There was so much incredible TV this decade. An insane amount, really. This was also the decade that changed the medium so drastically that, for both better and worse, it’s almost unrecognizable. My initial list for this post was over 80 shows. I’ve cut it down to 30 favourites with just a little bit of cheating by lumping some shows together. The following series have brought me immeasurable joy, catharsis, and companionship over the last decade. What a time to be alive.
In alphabetical order…
It’s only two seasons but they’re poetic, incisive, hilarious, heartbreaking, and completely indelible. This isn’t the last time you’ll see Donald Glover on this list.
Atypical/Dear White People/Glow/Grace & Frankie
I grouped these together because they’re all half hour dramedies from Netflix. I think if I had to choose just one set of shows for you to watch from this entire list, I’d choose this one. The humanity and just gosh darned great writing in this little 2 hour block is immeasurable.
The Bachelor Franchise
The 2010s were the golden ages of this franchise, encompassing everything from Jake Pavelka’s season (the franchise’s most brutal breakup) through to Bachelor in Paradise season six (the first LGBT relationship). In between we got incredible drama (Rated R running from Ali, Hannah taking down Luke P as the heavens opened) and some genuinely delightful romance (from the by-the-book charm of Ashley H & JP to the roundabout rom-com epicness of Ashley I & Jared). The Bachelorette hit its stride in the 2010s and we got three different spinoffs, all of which have been amazing for different reasons (remember when Bachelor Pad‘s Nick prisoner’s dilemma’d his way into a pile of cash all to himself? Incredible). There’s a reason we’re all obsessed.
The biggest hearted show on TV never ceases to make me smile.
Weirdly BoJack also makes me smile but more because it’s fantastic than because it’s joyful. Its earnestness is a surprising triumph and its willingness to just run straight on into oncoming emotional traffic is a necessary gutpunch. The tonal juxtaposition of all that ennui with all those animal puns, that’s maybe the secret sauce.
Here’s the bone I’m throwing to critical consensus. We all know Breaking Bad was great. In fact it was so great that it was all I heard about for years. I loved Jesse but otherwise Breaking Bad wasn’t really up my alley personally. This is an intellectual choice, the only one on this list, because while it never hit me in the heart and swept me away like the other beloved titles on this list, it was just so damn well made that arguing with it doesn’t make much sense. Arguing with its obnoxious fans, on the other hand…
Now this was a show made expressly for me. It was basically just The Hills with ballet dancers. Or at least I think that’s an accurate description; I never watched The Hills. I just super love ballet so this show was like catnip for me. Or at least I think it was; I don’t know anything about cats. (Cats, on the other hand…)
A beautiful best friend love story at the heart of a weird, vulgar, imaginative comedy that was as progressive in its freedom as it was sincere in its goofiness.
A rock-solid ensemble with excellently developed characters and consistently engaging storytelling within the confines of a traditional network sitcom structure. Beauty.
Casual/Catastrophe/You’re the Worst
Gimme a deeply emotional half hour dramedy about the struggle to be human and be connected and do good. Gimme gimme gimme. Ideally cast them as well as this trio of glorious, complicated gems.
Hear me out- NBC’s Chicagoverse is a cool thing just in its scope and existence (and they actually shoot in Chicago which I find oddly fascinating). Chicago Fire is not only the first of them but by far my favourite. I genuinely like every single character on this show, which is saying a lot considering how massive the ensemble is. It’s excellently made oldschool television in an age where that doesn’t really exist anymore.
Community/The Good Place/Parks & Recreation/Superstore
More network sitcoms but this quartet are far from traditional. They’re adventurous and crazy and fabulously clever. They also all sport killer ensembles and more creativity than most cable shows combined. Good on NBC for supporting weird work.
You don’t need me to tell you about Fleabag (though I do just want to repeat my go-to point that the way Andrew Scott breaks through her meta-narrative frame is literally the most romantic notion I’ve ever seen on screen; what a gorgeous unexpected metaphor born out of what was originally just a standard device repurposed from theatrical convention) but have you seen Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s other show Crashing?! It’s delicious and Jonathan Bailey gives one of my favourite performances ever.
Again… Gimme a deeply emotional half hour dramedy about the struggle to be human and be connected and do good. Gimme gimme gimme. Ideally cast them as well as this trio of glorious, complicated gems… but this time put them on HBO with a beautifully shot mumblecore edge. Looking and Togetherness came out of the gate beautiful and barely lived long enough to make their mark but Girls was hard to love and grew into something absolutely incredible. It was a moment in television unlike any other and I honestly think TV will never be the same.
I wrote about this at length at the time so just go read that for an explanation of what made Grease: Live so freaking great. Here I’ll just explain that it made this list despite not being episodic television because it was the best of a really cool trend that emerged this decade- the return of live television events. Most of them are bad but I love that they’re happening.
I put Grey’s on this list not because the last ten years have been its best but a little bit because general opinion would say that all its best years were over before 2010. I disagree. Grey’s shone really brightly in those first few seasons but its steadiness and adaptability in the decade that followed are what impress me. Behind the scenes drama, tons of cast turnover, a shifting mediascape- the road has been rocky but Grey’s has never failed to get back up after a stumble. My favourite years of the show are in this past decade and I think it’s worth nothing that this is the only drama to span the whole decade…
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
… and this is the only comedy (other than SNL, which doesn’t count). The staying power of Always Sunny is both incredible on account of and facilitated by its wildness. To maintain that level of creativity year after year is unfathomable but the brazen “why not” attitude of the show is what lets it tell infinite stories. It’s the lowest brow comedy but also often the highest brow commentary and the hardest hitting emotional content. It’s inconsistent but it’s genius.
Jane the Virgin
Written a lot about this one already. What a sincere joyful miracle show.
Key & Peele
The 2010s were an amazing time for sketch (Portlandia and Baroness von Sketch were also on my not-so-shortlist) but this comedy central duo were the kings who created the most indelible moments with thoughtful criticism and wild imagination. This one‘s my personal favourite though there are too many classics to count.
Late Night with Seth Meyers
I watch Seth every single night. I love him. I love his kind positivity and that he calls all his guests “my friend” and you actually believe him even though you know he only sees them at the Emmys and when they come on his show. I love how much opportunity he creates for his writing staff and how he elevates specifically the female voices in the room by giving them their own recurring segments. I love that he has on all sorts of guests from movie stars to news anchors to authors to politicians he disagrees with. I love that when one of his old comedy buddies like Michelle Wolf or Amy Poehler comes on the show they go totally off topic and just kind of shoot the shit for the whole segment. I love that he does cooking segments even though he’s really bad at them and just giggles and drinks the whole time. But mostly I love how clear-eyed and unshakeable he’s been in his political coverage right from the start. This decade really missed Jon Stewart but Seth Meyers carries the torch excellently.
The Mindy Project/New Girl
Two female-led rom-com network half hours from FOX that consistently sported superb writing, the Mindy/New Girl era was a highlight for feel-good comedy with genuine romance, a clever edge, and great character work.
This was the only show I’ve ever done weekly recaps for. I love Sorkin and this show got a bad rap. It wasn’t perfect (2012 HBO was really not the time or place for Sorkin) but there were lots of things at play in The Newsroom that were incredible, including superb performances from Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski as two of my favourite characters of the decade.
Orange is the New Black
God, what a massive achievement. Read my series wrap up for this brilliant and important show that broke so much ground in inclusive storytelling and genre defiance.
Friday Night Lights also aired a couple great seasons in the 2010s and I will champion the shortlived About a Boy forever but the Jason Katims show that really marked the 2010s for me was Parenthood with its spectacular cast, refreshing naturalistic filming style, and consistently wonderful writing. It was a challenging and emotional but also deeply restorative watch, which so few things are.
Please Like Me
I binged this beautiful Australian comedy a few years after the fact but it remains one of my very favourite viewing experiences of the decade. It’s tender and complex and devastating and romantic and so so so funny.
I don’t usually go in for serious dramas. You’ll notice a near total lack of them on this list with the few scripted hourlong slots being taken by network semi-procedurals and cable dramedys. I find most hourlong dramas too self-serious and dreary but this atmospheric tone poem of a southern gothic blew me away with its delicate emotional touch and bitter humour. The cast is extraordinary, especially Abigail Spencer as long-suffering sister Amantha Holden and Clayne Crawford as her striving step brother, and the filmmaking is beautiful.
Saturday Night Live
The 2010s on SNL were famous for Alec Baldwin’s mediocre Trump impression (I badly want to be done with Alec Baldwin) and a few recurring classic characters (Stefon, Girl at a Party) but for me what stands out are the fantastic music videos from the Chris Kelly/Sarah Schneider years and really sincere moments like Kate McKinnon singing “Hallelujah” as Hillary for the cold open after the 2016 election the week Leonard Cohen died. I think the current cast of SNL is one of their greatest ever from the brilliant Aidy Bryant to oddball duo Beck & Kyle to hilarious utility players Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day who can seemingly do anything. The 2010s also gave us Leslie Jones relentlessly hitting on Colin Jost and for that I will always be grateful.
I hate answering the question “what is your favourite show on TV” but, when pressed, I usually pick this one. It premiered in 2011 and has delivered brilliantly season after season straight through the decade (including 2016 when a scheduling shift had them doing two seasons in one year). This is not a show you can watch one episode of, you won’t get what’s so special about it if you do. It’s about the whole, the journey, how well you know the characters and the intricate detail of the world building. Emmy Rossum held it down as the unsung star for most of the decade with the incredible Jeremy Allen White backing her up with maybe my favourite television performance of all time.
Super Fun Night
I know, I know, what’s a show this short-lived and under-watched doing on a best of the decade list? Well, this isn’t a best of the decade list, it’s a decade in review list and few shows have meant more to me this decade than Rebel Wilson’s weird sitcom that I’m pretty sure had a viewership of one (me! It was me!). I love love loved this show. Read why here.
This decade of Survivor began with Heroes vs. Villains, an all-time exceptional season of television. I had just gotten back into this show when the decade started after missing more than ten seasons but I haven’t missed a single episode since. There were ups and downs for Survivor this decade (most fans hate Redemption Island, which I love, but we can all agree that Island of the Idols sucked hard) but the ups really were glorious. Standout seasons with superb casting like Cagayan and David vs. Goliath raised the bar and helped populate a great balance of returning player seasons like Blood vs. Water and Second Chances. To me the most rewarding outing will always be Millennials vs. Gen X, a season with the perfect mix of great gameplay and unbelievable storytelling. You couldn’t have scripted anything better than the greatest moments of Survivor this decade.