So your friendly neighborhood IGN entertainment team took on the daunting task of narrowing down what we consider to be the best 100 TV shows of the past 10 years. But a few things to keep in mind before we begin: This is not a ranked list, but rather just the 100 TV shows we thought were the best of the decade. As such, we’ve listed the shows by year, and then by alphabetical order within each year. That said, please be sure to let us know what you think of our picks, and what faves of yours didn’t make our list!
So without further ado, here are our picks for the 100 best TV shows of the twenty-tens.
The Best TV Shows of the Decade (2010-2019)
Click to a particular year below, or read on to see the full list…
- The Best TV Shows of 2010
- The Best TV Shows of 2011
- The Best TV Shows of 2012
- The Best TV Shows of 2013
- The Best TV Shows of 2014
- The Best TV Shows of 2015
- The Best TV Shows of 2016
- The Best TV Shows of 2017
- The Best TV Shows of 2018
- The Best TV Shows of 2019
Few animated series made as huge an impact in the past decade as Adventure Time. The series popularized a new style of absurdist fantasy that manages to appeal to kids and adults alike. Far more than just being a chronicle of the wacky adventures of a sword-wielding boy and his stretchable dog, Adventure Time revealed itself to be a series with a big heart and a surprisingly somber streak.
Running for five seasons on HBO, Boardwalk Empire was populated with a mix of real Prohibition-era figures and fictional characters. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the sumptuous looking crime dramas explored Atlantic City in the 1920s when gangsters, politicians, veterans, cops, and gamblers all schemed to amass power and fortune, whatever the cost. Even the most upright of its protagonists couldn’t escape unscathed from all the corruption, betrayal, and bloodshed. Boardwalk Empire was unafraid to kill off its leading characters — often in the most shocking fashion — and that only made the show even tenser and more engrossing. The show’s stellar ensemble was led by a never-better Steve Buscemi and included the likes of Michael Shannon, Kelly Macdonald, Charlie Cox, Michael Pitt, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Kenneth Williams, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Wright, and Shea Whigham.
Downton Abbey is basically the TV equivalent of comfort food, and that’s why it developed such a strong following on both sides of the pond. The series celebrates a bygone era of lavish castles and decadent wealth, even as it also explores the class divide between the wealthy elite and the servants who keep their world running. Come for the eye-popping costume and production design, but stay for the engrossing soap opera of these characters’ intertwined lives.
Once you get past the first few crime-of-the-week episodes, Justified opens up into wide world of pure, concentrated Elmore Leonard pulp so good it’s impossible to look away. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins ooze charisma as Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, in a ceaseless competition for which character carries more swagger. The dialogue is punchy, the stakes are high, and the vision of Harlan County is incredibly well crafted. We get a protagonist and antagonist who are so clearly cut from the same cloth that you can easily see them swapping sides if not for their opposing senses of morality.
Show creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss updated Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian-era sleuth and his partner, Dr. John Watson, for the 21st century with this sleek, contemporary reimagining. Starring a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch in his breakout role opposite a perfectly cast Martin Freeman as Watson and a slithery Andrew Scott as the sinister Jim Moriarty, Sherlock showcased the world’s greatest detective’s unparalleled intellect at solving crimes in a world where state-of-the-art science is also key to policework. Sherlock gave depth and dimension to these iconic characters and their relationships as the series put a thrilling new spin on some of Holmes’ most famous cases.
Perhaps more than any other series, Spartacus helped Starz stay competitive in the increasingly bloodthirsty premium cable arena this past decade. A sleek, stylish and sexy update to the classic movie, Spartacus gave us a very captivating take on the saga of a Thracian man’s journey from soldier to gladiator to leader of a slave uprising. Sadly, Spartacus never really recovered from the untimley death of star Andy Whitfield. Even so, it showed us that big-budget spectacle is possible on the small screen.
There’s “Prestige TV,” and then there’s Terriers, a shaggy-dog story about two losers playing detective. Only these two at heart are not losers, and Terriers is by breed a pedigree. Ted Griffin’s low-rated FX show came and went without even a DVD to show it ever existed, but fans and critics still love on their Terriers. Donal Logue was charming and disarming in the lead, and his partner Michael Raymond-James was the kind of street-smart screw-up you pray has just one thing go right for him some day, if only because a smile on his beat-up face made your day slightly less crappy. Special kudos for Karina Logue (Donal’s real-life sister) in a few stunning appearances portraying schizophrenic in all of its curious and harrowing facets. Fans of Justified and Hap & Leonard probably don’t even know there’s something meaty for them if they can track down Terriers — fetch this one, go!
David Simon and company delivered, bringing back the strong writing, the subtle, nuanced acting, and the regional setting with meticulous attention to detail that this creative team is known for. The first season of Treme was the kind of television you eventually relax and sink into, enjoying it the way you might enjoy a live concert featuring a line-up of bands you don’t recognize but playing in a genre you love. Rather than waiting for big payoffs or shocking plot twists, we realized that the point was to enjoy the product as a whole. Was it as great as the first season of The Wire? No, it wasn’t. For better or worse, Treme is a study in authenticity and not in high drama.
The Walking Dead
There’s a reason, for many years, The Walking Dead was the most popular show on cable TV: it managed to tell relevant, human stories through a genre lens in a way that followed in the footsteps of the Star Treks and Losts before it. It also happens to feature really, really convincing and well-made zombies. Though the show has had ebbs and flows of quality, it has always managed to shock, scare, and hook viewers with well-performed characters brought to life by one of the best ensembles of actors on TV and incredibly well-conceived special effects from practical effects mastermind Greg Nicotero.
Most animated superhero shows are thinly disguised platforms to sell toys. Young Justice stands out because it targets an older audience hungry for epic action and deep, complex storytelling. Perhaps no other animated series has done a better job of adapting the serialized nature of superhero comics and allowing its characters to age and evolve in profound ways. That approach basically guaranteed a short lifespan on Cartoon Network, but thankfully, the series has found a second lease on life thanks to DC Universe.
American Horror Story
Like a spectre in the shadows, you can never predict what shape American Horror Story will take. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s anthology series mophs from season to season; one year it’s a thoroughly modern take on a classic murder house tale, the next it’s a bizzare, Burton-esque trip into the sad lives of circus misfits. Made up of equal parts grisly gore and camp, flamboyant characters, American Horror story tackles a variety of themes from the absurd to disturbed. While its strange ambitions sometimes threaten to jump (or speed past) the shark, the show is always kept together by its chameleon cast, with Jessica Lange providing astonishing roles in several seasons.
Not since the heyday of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits have we been so enthralled by a sci-fi-themed anthology series. Every episode of Black Mirror explores the impact of advanced technology on our society in some way, and that loose framework has resulted in all sorts of fascinating stories. Whether through Emmy-winning episodes like “San Junipero” or the interactive film “Bandersnatch,” Black MIrror continues to push boundaries.
Bob’s Burgers doesn’t have a high concept – an animated series about a family owning a burger joint feels like a fairly pedestrian pitch – but Loren Bouchard’s central cast is so joyful, and wonderfully irreverent that it’s impossible to not fall in love with them and the series as a whole. Tina Belcher, the boy-obsessed, self-empowered teenager, is also one of the best characters of the decade.
In most shows, a character like Amy Jellicoe would be the annoying coworker, there to make life miserable for the lovable hero. In Enlightened, annoying as she can be, Amy Jellicoe is the hero. But if she’s bothersome to be around, it’s only because she’s trying to do good in the world. This HBO show, which ran for two seasons, brings an incredible amount of empathy and humanity to one of TV’s most challenging characters.
Game of Thrones
Forget how you feel about the ending; Game of Thrones was arguably the biggest scripted TV cultural phenomenon of the ’10s. In an era of Peak TV, where everything can be binged or watched on your iPhone (sorry Martin Scorsese), Game of Thrones evolved to be true water-cooler, can’t-miss event television. It also truly helped genre TV — specifically fantasy TV — break through both critically and commercially. Game of Thrones is to television what The Lord of the Rings was to movies in the ’00s; a massively popular series that also managed to sweep the most prestigious awards shows around. Valar Morghulis.
The first season of Homeland is a tightly constructed spy thriller in which CIA agent Carrie Mathison senses something’s not right with recently rescued POW Nicholas Brody. Claire Danes does outstanding work as Mathison, showing her as doggedly determined but also an unpredictable loose cannon due to her own secret psychological problems. Damian Lewis makes sure you never know what to think of Brody, and Mandy Patinkin’s warm but authoritative Saul Barenson fiercely defends Carrie from within the Agency. It’s a tough act to follow, but later seasons do a respectable job of keeping Carrie on her toes with an array of complex terrorist plots and personal demons that have kept Homeland compelling over eight labyrinthine seasons.
Person of Interest
What started as a crime drama slowly revealed itself to be one of the most complex and competent science fiction stories of the decade. After the horrifying events of 9/11, a tech billionaire builds an A.I. to help predict terrorist attacks, and in so doing, finds that “The Machine” can also predict either the perpetrators or victims of an impending crime. He takes it upon himself to recruit the aid of a very deadly, retired government agent to investigate and intervene. As the story unravels it becomes what one might imagine could be the beginnings of Skynet with warring A.I.s and deep dives into the point-of-view from an artificial consciousness. If “2001” and “Her” occupy any of your personal “best of” lists, Person Of Interest should be of interest to you!
Is there any taboo Shameless won’t touch? The show, which centers around a poor family in Chicago, loves pushing buttons. If you can get on its darkly comedic wavelength, you’ll find over 100 episodes — and counting — of enjoyment only a cast of characters as unique (and often despicable) as the Gallaghers could offer.
Arrow launched a whole new era of superhero television, redefining what’s possible with the genre on the small screen. Over the course of eight seasons, it’s traced Oliver Queen’s journey from carefree playboy to hardened killer to noble hero, with each new season delving ever deeper into DC Comics lore. The series has experienced some ups and downs during that time, but it’s always kept us engrossed in Ollie’s quest to become “something else.” Without Arrow, there would be no Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, or Batwoman.
A show that defined an era of youth for so many that consumed it, Girls embraced everything audiences in their early 20s were feeling, thinking and doing and put it on screen despite how awkward, unflattering or unappealing it made its ensemble cast. It was relatable in a way shows of its kind weren’t in the past, led by a foursome of actresses that were all irreplaceable to make the show work as it did while launching the Adam Driver’s career into super stardom. Marnie, Jessa, Hannah, and Shoshanna made you hate them individually, love them together, and pine for their reunion over the years. They were led by Lena Dunham’s writing and tone that – while divisive – was a refreshing voice to have in early part of the decade. There just weren’t comedies at the time, especially led by a female cast, doing what Girls was doing and going the places it was. These were real characters living and dealing with modern love, relationships, and coming of age in a large metropolitan city like New York (or more accurately Brooklyn and surrounding boroughs). Dunham’s writing and direction paved the way for shows like Euphoria, Insecure and the likes of Broad City to come.
Disney’s hysterical and delirious Gravity Falls was half Lost, half Twin Peaks, and all wonderful. A quirky hit for all ages, the story followed 12-year-old Dipper Pines (Jason Ritter) and his twin sister Mabel (Kristen Schaal) as they helped their cantankerous Grunkle Stan run his “Mystery Shack” in the Pacific Northwest.
Key and Peele
There are many reasons why Key and Peele should be remembered as one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of the decade. Besides being irresistibly funny, their vignettes were clever, socially aware, and lampooned everything from pop culture to racial stereotypes in ways that felt inclusive and gave us permission to laugh at our differences. It was in April of 2015 that Barack Obama called upon Keegan-Michael Key to co-host the White House Correspondents’ Dinner as a character made famous on the show. That night, Luther, the President’s anger translator, took to the stage at Obama’s side, securing Key and Peele in the annals of history.
The Legend of Korra
The Legend of Korra is one of the best all-time animated series, even rivaling Avatar: The Last Airbender. Strong characters, compelling storylines, heartfelt humor, gorgeous animation — this show had it all. That’s not to mention the fantastic worldbuilding, which took Avatar’s lore to new and exciting heights. In a word, The Legend of Korra was special.
Les Revenants (The Returned)
Les Revenants (The Returned) is what the kids call a “big mood.” Long after the details of the plot and characters fade from memory, the show’s damp, fog-locked sense of foreboding sticks with you like a chill. People begin to wander out of the mist clouds that perpetually envelop a small French mountain town, to the shock and amazement of the townsfolk who believed them dead. Tearful reunions crumble under the weight of a growing sense of unease as palpable as the mist. We begin to suspect that the “Returned” may not be the same as those who disappeared, and, as we do, everything in Les Revenants from the faded color palette to Mogwai’s gorgeously gloomy original score (I still have it bookmarked on Spotify) creeps in close until the whole town begins to feel like a liminal realm where the lines between life and death are dangerously blurred. Big mood.
After mega-producer Shonda Rhimes brought shock and awe back to the medical drama — with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice — she created the crazed Crown Jewel of the Shondaverse: Scandal. Kerry Washington played the head of a “crisis management” firm that handled Washington D.C.’s most outrageous and sensational kerfuffles – including the vice-president and president murdering people. Different people, in different murders!
In the era of workplace comedies, it is inevitable that there would be one about the highest office in the United States. Created by veteran political satirist Armando Iannucci and ruthlessly led by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Veep followed VP Selina Meyer and her staff (featuring an unparalleled stacked cast of comedy geniuses) as she claws her way to the office of the President. After many TV series detailing politics as a chess game, Veep showed politicking for the stumbling, selfish game many play, from aides, to lobbyists to candidates and everyone in between. Also, since it was on HBO, the series featured some of the most brutally creative insults one can only wish to hurl at another human being.
It’s almost a trope of 2010s TV writing to say, but the fact that a show as good as The Americans was on the air for six seasons without mainstream notoriety is a testament to what a great age of television we’re in. The Americans burned so slowly that it wasn’t until a few seasons in that you realized you’re actively rooting for the bad guys. You want Soviet spies Elizabeth and Philip to slip through FBI agent Stan Beeman’s fingers even though you know it should go the other way. Shouldn’t it?
This British crime drama became a cultural phenomenon in the UK before making such a splash across the pond that Hollywood made its own (not as good) version, Gracepoint. Featuring a fantastic post-Doctor Who turn from David Tennant and incredible turns from Olivia Coleman and Jodie Whittaker, Broadchurch had a taut, harrowing tale that kept you guessing until the very end in Season 1. It’s a storytelling style that we saw done well many times throughout the ’10s, with Broadchurch delivering one of the best versions of the crime drama whodunnit.
Led by an enthusiastic Andy Samberg and the delightfully deadpan Andre Braugher, and featuring an authentic and effortlessly diverse supporting crew that includes the much-loved Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine Nine has cemented itself as one of the finest sitcoms of the decade (surviving a cancellation and network switch to do so). Silly yet sharp and hilarious yet heartfelt, Brooklyn Nine Nine is top-tier workplace comedy, proudly and effectively following in the footsteps of fellow greats like The Office and Parks & Recreation.
Jamie Dornan so completely personifies the phrase “dead-eyed killer” in the BBC’s hauntingly unadorned The Fall that it seems at times like he actually is the wooden, one-dimensional actor we see sleepwalking through the fatuous Fifty Shades franchise. But then Dornan’s eyes will come alive with the violent excitement his calculating killer, Paul Spector, feels when he commits acts of unspeakable brutality and you’ll be so disturbed that you’ll beg for that flat “Christian Grey” affect to return. Gillian Anderson matches Dornan’s acting step-for-step (because, duh, she’s a goddess) and the rapport their characters build together over the course of three seasons hums with unholiness and volatility. There are no shades of grey in The Fall. It’s pitch black all the way down.
As much as we love 1991’s Silence of the Lambs, the small screen is where the saga of Hannibal Lector really found its home. Thanks to creator Bryan Fuller, this dark, brooding crime drama redefined what we thought was possible on network TV, delivering lavish set pieces and grotesque yet artful displays of murder that would seem more at home on HBO than NBC. And through it all, Hannibal kept us hooked thanks to the twisted rapport between Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen’s ruthless Dr. Lecter. We wish the series had been allowed to live a couple seasons longer, but there’s always the hope that Fuller, Dancy and Mikkelsen will return in some form or another.
House of Cards
One of Netflix’s early breakout hits, House of Cards distinguished itself with its first few seasons, with the Machiavellian rise of Frank Underwood from overlooked congressman to president of the United States. The sheer amount and complexity of lying, backstabbing, scheming, and even murder is a sight to behold, and Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of a high-functioning sociopath politician made him a villain that was easy to love to hate. The story lost steam once Frank achieved his goal of becoming president, and the less said about the fallout from Spacey’s public disgrace the better, but the early seasons stand alone as a dark and cynical counterpart to The West Wing.
Orange Is the New Black
Orange Is the New Black, with its addictive, macabre bounciness, remained tall and true through its entire run on Netflix. One of the streaming service’s first true breakout hits in its binge model, OITNB helped change television as we know it. Sometimes hilarious, often devastating, and always ready to shine a light on humanity’s grand societal failings, Orange Is the New Black left us with a last ride full closure and chaos.
The conspiracy runs deep in Orphan Black, a sci-fi drama about a group of women from around the world who discover they’re clones. The whole cast is excellent, but Tatiana Maslany shows incredible range as she plays numerous genetically identical yet extremely different main characters, from British street tough to science nerd to uptight suburban wine mom, and all the way to the cold corporate villain. There’s a lot of heart and comedy that emerges from the mix as the clones investigate their shadowy origins and the stakes rise to life and death.
Rectify is a sublime and rewarding binge. Featuring stellar and fearless performances from Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, and Clayne Crawford, Rectify is the beautiful, melancholy story of a man released from death row after 19 years and all the challenges involved with reacclimatizing to society and reuniting with family. It moves at a slower pace than most other modern shows, but its meditative and poetic qualities make for a truly unique and moving tale of redemption and forgiveness.
Rick and Morty
Adult Swim’s critical darling has grown to be one of the smartest, funniest and sharpest TV shows on the air. There’s no show quite like Rick and Morty on TV — and there really hasn’t been a show quite like Rick and Morty ever. It’s funny, challenging, insightful and *burp* disgusting. But it’s not just insane adventures throughout space and reality, or creating stakes for characters that continue to matter: where Rick and Morty brings it all together is that you truly care about each character, from Rick, Morty, Summer, Beth and Jerry all the way to Mr. Poopybutthole, Birdperson, Mr. Meeseeks and Krombopulos Michael.
No one can deny the unbridled wholesomeness that Steven Universe radiates in absolutely every frame. Part superhero-sci-fi-fantasy, part coming-of-age teen comedy and, most importantly, all heart, Steven Universe helped redefine what a “children’s show” could be. Rebecca Sugar’s opus about a half-alien boy with a giant crystal in his bellybutton pulls inspiration from fantasy stories and video games, but its story is centered around identity, family, and love.
The History Channel has brought the early Norsemen to vivid life with this gritty but thrilling series inspired by the legendary sagas of Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The series isn’t afraid to kill off leading characters as it chronicles the scheming and warring amongst its many players during their violent conquest of medieval Europe and Scandinavia. The amount of implied sex and gory violence the show has gotten away with given the broadcast limitations of the History Channel is surprising, making Vikings a less graphic and fantastical Game of Thrones for history buffs. And even though it’s coming to an end after the currently-airing Season 6, fans can look forward to a spinoff, Valhalla, set 100 years after the events of the show, that will air on Netflix.
Award-winning comedy Black-ish — which now has two spinoffs, in the form of Grown-ish and the new Mixed-ish — has mastered the art of entertaining while also educating as a rare primetime sitcom featuring a suburbanite African American family. Starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish has provided laughs and pushed boundaries for over 100 episodes.
BoJack Horseman is easily one of Netflix’s best original series, animated or otherwise. On the surface, it’s a bizarre animated sitcom about a washed-up TV celebrity in a world where the lines between human and animal are all but nonexistent. But spend more than a few minutes with the series and you’ll realize it’s actually a deep, poignant story about mental illness, addiction and the long, painful road toward self-improvement.
Broad City feels like the millenial spawn of Sex and the City: both were a love letter to NYC, both centered on the realities of female friendships, but it was Broad City that had the gall to present the messier side of both the former and the latter. Ilana and Abbi felt like the best friends you never had but you wished you did, and its season finale was particularly gut-punching – a goodbye to the pair that also sent an uplifting message to women all over the world.
Imagine the balls it takes to walk into a network with this pitch: “You know that perfectly enigmatic movie directed by two masters of modern cinema that became an instant classic and won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay? I wanna take another crack at that.” That’s what Noah Hawley did. And I’ll be damned if he hasn’t delivered three straight seasons of excellent (though uneven) television. Hawley understands the trademark Coen alchemy of putting normal people into perverse situations and perverse people into normal ones. With that knowledge, the savvy choice to give Fargo seasons an anthological format, and some truly inspired casting from Hawley made the impossible possible: a Fargo television show worthy of the hallowed name.
While Arrow is the foundation on which The CW’s superhero universe is built, the Arrowverse really came into its own with The Flash. This series opened up a much larger world of super-powers, alternate universes, and time-meddling villains. Like most Arrowverse shows, The Flash has seen its ups and downs over the years, with Season 1 setting a high standard that’s been difficult to match. But through both the good times and bad, it’s always been comforting to have Team Flash there as our dependable superhero TV family.
Halt and Catch Fire
Halt and Catch Fire is a show that – on paper – doesn’t sound like it should have worked: it’s a drama about tech entrepreneurs in the Silicon Prairie in the 1980s. What we end up getting is a rich, character-driven piece that covers such a broad period of time that we get to see real, earned growth in the characters. Joe from season 1 is entirely different from Joe in season 4, but it feels so real and believable because his motivation is coming from the same place. By the end, we’ve seen these characters go through so much that you’re not rooting for a specific goal or ending; you just want for them to find the peace and happiness that you know they deserve.
Jane the Virgin
An adaptation of the Venezuelan Juana La Virgen, The CW’s Jane the Virgin was a fun, meta version of a classic telenovela. Starring Gina Rodriguez, whose undeniable talent and charm as Jane shone in every episode, this series revived the soap opera genre for prime time and sprinkled magical realism through it. Although the show still featured all the classic tropes of a telenovela, featuring love triangles, secret relatives, amnesia, and MURDER (yet somehow making each one fresh and truly jaw-dropping), the show was grounded in extreme warmth and the strength of family and love.
The Knick was impressive, intense television – with fascinating, oft-gruesome topics brought ferociously to the forefront by Soderbergh’s adept hands. It was hard to watch at times, both due to its gore and sometimes depressing content, but it was always thought-provoking and incredibly well-rendered. At times it seemed like the show (thanks in most part to the era) could nary afford a moment of happiness, and that its doom and gloom were almost too predictable, but in the end the craft and performances shined brighter.
The Leftovers cemented its legacy as one of the best TV shows of all time with a third and final season filled with humor, heartache, and unique personalized madness that was both baffling and relatable.
Outlander isn’t necessarily the Battlestar Galactica followup we would have expected from Ronald D. Moore, but it features all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from his TV work. It’s both a high-concept sci-fi series about a woman using time travel to attempt to alter the course of Scottish history and a soap opera about two lovers separated by centuries of time. That combination continues to hold us in thrall even four seasons later.
Penny Dreadful is a gothic poem come to life. With moody, dark scenery throughout its short three-season run, Penny Dreadful is a complete modernization of the classic Universal monster stories we all know and love. The stellar cast is absolutely remarkable, with some notably chilling performances from Eva Green and Rory Kinnear. The show lasted just three seasons before bowing out – giving you enough time to take in its settings and characters, but wrapping up before overstaying its welcome. Penny Dreadful is a haunting story that will stick with long after you’ve watched it.
Comedy writers are always on the lookout for material. Perhaps nowhere in America is there a richer vein of comedic gold than in Silicon Valley, ground zero of the tech world. Here, successful billionaires (the “three comma club”) self mythologize, while antisocial coders pull all-nighters to squash bugs. Thanks to a hilarious cast and razor-sharp writing, this show, which just wrapped after six seasons, highlights just how absurd the modern world has become.
Transparent tackles tough issues, but in a tender manner. Rarely is the show invaded by bigotry or anger, opting for a more enlightened and humorous take on family drama. And the cast excels at creating complex, often frustrating, characters who you can’t help becoming attached to. This is one of those shows where you’ll be sad when you get to the end and have to come to terms with the fact that there are no more episodes to stream.
Anchored by some career-best performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as they navigated shifting time periods and loyalties, the first season of HBO’s True Detective was a truly creepy, gripping, and emotional story, making it one of the best crime dramas ever produced for television. While Season 2 proved to be an underwhelming misstep, Season 3 got things back on track thanks to another magnetic, decade-spanning performance from Mahershala Ali and a plot that once again reoriented the show’s themes towards loss, grief, and the inescapable march of time.
You’re the Worst
Following an era of television focused on “will they or won’t they” couples, You’re The Worst is the updated reflection of the 2010s: one that deals less on getting to the relationship and more about being in the throes of one. You know Jimmy and Gretchen are not good for each other, but you can’t help but root for these deeply damaged people who are trying (which is what matters the most). Often, romcoms gloss over the real work and gross details that go into being in a real relationship, but You’re the Worst doesn’t shy away from that. The supporting cast is also richly characterized as more than human vices come to life, each with distinctly dysfunctional sets of idiosyncrasies to remind you of your favorite cautionary tale. It’s also a very LA-deprecating show in a way that only locals can understand, with egos, insecurities, and ridiculous personalities (shout out to Ben Folds) everywhere they turn.
Better Call Saul
Even after he’d stuck the landing of his transformational meth saga Breaking Bad, one could have been forgiven for skeptically asking Vince Gilligan, “do we really need a show about Saul Goodman?” But the very first black-and-white sequence of Better Call Saul’s pilot reminds viewers that they are in the steady hands of a master craftsman of dramatic tension. Again and again throughout the series, Gilligan and the spectacularly versatile Bob Odenkirk find ways to sketch the character of Jimmy McGill with both humanity and humor, all the while pulling hard on the two reins any good prequel has at its disposal: how do these characters come to be who I know they will become? And, more ominously, what fate awaits all these excellent supporting cast members who somehow disappear before my man Walter White breaks bad?
Catastrophe is a sitcom with the premise of a reality show. An American man and Irish woman meet one night in London, have a one week stand, and go their separate ways… Until the woman discovers she’s pregnant. Watching show co-creators and stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan build a family and life together from that high-stakes starting point is part of what makes Catastrophe one of the great rom-coms of the decade. Starting with a pregnancy plot upends the whole formula, and to see two very funny people navigate such uncharted territory while falling in love is a high-wire act only Catastrophe could pull off.
Rachel Bloom’s musical comedy shouldn’t work: a mentally ill woman stalks her summer camp fling and inserts herself into his and his friends’ lives. It also shouldn’t be as funny as the premise is, but with extreme self-awareness and catchy, smart songs that cross various genres, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend just works. Featuring a diverse cast and mini-music videos sprinkled in each episode, this show was a truly special blend of comedy, romance, and music.
The first Marvel-Netflix original, Daredevil helped set the tone for what comic book shows could be in the age of binge-viewing. Its dark, gritty, street-level take on the world of Marvel was more mature and tightly crafted than its episodic, 23-episode broadcast predecessors, and its excellently choreographed action — that one-take hallway fight in Season 1! — was a game-changer. Though it fell victim to Netflix’s breakup with Disney and the end of the Marvel Netflix collaboration in 2019, its legacy can be felt in everything from Watchmen to Doom Patrol in terms of advancing what superhero TV can be.
Ever since shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate: Universe left the airwaves there has been a void of quality space based science fiction entertainment. The Expanse, based on the series of books from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, is the science fiction space opera TV series that we’ve been waiting for.
While Jessica Jones had its rough patches throughout its three-season run on Netflix, one thing that never wavered was the strength of its heroine, a damaged, deeply fascinating loner who was desperate for connection despite her tough exterior, imbued with depth, heart, and snark by Krysten Ritter’s magnetic performance. Giving us one of TV’s all-time greatest villains in David Tennant’s Kilgrave, plus a long-overdue exploration of a nuanced female antihero, Jessica Jones was by far the most nuanced and challenging of Marvel’s Netflix shows, which is why we’re still pouring one out for her.
Master of None
Always an astutely hilarious comedian, and a fun presence on Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari’s breadth of creative potential wasn’t fully realized until the show he co-created with Alan Yang (Parks and Rec), Master of None, premiered on Netflix back in the fall of ’15. It was there that Ansari made a huge splash as a writer, storyteller, and performer with a superb series that was original in look, tone, and voice. With Season 2, Ansari’s screen magic remained strong — stronger, in fact — as the dynamo delivered a fundamentally moving and emotionally sound season filled with heartfelt moments of sadness and joy, both big and small.
Mr. Robot may be a show about a mentally unstable hacker trying to revolutionize the world, but its true strength lies not in the story but its main character played by pre-Freddie-Mercury Rami Malek (for which he won an Emmy after the first season). Yes, the plot is devilishly twisty, the visual style is unnerving in the best way, the score is pitch-perfect, and even the hacking is technically sound. However, Malek’s performance is just so captivating, this show could probably be about anything else and it’d be just as good.
Narcos does a stellar job of developing both its heroes and villains into characters you can empathize with, even when they’re doing horrible things. And while Narcos doesn’t break the crime-drama wheel, it captures many of the narrative aspects that make classics like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Scarface so great. It’s all about character development — even with the bad guys — and that’s where Narcos excels.
The heart that beats beneath the absurdist trappings of Schitt’s Creek is no joke. This quirky comedy chronicles the bumblings of a wealthy family who are stripped of their riches and forced to live in a shanty motel in a small town called Schitt’s Creek. It features a cast of comedy legends including SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, but it’s his son and co-creator Dan Levy who steals the show as David, an openly pan-sexual character. The show never shines a light on homophobia or seeks to make any sweeping social statements. Instead, it focuses on the earnestness of the characters’ relationships, gay and straight, and in so doing proves that in end love is love and is the same across all sexuality or creed.
American Crime Story
While Ryan Murphy likes to add camp to many of his TV series, he was all about telling the honest truth in American Crime Story, even if that truth is hard to watch. First with The People vs. OJ Simpson and then again with The Assassination of Gianni Versace, developers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and Murphy and co-EPs Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson crafted impeccable seasons of television. From perfectly cast ensembles of actors to specifically and excellently directed and scripted episodes of television — Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, anyone? — each season has been excellent, challenging and driven deeper conversations about stories audiences thought they knew already.
Donald Glover’s Atlanta is one of the most imaginative shows on TV, effectively blending real-world issues with elements of fantasy. Glover’s exploration of the rap industry in inner-city Atlanta touches on topics of race, socio-economic issues, and the highs and lows of trying to become successful. Bolstered by an impressive supporting cast and lots of surprise cameos, Atlanta is always surprising and never cliche.
One might think a streaming series chronicling the early years of Britain’s still-living royal family would be a tepid and unsurprising affair, but, as he did with 2006’s The Queen, showrunner Peter Morgan has made these stuffy public figures flesh and blood human beings that viewers everywhere could feel for and relate to despite their many shortcomings. The Crown portrays them as a dysfunctional family living in the public eye over the span of decades and sheds light on their romances, feuds, and reactions to some of the biggest historical events of the 20th century. And while for many fans it was unthinkable to imagine anyone but Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and Vanessa Kirby starring in it, The Crown remarkably succeeded in recasting all of its leading roles for Season 3 as the saga of the House of Windsor jumped forward several years and brought the marvelous Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter into the fold.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
While every other superhero show (from both DC and Marvel) were more grounded or a little too serious, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow snuck up out of nowhere and after some growing pains, became what all comic book shows should be: fun. Superhero (and villain) “rejects” recruited by a time traveler to face immortal ancient beings and Arrowverse’s biggest villains, to correcting historical anomalies, then later on hunting down mythical creatures sent throughout history by a demon? Sign us up.
Before Phoebe Waller-Bridge created Killing Eve and stole our hearts as opinionated droid L3 in Solo: A Star Wars Story, she created the razor-sharp tragicomedy Fleabag. Based on her one-woman play of the same name, Fleabag stars Waller-Bridge as the titular heroine, a self-destructive and gloriously snarky mess who frequently breaks the fourth wall to involve the audience in her questionable life choices, dysfunctional family drama, and random hook-ups. After a critically-acclaimed first season, Fleabag somehow managed to become even more hilarious (and heartbreaking) in Season 2, which introduced Sherlock star Andrew Scott as “The Priest,” who Fleabag unwittingly leads into temptation, even as he does his best to guide her towards the light. There’s no comedy quite as honest – or frequently surprising – as Amazon’s Fleabag, and with six perfectly-crafted episodes per season, it makes for a brief but deliciously satisfying binge.
The Good Place
Created by Michael Schur and led with wit and charm by American Sweethearts Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, as well as introducing a stellar cast of D’arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto, The Good Place did something no other show could pull off: make philosophy, ethics, and the afterlife funny. Every joke and plot point is so meticulously, yet effortlessly planted in a way that still made every resulting plot twist or pivot all the more shocking. Each season has taken bigger swings and explored deeper moral issues than the one before and has never missed a beat. Team Cockroach forever.
Starring Issa Rae (who co-created the series with The Daily Show’s Larry Wilmore) and Yvonne Orji, Insecure is an acclaimed, insightful, and hilarious series that follows the lives of two twentysomething African American woman with wit and style. HBO has, yet another, revolutionary dramedy on its hands.
Stranger Things is imbued with love and reverence for the works Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King (among others), and if you share in that love, this show likely grabbed you from the start. The Duffer Brothers have done an amazing job of combining the differing tones of the likes of those genre icons and making it all feel at home together, as the show goes from moments of wonder to moments of terror, all anchored by a very likeable group of kids – and some scene-stealing adult co-stars.
The Night Of
The Night Of proves that you don’t need a groundbreaking premise, or even a particularly unique take on a familiar genre, to craft great television. In some ways, this crime drama played like a very expensive, very lavish Law & Order episode. But there’s a lot to be said for simply taking a familiar formula and executing it insanely well. That’s the secret of The Night Of’s success.
This Is Us
This Is Us is basically if your standard family drama was told with a Nolan (either brother) storytelling sensibility. Little details were revealed before the show came out, preserving the biggest secret revealed at the end of the pilot: all these adult characters are family members. The “mystery” of Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death anchors each character’s trauma in a way that sent viewers down an unprecedented theory rabbit hole for a family drama. Jack’s death unravels the Pearson family from every age of life, and showing audiences how personal traumas from youth can inform and impact the way the Pearsons are in the present day. Yes, this show is basically designed to make you cry, but sometimes you just need a show like that okay?!
Westworld burst onto our screens with a sublime Season 1, taking the core conceit of Michael Crichton’s fun 1973 sci-fi film and building upon it in wonderful, imaginative ways that rewarded viewers’ attention (and encouraged breathless debate) like only the best watercooler TV can. The entire cast — including Ed Harris, James Marsden, Ben Barnes, Tessa Thompson, Angela Sarafyan, Clifton Collins Jr., Rodrigo Santoro, Liam Hemsworth, and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal — were all excellent throughout, constantly bringing nuance to their characters, whether they be human or host. Westworld was amazingly involving and evocative from the moment it began, but it was the complex, empathetic, and often maddening anchors of Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, and Thandie Newton who turned the series into must-watch TV. Although Season 2 became hamstrung by its own hubris as it reached its climax, spending too long building a mystery box without realizing that it was all a little hollow inside, we’re hoping Season 3 will perform a factory reset on this ambitious, thoughtful sci-fi series.
Big Little Lies
Season 1 of Big Little Lies was a tense, gripping, beautifully self-contained tale that got better and better as it went along, quickly becoming one of the most addictive shows of the decade and creating a cultural wave that only intensified as its mysteries unraveled. Most of all, it was a stunning showcase for its star-studded cast, anchored by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley. Its second season was more uneven than the first, but these characters and their relationships continued to reward return visitors to Monterey Bay, especially with the sublime Meryl Streep joining the mix.
In a time when most studios still can’t seem to figure out how to properly translate video games to film and TV, Castlevania emerges as the new gold standard. Season 2 built on the foundation of the brief first season, expanding the world and introducing more compelling characters caught up in Dracula’s war. The series manages to be faithful to the source material while still making big changes where necessary and emphasizing character growth over mindless action.
Dear White People
The brilliance of Dear White People can be found in the nuanced types of racism that the narrative explores. Instead of only focusing on white vs. black, Dear White People also addresses “black on black” racism. And even though the series deals with complex social issues, it never loses its sense of humor. Dear White People is a funny and poignant journey through “post-racial” America. The series has already been renewed for a third season.
The Good Fight
Speaking directly to the state of streaming, and the overall glut of Peak TV, one of the best legal dramas of the decade is happening over on CBS All Access. Recently, this Good Wife spinoff’s third season delivered unto the overcrowded TV landscape one of the richest and most satisfying runs around. Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, and more flood the screen with superb acting, tackling hot topics about Trump-era discrimination.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a standout series worthy of its hype and a standout showcase for women in TV. Its phenomenal debut season owes its excellence to the career-best performance of Elisabeth Moss, the gorgeous directing and cinematography by pilot helmer Reed Morano, and the writing and source material itself.
Marvel hasn’t even come close to realizing the potential of the X-Men franchise on television, but Legion was certainly a big step in the right direction. This mind-bending series from creator Noah Hawley took a very different approach to the X-Men’s world. In place of icons like Wolverine and Magneto, it focused on the surreal, psychedelic journey of Dan Stevens’ David Haller, a mutant whose power is matched only by his mental instability. Short-lived though it was, Legion did as much as any other superhero TV series to push the boundaries of the genre this past decade.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Describing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel practically sounds like a mad-lib for the most esoteric show you could imagine: It’s about a Jewish American housewife making her way as a stand-up comedian in New York in the 1950s. But when shown through the lens of Amy Sherman-Palladino (the creator of Gilmore Girls) we get a charming story full of whip-smart, lightening-fast dialogue and some of the highest production value and best set pieces of any show from the past decade. The first two seasons have been showered in accolades for everything from its stellar cast and writing, to its pitch-perfect costuming and music. And if you’ve seen even one episode, you know it deserves the praise.
Mindhunter is both disturbing in its content and its analytical nature towards said content. In order to truly understand the mentality of madness, this team of investigators and academics had to go deep into the trenches of some horrifically specific savagery in a way that no one ever considered before – but it’s far more interested in the psychology behind the crime than in gratuitously exploring the crime itself, which helps keep things gripping without ever becoming too grisly. Becoming more serialized in Season 2 thanks to a focus on the chilling Atlanta Child Murders and a crime that hit much closer to home for one of our investigators, Mindhunter makes for a fascinating, spellbinding, occasionally nightmare-inducing ride.
One Day at a Time
One of the most critically celebrated comedies of the decade comes in the form of a reboot, as Netflix’s One Day at a Time took the concept of Norman Lear’s original 70s/80s comedy, about a divorced single mom and her family (and her handyman), and reimagined it with Cuban Americans. Ernest, endearing laughs followed, as well as poignant socio-political commentary. Netflix axed the show after three seasons, but it was picked up by Pop TV.
Star Trek: Discovery
After a 12-year break, Star Trek finally returned to the small screen — where many fans would say it works best — with Star Trek: Discovery, a big-budget, high-concept series that has done a fine job of taking the franchise into the era of Peak TV. While the show bumped up against existing canon at times in Season 1, its writers learned to use the Trek universe to its advantage in its second year, incorporating the legendary Captain Pike into the adventure. And now, the show is poised for untold exploits in a far-off future as the Disco was flung a thousand years forward from its own era in the Season 2 finale. We can’t wait to see what’s out there…
Twin Peaks returned for a stupendous sequel run filled with beauty, banality, and brutality. Each time it gave us something we may have wanted, it held something else back. Those wanting answers, or in the very least closure, might’ve been left feeling a little adrift by its return, but it can’t be denied that Peaks came back as a true artistic force that challenged just about every storytelling convention we know, just as the original did.
Bill Hader leads this subversive and surprising story about a hitman who wants to be an actor, gracefully portraying his character’s inner turmoil as Barry struggles to become a better person, even if he keeps getting roped into killing people. The series also boasts a phenomenal supporting cast – Stephen Root (The Office), Anthony Carrigan (Gotham), and Henry Winkler (Arrested Development) – all of whom have helped cement the series as a must-watch comedy.
The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel works as both a great horror story and a compelling family drama, effectively exploring how the ghosts of our pasts are just as scary as what goes bump in the night.
Jodie Comer (The White Princess) and Sandra Oh (Sideways) co-star in this addictive series based on the Villanelle novels written by Luke Jennings. Oh portrays Eve Polastri, a British operative who becomes obsessed with an up-and-coming assassin named Villanelle, played with sadistic charm by Comer. Villanelle and Eve’s explosive relationship makes for a great character study, but Killing Eve also works as a suspenseful spy show that should scratch that John le Carré or Ian Fleming itch. Killing Eve has been renewed for a third season.
Ryan Murphy’s daring look-back at New York City’s 80s and 90s African-American and Latino LGBTQ ballroom culture, juxtaposed with the Wall Street yuppie scene, has garnered universal acclaim. Particularly for Billy Porter’s MC/mentor Pray Tell – a role that allowed him to become the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Emmys.
Succession is unbearably tense and it is some of the most fun you’ll have watching anything on TV, often swinging between humor and heartbreak on a dime as it explores the twisted family dynamics of the ridiculously wealthy Roy family. The cataclysmic Season 2 finale cemented it into the pantheon of all time great HBO dramas, orchestrating a perfectly calibrated rug-pull on the audience that echoed Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding without the gore.
The Terror would have been a compelling series even if it stuck to providing a factual account of Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. But throw in a strong dose of supernatural horror and you’ve got a recipe for a truly compelling story of survival in the harshest environment on Earth. The Terror also deserves plenty of credit for so drastically reinventing itself in Season 2, jumping forward 100 years to explore a new story set in WWII-era Japanese-American internment camps.
Amazon’s The Boys is irreverent, amusingly gratuitous, and one hell of a ride, with overly-violent setpieces and compelling storylines, especially when it comes to Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and Antony Starr’s Homelander. The Boys boasts a host of memorable, deeply flawed characters that help distinguish it from similar offerings within the genre, and the series manages to be constantly surprising, even in a genre where every trope feels worn out.
HBO’s Chernobyl is a brilliant and emotionally draining dive into a horrific event. Stellan Skarsgård, Jared Harris, and Emily Watson give memorable performances that are amplified by Johan Renck’s skillful direction and Craig Mazin’s sharp writing. While the horrors of Chernobyl might be difficult to stomach, the narrative journey is worth sticking around for… Even if it causes you to squirm from time to time.
Doom Patrol isn’t just one of the best superhero TV series right now, it’s one of the best current TV series in general, taking our expectations of a typical super-powered team and continually upending them in delightfully bizarre, surreal ways. Not only does Doom Patrol boast a despotic cockroach; a revenge-driven rat; a sentient, genderqueer, teleporting street, and an omniscient supervillain narrator who loves to break the fourth wall, it also features one of the most incisive and heartfelt deconstructions of the superhero genre committed to the screen, with painfully relatable characters who often struggle with what it means to be human, let alone heroic. Oh yeah, and it’s also really damn funny.
While HBO’s 2019 teen drama initially made headlines for its racy content and penchant for full-frontal male nudity, Euphoria’s shock tactics mask a brutally honest, often challenging, frequently profound examination of coming-of-age in a social media-obsessed world, where drugs, sex, and cyber-bullying create a minefield for any kid trying to make it through high school with any sense of self-worth. An aching, career-redefining performance from Zendaya is at the center of this surprisingly poignant series, but there’s not a dud in its young cast of relative newcomers, all of whom bring humor, wit, and empathy to their layered characters, allowing you to relate even if you were fortunate enough to graduate before the era of cell phones and sexting.
Coming in right at the end of the decade is Hulu’s Ramy, an important, heartfelt, and hilarious look at a millennial American Muslim — played by co-creator/writer Ramy Youssef — who grapples with his religion and lifestyle, constantly torn between the expectations of his friends and family. It’s a ground-breaking, compassionate portrayal of the Muslim faith on TV.
Russian Doll is Netflix at its best. With eight tight, well-crafted episodes, each clocking in at less than 30 minutes, the series is a heady, addictive binge that avoids the bloat of other streaming shows and delights with its many subversions of tropes and expectations. Between its perfectly-calibrated mystery and flawed but fascinating characters, this is a world we want to revisit over and over again.
Unlike many shows on this list, Unbelievable is hard to watch. It’s a limited series that follows two stories. One is about a pair of detectives hunting a serial rapist. It covers the case from start to finish, as the detectives, played by Merritt Wever and Toni Colette, follow leads and piece together the clues, episode by episode. The other story is about one of the rapist’s victims — played by Kaitlyn Dever — whose life becomes unraveled after she reports the crime to skeptical police officers. From the acting to the writing to the direction, Unbelievable is expertly made on every level. There’s no other show quite like it.
Damon Lindelof is two-for-two with his series in the 2010s, both earning well-deserved seats on this list. Watchmen snuck in just over the finish line, wrapping up only a couple of weeks before the end of the decade but making one heck of an impression as it did. Bringing together the best of both Lost and The Leftovers, Lindelof assembled an impressive, perfectly cast ensemble of actors to do the undoable: make a follow-up to the best graphic novel of all time that not only paid respectful homage to the source material but also encouraged a thoughtful reexamination of the original text that elevates it with this added “what if” context. Not bad for a show that features a naked blue guy.
When They See Us
One of the most harrowing, humane, and ultimately hopeful TV series to grace our screen in years, Ava DuVernay’s transfixing examination of the injustice inflicted upon the five innocent young men falsely accused in the Central Park jogger case is a painful but deeply necessary watch, full of powerhouse performances, especially those at its center: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, and Marquis Rodriguez. This is a series that will stay with you for years – as it should.
Those are IGN’s best TV shows of the decade. How closely does our list match yours? What titles do you love that we missed? Let’s discuss in the comments!