The 2010s continued the streak of quality television. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top ten best TV shows of the decade.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the greatest television shows that were released between 2010 and 2019. In order to be qualified, the show must have started after 2010, so “Breaking Bad” will not be included. We also won’t be including animated shows, so you won’t find “Rick and Morty” here, either.
#10: “Barry” (2018-)
Well, this isn’t QUITE what we expected from Bill Hader, but alright! “Barry” is Hader’s comedy-drama, and it follows the titular Barry, a hitman who wants nothing more than to leave his criminal past behind and become a full-time actor. The show shares a lot in common with “Breaking Bad,” as it contains similar themes and tones, not to mention the whole idea of a man hiding his true identity from those who are closest to him. Of course, this is also much, much funnier than “Breaking Bad” ever was, given it's more a dark comedy than a drama. It’s also packed with incredible actors, including Emmy-winning performances from Hader and Henry Winkler. It comes highly recommended.
#9: “Westworld” (2016-)
HBO needed another “event” show following “Game of Thrones.” Enter “Westworld,” a unique Western/sci-fi blend that tells the story of a robot uprising in a Western-themed amusement park. The show is impeccably produced, complete with gorgeous visuals and amazing production design. Luckily, there is also an intriguing and mystery-tinged story to boot, and “Westworld” quickly became the “Lost” of the 2010s as forums and social media sites were flooded with theories and discussion. Despite criticism that season two may have been a bit too convoluted for its own good, it’s nevertheless remained must-watch event television and one of HBO’s finest efforts in years.
#8: “Fleabag” (2016-19)
Between “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge had herself a fantastic and very prosperous decade. And while both shows are great, it’s “Fleabag” that is often showered with the praise and accolades. Waller-Bridge plays Fleabag, a neurotic woman trying to live her life, and having lots of sex, in modern London. And while the show sounds like a traditional sitcom, Waller-Bridge’s instantly memorable performance and intelligent writing helped turn it into must-watch TV. It never generated endless theories on Reddit, and it didn’t wow us with an expensive production. It’s just a funny, heartwarming, and well-told story, and we can all use a little bit more of that.
#7: “Chernobyl” (2019)
If you do want to be wowed by an incredible production, it doesn’t get much better than “Chernobyl.” This show accurately recreates the horrifying Chernobyl disaster and its brutal aftermath, including the complex cleanup and unimaginable deaths. Even though it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of horror, “Chernobyl” is one of the scariest shows ever made, as it quite accurately depicts a literal living nightmare. Pits of pure radioactivity, painful deaths of loved ones and animals, and enough body horror to satiate even the most gore-hungry among us. It’s all there, and it’s all depicted with impeccable craft and talent. It was arguably the most acclaimed TV event of 2019 and yet another win for the behemoth that is HBO.
#6: “Better Call Saul” (2015-)
When viewers heard about “Better Call Saul,” most let out a collective moan. An unnecessary prequel to one of the greatest shows ever made, and a show about Saul of all characters!? Luckily for us, the show obliterated all of our admittedly low expectations, offering a program just as well acted, shot, and written as its predecessor. Of course, it’s nothing like its predecessor, as it forgoes the endless tension, excitement, and violence of “Breaking Bad” in favor of a more introspective character study. Some critics and viewers prefer this approach, and some have even called it better than “Breaking Bad.” Regardless, it’s an extraordinary companion piece and a compelling show in its own right.
#5: “The Americans” (2013-18)
It’s clear that “Breaking Bad” has been an enormous influence the decade's television, and as with “Barry”, there are comparisons to be made with “The Americans”. It follows two Soviet spies pretending to be a married American couple in suburban Washington. And wouldn’t you know it, their neighbor works counterintelligence for the FBI! The show contains all the excitement and glorious cat-and-mouse tension you'd expect, but it also serves as a contemplative look at marriage and self-identification. The fact that it can so effortlessly balance the two tones and genres is amazing, and both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys turn in wonderful performances. This flew under the mainstream radar for most of its run, but it’s already a cult classic.
#4: “The Leftovers” (2014-17)
Hypes were high for “The Leftovers” – Damon Lindelof’s first television project since “Lost” – and while “Lost” fizzled out, many people were willing to forgive and see what he had in store. Luckily, they were not disappointed. The series is adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name and concerns the “leftovers” on Earth who are, well, leftover after 2% of the population mysteriously disappears. The subject matter makes for difficult viewing, as it painfully delves into the complexities of the human psyche, but those who stick around will be infinitely rewarded with some of the best acting and writing in television history. It’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
#3: “Stranger Things” (2016-)
Netflix’s flagship series “Stranger Things” transported audiences to Hawkins, Indiana for classic sci fi horror and more 80s references than you can shake a stick at. Steeped in the works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter, and other genre masters, the Duffer Brothers’ series gained an instant following and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. It also managed to kickstart and reinvigorate several acting careers, and pick up plenty of accolades along the way - including 5 Primetime Emmy wins and 4 Golden Globe nominations. With its wonderful cast and a story that feels both new and familiar at the same time, it’s a show that consistently provides just about the most fun you can have in front of a TV.
#2: “Atlanta” (2016-)
The premise behind “Atlanta” is welcoming – the consistently enjoyable Donald Glover plays a struggling young man who decides to manage his cousin’s budding rap career. Only, the show is so much more than that, and frankly, it’s quite hard to accurately describe. Glover himself has called it “Twin Peaks’ with rappers,” and that’s certainly an accurate description. The show veers wildly between surrealist comedy, hard-hitting personal drama, introspective character study, nightmarish horror, and a thematic look into the social media obsessed hip-hop culture. It’s original, it’s fresh, and above all, it somehow remains consistently enjoyable despite its peculiar trappings. It’s one of the most bizarre yet rewarding TV shows we’ve ever seen.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Twin Peaks: The Return” (2017)
“American Vandal” (2017-18)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (2017-)
“True Detective” (2014-)
“The Good Place” (2016-)
#1: “Game of Thrones” (2011-19)
When it comes to event television, few shows compare to “Game of Thrones.” This show helped bridge the gap between TV and film, as it contained a stellar cast and the greatest production values ever seen on TV. “Game of Thrones” told a highly complex and intriguing story full of twists and shocking developments, and it was fascinating to watch its popularity rise throughout the years. While it started slow, interest in the show slowly began to rise until it became the decade’s biggest TV event, breaking all sorts of viewership records, launching careers, and promoting endless discussion on forums and social media sites. It didn’t quite stick the landing, but it provided us with eight years of peak TV.