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The Best TV Shows of the Decade, Ranked

From “Breaking Bad” and “Atlanta” to “Fleabag” and “BoJack,” these are the best scripted TV shows from 2010 to 2019.

Best-TV-Shows-of-the-Decade-1

“Fleabag,” “The Leftovers,” “Atlanta”

Amazon, HBO, FX

38. “Sharp Objects” (HBO, 2018)

"Sharp Objects"

“Sharp Objects”

HBO

“Don’t tell mama.” With three little words, “Sharp Objects” set TV on fire — and that was after a full season of juicy twists, intricate character development, and ethereal tonal jolts, all of which evoked a hot, sweaty summer like few other pieces of filmed entertainment ever could. With Jean-Marc Vallée’s meticulous direction and editing, alongside savvy scripts from Gillian Flynn and Marti Noxon, this seven-part limited series redefined what a slow burn mystery was capable of. At times, the Preaker family drama skewed creepy, like a horror movie family who was about to combust. But then the next scene would shift to a compassionate flashback or tender turn from one of the nuanced performers. There are progressive perspective shifts, commentary on outdated Southern culture, and even existential questions of purpose built into a small town murder investigation, and this team brings them all together to propulsive, magnificent effect. And, it almost goes without saying, Amy Adams forges a character no viewer will soon forget, bringing pathos, ferocity, and frustration to Camille — all before her world’s turned upside down in those well-earned final moments.—BT

37. “Olive Kitteridge” (HBO, 2014)

"Olive Kitteredge"

“Olive Kitteridge”

HBO

If you’re going to adapt a Pulitzer Prize winning book, bring the big guns. For HBO in 2014, that meant Lisa Cholodenko and Frances McDormand tackling Elizabeth Strout’s novel about 25 years in the painful life of the eponymous Olive. Quickly, it becomes clear that the teacher is of the opposite temperament of her husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins): She’s a misanthrope, while Henry loves beyond reason. The clash of practical assessment and emotional delusion forges some of the four-hour series’ most dramatic moments, spanning 25 years, as the couple’s son Christopher grows up to resent and pity his parents. He’s both of them at once, and, as society teaches, he fights against his mother’s pessimism, introversion, and isolation. In the end, “Olive Kitteridge” is a powerful story of understanding, tackling what it’s like to be the odd woman out in a world built on delusion. The nuanced take hasn’t lost a touch of relevance or power, making audiences wonder when this dream team will come together again.—BT

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36. “Looking” (HBO, 2014 – 2016)

"Looking"

“Looking”

HBO

Much of the past 10 years of TV stories is centered on the idea of “figuring things out.” But few shows took that foundation and built a series as graceful as “Looking,” which captured life and love in San Francisco in all its fleeting and fulfilling forms. Even in the tiniest glimpses into the lives of Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Dom (Murray Bartlett), Richie (Raul Castillo), and beyond felt like chapters in an ever-unfolding novel, encompassing both the day-to-day joys of city life and the constant fight to hold onto what each of these people need to survive. And the 2016 finale movie proved that this was a set of characters not bound by time or place, that what kept “Looking” essential was knowing there was always so much more still left to explore. —SG

35. “Rectify” (SundanceTV, 2013 – 2016)

Aden Young as Daniel, Caitlin Fitzgerald as Chloe - Rectify _ Season 4, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/Sundance TV

“Rectify”

Jackson Lee Davis/Sundance TV

Ray McKinnon’s moody Southern drama moves at its own pace, inviting the audience into the unique perspective of a man put on death row for 19 years for a crime he didn’t commit — maybe. Contemplative, raw, and affecting, SundanceTV’s pioneer original program starts on the day Daniel Holden (a revelatory Aden Young) is released from prison, thanks to a vacated judgment due to inconclusive DNA evidence. Given Daniel’s foggy memory of the night in question, not even he knows if he did what he was accused of — raping and murdering his 16-year-old girlfriend — but McKinnon’s central question soon turns to how humans treat each other on a broader scale. It’s about the fragility of life in general and how events can shape one’s perception of that life. Bouncing back and forth through time at the will of Daniel’s troubled mind, the scenes depicted are dark, yet how they’re depicted is as bright as a summer day in Georgia. Such contrast proves fitting two times over. For one, such powerful themes can shake you to your soul, yet the way the story is explored over four melodic seasons never drains your spirit. Perhaps the more decisive disparity, though, is that for a series with no easy answers, it’s about a world with none, as well.—BT

34. The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu, 2017-present)

The Handmaid's Tale -- "Night" -- Episode 110 -- Serena Joy confronts Offred and the Commander. Offred struggles with a complicated, life-changing revelation. The Handmaids face a brutal decision. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

George Kraychyk/Hulu

If “Game of Thrones” [not pictured] is the series that will come to define the decade in the future, then “The Handmaid’s Tale” will inevitably be seen as the show that best captured the mood of an unsettled nation. Blessed and burdened by terrible relevancy, the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel debuted in 2017 as a force to be reckoned with, fueled by nervy performances from Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski. Now in its third season, the series is not without its faults, struggling often with issues of representation and sometimes coming dangerously close to devolving into misery porn. Still, the show remains vital because the message underlying it matters more with each passing day. —LH

33. “Speechless” (ABC, 2016 – 2019)

"Speechless"

“Speechless”

ABC

Broadcast TV viewers do not deserve the beautiful gift that is “Speechless,” since low ratings ultimately tanked the comedy that has some of the sharpest writing and delightful performances on the small screen. In the series, the DiMeo family is full of oddballs who are alternately selfish and awkward, yet ultimately come together in their awfulness. While the show is notable for casting the differently abled actor Micah Fowler to play teenaged son JJ, who has cerebral palsy, the series never devolves into any sort of inspiration porn or lesson in inclusivity. Instead, it’s most effective in just delivering a bitingly funny TV show that takes each mundane moment well beyond the logical extreme to create heightened hilarity. While the cast is strong across the board, the standout is Minnie Driver, whose fierce and confident Maya makes use of the actress’ considerable comedic chops and timing. Although the show only lasted three seasons, that’s enough to establish the DiMeos as one of the best sitcom families to ever grace television.—HN

32. “Twin Peaks” (Showtime, 2017)

Laura Dern in a still from Twin Peaks. Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Laura Dern in “Twin Peaks.” Photo: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s long-gestating continuation of ABC’s seminal 1990s murder-mystery series may have alienated some and confounded everyone – but what it didn’t do was disappoint. The original series changed the way television was made, but “The Return” changed how viewers consumed television. The journey of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) back to the ill-fated town of Twin Peaks and its quirky denizens is surreal beyond viewers’ wildest expectations and throws in some hilarious sequences to balance all the murder. While this main linear storyline is full of offbeat delights, it’s the deviations that create the most excitement — because that’s exactly what TV is in the hands of Lynch.

From the writing and directing to the performances and sound design, the show is a master class in controlling every aspect of the narrative to introduce a complexity that still hasn’t been matched on television. The biggest discussions surrounding the limited series involve theories about the workings of that bizarre universe and the exquisite Episode 8, an avant-garde, black-and-white origin story of how mankind has wrought its own evil. And yet, those are only parts of the bigger whole of bending and ultimately questioning the nature of reality — whether it’s a meditation on time, our limited perceptions, or death. “Twin Peaks: The Return” is an 18-chapter dream, that for a short while, viewers are able to enter. But long after the credits roll, the last note of Angelo Badalamenti’s score is played, and Laura Palmer’s final scream is screamed, “Twin Peaks” will live on and change in our psyches.—HN

31. “Terriers” (FX, 2010)

“Terriers”

FX

FX’s “Terriers” is an urban legend. You can see promotional images for it online, so ridiculous-looking you’d swear it was manufactured on an underpopulated subreddit. You heard it was good. You heard it was great. You heard it had a terrible name but you’ve never actually seen it. “Terriers” did, in fact, exist. It was good. It was great. And it may be all the better because it ended after a single season. Built around two pitch-perfect performances from Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, the series follows two best friends turned private investigators banging around the suburbs of San Diego. The problem with the series is that it defies explanations. It’s a grown-up “Veronica Mars.” It’s a Neo-noir “Big Lebowski.” It has less to do with dogs than you’d expect. But that ephemeral nature of the series is also its lifeblood. It’s your favorite dive bar, your best, old, broken-in T-shirt. It aired for three months in 2010 and yet it persists, stuck like a thorn under the skin of everyone who saw it. The show they can’t let go of. Get in now on the exquisite misery of a show gone too soon.—LH

30. “Party Down” (Starz, 2009-2010)

Party Down

“Party Down”

Starz

To achieve the level of consistency that “Party Down” maintained – even as its motley catering crew traveled across the wild private event world of Southern California – will always be an impressive feat. Even though the show occasionally put some of the bunch at the forefront, this Starz gem was driven by an ensemble overflowing with riches. From the mainstays (Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, and Ryan Hansen, all at the height of their powers) to those who dropped by for shorter stints (Jane Lynch, Megan Mullally, Kristen Bell, et al), this is a Hall of Fame-worthy cast pulling off some sublime material. Almost a decade later, it’s hard to imagine another show pulling off a trio of plots as transcendent as the funeral, Steve Guttenberg’s birthday, and community theater episodes in the same season, much less on consecutive weeks.—SG

29. “Nathan For You” (Comedy Central, 2013-2017)

Nathan for You Season 4 Hats

“Nathan for You”

Comedy Central

There has been no shortage of thinkpieces on how “Nathan for You” is an ingenious skewering of late stage capitalism. And those writers might be onto something! Co-creator and star Nathan Fielder’s bumbling attempts to help small business owners market themselves are full of subtle riffs on superficial consumerism and always result in ludicrous scenarios that push American business norms to their logical extreme. On the other hand, this is also a show where Fielder weakly insults a public relation guy’s dick size when the latter rejects the comic’s attempts to promote a “poo” flavored ice cream. So, there’s also that. Whether “Nathan for You” is a brilliant business satire or a boneheaded comedy about a dopey marketing consultant is a moot point. More importantly, the show is a consistently hilarious spectacle. Fielder’s intentionally dry delivery and cringeworthy social awkwardness means that “Nathan for You” isn’t actually for everyone, but for those that do appreciate this kind of comedy, there’s precious few shows that have nailed this kind of eclectic humor so well in recent memory. —TH

28. “Dear White People” (Netflix, 2017 – present)

"Dear White People"

“Dear White People”

Adam Rose/Netflix

Based on Justin Simien’s critically acclaimed 2014 film “Dear White People,” the Netflix series of the same name does more than dip its toe into the complicated, brash and mandatory discussions about race in America today. Using biting humor and candor, the series follows the lives of college radio host Samantha White (Logan Browning) and her friends as they contend with microaggressions and outright racism at Winchester College, a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League school. A satire of the now mythical “post-racial” America that many had bought into after the election of Barack Obama as POTUS, the series also tells a universal story about finding one’s own identity and unique path, amid a diverse landscape of inequity, political correctness (or lack thereof) and activism in the 21st century. Holding up a mirror to society, it’s just as much of a scream as it is revealing, fearlessly going where other programs don’t dare to. And for that reason alone, it’s a must-watch for fans old and new.—TO

27. “Better Call Saul” (AMC, 2015-present)

Better Call Saul Rhea Seehorn

Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

The story of Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) transformation into skeevy criminal lawyer Saul Goodman of “Breaking Bad” fame is an emotionally heavy one, but it is a tale that is elevated by impeccable pacing and superb character development. As a “Breaking Bad” prequel, we know that there aren’t particularly happy endings for many of the characters of “Better Call Saul,” which makes their struggles — and fleeting moments of happiness — all the more tragic. But crucially, this is more than just a show for “Breaking Bad” diehards. “Better Call Saul” is about deeply complex and conflicted people, and the writers have an uncanny ability to make you sympathize and even agree with two characters who may be vehemently opposed to the other in the same scene. Though Odenkirk’s character may be the show’s namesake, equal attention is given to the arcs of the similarly fantastic Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), and the show’s variety of other major and minor characters. —TH

26. “Catastrophe” (Amazon, 2015-2019)

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Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe”

Ed Miller/Amazon

If comedy is partly rooted in failure, then “Catastrophe” offers one of the most fulfilling TV experiences of the decade by showing two people embracing that feeling of failure together. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney devised an on-screen marriage that was sneaky in its complexity, taking a one-night stand through to an emotional conclusion that involved many lives fully lived along the way. Sharon and Rob eventually slid into a domestic life that neither were likely expecting, but their constant, vocal grappling with each surprising new turn made for a comedy that felt real, even to single folks with no way of confirming whether or not it was true. Filthy and sweet and loving in equal measure, no one else did family like “Catastrophe.” —SG

25. “Big Mouth” (Netflix, 2017 – present)

Big Mouth Season 1 Hormone Monster

“Big Mouth”

courtesy of Netflix

Masturbation. Penis. Menstruation. Ejaculation. Orgasm. Idiosyncratic sexual fantasies. “Big Mouth” takes every taboo about puberty and sex that society has internalized to be shameful and instead let its freak flag fly. The hairy brainchild of Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, the animated comedy examines what it means to go through the physical and emotional changes that come with burgeoning adulthood. Featuring a stellar voice cast that embodies the awkward-yet-adorable middle schoolers and their various Hormone Monsters, an ingenious creation that gives a voice to all of those thoughts and urges, the series normalizes feeling abnormal, out of control, and at the mercy of our biology. All this and some killer original songs, too. If only “Big Mouth” had existed for every adolescent, the world might be a more tolerant, unrepressed place.—HN

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