Wow, what a crazy good decade of television. Defined by dragons, spies, superheroes, cops & robbers, and British Royalty, the 2010s was the first true decade of the second golden era of television. Also the rise of streaming vs. the death of traditional cable could be an entire entry (and will itself undoubtedly be a program someday), but today we are going to focus on the original programming that was the hallmark of this decade’s storytelling.
Jesus, where did the time go? I feel like 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men just ended yesterday. Speaking of those shows, you won’t find them on this list because this list will pertain to shows that primarily took place in this decade, not in the previous decade.
Also, you won’t see such critical darlings as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Leftovers, Bojack Horseman, Succession and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on this list; not because I didn’t like these programs, but because I just didn’t find the time to watch them.
So, without further ado, here is my list:
HONORABLE MENTIONS/SINGLE SEASONS
This category is reserved for programs that have just one season or have one standout season amidst a show run that may have been good, but not excellent.
Chernoybl HBO (2019)
This miniseries detailing the horrific events surrounding, leading up to, and in the aftermath of the Chernoybl nuclear meltdown was extremely well done and extremely jarring. Jarrod Harris and Stellan Skarsgard are as good as anyone in the business and their characters develop an unlikely friendship and eventually helps notify the world of the scope of the accident. Perhaps Chernoybl‘s most terrifying plot point is that humans are truly their own worst enemy and that it is plausible that our greed, pride, and lies are capable of destroying the planet.
Stranger Things (Season 1) Netflix (2016)
This will be my only real hot take on the list. We all know that Stranger Things is a fun show and is raking it in at the nostalgia table. The Easter Eggs, homages, and call backs are fun and the show is superbly well done, but the viewer only needs to spend one season in the Upside/Down that is Hawkins, Indiana. Stranger Things would have been a masterpiece (and fine with me) if it ended after one season; however it is instead a very well made trip down memory lane.
True Detective (Season 1) HBO (2014)
Created by author and screenwriter Nic Pizzolato, taking place in mostly the 1990’s, and starring Woody Hayes and Mathew McConaughey as detectives trying to solve the murder of a Louisiana prostitute, True Detective was supposed to be the catalyst for the new crime anthology formula. Instead the second as third season faltered with less interesting and more convoluted plots and never really regained it’s momentum, perhaps proving that time really ISN’T a flat circle. If you are looking for a period piece murder mystery in the bayou that contains elements of the supernatural, True Detective season one is the show for you.
BROCKMIRE (Season 1) IFC (2017)
Hank Azaria is extremely talented and lands an unbelievable amount of laughs in his portrayal of washed up former Major League Baseball announcer Jim Brockmire. The chemistry between he and love interest Amanda Peet and intern Tyrel Jackson Williams is second to none but unfortunately in later seasons, this trio is broken up and as a result the show suffers. If you like raunchy jokes about drugs, alcohol, baseball, and sex, look no further.
FARGO (Season 2) FX (2015)
Okay, maybe I have TWO Hot Takes: If you take anything away from this article, I hope it is that season two of Fargo may be the best single season of anthology television, if not all of television, in the 2010s. It’s just that damn good.
Ted Danson, Jesse Plemons, Kristin Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Bokeem Woodbine and Jean Smart round out an ensemble cast that kills it (literally and figuratively) in every scene. Set in 1979, this particular season of Fargo focuses on the changing times that challenge the power and authority of the Gerhardt crime family, who control every racket in the upper Midwest. Make no mistake, this is cinema on television, and every episode could stand alone a masterclass in film-making. Also, there are Flying Saucers and a lot of great music. If you have Disney plus, you have Hulu, which means you have access to Fargo, dontcha know?
Now, it’s time for our entree: the fifteen best shows of the 2010s.
#15) Bob’s Burgers Fox
Creatively speaking, Bob’s Burgers is the last man standing on Fox’s Sunday Night Animation Domination, as The Simpsons and Seth McFarlane have lost all appeal and luster. Focusing on the wacky adventures surrounding Bob Belcher, his family, and their restaurant, Bob’s Burgers appeals to kids and adults. Frankly this is the coolest show on television and has previously featured indie rock darlings The National. What else do you want?
#14) It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia FX
Always Sunny almost didn’t make the list as the last few seasons frankly have not been great. However, it’s body of work speaks for itself. Surprisingly smart and topical Always Sunny always has something to say, even if it spoken by a group of brain dead bartenders who constantly undermine humanity. If nothing else, check out the season 13 finale where Mac, through interpretive dance, comes out to his father.
#13) Watchmen HBO
If Martin Scorsese doesn’t think super hero movies are cinema, well, he needs to tune in to Watchmen. This is cinema,
Based on the long running DC comics, Watchmen is topical science fiction about the danger of hiding behind masks. Regina King FINALLY gets a starring vehicle and should be in high demand this award season. Am I prisoner of the moment (and breaking my rules) by putting what is so far a one season show on my list? Maybe, but Watchmen can’t help but keep the viewer fascinated as it draw parallels between today’s raising white nationalism and the racism that exists in the DC Universe.
#12) Game of Thrones HBO
A decade of dragons down the drain. What a shame. When HBO and creator George R.R. Martin handed over the keys to the best selling, fantasy genre book castle to show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even a Three Eyed Raven would have had difficulty predicting how poorly the series would end. Don’t get me wrong, all seasons previous to season eight were outstanding but the 2010s should have belonged to the Dragon Queen.
You know nothing, Benioff and Weiss.
#11) Vice Principals HBO
In Vice Principals Walton Goggins and Danny McBride play competing Vice Principals who are clamoring for the principal’s office at fictional North Jackson High School. There is A LOT of improv, a ton of laughs, and some really dark moments. In his second collaboration with creator Jody Hill, McBride takes a stratospheric leap forward with his acting chops while Goggins finally gets a chance to show the world his comedic timing. The series has only 18 episodes, making it the perfect winter weather weekend binge.
Thanks for reading! The top ten will be published on 12/23. Travel safely and enjoy the Holiday Season.