The 2010s saw the advent of binge-watching.
Thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, it was suddenly possible to watch multiple episodes of a single TV series in one sitting without the interruptions of commercials. As the way we watched TV changed, so too did the kind of shows we watched. Gone was the overabundance of vapid, sugary-sweet sitcoms, and in came the era of political satire, dramatic comedies, and searing commentaries on everything from abortion to Hollywood. Summarily, the 2010s saw a golden age of television. Here are our 50 favorites, with the top 25 and bottom 25 listed in alphabetical order.
The Top 25 TV Shows of the 2010s
Atlanta first aired in 2016, with Donald Glover's Earn learning that his cousin Alfred has released a hit song under the stage name Paper Boi. Since then, the show has followed Earn's struggle to navigate different worlds as he takes over managing his cousin's burgeoning music career while also trying to be a good father to his daughter, Lottie, and to prove himself to Van, his ex-girlfriend and Lottie's mother. The show uses varying perspectives to flesh out the city of Atlanta and the complexities of being black in America with surreal touches that highlight the real-world absurdity. Yet despite the heaviness of much of its subject matter, it frequently manages to be among the funniest shows on TV.
For anyone who ever wondered whether or not SNL-alum Bill Hader could carry a serious TV show, Barry answers with an overwhelming "yes." To be clear, Barry is technically a dark comedy, or perhaps a crime comedy-drama, but Bill Hader brings a level of unprecedented seriousness to his titular character that oftentimes makes the show feel like a straight tragedy.
Playing a hitman who wants to leave his life of crime behind in order to pursue a career in acting, Bill Hader imbues Barry with an earnestness that makes us as an audience truly want him to succeed. This likability serves to make Barry's violent acts all the more disturbing. Barry's greatest success is its ability to effortlessly fluctuate between the quirks of life as a struggling actor in LA and the violent inclinations of a man who murders for a living and can never really escape that truth. It's one of the best character studies currently on TV and is sure to cement Bill Hader as an extremely versatile A-list talent.
Baskets premiered on FX in 2016, telling the story of Chip Baskets, an aspiring clown played by Zach Galifianakis, who is moving back to Bakersfield, California to live with his mother after a failed stint at clown school in Paris. Galfianakis' talent for melancholy slapstick makes the show by turns hilarious and touching, but it's his mother Christine Baskets—artfully portrayed by Louie Anderson—whose simple enthusiasm for small-town life makes the show one of the best of the decade. Watching Christine, Chip, and his twin brother Dale (also Galifianakis) heighten relatable family drama to exquisite absurdity never gets old.
Nothing would be the same without Black Mirror. Though its later seasons have been inconsistent in quality, its earliest contributions were digital horror at its finest, with some of the episodes being downright visionary in terms of how accurately they predicted the near future. From the nostalgic visions of virtual afterlife in "San Junipero" to the eerie foresight of "Nosedive" and its digital ranking systems, Black Mirror made an indelible impact.
Whatever you've heard about Family Guy or South Park, Bob's Burgers is the true successor to the golden age of The Simpsons. The Belcher family offers an update to The Simpsons' satirical view on middle class family life that reflects how America has changed since the 90s—slightly more urban, with less overt child abuse and a lot more economic precarity. And just as with the best seasons of The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers maintains a touching core of familial love and solidarity amid the absurd hijinks and veiled political commentary. Throw in the added value of the frequently hilarious, occasionally moving musical numbers, and Bob's Burgers easily secures a spot as one of the best shows of the decade.
In terms of the quality of its writing, BoJack Horseman outdid itself season after season. What began as a parody of Hollywood's excesses quickly turned into a searing, and boundary-pushing meditation on depression, addiction, and what it means to change (or to be unable to). Increasingly self-aware and conscious of its hypocritical tendency to obsess over the misadventures of an evil but sympathetic celebrity, thereby glorifying them while criticizing them, BoJack Horseman is the political, devastating, timely, often hilarious show about an animated horse that none of us knew we needed. It's buoyed by the strength of its secondary characters, from the workaholic Princess Carolyn to asexual Todd to self-loathing Diane, and altogether the show takes deep-rooted fears that many share and refracts them in a funhouse mirror that's impossible to look away from.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson began producing an independent web series about their struggles to "make it" in New York City in 2009. Soon, Amy Poehler took interest in the series, and it moved to Comedy Central in 2014. The smash hit comedy was not only laugh-out-loud funny, but a beautiful portrait of a genuinely healthy, supportive female friendship—something TV has historically seen little of. Broad City can be credited for helping to usher in a new generation of female comedy creators and has become a cultural touchstone for millenials.
Catastrophe, created and written by the show's stars, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, is one of the realest, grossest, and funniest takes on love and the mess of life. Two people entering middle age meet and hit it off, they spend a reckless night together, and when she gets pregnant, they decide to make things work—not realizing how complicated that will be. It's a simple enough premise, but the cutting dialogue and the absurd comedy that plays out as two near-strangers build a life together make Catastrophe one of a kind.
Anthology series like True Detective and American Horror Story can be really hit or miss, but in the three seasons that have aired on FX since 2014, Fargo has been consistently great. Maybe it has to do with the leisurely production schedule, the all-star cast, or the near-perfect movie that forms the basis for its tone, but whatever the cause, Fargo delivers murderous midwestern tragicomedy better than any show on TV—and nearly as well as the original. Season three, which followed the rivalry of the Stussy brothers—as played by Ewan McGregor—deserves a particular call-out, with season four due next year and featuring Chris Rock, Timothy Olyphant, and Jason Schwartzman.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's stage-play-turned-two-season-TV masterpiece took the world by storm at the end of the 2010s. In the series, the viewer is made into the protagonist's (an unnamed woman played by Bridge) confidante as she uses sex to cope with grief and complicated family dynamics. As the show progresses, the closely protected inner life of the protagonist begins to reveal itself. Many consider the second season to be an essentially perfect season of television, in large part because of the hot priest (played by Andrew Scott). Fleabag is a funny, searing commentary on what it means to exist as a sexual, complicated being in a world with ever-changing expectations of women.
Grace and Frankie
70 is the new 30, or 20, or whatever arbitrary year of life we as a culture are deciding to glorify for no reason, because age is just a number. If you weren't aware that Jane Fonda glowed with money or that Lily Tomlin is our collective spiritual mother, then Grace and Frankie enlightened you. When two septuagenarian women are told that their husbands are gay and in love with each other, the best phase of their lives begins.
It's almost 2020, the world is upside down, and yes, an anime about high school volleyball is genuinely one of the best shows of the decade. Haikyu!!, literally "Volleyball" in Japanese, is about the trials and tribulations of the Karasuno High School Boys Volleyball Team. Unlike pretty much every other high school sports anime out there, Haikyu!! takes a relatively realistic approach to...well...high schoolers playing sports. In doing so, Haikyu!! translates the genuine passion that goes into high school sports and the real dynamics of teamwork, better than any other show I've ever seen.
The protagonist, Hinata, isn't a superpowered Volleyball God; he's an extremely short boy who can't reach the top of the net, but works his butt off because he loves the game. Likewise, all the other boys in Haikyu!! have realistic strengths and weaknesses (both on and off the court) that they work to overcome with help from their teammates. Haikyu!! is an exercise in wholesomeness––there are no villains, just other kids at other schools who love the same sport our boys do––and in a decade full of so much bitterness, it's a much needed dose of medicine.
Hunter x Hunter
For anyone who likes long-running shonen anime, Hunter x Hunter is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of the genre. While the original manga began publication in 1998, and a previous anime adaptation ran from 1999-2001, the 2011 adaptation re-started the series from scratch and, most importantly, covered the Chimaera Ant arc (or season––kind of––for you non-anime watchers).
The entirety of Hunter x Hunter is fantastic, featuring likeable protagonists, dastardly villains, and a brilliantly creative power system called "Nen." But there's a reason the Chimaera Ant arc is often considered the greatest shonen arc ever, and that's because it's a total deconstruction of the genre's tropes and conventions. Everything from the "always optimistic protagonist" to "the ultimate evil villain" is turned completely inside-out. The Chimaera Ant arc is intensely brutal and ultimately poignant, making us question the very nature of what makes us human.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge can do no wrong, and even if she could and did, I'd probably still clap. The combination of Waller-Bridge's cutting wit and Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer's flawless performances makes for a TV show that never quite lets you find your balance before sending you spinning again. It's dark and surreal, while managing to still be deeply human.
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Being a professional stand-up comedienne is hard, but being Midge Maisel is wrapping chaos in a designer dress. Created by the fast-talking husband and wife behind Gilmore Girls, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel created a stage for Rachel Brosnahan to showcase her comedic timing and Alex Borstein to be a solid, deadpan pillar within Mrs. Maisel's world of quippy, fast-talking, energy. Also Michael Zegen (Joel) is dead cute.
Mob Psycho 100
While One Punch Man might be manga artist One's best known series (and is fantastic in its own right), his other series, Mob Psycho 100, is profound in a way quite unlike anything else I've seen. The show revolves around Mob, an awkward, unconfident middle school boy with god-like psychic powers. Any other shonen anime would use this premise as a gateway to epic battles (and there are a few, and their animation is absolutely incredible), but Mob Psycho 100 focuses far more on the coming-of-age angle instead.
See, Mob doesn't like his psychic powers because they make him feel weird. So instead of focusing on the one thing he's innately talented at but doesn't like, Mob tries to improve himself in the ways he actually cares about improving––making friends, talking to girls, working out with his school's Body Improvement Club. If anything, Mob's incredible psychic powers are a backdrop for the show's larger message––that no person, no matter what natural abilities they may have, is better than anyone else. Mob Psycho 100 shows that everyone has their own struggles, and that the only person you should ever hold yourself up in comparison to is the person you were yesterday.
Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's labyrinthine show only ran for two seasons, but it managed to earn a cult following during that time. Deeply weird, profoundly earnest, and full to the brim with observations on the connections between the environment, parallel universes, and technology, the two seasons that we do have are irreplaceable and paradigm-shifting examples of what TV could become, if we let ourselves believe.
Orange Is the New Black
Piper Kerman's post-grad rebellious stage went from a felony to a cultural touchstone. As Netflix's most-watched original series, OITNB boasted a female-led cast and cutting commentary on race, class, and the industrial prison complex.
Those who didn't have a gruelingly awkward middle school experience are, by scientific evidence, simply inhuman. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle tell it best in Hulu original PEN15, which co-stars the real-life BFFs (who also wrote and executive produced together) as 13-year-olds. Here, there's no sugarcoating the calamities of tweenhood, whether they're as trivial as thongs and AIM messaging or as weighty as race identity. All delivered with Erskine and Konkle's razor-sharp wit, it's absolutely hysterical to anyone who's lived past the seventh grade.
Rick and Morty
"To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. The humour is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of theoretical physics most of the jokes will go over a typical viewer's head."
Okay, so first things first, we need to separate Rick and Morty from the Rick and Morty fandom. The Rick and Morty fandom is so annoying that memes making fun of them are barely distinguishable from the things they actually say. But, to be fair, Rick and Morty really is a great show full of smart writing, surprisingly deep characterization, and the exact kind of bizarre, abstract humor that lends itself perfectly to endless memes. No doubt, Rick and Morty will be the defining animated comedy of the 2010s.
This tightly-wound and big-hearted thriller stars Natasha Lyonne as a jaded New Yorker who gets caught in a loop in time and has to relive the night of her 36th birthday party over and over again. A perfect blend of humor and seriousness, and riddled with quantum leaps and profound connections, it's as satisfying as it is provocative.
We fell in love with the trainwreck family the Gallaghers when it debuted on Showtime in 2011. William H. Macy brought so much toxic charm to the abusive and neglectful father Frank Gallagher that we actually found him, if not likable, then good television. Emmy Rossum managed to cause tears and laughter within the same scene, and the entire cast was as impressive as their characters were appalling.
Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
After the first season of Attack on Titan premiered in 2013, it received so much hype that even people outside of the anime community were raving about it. The show featured an incredibly high-concept premise, following the last surviving humans as they tried to fight back against giant, man-eating monsters called Titans. Had Attack on Titan stuck to that premise, it would have been top-notch action-horror, albeit not necessarily one of the best shows of the decade.
But Attack on Titan turned out to be so much bigger than its initial premise. As the seasons progressed, Attack on Titan reshaped itself time and time again, leading viewers through an increasingly complex, expertly plotted narrative featuring some of the most compelling characters and intensely emotional moments that I've ever experienced in fiction. At its core, Attack on Titan is a deeply thematic contemplation on war, othering, and humanity's will to survive against impossible odds, alongside the moral sacrifices they oftentimes make to do so.
It shouldn't be revolutionary for a show to feature a fat female lead, but it is. Shrill, the brilliant Hulu adaptation of Lindy West's memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, gave audiences a badly needed narrative about a woman who is actively seeking to change her life for the better, in ways that have nothing to do with her body. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and it shows a woman getting an abortion and finding it empowering. Woah. Hell yes.
When Steven Universe first aired on Cartoon Network in 2013, it was a light-hearted and silly children's show with some super-powered action from the Crystal Gems and a lot of silly jokes from their sidekick—the childish titular character. Since then an entire galaxy has been fleshed out around the boardwalk of Beach City where much of the show takes place. Along with the alien gem creatures and their elaborate history, the show has introduced us to a cast of characters that have grown and changed—overcoming insecurities and facing complex questions of love and identity. While Steven matured and developed into a hero worthy of his last name, the show evolved to become one of the best of the decade.
25-50 Top TV Shows of the 2010s
- American Horror Story
- Big Mouth
- Inside Amy Schumer
- Jane the Virgin
- Jessica Jones
- Last Week Tonight
- Stranger Things
- The Good Place
- The Newsroom
- This Is Us
- True Detective
VeepThe 5 Worst TV Shows of the 2010s9-1-1
- Chicago PD
- Once Upon a Time
We can't pretend the 1950s were this wholesome.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel continues to deliver the same nostalgia and retro fashion that's earned the show audience acclaim and three Golden Globes.
In season 3, married showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino (Gilmore Girls) continue their comedic schtick of having characters speedwalk and speedtalk their way through scenes of chaos and slowing down to emphasize the impeccable retro scenery and pastel color palette that defines the show's 1950s wholesomeness. But this season, there is an attempt to address the show's dire lack of diversity (namely the absence of any non-white character) with three new charaters, played by magnetic talents: Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) tours with the celebrated singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) and his overbearing manager Reggie (Sterling K. Brown), while her ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) finds a new love interest Mei (Stephanie Hsu). Ultimately, Mrs. Maisel sticks to its same old formula of clever quips and introspective soliloquies set against gorgeous vintage backdrops, giving the series a predictability that, to some, provides an enjoyable, easy viewing experience, while to others it cripples the show's thematic scope.
So does Mrs. Maisel pass the diversity litmus test? No, not in any meaningful way. The series gets props for including people of color without tokenizing them as helpful best friends or quirky side kicks. Shy Baldwin is a charismatic but temperamental starlet who may or may not be based on a real-life idol of the '50s (Harry Belafonte seems to be the Internet's favorite guess). Sterling K. Brown plays his loyal friend and strict manager who antagonizes Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) just enough to underscore the season's soft theme that Midge is going to have to get used to a wider, more complex audience beyond Manhattan's Upper West Side.
But that's where the show rings hollow, only touching on and skirting around issues like the Civil Rights Movement and segregation, which would have deeply impacted Midge's national tour with a famous African American singer and his predominantly black band. For instance, we see the tour's flashy performances in three major cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami. It's not until Miami that Midge learns that Shy and the band often aren't permitted to stay in the flashy hotels she's staying in, due to the rampant systemic racism of the 1950s. Las Vegas, in particular, was so racially segregated in the '50s and '60s that even renowned black performers who were invited to perform (such as Harry Belafonte) were forced to enter and leave through back doors; simply, Las Vegas was called the "Mississippi of the West" during this era.
But anachronisms aside, the show earns a big win for its introduction of Stephanie Hsu, who plays Mei, the enigmatic young woman who helps Joel establish his night club in Chinatown. Aside from being the first speaking role an Asian actor has had on the series, Mei defies the era's stereotypes of women and the Asian community. After Joel encounters an illegal mahjong gambling parlor nearby, Mei introduces herself with the same fast-talking cleverness and self-assured air that define Joel's ideal "type" of woman, as his friend Archie tells him.
Most notably, 29-year-old Hsu is very aware of the (albeit small) step forward her character makes toward uplifting Asian American representation on American TV. The daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, Hsu pursued acting (to her family's trepidation) and graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts the same year as Brosnahan. Trained in experimental theater, Hsu was painfully aware of how few opportunities are given to Asian actors in the entertainment industry. As little as 1% of Hollywood's leadings roles go to Asian actors, while on Broadway, Asian-Americans only occupy 4% of roles. But Mei isn't just a rare opportunity for today's Asian performers; she's also a standout woman of the time period. "With Mei, to be a female in Chinatown and a medical student [in the 1960s] is one of the most badass things that a woman could possibly do," Hsu said. "It's not a stereotype at all, it's completely pushing the boundary of what was possible [at the time]. It was like a character I had never, ever seen or heard of on TV and, certainly, could have never even imagined."
Hsu uses her fluent Mandarin language skills to underscore many of Mei's cutting punchlines about Joel's ignorance about Chinatown. As one of New York's oldest and most insular communities, she's a conduit that "shines a beautiful light on this very integral part of New York culture that isn't often spoken about," according to Hsu. She adds, "I feel very honored to get to play [her]." She also told Teen Vogue, "I feel a certain type of obligation to be making more space for younger versions of me."
So while some critique, "It's good to see the show attempt diversity. But if all they're going to do is make jokes about gambling and Asian stereotypes, it's not helpful," that view loses sight of the overall context of the show. In episode six, the show forces Midge and Joel to hear from people of color exactly how the world works differently for them. When Joel pridefully confronts Mei about secretly helping him with his nightclub, she says, "Hey, John Wayne! If you haven't noticed, this is a very insular neighborhood. You can't get anything done if you don't have 'cousins'...Chinese 'cousins'...You don't know the language." She leaves while telling Joel off in Mandarin. Meanwhile, Midge is helping Shy recover from a very difficult night. While they're huddled in the dark together, Midge speedily offers ways she could improve his situation, including bringing him back to her hotel room. He gives her a sardonic, all-too-knowing look, "I can't go to your hotel. This is Florida; we don't stay in your hotels."
It's as if both moments, through language barriers and tense moments of silence, capture the show's dissonance between the wholesome retro-nostalgia The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel blindly offers viewers and the fraught social reality that it disregards.
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The "Fleabag" writer shines brightest (in her usual vulgar way) in her opening monologue.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had a successful past few years, to say the least.
The Emmy-winning writer of Fleabag and Killing Eve brought her brand of unfiltered brashness to the SNL screen this Saturday in an episode that felt like a victory lap. Still, while worth watching for any Waller-Bridge fans, the show wasn't quite able to live up to the level of comedic brilliance we've come to expect from her.
The best part was probably Waller-Bridge's opening monologue, in which she stated that everything she writes has a "grain of truth" to it, discussed genit*lia for several minutes, and definitively explained why Fleabag's "Hot Priest" is so hot: It's because he actually listens. She discussed psychopathy, which is brought to the fore on Killing Eve, and theorized that she herself might even be a psychopath (or at least, everyone she knows is). She closed with some killer lines like, "Back then horny women were to be burned at the stake. Now they're given Emmys!"
Phoebe Waller-Bridge Monologue - SNL www.youtube.com
Unfortunately, the rest of the show took a slightly downward turn following that monologue. While it might be a bit harsh to call SNL an "aging, decrepit beast that should've been put out of its misery seasons ago," as Vice did in its review of this episode, several of this show's sketches faltered dangerously. Last week's debut episode was promising with its clever depiction of the Democratic presidential candidates, but then again, those jokes kind of write themselves.
At least this episode, despite no shortage of lackluster jokes, we got to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge use many different accents and play a couple of memorable roles, including a psychopathic war wife who gallivants around with Hitler in the sketch "Words of the War." That sketch was possibly one of the episode's best, mostly thanks to Waller-Bridge's excellent deadpan and the scene's escalating absurdity. Weekend Update was also a highlight, featuring Kate McKinnon's lovably aggressive Elizabeth Warren, a well-placed Pete Davidson joke, and a flamboyant Chen Biao, played by freshman cast member Bowen Yang. "Mid-Day News" was also excellent, bringing racial politics and stereotypes to the fore as South Floridian news anchors try to determine whether the criminals they're reporting on are black or white.
Weekend Update: Chen Biao on US-China Trade War - SNL www.youtube.com
Mid-Day News - SNL www.youtube.com
On the other hand, the odd sketch "Royal Romance" made fun of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry but never quite hit its stride, and its jokes pushed the boundaries between satire and racism. Then there was the painful "Kaylee, Crystal, and Janetta," a sketch which featured four women at a bar. Perhaps meant to be a subversion of the super-feminine, stereotypical Sex and the City type of girl gang, characters portrayed are loud, tattooed, mullet-wearing, totally unfeminine, and frequently violent women. But that sketch doesn't seem to do many favors for any of them, instead asking the audience to laugh off a sequence where they each attack an ex-lover, refusing the kind of self-aware nuance that makes Fleabag such a standout example of how to write a "difficult woman" character.
Kaylee, Crystal & Janetta - SNL www.youtube.com
It's hard to say exactly why SNL has struggled so much over the past few years. Comedy writing is incredibly hard, but with all the absurdity in the modern era, we need excellent satire now more than ever to put it all into perspective. Still, the show could benefit from more diverse perspectives, more boundary-pushing and nuanced comedy, and stronger characters—the latter of which, specifically, Waller-Bridge is so good at creating. One has to wonder what would've happened had Waller-Bridge been able to write a few sketches herself.
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