How does anyone narrow down a list of best shows of this decade? Where does one even start? There were just so many shows, on so many outlets, that it’s an insane task to undertake. We did it anyway. We tried to do it, at least. The obvious ones are in there, sure, but a few fun surprises wriggled in, too. You may have some quibbles with it, though. That’s fine. It’s almost the whole point of the exercise. We make a list and you either agree or disagree. It’s fun. We have fun.
A few notes on the methodology:
- Shows were only eligible if they aired the majority of their episodes in the current decade (Mad Men, 2007-2015: eligible; The Office, 2005-2013: ineligible)
- Staff members submitted a list of their 15 favorite shows, ranked from 15 to 1
- These lists were then compiled and sorted and run through various equations and algorithms
Below, please find the Uproxx staff’s selections for best television shows of the decade, presented in alphabetical order.
Creator and star Donald Glover’s beloved FX series Atlanta is one of those 2010s shows that, despite being so undeniably popular and good, doesn’t have all that much to show for it, quantitatively speaking. Only two seasons, the first of which premiered in late 2016, have aired. And though FX has ordered both third and fourth seasons, which Glover and company will be filming back-to-back once production starts, viewers won’t be able to see the fruits of these labors until sometime in late 2020. This is due to the fact that Glover and fellow cast members Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, and LaKeith Stanfield all have a lot on their plates. Yet despite this caveat, Atlanta remains one of the decade’s most inventive shows. From its very real depictions of structural racism to ridiculous visual gags involving invisible cars, its sensibilities have shaped the latter half of the 2010s. — Andrew Husband
Better Call Saul
Saul, the spin-off of another of the decade’s greatest televisions shows, Breaking Bad, is not just a continuation of that story but a gradual improvement on the way the story is being told. It’s the sort of finely tuned, impeccably crafted storytelling and character development that comes from writers, directors, and performers who have been working together for years and who spend a full six months in the writers’ room before they even begin shooting. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould sweat every detail, which is why Better Call Saul — one of the decade’s best series — is the poster child for exactly why details matter. — Dustin Rowles
Sure, cartoons made a comeback in the 2010s but it feels too limiting to label BoJack Horseman as simply an animated comedy series. It’s that, but it’s also a strikingly insightful, affecting examination of addiction, depression, the effects of trauma. The fact that it’s told from the perspective of a once-famous equine actor (voiced to perfection by Will Arnett) just adds to its offbeat, often darkly bizarre level of humor but it earns its place on this list because it continually takes risks that more than pay off. Each season boasts episodes that deviate from the norm in the service of the story — a funeral, a silent introspective, an underwater adventure — utilizing the show’s animated roots to craft something truly special, and surprisingly experimental in terms of TV. Okay, and yeah, that Character Actor Margo Martindale bit is the best running gag on television right now. — Jessica Toomer
Breaking Bad didn’t become a ratings juggernaut until its fifth and final season, but those who had been watching since the beginning were happy to share one of the finest shows of the decade. Walter White’s moral descent, from a dorky high school chemistry teacher to an “I am the one who knocks” drug kingpin after he’s diagnosed with cancer, was engrossing to watch, especially as his toxic influence expanded to include his family; a former student of his and his burnout buddies; a strip mall lawyer; a “cleaner”; rival distributors; and Todd. Just… Todd. It wasn’t only the inherent appeal of Local Man Breaks Bad, Blows Guy’s Face Off that held us captive, though; it was also the Emmy-winning acting, creator Vince Gilligan’s visual language, and the show’s underrated dark humor. Breaking Bad was later turned into a movie, as well as a nearly-as-good spinoff series, but the original is still the finest recipe. — Josh Kurp
For six seasons — minus the gas leak year — Community successfully combined the sharp and layered writing of Mitch Hurwitz, the joke density of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the heart of Mike Schur, Tarantino’s fondness for pop-culture references, and a fierce satiric edge into a wholly original sitcom with the ability to traffic in nearly any genre, whether it be spaghetti western, action movie, Breakfast Club or My Dinner with Andre. Dan Harmon’s tortured genius transcended network television while the constant behind-the-scenes drama provided the series with six seasons of dysfunction, which made it not only one of the best sitcoms of the last decade, but one of the most talked-about comedies ever. — Dustin Rowles
Does it show the strides TV has made in storytelling that a series about a messy, millennial sex addict struggling to connect with her family, run a successful business, find love, and move on from loss is considered one of the best shows of the decade? Maybe. But meditations on gender equality aside, Fleabag’s just a damn good show crafted by one of our generation’s most talented creators. It stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who wrote this series and also created Killing Eve, an honorable mention for this list if there ever was one) as the titular Fleabag, a woman — comically dysfunctional family, included — who narrates her relationship troubles through fourth-wall-breaking asides and glances, using the best camera pan work we’ve seen since Jim Halpert on The Office. Guinea pig cafes, uptight older sisters, even Olivia Colman come second to Bridge’s performance, but we know what you’re thinking and yes, yes we did name this one of the best shows of the decade because of Hot Priest. It would’ve been a sin not to. — Jessica Toomer
Game of Thrones
It’s been said more than a few times, but Game Of Thrones was a throwback to a time when a TV show could make us all stop, watch, and compare notes. Sure, it had its flaws, specifically in its final season, but credit has to be given for the creative mixology that turned an unfinished set of fantasy novels into a cultural juggernaut. Really, the show utilized the exact right amount of sex, violence, drama, humor (damn, was that show funny when it wanted to be), heroism, betrayal, jaw-dropping visuals, gut-punch twists, and on and off-screen talent. Also dragons and beheadings. We won’t see someone land on that perfect formula again for a long time, but we sure are going to watch people try to figure it out. And that’s really the mark of success when looking back at an extended period: the things that became the new gold standard, courting emulation. — Jason Tabrys
Halt and Catch Fire
Scoot McNairy simply can’t resist a good prestige-period drama, and this tech-drama series was no exception. Somehow, the quiet little series managed to be thrilling and daring as well, especially while shining plenty of light on female contributions (especially from Mackenzie Davis’ character) to the tech industry of the 1980s. I’m still not sure how AMC managed to pull-off a low-key compelling series about computer geeks, but the focus on rich characters and interpersonal drama certainly helped ground the series as it spiraled upward into grander themes. And as the series grew more ambitious, so did its characters, some of whom left us too soon, but at least the (frankly) underappreciated series never wore out its welcome, even with a relatively small fan base. — Kimberly Ricci
Justified was so good. It had everything you could want in a television show. There was a handsome but conflicted lawman in a cowboy hat who was quick with a comeback and pistol-draw. There was a compelling villain who was ruthless and smarter than everyone and as eloquent as a poet. The villain’s love interest was once the lawman’s love interest and would justifiably crack me in the skull with a frying pan for referring to her as “a love interest” just now. There was bourbon and intrigue and loose cannons being taken off cases because they were too close to the action. There was source material by Elmore Leonard, the king of crime fiction. Like I said, everything.
It was also compulsively watchable, fun in some moments and heartbreaking in others, often in the same episode. All of this also makes compulsively rewatchable, which is not necessarily true of many of the other shows on this list, many of which lapped Justified a number of times over when it came to awards. (This remains unfair. Walton Goggins deserved at least a handful of nominations.) Justified was a great show. It’s still a great show, even if Boyd Crowder never got his Dairy Queen franchise. — Brian Grubb
Key and Peele
This dynamic duo ended their five-season run on a high note, which is a rare move for any series, let alone this pair that seemingly found endless inspiration for their astute cultural commentary infused with wickedly absurd humor. So, there’s plenty of lingering goodwill for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a team, along with their most popular characters and sketches. Fans would be hard-pressed to limit themselves to name only a few favorite sketches from the series, but I do know that the sound and the fury of the “Text Message Confusion” skit still makes me cackle, and I’ll send it to just about everyone on my contacts list at some point. And even as a non-sports fan, I still can’t even pretend not to get a kick out of the East/West College Bowl series while wondering what ol’ Hingle McKringleberry would be up to these days. No good, I’m sure. — Kimberly Ricci
Brilliance can require some assembly, and so it was with The Leftovers, a powerful and well-executed show on mass grief and the endless quest for answers that weighed a million tons in its first season. In season 2, however, the show changed its setting and look, opening itself up while adding new characters to the mix. It also found a new gear that allowed Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Christopher Eccleston, and Ann Dowd to deliver some of the most powerful performances of the decade.
For a show short on life to be long on its impact is really special, but that probably doesn’t happen if a rigid idea of what The Leftovers had to be had infected Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, or HBO. There’s probably a lesson there. — Jason Tabrys
Mad Men had levels. On one level, you had this story about a broken kid who reinvented himself as a slick Manhattan ad man and spent most of his adult life trying to keep those plates spinning, both externally and internally. On another level, you had the women of the office, who butted up against and eventually through the glass ceiling, even if it was only temporary. And on another level, you had a staggeringly weird show that sometimes took detours to hippie communes or for hour-long drug-induced hallucinations or to chop a man’s foot off with a riding mower inside a Manhattan skyscraper. Try explaining the show in detail to someone. It is somehow the easiest thing in the world to do and also hopelessly impossible.
It was also — perhaps not the most important part of its legacy, but still — an absolute blast to discuss with other viewers and read about. Do you remember this? Do you remember all the posts? Has there ever been a show with this enjoyable of a second life, somehow both a part of and detached from the original work? It’s something to think about. There’s a lot to think about with Mad Men. — Brian Grubb
Parks and Recreation
Though it began just before the 2010s and ended halfway through the decade, Parks and Recreation is undeniably one of the funniest, most successful, and most influential television shows of the past 10 years. Sure, the first season isn’t the greatest, but once co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur were able to reformulate the series for season two and beyond, the show became unstoppable. This is due just as much to Daniels and Schur’s retoolings (and the cast’s ability to take these changes to heart) as it is to the fact that Parks and Recreation was in the midst of airing new episodes while Netflix was readying itself to become one of the first major streaming outlets. So, just as Breaking Bad found success by licensing its older seasons to Netflix while airing new episodes on AMC, Parks and Recreation found new life in the then-novel practice of syndicating content not just to broadcast affiliates, but to streamers as well. Plus, the show’s highly meme-able jokes and GIF-able moments were seminal in making its status in internet culture what it (still) is today. — Andrew Husband
FIVE STARS. Oh, I have to say more about Review? Hm, well. Over 22 episodes, Forrest MacNeil (played by Andy Daly, of Comedy Bang Bang and the doctor in everything fame), reviewed not food, books, or movies, but life itself, including going to space, putting a pet to sleep, and, famously, eating pancakes. Forrest’s devotion to his job, like when he agrees to be happy all the time (including when his ex-wife asks him to waive all visitation rights with their son), would be fully heartbreaking, were it not also hilarious. You want to save Forrest from the aching, but you also can’t wait to see what he reviews next. I give Review A MILLION STARS. — Josh Kurp
The best tribute to this show might be that many people — myself included — made it all the way to the end even as it was taking years of their lives from stress and anxiety. There was this constant cloud of dread hanging over the show. Beloved characters could die at any moment. The main characters, married all-American couple Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, teetered on the edge of being outed as Russian spies at many, many points. Their children could — and did — discover the secret and have to deal with… all of that. Maybe that’s the legacy, actually, that you really cared about this family even as they committed atrocious acts on behalf of a government that wanted to end the entire American way of life. The Americans wasn’t always an easy show to watch, but damn, was it ever a good one.
Oh, almost forgot. There was a mail robot, too. Everyone loved the mail robot. More shows should have mail robots. Everyone agrees with this. — Brian Grubb