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“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter.”
— High Fidelity

Etcetera

Best TV Shows of the 2010s

It is truly hard to conceive that, at the start of this decade, HDTV was just beginning to be adopted by both the cable companies and networks they carried. Ten years later, the very idea of cable TV and “channels” is a quaint memory. This, too, was the decade that ushered in “peak tv” and then immediately offered us a series of avalanches of content only to see us arrive, at the end, on the cusp of the “streaming wars”.

Though TV, like most other forms of entertainment in these 2010s, can often be best summarized by the technologies of delivery systems, that would only be telling part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of hours of content is another part, to be sure, but the one I would like to focus on below is the nature of the “content” itself, the shows.

As the streaming wars heat up, and media consolidates further and further, TV and movies have blurred almost to the point of absurdity. The same people urging you to watch the 3.5-hour Scorsese movie The Irishman as a mini-series are probably the same ones bingeing the latest season of Stranger Things over a too-hot summer weekend, or even summer Saturday. (Speaking of Scorsese, don’t even get me started on my Marvel Cinematic Universe-as-TV-show theory.)

Myself, I still enjoy both forms. Serialized storytelling is thrilling when done well. But not every show needs to be serialized, and not every story needs to be a show, either. But when done right, and done in a way that could not be achieved in another form, the rhythms of a television show—and I still prefer ones that I can watch over the course of weeks, months and even years, rather than a handful of days—are some of the most rewarding stories to consume.

Whether it be the unique push-pull of audience and creators, real-world stories impacting the fictional ones, or just the ebb and flow of my own perspective changing within and without the shows I am watching, TV—whatever it is on its way to becoming—is not going anywhere. So maybe, despite the fact that there were probably 50 new TV shows announced while you read this intro, there is something among these 50 that you might want to give a try.

  1. A Series of Unfortunate Events

    A Series of Unfortunate Events

    Netflix

    2017–19

    Catastrophic casting, atrocious art direction, frightening fun. The books will always be better, but this is the adaptation I wanted all those years ago when the Jim Carrey-starring dud premiered in theaters.

  2. Russian Doll

    Russian Doll

    Netflix

    2019–present

    It is always hard to beat a Groundhog Day premise, but this is full of unexpected mystery, comedy and outdoes its hooky log line.

  3. I'm Sorry

    I’m Sorry

    TruTV

    2017–present

    Though it is pretty tightly scripted, Andrea Savage’s creation has plenty of Curb-esque misanthropy and expertly toes the line between hilarious and shocking.

  4. Black Mirror

    Black Mirror

    BBC America/Netflix

    2011–present

    While I have slowly lost interest in the endlessness of the series’ darkest timeline, I cannot help but notice how the show’s themes are always disturbingly relevant.

  5. Burning Love

    Burning Love

    Yahoo!

    2012–13

    Little-watched and likely to be lost to time, this early attempt by an established internet powerhouse entering the content wars is a brilliant sendup of reality dating shows like The Bachelor.

  6. Big Mouth

    Big Mouth

    Netflix

    2017–present

    Lewd and crude, but what do you expect from a show about puberty, let alone one filled with hormone monsters? It also has plenty of heart all the wild exaggeration actually serves an honest look at an awkward age.

  7. Silicon Valley

    Silicon Valley

    HBO

    2014–19

    The show often feels like it’s stuck in a poorly coded while loop, with plot mechanics seemingly repeating over and over, but even in its final season, it remains consistently funny, especially in the core cast of geeks running Pied Piper.

  8. Fargo

    Fargo

    FX

    2014–present

    Took a very tall order—remaking-slash-reinventing the Coen Brothers’ popular breakout—and succeeded better than it had any right to. The second season of this anthology series is probably the best, so if you’re looking to start, you could try there.

  9. Orphan Black

    Orphan Black

    BBC America

    2013–17

    The first season was the buzziest and most twisty, but the show truly found its voice—and made a star out of triple (and sometimes quadruple and quintuple) lead actress Tatiana Maslany—in the latter, world-expanding seasons.

  10. One Day at a Time

    One Day at a Time

    Netflix

    2017–present

    Modern, non-Big Bang Theory-watching audiences will have to reset their sitcom viewing brain to the rhythms of a series shot before a live studio audience, with limited sets and the ever-present 4th wall very much intact. But the rewards are great, from the performances to the teachable morals of the story.

  11. Last Man on Earth

    Last Man on Earth

    Fox

    2015–18

    Your Will Forte mileage may very, but for a fan like me, this was the most perfectly distilled essence of his comedy: utter weirdness and a willingness to look stupid sit comfortably alongside a true earnestness and desire to connect.

  12. GLOW

    GLOW

    Netflix

    2017–present

    As a frequent—or maybe just sometimes? It was decades ago after all—viewer of the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, I eagerly anticipated this show. The reality of it far surpassed my expectations, mostly thanks to a writing team and performances that never succumbed to the silliness of the premise.

  13. Kroll Show

    Kroll Show

    Comedy Central

    2013–15

    Little-watched, but surely beloved in time, Nick Kroll’s self-titled sketch show took his cast of characters from his stand-up and Comedy Bang Bang days and fleshed them out into a large, connected, reality-TV-inspired world. It also gave us George and Gil, which alone is enough for its placement on this list.

  14. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

    Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

    Netflix

    2015–19

    Everyone I know seemed to tire of this soon after it started, but I stuck with it to the last, and laughed all the way. Taking the 30 Rock humor template and stretching it to a deeply, genuinely sad and disturbing story of a kidnapped child reentering the world as an adult, Kimmy’s optimism was inspiring.

  15. New Girl

    New Girl

    Fox

    2011–18

    A classic hangout sitcom is only as good as its cast of characters: you have to want to hang with them. After writing off this show as simply a vehicle for the “adorkable” Zooey Deschanel, I quickly realized it was the group around her that I wanted to hang (and laugh) with.

  16. Documentary Now!

    Documentary Now!

    IFC

    2015–present

    It is justifiably insane, even in these Peak TV (and now Streaming Wars) times, that a half-hour comedy show parodying obscure documentary films from the past 40 years ever got greenlit. But I guess when the project comes from the minds of Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and John Mulaney, the suits had to say yes. Thank you to them, and thank you to host Helen Mirren for bringing me this series.

  17. Bob's Burgers

    Bob’s Burgers

    Fox

    2011–present

    So consistently watchable that it’s easy to overlook its greatness. From the incredible voice work up and from the main cast and hundreds of cameos, to the music and wordplay and burger recipes, this family sitcom is easily my favorite of its kind since The Simpsons debuted 30 years ago.

  18. 30 Rock

    30 Rock

    NBC

    2006–13

    While it seems to mostly live in meme form these days, it also lives in my DVD library as one of the few shows I own in complete set form. Truly silly in the best way, and yet full of biting commentary on everything from the corporate overlords who owned it and the hypocrisy of those whose ads aired around it, 30 Rock pulled no punches and left no joke unturned.

  19. Baskets

    Baskets

    FX

    2016–19

    A show about a sad rodeo clown is probably a hard sell for most viewers, but when that sad clown is Zack Galifianakis, I am all in. Featuring a beautiful performance from Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets, mother to bickering brothers Chip (Galifianakis) and Dale (also Galifianakis), the show may have been more chuckle-worthy than guffaw-heavy, but its heartwarming soul kept me coming back.

  20. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    The CW

    2015–19

    Basically, it was a show about depressed people trying, together, not to be depressed. It was also the story of a stalking ex-girlfriend who stopped at nothing to get what she wanted, even when it cost her everything. Oh, and did you know it was also a musical? With really funny, genuinely catchy songs? And that it aired a crazy number of episodes on a tight budget?

  21. Enlightened

    Enlightened

    HBO

    2011–13

    Laura Dern was incredible in this short-lived HBO series about a woman trying to recover from a nervous breakdown while the world around her never took her seriously enough to allow her to truly heal.

  22. Master of None

    Master of None

    Netflix

    2015–17

    Beautifully shot, expertly music supervised, and full of ideas and faces we don’t often see on television. Aziz Ansari, for all his recent mistakes, put together something I still look back on fondly.

  23. Fringe

    Fringe

    Fox

    2008–13

    What started out as a pointless copy of The X-Files ended up a wholly original story which took that show’s template—skeptic and believer, entering into a spooky and strange world—and gave it new shades, with alternate universes, truly tragic daddy issues, and more.

  24. Killing Eve

    Killing Eve

    BBC America

    2018–present

    The second season could not quite match the highs of the Phoebe Waller-Bridge-led first, but I still have great enthusiasm for what the show might become as it heads into season 3.

  25. Louie

    Louie

    FX

    2010–15

    Separating art from artist for a moment, this was a series that paved the way for so many others like it, breaking the mold of what modern half-hour shows could do. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, Louie was a show willing to take chances and be whatever it the story needed it to be.

  26. Better Things

    Better Things

    FX

    2016–present

    Originally produced and co-written with Louis CK, Pamela Adlon’s own auterist family dramedy took the baton from Louie and carried it further than that show ever dreamed go.

  27. Mr. Robot

    Mr. Robot

    USA

    2015–2019

    Ostentatious direction and sometimes overly clever writing did not stand in the way of this techie show’s big ideas and stellar performances. Rami Malek may have won an Oscar, but he has never been better than on this show.

  28. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

    Prime Video

    2017–present

    I might call the multiple Emmy-winning Mrs. Maisel overrated if I did not enjoy it so much. The typically quick, quippy Sherman-Palladino dialogue is delivered with verve and aplomb by the entire cast, all costumed impeccably and traipsing around dreamy mid-century sets.

  29. Jane the Virgin

    Jane the Virgin

    The CW

    2014–19

    Jane both transcended and consistently paid homage to its telenovela roots, deftly criss-crossing from comedy to drama to frothy to tragic and back again. It had more twists and turns than a candy cane pretzel, but they were never cheap, because it was always about how the characters responded.

  30. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Fox

    2013–present

    Bold move to make a feel-good sitcom about cops in an era where trust in the police is as low as its been in generations, but this Dan Goor/Mike Schur creation is a menagerie of diverse, open-hearted misfits just trying to do better and be better in a world that so often makes that difficult. And we are all better for it.

  31. Rick and Morty

    Rick and Morty

    Adult Swim

    2013–present

    Sure, the fandom is over the top, bordering on troublesome, but the inventiveness and gonzo energy of this science fiction action adventure epic is unmatched. When you watch it, just please have the good sense to remember that Rick (and Morty, to be honest) are actually pretty terrible people, and are not to be valorized.

  32. Community

    Community

    NBC, Yahoo!

    2009–15

    Before Rick and Morty, creator Dan Harmon tried his hand at network comedy, with somewhat disastrous results (mostly when he got fired after season 3). Obsessed with pop culture, Community spun all its references into a show that rewarded its own hardcore fandom—a fandom that not only brought back Harmon for season 5, but revived the show for a 6th season on Yahoo! after it was cancelled in 2014. (Now we just need that promised movie to complete the prophecy.)

  33. Halt and Catch Fire

    Halt and Catch Fire

    AMC

    2014–17

    I came late to the party, watching the entire series the year after it aired its finale, but no matter how I took it in, I am glad I did. As an alternate history of our nascent computer age, Halt was enjoyable, but as a tale of four people vying for greatness—often with, sometimes against each other—it was transcendent.

  34. Better Call Saul

    Better Call Saul

    AMC

    2015–present

    Prequels rarely, if ever, have as much tension and dramatic stakes as this one set in Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque. Nobody expected it to be good when it began, myself included, but it quickly became indispensable, incredible television, even if you’ve never watched Walter White cook one batch of blue.

  35. Atlanta

    Atlanta

    FX

    2016–present

    A show that does whatever it wants, however it wants is always interesting. When it does so with incredible confidence and even greater efficacy, it’s thrilling. Episode to episode, you never know quite what Atlanta will bring, but that’s part of the fun.

  36. Watchmen

    Watchmen

    HBO

    2019–present

    Perhaps Damon Lindelof’s most impressive work yet, this self-dubbed “remix” of Alan Moore’s comic is daring, enlightening, and, like its source material, has far more to say about the America in which it enters than any superhero work before or after. Whether you’ve ever seen an MCU movie, read a comic book or even know what Watchmen is, this show is for you.

  37. Nathan for You

    Nathan For You

    Comedy Central

    2013–17

    So surreal that it moves beyond fake and back into reality, Nathan Fielder’s show about a guy trying to help businesses do better is hard to quantify. From Dumb Starbucks to Summit Ice, the show and Fielder’s schemes are basically augmented-reality-as-tv-show, and jaw-dropping when they’re not making you laugh.

  38. Barry

    Barry

    HBO

    2018–present

    “Hitman takes an acting class” is both a clever and dumb idea for a TV show. Bill Hader and Alec Berg took that idea and, two seasons in, have created one of the most incredibly funny, tense, moving half hours to air in recent memory.

  39. Treme

    Treme

    HBO

    2010–13

    Sorely disappointing seemingly every fan of The Wire but me, this David Simon follow-up put the focus squarely on post-Katrina New Orleans. I’ve never been to the city, but this show, with its keen eye for the food, music and hard working people inhabiting it, made me feel like I have.

  40. The Deuce

    The Deuce

    HBO

    2017–2019

    The short description of this show is “ensemble piece about sex workers in New York as the ’70s became the ’80s.” If that sounds titillating, I have news for you: yes, there is nudity. This is a show about prostitution and porn, after all. But I would guess there is more going on in your average Game of Thrones episode than there is here. Being a David Simon project, it is as much about how the institutions of masculinity, capitalism, government and the law quietly shape and control our society, and who wins and loses along the way.

  41. Billy on the Street

    Billy on the Street

    TruTV

    2011–17

    Revolutionary only in the sense that it began on the internet, moved to TV, and lives on in ghost form, back on the internet again, Billy Eichner’s pop culture “game show” was never really about the trivia or the prizes (most often just a dollar or some homemade garage sale reject), but the host’s manic, faux-ubraiding screams. And, of course, the pedestrians of New York, who remind us that the strangest things in the world are simply other humans.

  42. Veep

    Veep

    HBO

    2012–19

    Joke for joke, one of the funniest shows ever, Veep maybe got less funny over time only because its satire started to seem more like an exposé. But do not let the 45th president ruin your entertainment. Bawdy, uncouth, vulgar and unsparing in its targets, Veep’s greatest strength may have been that both Republicans and Democrats alike thought the show was skewering their opponents, not them.

  43. Fleabag

    Fleabag

    Prime Video

    2016; 2019

    If you have not seen this show and have access to Prime Video, stop reading this and go watch it, right now. 3 hours later—the show is only 12 episodes long—come back and tell me you that you agree with me: this is impeccably written, endearingly acted, and one of the funniest, saddest, most unusual television shows you have ever seen. It knows the rules of the game, it breaks them, and then when you least suspect it, asks you, the viewer, if you want to play a different game entirely.

  44. The Americans

    The Americans

    FX

    2013–18

    Whenever I try to get people to watch this show—which is often, because it has been criminally overlooked by the populace—I tell them, “depending on what you’re looking for, it’s either a family drama with spy stuff, or a spy show about marriage and parenting.” Like Breaking Bad, it kicks off with a stunning first episode, then basically increases the tension with each passing season, only to finish with one of the all-time great TV finales.

  45. Parks and Recreation

    Parks and Recreation

    NBC

    2009–15

    For a show that started out as an enjoyable but imperfect Office knockoff, Parks and Rec it is amazing how, by the end of its run, Parks and Rec resembled more of a peak-era, live-action Simpsons. As the crazy world of Pawnee began to expand like Springfield once did, filling out its world with a plethora of lovable, hilarious side characters alongside one of the funniest ensembles in TV history, my love for this show only grew.

  46. The Leftovers

    The Leftovers

    HBO

    2014–17

    In a post-LOST TV universe, this was the first show that, nearly every week, got me nearly giggling in delight at its surprises. How perfect, then, that it was LOST alum Damon Lindelof, who collaborated with Tom Perotta to adapt Perotta’s novel into the first season, and then take it to wild, daring, funny, and incredibly moving places in the two subsequent seasons. Yes, it is heavy, and requires your attention and emotion, but you will be rewarded in the end.

  47. Mad Men

    Mad Men

    AMC

    2007–15

    It feels like a lifetime ago. No, not the ’50s, where this show began, or even the ’60s, where it ended. No, the era of TV in which Mad Men aired already feels like a lifetime ago. One of the crown jewels of the “prestige TV” 2000s, it was not only appointment viewing for me every Sunday night, but the kind of show I felt like I had to own to watch again, because it was a world I wanted to live in.

  48. Bojack Horseman

    BoJack Horseman

    Netflix

    2014–20

    After years of raving about it to basically everyone I know, I would be beating a dead horse(man) if I gave more reasons why I love this show. So instead I will say that it takes a pretty remarkable show to surpass the likes of Mad Men, Parks and Rec, and Veep, but when you put all those shows together, you get Bojack.

  49. The Good Place

    The Good Place

    NBC

    2016–20

    After LOST and Breaking Bad, I genuinely thought there would never be another show so good, so worth talking about, that I gathered friends to watch with me. Little did I know that the creator of Parks and Rec had an idea for a sitcom about a quartet of strangers in the afterlife who would become a guiding light for the way I want to live my current life.

  50. Breaking Bad

    Breaking Bad

    AMC

    2008–13

    Whenever I used to describe this show, trying to get people to watch midway through its run, I said “it’s constantly ratcheting up the tension, episode after episode, season after season.” Incredible, then, that this pace—never frenetic, always meticulously plotted—kept up throughout the show’s 6-year run. If it seemed like a finely tuned clock, that was somewhere between happy accident and ingenuity; the show’s creators never had plans beyond the season they were writing. Turns out, just like their main character, they were truly great at their job.