Welcome back and thanks for checking out part two of my Best Television Shows of the 2010s list. Click here for part one, which contains honorable mentions and shows #15-11. Okay, lets get started!
#10) JUSTIFIED FX
Set in Harlan Kentucky, Justified pays homage to the beautiful scenery of the Bluegrass State and explores Kentucky’s culture without making a caricature of good people who live there. In short Walton Goggins plays Boyd Crowder, the Dixie Mafia leader with a heart of gold. The man tasked with stopping Crowder is fellow former coal miner and trigger happy Federal Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). At times it is difficult to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, as thief Crowder seems to have a better conscience than law-man Givens. To be clear, Justified is the most uneven show in the Top 15, but when it is good, it is as smooth as three fingers of Elmer T. Lee.
#9) MASTER OF NONE Netflix
Created by and starring Aziz Ansari (who also writes, produces, and directs) Master of None is an astute snapshot of American cultural and touches on dating, religion, family, sexuality, and food. A LOT of food. These topics are relatable for anyone regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity and Ansari does a great job showing these universal truths. Ansari has a real knack for writing and directing and it isn’t inconceivable to imagine him jumping into the director’s chair for thoughtful and artistic big screen endeavors. Is Master of None just a male oriented and more creative version of Sex and The City? Possibly, but I don’t really care.
#8) OZARK Netflix
One of my pet peeves is when a television or movie studio publicize their series leads as “Actor X as you’ve never seen him before’. Well, in this instance the cliche is true and Ozark features Jason Bateman as you’ve TRULY never seen him before. Bateman plays Marty Bryde, a Chicago money launderer who has been exiled to the Ozarks to pay off a debt to a Mexican drug cartel. Bateman gets a lot of onscreen support from Laura Linney, who plays Bryde’s equally morally corrupt and culpable spouse Wendy. Still, Bateman (who won the 2019 Writers Guild Award for Male Actor) shines in every scene, and brings a nuanced depth to his character; a depth he hasn’t previously reached.
#7) VEEP HBO
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is like a fine comedic wine that just gets better with age. Portraying Selina Meyer, a self serving and self destructive politician trying to work her way into the Oval Office, Dreyfus really lets her talent shine. Surrounded by an OUTSTANDING ensemble cast (Tinothy Simons, Reid Scott, Anna Chlumsky, Gary Cole, Sam Richardson, Kevin Dunn, Sarah Sutherland, Clea DuVall) Louis-Dreyfus is at her best in scenes with Tony Hale, who plays her loyal to a fault, handler Gary Walsh. There is a lot of improvisation and even more laughs and the comedy is topical and smart. Vote for Veep.
#6) BARRY HBO
Okay, one more hot take: If a third season of Barry was available, it may have been #1 on my list. The brainchild of Bill Hader (who writes, produces, and directs) Barry tells the tale of combat veteran turned hit-man turned aspiring actor Berry Berkman. Mentored by a shady frenemy named Fuches (Stephen Root) Barry needs to finish one last job before he quits the business. In less capable hands, this would be a cliched trope, but Hader finds a way to make it work through his comedic chops and outstanding writing and direction. Barry Berkman is a damaged and bad person, but Hader finds away to make the audience root for him anyway.
#5) BETTER CALL SAUL AMC
The prequel and prologue companion to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul focuses on a Jimmy McGill a criminal who happens to also be a criminal attorney. Portrayed by television royalty Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Larry Sanders, Fargo, Mr. Show), Goodman sets in motion many awful acts while trying in vain to be a good person. There are many classic characters from Breaking Bad and a ton of new faces to root for, and to root against. What separates Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad is that the former is character driven and the later is plot driven, and what amazing characters and back stories we are given. Personally, I will take the slow burn of Jimmy transforming into Saul over Walt and Jessie getting out of another situation, every single time. Creator Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque universe is a lot of fun to watch, but comes with a lot of heart ache too.
#4) FLEABAG Amazon Prime/BBC
Born of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s titular one-woman show, Fleabag has taken the world by storm, and we are all better for it. Waller-Bridge plays Fleabag, a character who in an attempt to fill a void left by the recent deaths of her mother and of her best friend, drinks, steals, and sleeps her way through London. Phoebe-Waller CONSTANTLY breaks the ‘fourth wall’ while talking with the audience, something that an actor who was less charming, less intelligent, and who had worse comedic timing could not pull off. Fleabag is a dark comedy that is full of tender moments and that isn’t afraid to show humanity at it’s most vulnerable.
Fans of Fleabag may also appreciate Waller-Bridge’s other television sensation Killing Eve and should check out the upcoming James Bond film No Time To Die, of which she was a co-writer. It is a safe bet to say we will see a lot more of Waller-Bridge in the coming years.
#3) THE CROWN (Seasons 1&2) Netflix
Simply put, The Crown is the most ambitious and well done project that Netflix has ever been attached to. The period piece’s production values are incredible, the writing is crisp, the acting is more than believable, and the audience is kept on their toes even with being aware of how the story ends. Claire Foys and Matt Smith have undeniable chemistry as wife Queen Elizabeth and husband Prince Philip and portray the couple from 1947 to 1964. The duo fight for their marriage, advocate for their children, and keep up appearances, all under an international spotlight driven by media obsession.
Admittedly, I have not seen season three, which has a significant time jump forward and features an ENTIRELY new cast. However, I feel comfortable putting seasons one and two on the list and if season three is even half as good as the first two seasons, I feel justified with this placement.
#2) ATLANTA (FX)
At the end of the next decade (if not much earlier), I firmly believe we will look at Atlanta and be blown away by the talent and star power of the four leads. Donald Glover is already one of the biggest stars on the planet, Brian Tyree Hill is a budding Broadway AND Hollywood star, and Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz are starring in new movies almost weekly. The cast is so big that seasons 3 and 4 are currently being filmed simultaneously because, I imagine, it is more than difficult to get all of these actors together at once.
Atlanta portrays culture in the south and the difficulties facing the minorities who live there, while being subversive and strange and taking chances with how the audience will react to strange situations that often feel normal, or strange situations that are anything but normal (Season 2, episode 6 to be precise). Atlanta is unlike anything on television and is probably not for everyone, but those it is for certainly appreciate the chances Glover and Company take.
#1) The Americans FX
Period piece with outstanding set design? Check. Unbelievable make up and effects department? Done. Incredible actors who are given smart scripts to work with? Covered. Fleetwood Mac music continuously featured? That’s not a rumour.
The Americans features Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell as Soviet super spies living in Washington D.C. in the early to mid 1980s. I don’t think it is hyperbole to claim that Rhys and Russell have the best on screen husband and wife chemistry since James Gandolfini and Edie Falco graced us with their presence in The Sopranos.
Rhys and Russell need that chemistry to make the audience root for them in spite of the murder, destruction, sadness, and pain they bring to everyone they encounter. From a plot and action standpoint, The Americans masterfully straddles the line between over-the-top and believable, as dangerous missions and deadly games of cat and mouse take an emotional, physical, and spiritual toll on fictional Phillip and Elizabeth Jenkins.
The Americans is high art and is at times a slow burn, but ABSOLUTELY nails their final season. There are loose ends that don’t need tied up because ambiguity is something that The Americans does better than any show in recent memory. Be a good patriot and give it a shot.