programming-performance

The 10 Best TV Shows of the Decade

As streaming radically reshaped the industry, these series stood out on any platform

The top television series of the 2010s include BoJack Horseman, Parks and Recreation, Atlanta, The Americans, The Leftovers and Better Things. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Netflix, NBC, FX, HBO
Headshot of Jason Lynch

After spotlighting the 10 best shows of 2019 and the top freshman series, we’re closing out our celebration of TV by recognizing the finest programs that aired during the past decade.

says adweek 2019 in review in a blue sparkly diamond

Ten years ago, 211 scripted series aired during 2009. By 2019, that output had more than doubled to over 500 shows. That Peak TV era increase is largely due to the advent of streaming services like Netflix, and a wider swath of cable networks entering the scripted space (though several of them have since retreated). With consumers drowning in TV content, that makes the shows that managed to crack this list even more impressive.

A few rules: I only included shows that debuted in 2009 or later, in order to insure that the bulk of each series aired during the 2010s (this disqualified masterpieces like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which debuted earlier in the ’00s but would have ended up very high on this list). I also discarded series that have been irrevocably tarnished by the #MeToo-related actions of their creator-stars (that knocked out a pair of Louis C.K. shows: Louie and Horace and Pete).

But even factoring in those omissions left an abundance of candidates, encompassing some of the greatest broadcast, cable and streaming series ever. Here are our picks for the best TV shows that aired during the 2010s (for broadcast and cable entries, we have also included the streaming service the series are currently available on):

10. Community (NBC/Yahoo Screen; streaming on Hulu)

NBC

This ensemble comedy about a group of community college students (among them: Joel McHale, Donald Glover and Alison Brie) who form a study group routinely displayed a level of experimentation and subversiveness rarely seen on broadcast TV. Creator Dan Harmon would send up action movies one week (in the Modern Warfare paintball episode) and have stories branching out in seven alternate timelines the next (Remedial Chaos Theory). Yes, the fourth season (in which Harmon was fired, though he returned for Season 5) was a big step down, but this show redefined what a broadcast sitcom could be.

9. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

CBS All Access

The very first original series from CBS All Access has the distinction of ranking higher than the show it spun off from—CBS’ The Good Wife, which ran from 2009-2016—because its shorter season orders enabled the legal drama to be leaner and meaner, avoiding the usual bloat of 22-episode broadcast seasons. Shifting the spotlight to Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart, the series’ debut dovetailed with President Trump’s election, reinventing itself on the fly to become the first, and still foremost, scripted chronicle of all the outlandish ways his administration has wreaked havoc on our legal system and society.

8. Justified (FX; streaming on Amazon)

FX

As one would expect from a series based on an Elmore Leonard short story (Fire in the Hole), this drama—about deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), whose quick trigger finger gets him reassigned to his Kentucky hometown—wove a weekly tapestry of sublime dialogue (“I’ve shot people I like more for less.”). And Season 2—featuring Margo Martindale as brutal drug kingpin matriarch Mags Bennett—is one of the most perfect, satisfying seasons of TV ever created.

7. Atlanta (FX; streaming on Hulu)

FX

Only two seasons of this comedy have aired so far, but Donald Glover (who created, stars, writes and often directs) has made every episode count. The show is ostensibly about two cousins trying to navigate Atlanta’s rap scene, but Glover routinely embarks on delightful flights of fancy that leave audiences unsure of what to expect next. One episode will spotlight a surreal, reclusive former pop star named Teddy Perkins (played by Glover in whiteface); the next satirizes African American TV programming (and ads); the next will follow Brian Tyree Henry’s Alfred on an unexpected journey as he gets lost in the woods. The only constant: It’s all brilliant.

6. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Netflix


@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is Adweek's TV/Media Editor, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video. Formerly TV Editor for People magazine, he has been covering the TV and movie industries for two decades.
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