The 2010s were a fantastic decade for TV, largely dominated in the later half by the warring forces of Netflix and Amazon, as well as other streaming services like Stan. For the first time, TV was arguably more popular than film, and budgets and quality rose to match new expectations. The good news about competition is that it has ways of motivating people, and as the streaming wars heated up, we got a tonne of fantastic new shows to entertain us. Here are a few of our favourites from over the decade.
This article has been updated since its original publication. If you’re currently stuck at home self-isolating due to the novel coronavirus, add a few of these great shows to your watch list.
Fleabag (2016 -)
Fleabag is a British show that follows the antics of a woman known only as Fleabag, and presents a warts-and-all view of the inner world of women. It’s equal parts hilarious and sombre, and presents a vivid and realistic depiction of love, trauma and the absurdity of living. Fleabag is brilliant, cleverly written and essential viewing for fans of dark comedies.
Bojack Horseman (2014 – 2020)
Bojack Horseman is about a depressed horse, but that’s the least absurd thing about the show. Beyond the surface, Bojack Horseman is a stunning character study in grief, loneliness and loss. Every season is sharp, cleverly written, beautifully told, and often sadly relatable. The show does an excellent job of representing the deep flaws of humanity, and how we can work towards overcoming them.
The Leftovers (2014 – 2017)
The Leftovers is a show that’s often unfairly left off lists like this. Following a Rapture-like event, the show follows the lives of several people that have been left behind, including Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey and Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst. The show is filled with heartbreaking performances, deep commentary on the nature of humanity, and elements of the surreal that elevate the tale. The Leftovers is a show that deserved more recognition this decade.
Atlanta (2016 -)
Atlanta follows Donald Glover’s Earn Marks as he tries to reconnect with his rapper cousin and escape the bounds of poverty and homelessness. But more than that, Atlanta is a story about love, loss and family, and features sharp, clever writing that continually surprises. It also benefits from having an all-black writer’s room, a rarity for an industry, and one that should be celebrated.
Fargo (2014 -)
Coming from the mind of Noah Hawley, Fargo is a quirky and delightful show about true crime, based on real stories. It’s also filled with a wonderful sense of surrealism, flat-out insane characters and a dry wit that’s frequently hilarious. Hawley signature weirdness comes out in spades in Fargo, making it one of the most interesting shows this decade.
Adventure Time (2010 – 2018)
Adventure Time is one of the earliest released shows on our list, arriving at the very start of this decade and stretching for a solid 8 years. While Adventure Time was a kids show, it was also delightful and hilarious for adults, and featured a humour that was filled with in-jokes and great asides. It was also a very important show for kids, teaching them the value of friendship, curiosity and creativity. Coming to a close in 2018, it ended exactly when it should’ve, rounding out a wonderful few years on air with grace.
Game Of Thrones (2011 – 2019)
Game of Thrones was a legitimate phenomena when it first aired in 2011, and for a solid eight seasons, it shocked and delighted audiences around the world. Following the war for the crown in the land of Westeros, the show was an interlocking journey through fire and ice, as mythical armies came to a head and ancient kingdoms were shattered. Everybody watched Game of Thrones, and if you didn’t, you were asked why you didn’t watch Game of Thrones. While it ended on a sour note, Game of Thrones achieved some stunning triumphs throughout its run.
Stranger Things (2016 -)
Stranger Things was the perfect blend of monster mash and 80s nostalgia when it released on Netflix in 2016. It combined real-life conspiracies with a killer sci-fi plot, and a childish innocence that drew in viewers. Stranger Things has had three excellent and very refreshing seasons so far, with more on the horizon. There’s no doubt it’ll continue to defy expectations.
Barry (2018 -)
Barry is about a hitman who’s tired of his life, and seeks to find meaning through the art of acting. It’s a simple enough premise, but one pulled off so spectacularly by powerhouse Bill Hader, whose remit is usually straight comedy. Here, Hader’s Barry is listless and cynical, but still sweet and deeply relatable. He’s joined by a wonderful and surprising cast of characters that includes an iconic performance from Anthony Carrigan as Russian mobster, NoHo Hank and a great turn from Henry Winkler. Barry is a dark comedy that’s satisfying and endearing, and it’s an excellent exploration of the nature of living.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017 -)
Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a period comedy about a housewife who discovers she’s an excellent comedian. There really is nothing like it out there, and there’s a reason why everyone has fallen in love with the show. It’s bright, upbeat and charming, and features stellar performances from its entire cast. It’s witty, gorgeous and intensely colourful, making it a rare bright spark in a TV landscape that so often devolves into cynicism.
The Good Place (2016 -)
In The Good Place, series protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop is dead. As is everyone else on the show. See, ‘The Good Place’ is actually Heaven – or is it? The show’s central mystery unfolded throughout the first season, as Eleanor and her companions rediscovered what it meant to be human, and to be loved, as they entered the afterlife. The Good Place is a show that feels new and original, and features more shocking (but well-written) twists than you can poke a stick at. While the show is filled with mystical beings, humanity is at the heart of it, and it does a fantastic job of bringing that to life.
Black Mirror (2011 -)
Black Mirror is an anthology series that depicts the dangers of reliance on technology, and how our world might change long into the future. Each episode is stand-alone and can be viewed in isolation, but there have been so many fantastic and startling episodes of the show that it would be difficult to list them all here. “San Junipero” was one of its most memorable, winning two Emmys for its stunning performances. Black Mirror is a show that we need as we continue to rely on tech in our everyday lives.
Westworld (2016 -)
The TV show, Westworld, spun out of a 1973 film about a robotic amusement park, and went on to become an intriguing tale of morality and free will as the robots — known as hosts — set out to reclaim their independence. It’s an intelligent thriller, and one hooked on brilliant performances by Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, one of the robotic hosts, and Jeffrey Wright as Berard Lowe, the head of the Westworld Programming Division. Westworld asks big, important questions, and continues to give its audience difficult and nuanced answers.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013 -)
There are some hack comedians that think being funny in the modern era is difficult because it might ‘offend some people’. Brooklyn Nine-Nine laughs in the face of anyone who would agree, with its writers carving out a genuinely hilarious, heart-warming and touching show about the lives of a Brooklyn police department without punching down. It’s rare that a show makes you care about every character in its ensemble, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine consistently manages it, all while being one of the flat-out funniest shows on TV. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the standard that all comedy should aspire to reach.
Of course, this isn’t even half of all the fantastic shows that we got this year! TV, as a medium, is in the middle of a renaissance, and we’re sure to see it continue long into the next decade.