJack’s redemption, no matter how low he sinks or who he hurts. That said, as the show moves into the second half of its final season, it seems like BoJack is about to face a true reckoning for his behavior. How the show handles the fall of this character, who many have empathized with thanks to his depression and pained youth, will likely spark many conversations about how we treat the problematic figures in our own society.
Also, this show pushed the incredible Lisa Hanawalt, who serves as producer and production designer for BoJack, into the spotlight. Her own delightful show, Tuca and Bertie, was taken from us far too soon (and is another reason why I’m cancelling Netflix come February, after the final BoJack season drops!). — Alex Lu
I have so many thoughts about BoJack Horseman that it will be hard to condense. BoJack Horseman is, without a doubt, one of the finest, saddest, and funniest programs ever brought to screen. Like everyone else watching the first season of the show, I thought BoJack was a decent adult animated comedy, probably not far off from the likes of Family Guy. By the end of Season 1, I knew I was wrong. BoJack is unlike anything else. Its focus on the eponymous character’s struggle with drugs and depression is heartbreaking. There have been so many instances throughout the years where I’ve screamed at my TV saying “BoJack! No! Don’t do that!” You want to see these characters find happiness and contentment. Yet, if they do, then the show will lose its power. BoJack Horseman ends next month, but it will forever remain rooted in the 2010s as its most astute and emotionally shattering show. A can’t miss. — AJ Frost
BoJack Horseman is a comedy, but it often takes such an emotional toll that I approach it like a drama. That’s not to say it isn’t funny, because its brand of humor can be scathingly satirical (there’s an omnipresent corporation called Disney-Fox-AT&T-AOL-Time-Warner-PepsiCo-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader-Joe’s)and delightfully absurd (BoJack is the only character who realizes “Vincent Adultman” is just three small children stacked on top of each other in a trenchcoat). Gags build from one season to the next, and there’s endless comedic potential from being set in a world where humans live among talking, bipedal, anthropomorphic animals.
But BoJack frequently puts the jokes to a screeching halt to focus on deadly-serious themes, and when it happens, it’s as gut-wrenching as anything you might see in any “prestige” TV drama. At its heart, this is a show about deep-seated human (or horse, or dog, or cat…) pain, especially mental illness. BoJack himself, voiced by Will Arnett, is not quite a likable character. He can be selfish, self-destructive, and cruel—not always in a funny way, either. He’s done things that are impossible to justify, and the series doesn’t try to justify them. It’s a minefield, but part of the brilliance of this show is how frequently viewers are asked to doubt they should root for him at all.
If BoJack Horseman has one message, perhaps its that “good guys” and “bad guys” are a false dichotomy. We’re all deeply hurt and deeply flawed, but we’d all benefit from radical compassion. — Gregory Paul Silber
Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Breaking Bad received so many accolades and so much acclaim that it’s difficult to find anything new to say about it. But now that we’re several years removed from the finale, it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking the entire series was.
Vince Gilligan has said that one of the goals of the drama, even in the earliest stages, was to develop a protagonist who would gradually transform into an antagonist over the course of the series. I’m only aware of a few other examples of that structure in fiction overall, and certainly not in television.
In fact, it’s difficult to imagine the story of Breaking Bad playing out in any other medium. Much of that, of course, is owed to star Bryan Cranston’s talent. He imbued Walter White with so much humanity and heartbreak that viewers can’t help but root for him… at least early on. By the end of the series, the ruthless “Heisenberg” was nigh-unrecognizable from the endearingly bumbling teacher we met in the first episode, yet even then, Cranston remained so magnetic that viewers could be forgiven for still wanting to like him at his most monstrous.
Even if you were to discount the performances, I can’t see a prose novel, comic book series, or any other art form suiting this tale of survival, betrayal, and human failure. From the music (I’ll never hear “A Horse With No Name” the same again), to the beautifully harsh southwestern setting, Breaking Bad is a masterpiece of audio-visual narrative. — Gregory Paul Silber
I stumbled upon Broadchurch while scrolling through Netflix in search of a new crime drama, or as my husband calls them my “murder shows.” I hadn’t heard of it before, but the mysterious premise and David Tennant were all I needed to get started. Originally a British series on ITV, Broadchurch takes place in a small coastal English town where a devastating event has just occurred. The body of an 11 year-old boy is discovered on the shore, and the tight-knit village gets torn apart by finger-pointing, media attention, and dealing with the loss of a neighborhood child.
Tennant plays DI Alec Hardy, a difficult yet passionate investigator who nearly kills himself to bring the bad guys to justice. His partner is DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), a good-natured local just returning from maternity leave as the case begins. The dynamic between the two is fantastic to watch, especially when Miller refuses to take Hardy’s crap. Jodie Whittaker of Doctor Who fame plays the deceased boy’s grieving mother. At times her performance is so intense that it is difficult to watch without breaking into tears with her.
When the killer is revealed along with the details leading up to the murder, you can’t help but feel everything the townsfolk do: fear, betrayal, sadness, and anger. The second season focuses on bringing the guilty party to justice while showing more from Hardy’s past. The final season introduced a new case, and I was honestly disappointed when I finished the series. If you dive in and binge it like I did, you’ll definitely wish there were more cases to solve. — Deanna Destito
I’m trying to avoid recency bias, but I can’t help but think that excluding Fleabag from my list would be a huge mistake. Fleabag is one of those rare works that can produce comedy and poignant drama with equal quality and blend them in a way that feels completely seamless. Season 2’s Hot Priest Andrew Scott was an internet sensation, and for good reason, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the undeniable heart and success story of the show. Even though it may never come back, I don’t feel like we’re losing something, because I know Waller-Bridge’s work future work will bring us even more to treasure. — Hannah Lodge
For all the horrible things that the back half of this decade gave us, the ascendency of Phoebe Waller-Bridge is one of the most wholeheartedly wonderful things gifted to our culture. Her original series, Fleabag, is based off a one-woman show of the same name that she also created. It follows a character played by her and known only as the titular Fleabag, who lives and owns a café in London. Fleabag has a complex and often combative relationship with those around her, especially the members of her family, and the series chronicles the way in which her desire to put her life together often clashes with her impulsive and self-destructive behavior. Thanks to Waller-Bridge’s sharp and darkly hilarious writing, as well as a collection of incredible performances (Olivia Colman as the passive-aggressive godmother/stepmother and Sian Clifford as Fleabag’s repressed sister are particularly delightful), Fleabag emerges as a concise two-season powerhouse of a comedy about fucking up and starting over. — Alex Lu
After making its debut in 2016 (and based off of her incredible stage play by the same name), Fleabag has certainly found its audience — and it’s me. Aside from establishing itself as the master of the cheeky monologue and fourth-wall breaks, the show mixes drama, comedy, romance, and raunchiness in a way that is just absurd enough that anyone can enjoy it and relate to it from one angle or another. But if that doesn’t convince you, maybe tight-lipped family fights, understanding guilt, questioning if your asshole is massive, Obama-based masturbation fantasies, and falling for a Hot Priest might help. — Chloe Maveal
Flowers is one of those rare series that creeps up on you. It seems to be one kind of thing that’s perfectly enjoyable, then at a certain point, you realize it’s another thing entirely and what you thought was quirky comedy has become profound drama with funny parts. The story centers on the Flowers family, which includes depressed children’s book author and father Maurice (Julian Barratt), nervous wreck of a mom Deborah (Olivia Colman), insufferable and egotistical son Donald (Daniel Rigby), and aimless, eccentric, and searching daughter Amy (Sophia Di Martino), along with their acquaintances, including Maurice’s awkward art assistant from Japan Shun (Will Sharpe), who also writes and directs the series.
Slowly, family dysfunctions bubble to the surface and the attention turns to the darkness that family’s pass down sometimes in the form of mental illness and the way that overtakes lives and causes rifts in families. By the end, the show folds extreme trauma into the dance and Rigby turns the tables to look back on what you’ve already seen, but from a different point of view. It’s a masterful two-season presentation that utilizes dark tropes of British eccentricity and occultism to tell the story, beautifully written and acted, pulling humor from the heartbreak in such a way that it magnifies the insight. This is a very special show that gets to an aspect of the human experience that is too often confined to the region of dark family secrets and debilitating shame. — John Seven
Good Omens (2019)
When I read Good Omens more than a decade ago, I laughed out loud. Up until then, it was the only novel to make me do that. The 1990 Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett end-of-the-world tale took a long time to transition to any screen, and I’m glad they waited.
The six-part Amazon Prime miniseries perfectly captures the essence of the novel. Even the changes to update it for a 2019 audience worked well without sacrificing what made me laugh out loud all those years ago. And more importantly the message of the story stayed intact. No one is all good or all bad. There are many shades of gray, even for an angel, a demon, and an antichrist.
David Tennant as the hellish Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale are two examples of spot-on casting. Tennant is delightful in his suave portrayal of the demon who actually likes humanity. Sheen’s bright, bumbling angel, complete with bow tie and wide-eyed expression, is endearing even when he’s frustrating. The pair’s eternal friendship is charming and the heart of the entire tale. It also helps that Tennant and Sheen are just as adorable with each other in real life.
Whether or not you’ve read the book, the series is enjoyable and has a way of making the Apocalypse a feel-good story for the ages. — Deanna Destito
The Good Place (2016—Present)
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I got into the series two years after it premiered and regret I didn’t start watching it sooner. I may have gone in already knowing the Season 1 finale twist ending, luckily that was only one of several surprises The Good Place had in store. Beyond the established talent like Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, the show has been a phenomenal showcase for the other Good Place residents. You can thank legendary casting director Allison Jones who has been involved in the casting of some of the most successful comedy films and television series of all-time. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a superb example of diversity and inclusivity as well as breaking stereotypes in action through breakout stars like William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto.
Much like its NBC predecessors like The Office or Parks and Recreation, you gain a greater appreciation of the deep storytelling and world building through repeated viewings. At a time when comedy and shows in general on broadcast television seem to be on its last legs with the advent of streaming, it’s comforting to know that series like The Good Place can still push the narrative boundaries of conventional television narratives. — Taimur Dar
How this show managed to stay under the radar for its first couple seasons is beyond me because from episode one until the current (and final) season, each episode is packed with side-splitting writing, masterful acting from the entire cast, and even some important questions about what it means to be good. With a world full of entirely flawed and entirely loveable characters (especially Chidi because he is literally the best of us), Michael Shur has managed to marry good humor and high concept that makes every messy person learning how to be their best self someone to root for. — Chloe Maveal
Gravity Falls (2012—2016)
I’ll be honest — at first I started watching this because it’s what my kid put on the TV. But the more we watched it, the more I fell in love with the characters, surreal mysteries (based in and around in my home state!), cryptids, jokes, and — more than anything — the way the show feels like it’s meant for anyone. Riding the line between mystery/horror and comedy, Alex Hirsch created a show that is as devastatingly smart and clever as it is hilarious. — Chloe Maveal
My partner introduced me to Gravity Falls long after it went off the air, but it quickly became one of my favorite series of all time. Following twins Dipper and Mabel Pines through their summer spent staying with their Great Uncle (Grunkle) Stan at The Mystery Shack in woodsy Oregon, the series hilarious, charming, and at times downright creepy. Dipper discovers a whole world of cryptids and other weirdness, which eventually uncovers a massive, conspiracy-laden plot involving pretty much the entire town. Meanwhile, Mabel just wants to find a sweet summer romance, but her plans keep going awry; then she adopts Waddles the pig, who also gets involved in the shenanigans on more than one occasion.
Sadly, there are only two seasons of this incredible show, but it’s a fantastic arc with a beginning, middle, and end, which is more than can be said for many series with such short runs. Plus, each re-watch reveals something new, which makes this a fun viewing experience for anyone. — Samantha Puc
The Great British Bake Off (2010—Present)
Spanning basically the entirety of the last decade, The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the more endearing reality TV shows I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s seen its share of real-world drama — like Breadxit, the infamous departure of hosts Mel and Sue when the show changed networks — but for years the show has served as a warm hug on a stressful day. The decadent and often difficult desserts are of course a huge part of the delicious equation, but the show’s cheerful disposition, which goes against typical player-vs-player reality show mentality, was a game changer. — Hannah Lodge
A surefire way to de-stress from reality and lean into the coziness of home baking, the UK hath delivered unto us the gift of Bake Off. Exchanging the drama, cattiness, and backstabbing in favor of beautiful treats, camaraderie, and charming people, Bake Off proves that reality TV doesn’t have to be a big fight for the win. And it can’t have been easy! With a change in judges, a change in networks, and a change in presenters over its many season, the show has stuck with its core values and British charm. Without a doubt, Bake Off has proven season after season that kindness, bread puns, and the occasional sassy grandma that cooks with too much booze is the key to fun viewing even with high stakes on the line. — Chloe Maveal
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (2019—Present)
“Cringe humor” rarely works for me. I can’t stand the Vacation films, and as much as I love Larry David, I only enjoy Curb Your Enthusiasm in small doses. That’s not a value judgement; I have anxiety and secondhand embarrassment, even from fictional characters, genuinely stresses me out.
So why do I love I Think You Should Leave? After all, I’ve found the best way to describe it is “Curb as sketch comedy.” For one, by virtue of being a sketch comedy, there’s never enough time to get so attached to any of these ridiculous characters that I’m sympathetic to their horrible decisions. But more importantly, it’s just that funny. Tim Robinson, who co-created the series with Zach Kanin and writes every episode alongside Kanin and John Solomon, is a master of the over-the-top. Rarely playing the “straight man,” he typically portrays loud, exasperated maniacs who refuse to admit they’re wrong.
Robinson’s influence looms large even in sketches he doesn’t appear in, but across the show’s mere six episodes in its single season so far, the cast is stellar. From stars like Andy Samberg (who executive produces the series alongside fellow The Lonely Island members Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone), to up-and-coming comedians like Patti Harrison, and even at least one virtual unknown who became a breakout star, everyone involved is funny and thoroughly in-on-the-joke. — Gregory Paul Silber
Jessica Jones Season 1 (2015)
Based on Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the first season of Jessica Jones was an unflinching depiction of the eponymous super-powered private detective as she works through the trauma of being mind-controlled and raped. Under the supervision of showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, lead actor Kristen Ritter delivered a riveting performance as Jessica, effortlessly alternating between vulnerability and impenetrability as the character’s journey dictated.
The supporting cast was strong as well, with Carrie-Anne Moss playing the morally complicated Jeri Hogarth, Jessica’s sometimes-employer and sometimes-attorney whose wife gets tangled in the unfolding disaster, not to mention David Tennant as Kilgrave, A.K.A. the Purple Man, one of the most evil and hateful villains ever depicted on screen.
While the later seasons of the series had some very high points, including an all-woman roster of directors for season 2 and the introduction of Aneesh Sheth as Gillian in season 3, the first season is a perfectly realized meditation on Jessica’s personal journey through trauma. — Avery Kaplan
The Leftovers (2014—2017)
Before Damon Lindelof showran HBO’s critically beloved Watchmen, there was The Leftovers. Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, The Leftovers observes a world in which, one day, 2 percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears. The remainder is left to ponder what happened to their loved ones, and more importantly, to mourn. The first season of this show is the slightest bit of a slog, but it contains many glimmers of the emotional power that seasons two and three go on to demonstrate. Ultimately less concerned with answering the mystery behind its central premise than it is with intimately portraying the phases of life that follow loss, The Leftovers is a singular show about the ways in which we grieve and how, at the end of the day, we learn to keep on living (or not). — Alex Lu
Mad Men (2007—2015)
A series that began in the previous decade, but arguably hit its best stride in the 2010s, Matt Weiner’s Mad Men was a brilliant study of the cultural forces that impacted the 1960s, as well as the changing face of racial and sexual injustice utilizing the microcosm of one major Madison Ave. ad agency. With each successive season, Mad Men continued to build an incredible head of steam, as we navigated through corporate buyouts, a merger, another buyout, the divorce and remarriage and divorce again of the decade’s most signifying anti-hero, the coming of age of an equally important heroine, character deaths, and finally the inspiration that would bring about a masterpiece of advertisement.
Mad Men wasn’t just a television series; it was a time machine, with the most lived-in and fully living, breathing characters that television has and may ever experience. From Jon Hamm’s ennui-inflicted performance to Elisabeth Olsen’s star-making turn, to increasingly powerful direction and daring scripts, it was Mad Men that initially made AMC the potential challenger to HBO’s prestige television crown, and when the dust settles, it will be the series that’s best remembered in the final analysis. — Kyle Pinion
Nathan For You (2013—2017)
Dubbed a representative of “cringe comedy,” Nathan For You is a hybrid comedy/reality show. Even if you’ve never seen it, you may know it from some of its viral sketches, like Dumb Starbucks, where creator Nathan Fielder used parody law to operate a copycat Starbucks shop. Like some of the reality shows that have come before it, Nathan For You often produces comedy at its subjects’ expense. There is something more forgiving about the show, though, than shows like Da Ali G Show or Jackass. Nathan For You often finds a way to sympathize with its participants, too, aiming its fangs at the economic structures that govern our society over any particular person. — Hannah Lodge
Parks and Recreation (2009—2015)
This feels like a very banal choice because of the sitcom’s popularity and quotability, but I think the magic of the series is lost on many of its viewers. Most comedy is about tearing down, but Parks and Recreation is about people who love and support each other, finding common ground despite their differences. The show’s positivity makes it my go-to when I feel depressed because its cheerful cast of characters can always make me smile. — Matt O’Keefe
Penny Dreadful (2014—2016)
Penny Dreadful is one of those shows that draws you into its delightfully dark world right from the word go. It is creepy, sexy, gory, dramatic, sad, and thrilling all at the same time, which is why the title of the show is perfect. Penny dreadfuls were a type of 19th century British popular fiction that usually centered on supernatural creatures and other lurid, sensational topics.
The series features famous names from Gothic lit such as Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and Frankenstein’s monster (Rory Kinnear). There are also many references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
But it’s the three main original characters that fascinate you. Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives is mysterious, alluring, and at times freaking scary. Yet you can’t help your attraction to her. Timothy Dalton is Malcolm Murray, whose tragic family history is what drives his current quest. And then there’s Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler, the rare American in the bunch. He’s a charming Old West sharpshooter who shows off his marksman skills for an adoring audience, but he’s hiding a much darker secret. Having only seen Hartnett in romantic comedies in the ‘90s and ‘00s, his performance throughout is refreshing, layered, and surprisingly wonderful.
Originally a Showtime series, the first three seasons are now streaming on Netflix. A spin-off series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels has also been announced. — Deanna Destito
Person of Interest (2011—2016)
Cyberpunk is hot right now — but it may have been at its hottest on TV during the CBS drama (I hesitate to say procedural, even if it started as one) Person of Interest. Michael Emerson is even better than he was in Lost, and Jim Caviezel proves he’s more than just another cinema Jesus. But the real star is the Machine, the lovable AI without a face (well, for the first couple of seasons), who just wants to be loved by her dad/creator (Emerson). Taraji P. Henson, Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker provide Strong Female Characters (in a very good way), and the conspiracy and intrigue involved with the opposing AI, Samaritan, is top notch. The show was at its best when it found itself struggling with the increasingly thin line between humanity and technology. — Ruth Johnson
Boasting the largest assembly of transgender actors appearing as series regulars in a scripted show ever, Pose explores ball culture in 1980s New York City, including the role of sex work in the lives of many trans women, and how the HIV/AIDS crisis impacted the Black and Latinx queer community at the time. At turns jovial, devastating, and sometimes just straight-up dramatic, Pose is a masterpiece unrivaled by anything else on TV, period.
The costumes and music deserve heaps of praise alone, but the cast — including Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Billy Porter, Indya Moore, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Charlayne Woodard, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, Angel Bismark Curiel, and Dyllón Burnside — give everything to their characters, crafting evocative, heartfelt performances that sing. In the annals of history, Pose will be remembered as a triumph of the television medium. — Samantha Puc
The Punisher Season 1 (2017)
As often as people willfully misinterpret the Punisher as a character, any new adaptation is met with trepidation. Luckily, the first season of the Netflix/Marvel series — starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Amber Rose Revah as new Dinah Madani, and Jason R. Moore as Curtis Hoyle — roots the exploration of Frank’s arc in his trauma as both a vet and a widower whose life is destroyed in an attempt by a corrupt government to cover up major war crimes. The writing is tight, with not-so-subtle slams against institutions that appropriate the vigilante’s skull logo, and the cast is top notch. Bernthal, in particular, delivers a deeply layered and nuanced performance that is utterly flawless.
Although The Punisher Season 2 fails its predecessor in key ways, Season 1 is one of the most perfectly-executed television arcs ever — especially in its depiction of PTSD and trauma from a variety of perspectives. — Samantha Puc
Red Oaks (2014—2017)
When asked to describe this Amazon Original Series, my best answer is that it’s a show about people trying to find happiness. That sounds so obvious, but few stories focus so directly on characters making choices which they hope will lead to content and fulfilled lives. This coming-of-age series set in the 1980s serves as a reminder that people of every age are still learning what it means to grow up. — Matt O’Keefe
Regular Show (2009—2017)
Who knew that a cartoon about two slackers, a guy who’s literally a gumball machine, a yeti, and ghost with a perpetual high five sticking out of the top of his head would also be one of the most emotionally realistic animated programs aimed at young people? Certainly, Regular Show would be hard to classify as “realistic,” but the emotional beats that the show strived for — finding your soulmate, being a good friend, learning to accept life — always stood out as being in tune for viewers of a certain age. The (mis)adventures of Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, were all subtly grounded in the need to find oneself.
Probably more than any other show of the 2010s, Regular Show spoke to me as a weird reflection of my life at various points during the decade. I could identify with the travails of these bizarre characters. I could empathize. And I could relate my life challenges with theirs and, somehow, work my way through them. Because of these aspects, Regular Show will always hold a special place in my heart. — AJ Frost
Rooster Teeth’s top animated show in fandom is also its best (although gen:Lock is pretty good). Created by gone-too-soon visionary Monty Oum, RWBY has delightful visuals, adorable characters, and an increasingly complex story. It’s still going — thank goodness — and is in the middle of its seventh season. Tune in on Rooster Teeth’s website if you want to know more about the best animated show on streaming or TV. The fight scenes are excellently executed and choreographed, created through motion-capture. The series is all about what it takes to make, break and be a hero, told primarily through the eyes of four young women coming into their own as Huntresses. It’s a distinctly female-driven show, which only helps to elevate it to the top. — Ruth Johnson
Schitt’s Creek (2015—Present)
Schitt’s Creek is easily the funniest series on TV right now. Centered around the Rose family — video store magnate Johnny (Eugene Levy), his wife Moira (Catherine O’Hara), and their adult children David (Daniel Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy — the series follows them from the moment their possessions are reclaimed, forcing them to move to their only remaining asset, a small town called Schitt’s Creek that they once purchased as a joke. Giving up the opulent lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to is far more difficult than they anticipated, and watching them face their newfound poverty is as absurd and hilarious as one might expect.
But somehow, this entire family steals your heart and makes you root for them, with over-the-top character work from the core cast and plenty of moments that show you just how human they really are. Schitt’s Creek shines for its fantastic gay representation and its deep-dive into the parts of ourselves that are super ugly, and can only change through genuine dedication to doing the work of becoming better people. Just one season remains in this Canadian comedy, which was absolutely slept on in the U.S. until it hit Netflix in 2017. Better late than never, though. Here’s to an Emmy win in 2020. — Samantha Puc
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018—Present)
Looking for a beautifully animated series with irresistible characters and a story
that pulls you in tighter than a hug from Scorpia? It’s hard to beat She-Ra and the
Princess of Power. Noelle Stevenson’s reboot of the 1980s series She-Ra: Princess of
Power places an emphasis on the friendships between the characters, particularly
the complicated circumstances that arise between Adora and Catra.
In addition to its engaging story and diverse cast of supporting characters, She-Ra is
also downright hilarious. It’s impossible to hear a line from Swift Wind, Mermista, or
Sea Hawk and keep a straight face — which offers a refreshing balance, as this series
doesn’t shy away from moments of heartbreak and loss. As the seasons pass, the
mythology of Etheria unspools, and the challenges the heroes face grow ever more
daunting. Can Adora and her friends move beyond their differences and save
Etheria, or will the chasm between them grow too wide to traverse? — Avery Kaplan
Steven Universe (2013—Present)
Adventure Time walked so Steven Universe could run, and it remains one of the best, most inclusive children’s series on TV today. Not only is there canon non-binary and lesbian rep, but the characters are allowed to thrive and be happy and have lives that are informed, but not defined by their gender or queerness. Showrunner Rebecca Sugar created a real gem (pun intended) with this massive phenomenon of a series, and I’m so grateful to them for having the heart and the mind to spawn something so utterly lovely.
Plus, the music in Steven Universe is catchy as heck, the soundtrack full of earworms that don’t even feel that bothersome when they get stuck in your head. That’s quite a feat. Now that the series is stepping into the future, I can’t wait to see what happens next. — Samantha Puc
Are you a lower class person sitting on your couch reading this list? Do you still manage to have a subscription to HBO? Do the über-wealthy make you rage? Do you want to just watch the rich people eat themselves so you don’t have to? Well good. Because that’s entirely what Succession is. Acting as a combination family/political drama, the show showcases the greed, moral ambiguity, and business backstabbing of what we all picture the big players of corporate conglomerates to be. And you get so wrapped up in how much you hate loving all of the twisted, grey-area, human characters that you forget to be angry about this being far too close to reality. For a good rage-laugh and political intrigue, get to watchin’. — Chloe Maveal
This Is England ’86, ’88, ’90 (2010—2015)
This trilogy of shows serves as a sequel to Shane Meadows’ 2006 movie of the same name about a young British boy in 1983 England who befriends a gang of local skinheads, though ends up getting involved with the white supremacist variety. This series, scripted by Meadows and Jack Thorne — known for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the His Dark Materials series — takes a wider view of the group of friends in the movie, spending time with each as part of a neo-realist tapestry of the British working class. This makes for some raw performances and filmmaking that don’t typically show up on television, challenging viewers to embrace life as a torrent of gray which one moment can be about the chaotic joy of being young without a leash and the next a moment of dark emotional intensity that manifests as a form of violence that’s almost too hard to bear.
Meadows and Thorne reveal a profound understanding of the intersection of trauma and humor that you find in real life, but the credit for the success of This Is England in portraying it so brilliantly lies in large part with the amazing cast in both major and minor roles. The performances are astounding all around and require a mastery of multiple scales of emotion, sometimes within moments of each other. In particular, Joseph Gilgun and Vicky McClure are astonishing as Woody and Lol, the de facto leaders of the group whose own relationship is disintegrating, as is Thomas Turgoose as the inarticulate, agitated Shaun, who is trying to find a place for himself in the world.
Secondary players are also exquisite, including Stephen Graham as racist ex-con skinhead Combo, Rosamund Hanson as the quirky-but-wise goth girl Smell, Michael Socha as the magnetic but guarded Harvey, Andrew Shim as the gentle Milky, and Johnny Harris as Lol’s father Mick, a tour de force portrayal of rage and ugliness. The three series together are heart-wrenching documents of the human condition — and it’s not all hopeful, especially not in the big picture — but the emotion of the journey with these heartbreaking, engaging young people made me miss them when the show ended and it was hard to let them go. — John Seven
Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
I have many fond memories from this decade, but the summer of 2017, when our closest friends would all gather each Sunday to watch David Lynch‘s and Mark Frost’s “so unlikely it was hard to believe it was real” return to the world of Twin Peaks is among my most treasured. It had been some time since we even graced with new Lynch at all, but the idea that we would get 17 episodes of pure, unfiltered, nightmare-fueled id and a revival of the series that basically created “water-cooler television” seemed too good to be true.
Well it was very true, and it was very good. Incredible, in fact. While the original run of Twin Peaks ended mostly with a whimper, thanks to Lynch’s and Frost’s exit from the series (all the way back when the first George Bush was President!), The Return was fully in their command, particularly that of Lynch’s, calling forth the same storytelling logic and mythos that powered Fire Walk With Me – easily the most essential pre-Return viewing – they carved up one of the most singular viewing experiences of the 2010s.
As abstract and challenging a television series as one could imagine, only David Lynch could produce an hour of television that uncovers the birth of cosmic horror as its breaches our reality and nestle it right next to a Nine Inch Nails performance. Almost every question that it was possible to answer from the previous series was addressed in some form or fashion as well, but it also just gave rise to other questions in true Lynch fashion, with an ending that is potentially the most daring thing I’ve ever seen in a long-form narrative. And hey, we finally met Diane! — Kyle Pinion
I was dubious about this new series. On one hand, I thought Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was a brilliant expansion of the series that realized the original promise that had escaped the TV series. On the other hand, co-creator Mark Frost was not involved in that and I had a feeling that was one of the factors in its success. I was still scarred by the original series becoming mostly unwatchable much earlier in the second series that I had remembered, barring a few scenes here and there and the finale.
What I especially didn’t expect was for David Lynch to throw everything he had at this new show, creating not so much an extension of the original as a meditation on it and the ideas presented, as well as a reflection on his entire filmmaking career. Effectively plot-less for the first 80 percent of its run and embracing an experimental storytelling structure that requires the audience to build the narrative even as it contends with multiple tangents that imply deeper stories but may not physically deliver on them, the more traditional style of plot only manifests near the end of the series and even then what briefly coalesces crumbles around us by the end.
You don’t often see television meditate on its own methods of storytelling in order to deconstruct and even obliterate them, and on that level alone, Twin Peaks: The Return is notable. And I could talk forever about other themes within the show, like the men’s violence towards women as a terrifying cultural norm, but such aspects have been discussed over and over and over and I’m not sure I can add anything to them. One thing is for certain — the so-called Golden Age of Television is densely populated by showrunners influenced directly by Lynch’s work, but with Twin Peaks: The Return, Lynch sprinted way past them all. The show’s bizarre, alluring mix of nostalgia, sincerity, alienation, and the grotesque are entirely his own and everyone else is just borrowing parts of Lynch’s soul. It was a pleasure to spend so much time with the real thing. — John Seven
It may be hard to remember, but there once was a time where politics didn’t control every waking moment of our existence and some people even willingly took in fiction that dramatized or made light of political parties and government institutions. Out of all those programs to emerge over the last decade, Veep is, without a doubt, the most insightful, entertaining and honest in its presentation of Washington dysfunction. Anchored by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ razorsharp, quick witted performance as Congresswoman Selina Meyer, a self-serving individual who will do anything and betray anyone to accumulate power, the show doesn’t pull any punches in the way it presents camera-hungry politicians and their enabling staffs as crude, bumbling or arrogant.
Similar to Arrested Development, each episode is packed full of tiny, effective jokes that dig at the various characters, but the gags and storylines build as the Congresswoman inches closer to becoming the United States’ first female President. Some of the show’s earlier seasons and jokes may seem relatively tame due to… recent political developments since 2016, but the entire series is still a brilliant look at the selfish, narcissistic people who think they deserve to be the biggest shot callers in the world. — Nick Kazden
The real star of Westworld, even more so than its extremely complex plotting, is its stellar cast of characters, who are so much more than Western/AI stereotypes. Evan Rachel Wood is a star as Dolores Abernathy, who is one of the most morally complex protagonists TV’s seen in a while (which is saying something, because there are so many of those protagonists). The show’s narrative confusion can drive people away, but for someone willing to do a deep dive and try to unpack everything, it’s really quite enjoyable. — Ruth Johnson
What We Do In the Shadows (2019—Present)
A spin-off of the movie of the same name, What We Do in the Shadows follows the exploits of four vampire roommates in New York City. A documentary crew has been hired (at their peril) to record the undead crew’s misadventures, providing a narrative frame that gives the opportunity for the characters to casually comment on the events unfolding in the story (as well as insult one another behind each other’s backs).
With exceptional special effects and hilarious deadpan delivery, What We Do in the Shadows is a near-perfect horror comedy, and it takes advantage of its format to fully explore some of the logistics of vampire life, such as when Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) laments that she wants to provide newly-turned LARPer Jenna (Beanie Feldstein) by providing her with the guidance she lacked during her “dark transition.” Plus, an episode featuring the Vampire Council provides so many vampiric cameos I wouldn’t even know where to begin (well, yes I would: Evan Rachel Wood), and among the main cast, Harvey Guillén slays as eternal familiar Guillermo. — Avery Kaplan
Young Justice (2010—Present)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t put down at least one comic book superhero related series. Just when you thought Bruce Timm and company reached the zenith of what was possible with superhero animation through Justice League Unlimited, producers Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti came along and completely redefined the DC universe. The fact that the show returned, after being unceremoniously canceled due to low toy sales, thanks to the ardent fan support and social media campaigns is a testament that they created something special. In contrast to shows that gained a second life on streaming platforms only to be a shell of its former self (see Arrested Development) Young Justice actually upped its game delving into more mature and topical themes than it ever could have when it aired on Cartoon Network.
The way the series adapts the intricately confusing DC Comics universe is on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which unlike Young Justice has the benefit of multiple films as opposed to one serialized television show. This isn’t a complete surprise for one of the strengths of Weisman, going all the way back to Disney’s Gargoyles.
Hopefully it won’t be too arduous a wait until the recently greenlit fourth season premieres. Until then, fans can go back and rewatch the series and gain an even greater appreciation. — Taimur Dar
You’re the Worst (2014—2019)
The logline for You’re the Worst is two terrible people falling in love with each other, but the series itself is much richer than that. FX’s twisted rom-com is about two very broken people who may either fix or bring out the worst in each other. Viewers won’t know the answer to that question until the very end. — Matt O’Keefe