Top 50 Television Shows of the Decade (2010-2019) - Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of my Top 50 Favourite TV Shows of the Decade. Click Here for Part 1.
Now without further ado...let's continue.
"What is it like inside your brain? It must be so boring"
Sherlock feels older than it is. It's easy to forget now, what with the passage of time and the waning quality of the last two seasons, that it was a global phenomenon for quite a while. You couldn't travel anywhere, especially online, after the season two finale. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had managed to perfect the 'tortured genius' trope of television immediately, leaving almost every other television show at the ready to imitate it. Even now, the feature-length episodes of Sherlock hold up as dashing adventurous pieces of television.
23) Mr. Robot
"We're all living in each other's paranoia"
Watching Mr. Robot is like constantly being on the verge of a panic attack. Meticulously plotted neo-noir introspection fills every moment, and when it takes a while to breathe, you're anxiously preparing yourself for whatever's going to happen next. A lot of this is down to Rami Malek's powerful performance as crumbling self-doubtist Elliot, but it's also a testament to the show's amalgamation of cinematography, thumping synth-driven soundtrack and supporting cast that really hammer in the whole aspect of panic that the show runs with.
"Did you watch University Challenge last night?"
Detectorists is nice. There's very few words that can encompass it other than that. Mackenzie Crook's sitcom about two best friends who break away from their troubles to search pieces of countryside with their metal detectors may not seem like the most exciting of concepts - because it's not, and the show knows it. Instead this charming comedy explores the mundanity of rural England and the people who live there. Those middle-aged people stuck in a time where broadcast television still means they need to be home in time for tea, and where human connection is still the most important thing possible.
21) In The Flesh
"I am a partially-deceased syndrome sufferer and what I did in my untreated state was not my fault"
From the ashes of The Fades rose In the Flesh. A refreshingly-original take on the zombie subgenre that has since been imitated by never improved. Set in a world where a cure for the zombie virus has returned human consciousness to most of those infected, PDS sufferers are reintroduced into society with various stages of success. But instead of going through the typical zombie checklist, In the Flesh uses its platform to highlight deeper philosophical ideas and question what it means to be human. It chose to follow the path of gripping drama and it was all the better for it.
"Just promise me if you get lost, we get lost together"
Whilst also being visually stunning and surprising, X-Men TV spinoff (but not really) Legion was one of the most surprising shows to come out of the last decade. It seems implausible that a show like this based off the film franchise should exist, with its mind-bending nature and refusal to play by the rules of linear storytelling, but Noah Hawley's entry into the mutant world was an individual entity highly worthy of praise and thinkpieces. Plus Dan Stevens continues to crush it throughout the decade in almost everything he touches so there's always that.
"Like a good leader, I'm gonna get us some Ubers"
I feel like we all knew Bill Hader's talent would eventually stretch to a critically-acclaimed film or television show. It was only a matter of time before he transcended the 'supporting character' phase and began his intention of world domination. Barry is a pivotal antihero story for modern times, with pitch-black humour and subject matter that feels like it will never run out of steam. Far more than a writing powerhouse too, the direction on the series has consistently been stunning - one-upping itself again and again with some of the most exciting and tense violence captured outside of a conventional thriller in ages.
18) The Newsroom
"Snark is the idiot's version of wit and we're being consumed by it"
I feel like time is going to be kind for The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin's ambitious newsroom drama features his signature calling-cards that fans and audiences have come to expect of course, but much like the ill-fated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip it's the characters that make everything seem worthwhile. And whilst the show is arguably the least consistent of all of Sorkin's TV work (in my opinion), it's this inconsistency and tonal shifting between stories and debates that makes the production reflect on the very subject matter it's focusing on.
"Every relationship is reciprocal Peter, when you touch something it touches you. It changes you"
It was a time in television where J.J Abrams seemed to have his fingers in every single pie. Especially science-fiction. If a new drama had a sci-fi edge you bet his name was attached, and Fringe was no different. What started off as a diversion from The X-Files of old very quickly cemented itself as one of the smartest and most bold shows of its time. Of course across its 100 episode-run there were a few missteps, but its central trio, particularly John Noble's Walter Bishop, were so heavily involved that it was hard not to be along for the ride anyway. Not only did it quickly become an addiction thanks to the layered mythology that it took glee in revealing episode-by-episode, but it backed everything up with a sense of heart that's difficult to find in other shows of the same nature. White Tulip will forever be one of my favourite pieces of television and the show's finale served as a gentle reminder of all the good these characters had done before it.
"A unique, dishevelled, sexy-dirty, clever-in-a-wicked-way-with-a-naughty-twinkle-in-the-eye-that-makes-women-catch-their-breath, masterful womanising cad, often likened to a character from literature that women can masturbate over late at night whilst their husbands are snoring in bed- I've thought about what I am at some length"
It's not difficult to realise why Campus was cut short after one season. It arrived at the wrong time. Its characters are vile, constantly spouting racially-insensitive and hurtful comments at such precision you'd think there was a machine gun lodged in their throats. The comedy style switches between distinct surrealist overtones whilst incorporating the traditional love triangle aspect of an old-fashioned British sitcom. But it's infinitely quotable and filled with such memorable characters that you thrive for more time in their presence. Even if it'd mean you'd all be going straight to hell.
15) Penny Dreadful
"All sad people like poetry. Happy people like songs"
Penny Dreadful took the American Horror Story crowd and turned them into gothic literature enthusiasts, and if that's not praise I don't know what is. Stupendously stylish and dripping with atmosphere down to the last drop, this dramatic interpretation of classical monsters may have taken dozens of liberties with the source material but it built up a mythos that managed to justify every decision. Not to mention Eva Green's fittingly intense central performance naturally suits the barbaric and blood-fuelled world around her.
14) Peaky Blinders
"In all the world, violent men are the easiest to deal with"
Steven Knight's gritty historical drama manages to win over everyone it touches. The tale of notorious Birmingham-set mob the Peaky Blinders consistently ranks as one of the most gorgeous and complex shows on television. Whether it's down to the continuous use of slow-motion, the powerful performances lead by a never-better Cillian Murphy, the fantastic soundtrack that oozes maniacal violence, the bold writing from Knight himself or a supporting cast of characters that puts most other shows to shame with a single Tom Hardy performance, Peaky Blinders is peak television at an age where the platform's never been better.
13) Doctor Who
" Because it's always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who's going to die. You don't know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they're always going to have to do from the very beginning -- sit down and talk! "
I'll always love Doctor Who with an intensity as bright as the sun, but whilst Russell T. Davies' tenure as showrunner reflected a better time (whether on not that be on my younger age is up for debate) this decade was Steven Moffat's to run (with Chris Chibnall piggybacking on at the end...less said the better). It's been an odd decade too. Filled with highs and lows as the show had ducked in and out of peak popularity. Season five's fairytale story of Amy Pond and Matt Smith's 11th Doctor certainly started things off on a high note, and whilst Smith's reign in the TARDIS never quite achieved the same sense of stability his story was rounded off with an endearingly sweet and resonant christmas special before allowing Peter Capaldi's calculating and hardened Doctor to stand forward. Almost the antithesis of Smith in every way, Capaldi's reign started off wobbly before becoming self-assured across the ninth and tenth seasons of the show - the moments where the writing was worthy of the on-screen talent blew me away, and the show deserves a spot on this list for Heaven Sent alone. I just hope Jodie Whittaker's Doctor is able to find her voice this decade.
"Be careful, or your poor heart might pop"
Dubbed a comedy 'with mental illness' by many, Will Sharpe's poetic and blisteringly-odd Flowers is one of the best shows to ever grace British screens - and it's destined to die of anonymity despite having queen Olivia Coleman attached. Focusing on the Flowers family as they inadvertently refuse to talk to each other about the important problems they're all facing individually, Flowers presents itself as a two-dimensional ink-plot that festers slowly over the period of its two seasons and gradually eats away at you with its wit and off-collar remarks until you surrender to its will. A lot like a mental illness, I suppose. Whilst its face value sits it alongside commonplace British family sitcoms that's actually just a disguise for the utter insanity within, and Sharpe's mind knows to sprinkle these moments feverishly in order to highlight the demented world of the Flowers family, whether you want to be sucked in or not.
11) The Haunting of Hill House
"Ghosts are guilt. Ghosts are secrets. Ghosts are regrets and failings, but most times, most times a ghost is a wish"
The singular best ghost story this decade? It may very well be... Whilst the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel takes only the central concept and location and runs with an all-new tale of fear and woe it manages to weave a delicately-crafted and emotionally-devastating tale of cruelty across multiple time periods. Mike Flanagan has proven himself not only a master of big screen horror this decade but small screen too, as he and creative partner Jeff Howard torture the Craine family and push them beyond breaking point. Like the best of its genre, The Haunting of Hill House knows that ghosts are best-suited to the melancholic. So whilst the audience is jumping in glee and struggling to pinpoint the vast amount of secret ghouls that plague every episode's gorgeous scenery, Flanagan and co. are working their magic by focusing on the downtrodden and mistreated among us. Each one of the Craine children is flawed and broken, and that's why this story is theirs. And whilst I'm concerned at the anthological future the series is choosing to take, if the team can continue this solid storytelling then we're in for a treat.
10) Black Mirror
"All we know is fake fodder and buying shit"
Black Mirror introduced a broad audience to the insular dark satirical thoughts many of us have - only now they were real and vivid and darker than we could have ever thought imaginable. Charlie Brooker's takedown of technology and society in general was typically British in its nihilistic and vicious Channel 4 incarnation, offering up daunting realistic challenges humanity would inevitably face in the oncoming future. After switching production to Netflix the impact of each installment has of course been diluted, but the show still has much to say. Individual installments are now commonly accepted into the zeitgeist, a byproduct of the show Brooker himself probably has a field day with. Each season drop fills that week with nonstop discussions and viewing parties - the way we as a people have decided to intake entertainment throughout the second half of the decade. Hang the DJ and San Junipero proved that amidst the darkness everything may not be completely hopeless in Brooker's eyes. Nevertheless though Black Mirror consumes us the same way we consume it - and it's an important and pivotal piece of allegorical storytelling that will forever define this technology-obsessed society we currently live in.
9) The Leftovers
"Over here we lost some of them. But over there, they lost all of us"
After 2% of the world's population mysteriously disappears, those that are left behind are left to wonder why and deal with the eventual cataclysmic effect this has on the world as they know it. Damon Lindelof has a knack for sucker-punch concepts, and The Leftovers is no different. Whilst it was technically brilliant in its first season, it's the second and third that proved how the show would go on to stand the test of time. One of the most profoundly affecting stories in years, with enough acting bravara to warn off any potential doubters. In a time where other shows sought out to be larger and louder, it was The Leftovers' quiet ambitions that carried it along. Say what you want about Lindelof's characteristically complicated work, when it fits together as tightly as this it's worth whatever small moments of quiet you can achieve. Hopefully the popularity of Watchmen will compel audiences to go back and watch through the series in order to see where some of the talent comes from.
8) Adventure Time
"If I think about it too much I get all soul-searchy and weird"
By the time 2010 rolled around I was already at the age where my parents were 'disgusted' by the fact that I still watched cartoons. My own personal tastes were rapidly developing, and it was a time where I took the obscure route - becoming obsessed with the oddities on television and seeking out alternative shows. You know, hipster behaviour looking back on it now. But Adventure Time premiered at the perfect time for this stage of younger George's life. The first season dipped its toes into the surrealist qualities and intense mythology of Ooo every now-and-then, but was mostly a traditional showcase of cartoon madness in a world filled with candy-people and evil wizards/cool vampires etc. But Pendleton Ward wasn't satisfied with that. He had big plans for Adventure Time. Plans that were destined to define almost a generation which bypassed age. Finn and Jake's story isn't about boundaries. The show was interested in the limitations of its network or reach, it needed to tell a grandiose personal tale of loss and gain, friendship and magic, heartbreak and loss, and it did it. Without any pretension or loss of appetite, across ten seasons we were overjoyed with the bold backstory of Ooo, and the difficulties of Finn's past and future. Not only constantly narratively engaging, but emotionally resonant and capable of offering up fresh life lessons before signing off with a cyclical and sweet finale. The fact that we're also getting a final victory lap in the form of Distant Lands is just a bonus.
"Love isn't something that weak people do. Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope"
You knew this one was coming. Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag is not only one of the most accessible shows in years but it's a mesmerising feat of what can be achieved when every aspect of your production syncs up perfectly. Kept at bay to the likes of BBC Three (and Amazon for those across the pond), the first season is a delicate tale of loss for Bridge's Fleabag and how she copes in the aftermath of devastation in a world that detests strong albeit flawed and proudly sexually-active women. This year's final season is a self-confessed love story which, depending how you look at it, details the tribulations of unrequited feelings, self-confidence and acceptance of flaws. Oh, and it's also devilishly witty and filled with fourth wall-breaking mannerisms which are now so closely connected to the show that they've formed the unfortunate term 'Fleabag-isms'. As a writer it's a storming piece to be in awe of, with sly commentary and barnstorming monologues on the inadequacies and triumphs of middle-aged women and the futility of relationships all wrapped up inside the mind of a sordid motormouth you can't help but fall for. Yes, it's as good as you've heard and no, we won't shut up about it.
6) Twin Peaks: The Return
David Lynch's return to Twin Peaks was always going to have a big effect. And it's as intriguing as anything else in his oeuvre and twice as rage-inducing. An eighteen hour epic told in the only way he knows how. He and Mark Frost deliberately played with expectation and brought every trick in the book along with them. Red herrings and ambitious backstories, double-crosses and experimental music video-esque segways into lands of make-believe and nightmarish black-and-white worlds that will probably haunt me forever. All of it to get back to the town where the owls tell secrets and the coffee is damn good. Whilst your mileage may differ depending on your attention span and personal preference on Lynch's trademark strangeness, there's no denying the artistic integrity on display here. So few shows nowadays can get away with being called art, mostly because it makes them sound pedantic and full of themselves, but The Return manages to carve its own crevice in the face of modern television and entertainment in general. Whether that gum we like will come back in style once more remains to be seen, but The Returns ending promised us that it's still not over, and that would be a perfect terrifying ending to the Twin Peaks saga if need be.
5) Rick and Morty
" Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV"
Woah crazy! Wubbalubbadubdub! Who would've thought I'd be one of those mere mortals with a ridiculously high IQ as to appreciate a show on such a level? All jokes aside though Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon's animated Back to the Future rip frustratingly is one of the smartest shows on television. It's also one of the funniest. If you manage to ignore the poisonous fanbase (as is the case with a lot of things these days) beneath the rapidfire dialogue and nihilist adoration there's layer upon layer of emotional and physical depth. Rick Sanchez is one flawed mother f***er, and he's not afraid to drag his grandson Morty down with him. What started off as an interesting science fiction adventure sitcom very quickly began to take over culturally. Not only that but the quality kept on increasing throughout its second season, including introducing 'Evil Morty' and the concept of melancholic depressing endings that elevate the show and its characters to new heights. Not satisfied with their progress either, Harmon and Roiland upped the ante even more throughout season three and, in typically Dan harmon style, fashioned a reverse meta-finale unto themselves in order to try and prevent them from disappearing up their own butt. It's remarkably self-aware and constantly on the brink of destroying itself, but it makes me wonder if that's where the quality comes from. Sure, this is a show where the creators can continue to pay homage to Die Hard in a surrealist style through something like Pickle Rick but at the same time the show can have its cake and eat it too with the philosophical and intelligent The Ricklantis Mixup/Tales from the Citadel. Yes the wait between seasons is occasionally agonising but if the quality of season four is anything to go by, Adult Swim's 70-episode order might be put to some damn good use.
"When feasible, one should always eat the rude"
What first attracted me to Bryan Fuller's Hannibal (aside from Fuller and the source material) was its fresh use of the procedural cop drama formula thanks to the use of Will Graham. Hugh Dancy's troubled detective was far from original of course, but with the stylish presentation and pristine art direction the team managed to make such a genre feel fresh again. This is without even mentioning Mads Mikkelsen's Dr. Lecter and the philosophical game of cat-and-mouse the two divulge in over the course of three seasons that plays like music to the ear. It's a delight to see the show at work. It gleefully revels in the morbidity of its subject matter without sacrificing a sense of urgency or seriousness. Creative with its gore, Hannibal also features some of the most haunting and beautiful imagery I've ever seen on television, and isn't afraid to walk on the wilder side of things. The first half of its third season is a testament to the show's artistic merit, with a tentative and personal tale of the previous season's aftermath fresh in the minds of its ensemble. Serial killer drama has never been bettered than here for my money, with ambitious storytelling and delicate scripting, superb performances and direction/cinematography to die for (literally in some cases). It was some of modern television at its best and the fight for a fourth season continues to ravage on inside me.
3) Inside No.9
"I'm not a vampire, if that's what you're thinking..."
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are geniuses and if there were anyone I'd be able to follow in the footsteps of they'd be up high on my list - there I've said it. I remember settling down to watch Sardines in 2014, anxious to see what the two had in store after Psychoville, and sat in silence hanging on every word for the next half hour. Then the next week I adored the chaplin-esque silent physical comedy of A Quiet Night In and so on. The quality of Reece and Steve's writing spoke for itself, generously paying homage to an amalgamation of genres and deftly applying their signature dark touch to each story. As a form of experimentation it's mandatory viewing, but as a piece of work it's a triumphant success. I remember during the airing of the first season the worry over the looming threat of cancellation, yet now the show's numerous accolades and underground support across the globe thanks to streaming services has allowed it to reach its rightful audience. The 2010s have had an influx of anthological programming, but Inside No. 9 is the best of the lot for never settling in quality for even one installment; everyone will have their own favourite out of the lineup. It's the type of strength that's rare to see these days, with an old-fashioned approach to storytelling that thrives off of the unexpected.
2) Bojack Horseman
"Sometimes I feel like I was born with a leak, and any goodness I started with just slowly spilled out of me, and now it's all gone. And I'll never get it back in me"
Bojack Horseman is painfully truthful television. One of Netflix's first original shows, Will Arnett's 90s sitcom-star is a catalyst for introspective thinking and profound character dismemberment. Outside of the protagonist too, the show is simultaneously a hilarious upturn of the surrealist world of Hollywood and its puppets as well as an overflowing human drama where it just turns out that half the humans are anthropomorphic animals. Raphael Bob-Waksberg's harsh realities provide the backbone to a central story that doesn't ever trivialise personal problems such as mental illness or identity. It also doesn't allow itself to be categorised as a drama thanks to the infinitely zany antics of some of its supporting cast. But across six seasons of television there has never been instilled in me such a pre-existing expectation of life-lessons and humour as when I sit down to binge the newest season of Bojack Horseman. Rewatches are joyous occasions where I notice the army of background visual jokes and pastiches on popular culture combined with the biting sting of downtrodden truths I knew to expect but somehow always hope to bypass, and the show isn't afraid to experiment with its storytelling or presentation in order to convey what it hopes to achieve. Bojack Horseman is already widely regarded as the totem-pole 'deep' show of the decade that many weren't expecting, but I'd hold true that in the far future the show will continue to be remembered as one of the most fulfilling and rounded stories ever told.
"You are all better than you think you are. You are just designed not to believe it when you hear it from yourself"
Just in case there was any confusion over the previous 49 entries, I'd just like to reiterate that this is indeed a favourite list and not a best list (though many would still make my cut). With this in mind no other show has come close to representing and transforming my decade as seasons 2-6 of Dan Harmon's Community which we got in the 2010s. A milestone for those deemed weird, it sounds soppy as shit as well as generic as hell but Greendale was somewhere where it was easy to imagine moving on to the next stage of life (say, university) because there would always be people to connect with and help. The show's finale (#andamovie) continues to be one of the handful of television episodes that completely destroys me emotionally and requires maybe an hour or so of silence for personal reasons, and arrived at the perfect time for me. This goes without even mentioning the countless inside jokes and episodes that continue to rank as some of the smartest and funniest writing that's ever appeared on television. A show that cemented my taste in comedy and, for better or worse, made me hope in people just a little bit. It's a crime that the show's final two seasons weren't expanded upon their original episode order (we're bypassing that gas leak year) but then again seasons 5 and 6 feel like time stolen away with the characters we had come to love over the years. Surviving through low-viewership and constantly on the brink of cancellation escalated the emotions and attachment to Abed, Jeff, Troy, Annie, Britta, Shirley, Pierce, Chang and The Dean. I wouldn't have had it any other way. It's what I've wanted life to be and feel like ever since seeing it.
And there we have it. My 50 favourite shows of the decade. Some of the shows that just narrowly missed out include The Good Place, Futurama, Peep Show, The Virtues, This is England and Veep - mostly because many of those shows had their better moments before 2010.
Next week begins the 50 favourite film countdown - a list that was infinitely harder and something I'll probably never be happy with. BUT THAT'S PART OF THE FUN HAHAHAHAHA SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!
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