The Best TV of the Decade: A 2010s Television Retrospective - Part II

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Hi TVMaze Community! Here's Part 2 of my Best of the 2010s reflection - enjoy! See Part 1 here.

As a quick reminder, I gave myself a few rules: 1) The show cannot have started before September 2009 (sorry, Glee, you just missed the cut with that May 2009 premiere); 2) My local library had to own a copy on DVD (I work at a library, I made this list for a library, so it reflects a certain kind of collection); and 3) I had to specify my favourite season of the show. What follows, in no particular order, is PART 2 of my favs - acknowledging that plenty of other great TV exists that I just haven't watched (e.g., Killing Eve, Barry, The Americans). And since I can only include DVDs the library owns, I have not included some of the absolute best: Community and The Good Wife (too old), Watchmen (too new), You’re the Worst (a glaring gap in our collection), or Transparent (no DVDs exist). Enjoy!

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Fleabag – Amazon Prime – Season 1

2 Seasons - 2016-2019: Fleabag - a show based on a one-woman play - took the world by storm after it ended. A dark comedy about a woman (the titular Fleabag) navigating grief, self-loathing, and difficult relationships with family (Olivia Coleman!), friends, and partners - Phoebe Waller-Bridge (creator, writer, star) masterfully uses fourth-wall breaking asides to wring humour and sadness from every moment. While Season 2 is typically regarded as the better season - more inventive, more abstract, more empowering - Season 1's straightforwardness makes it more readily accessible and affecting. If Season 2 explores healing, Season 1 explores falling apart. But both seasons are absolute masterpieces – it represents the pinnacle of the 'Auteur Television' genre, and if you only watch one show this year, make it Fleabag!

 

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Penny Dreadful – Sky Atlantic/Showtime – Season 2

3 Seasons - 2014-2016: Absolutely stunning. Part League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, part Gothic Horror - with one of the best casts on TV ever (Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, Rory Kinnear). I tried watching the pilot years ago and was turned off by the exceptional amount of gore, but then a friend convinced me to continue watching (with them, not alone), and the rest of the show never rose anywhere near that level of violence again. Still, fair warning that it's quite intense at times and isn't for everyone. Filled with beautiful Gothic cinematography, haunting imagery and symbolism, and dark and broody characters, I would recommend this show for anyone who loves Horror or Classic Lit. The third and final season (alas, cancelled before its time) does contain missteps, but each season has at least one standout episode that could easily win 'best episode of the year'.

 

Orange is the New Black – Netflix – Season 4

7 Seasons - 2013-2019: Orange is the New Black was one of the first ever Netflix original series (premiering right after the never-actually-good-and-somehow-much-worse-in-retrospect House of Cards and Hemlock Grove). Based on Piper Kerman's autobiography of the same name, Orange is the New Black was both very well received as a first effort at prestige content for a streaming giant, and much maligned for its initially narrow focus on a 'fish-out-of-water' story about a well-off white woman trying to navigate the difficulties of being in jail. As the series went on, however, it revealed a deeply political core (dealing with issues from solitary confinement, to corruption, to race in American prisons) and compassion for its broadening ensemble cast, and introduced me to one of my favourite actors ever, Samira Wiley (as Poussay). Most importantly, almost every character was a woman in a woman's prison - and that afforded it the ability to talk about wildly under-explored topics on TV. While not always graceful, especially in its later seasons, Orange is the New Black always swung big and had something interesting to say. Season 4, for me, acted as a sort of mid-series climax - the best and worst of the show at once, after a strong ramp up and before the show's decline. I would recommend this show for anyone looking for diverse stories and characters, for a searing critique of the prison-industrial complex, or for a show about a huge number of complex women.

 

Legion – FX – Season 1

3 Seasons - 2017-2019: Legion is part psychological thriller, part journey of self-discovery, and part surreal nightmare. I strongly recommend this if you like 'weird' content. It's cryptic, directed stunningly (to confuse), and difficult to place in time. It becomes more and more inscrutable (and may even falls into incoherence) in later seasons, but the whole experience is just so strange and fun, that it absolutely deserves to be on to this list. I wish I could say more, but it really has to be seen to be believed.

  

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Chernobyl – HBO – Mini-Series

Mini-Series - 2019: Chernobyl is devastating television. Part docudrama, part meditation on systemic corruption and incompetence, as well as human ingenuity, Chernobyl pulls few punches in depicting what very well could have been a far worse man-made catastrophe. The acting is solid, the story well-paced, and (for those interested), the showrunner made a companion podcast where they explore dramatic choices versus historical accuracy. The show is particularly well-known for getting the details of Soviet architecture and dress right, though it did receive some criticism for its dramatic narrative (which includes heroes and villains, as much as it tries to emphasize systemic abuses). It might be on this list mostly due to recency bias, but for a decade that also had a lot more prestige mini-series and event TV (from Big Little Lies to Show Me A Hero), Chernobyl may have been the best.

 

Schitt’s Creek – CBC – Season 4

6 Seasons - 2015-Present: A classic case of CanCon (Canadian Content) going viral internationally only as it reached its final seasons, Schitt's Creek is one of the most charming sitcoms of the 2010s. An incredibly wealthy family loses everything and has to start over in a small town they 'bought' as a joke. Adapting to a small-town (and frugal) lifestyle, Season 1 is mostly about wealthy absurdity. But as the show finds its rhythm in Season 2 and beyond (Season 4 is its strongest, but is not yet on DVD), the characters soften as they begin to face the reality of their situation - and find happiness where they least expected. While the show was initially received as a one-note punchline based on its name, it has since grown into a hilarious show with a huge heart. Starring father-son duo Dan and Eugene Levy, as well as other giants of comedy like Catherine O'Hara, check out Schitt's Creek if you want a lighthearted sitcom, if you like watching people grow and change, or if you love silly wigs.

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Counterpart – Starz – Season 2

2 Seasons - 2017-2019: By far the best noir spy thriller of the decade. It focuses on a sad-sack, played by JK Simmons, who works at a border crossing between parallel worlds. His 'other' is actually an incredibly competent super spy, and the circumstances of the show force them to work together. Counterpart asks complex questions about what makes us who we are. It's slow and character-driven, with some great spy action, but also confusing, and beautiful, and tragic, and compelling. The cast is fantastic (Olivia Williams! Harry Lloyd!). Both seasons are great, but Season 2 really drove home the quality.

 

Stranger Things – Netflix – Season 1

3 Seasons - 2016-Present: Stranger Things sits precariously on this list. Season 1 was such a social phenomenon that it was hard to avoid. From its 80s nostalgia, to its stellar cast of child actors, to just being a super solid horror thriller, it hit a lot of beats that had been missing from the TV landscape. At the same time, Season 2 was not super well-received, and it has since almost disappeared from the pop cultural hype-scape. Still, that first season was such an 'event' that it has to be on this list.

 

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Broadchurch – BBC – Season 1

3 Seasons - 2013-2017: Season 1 of Broadchurch is a desperately sad story about a small English town reeling from the death of a young boy. Unlike most crime dramas on TV when this aired (2013), which were typically episodic murders-of-the-week, Broadchurch took all 8 episodes to solve its case. The cinematography is stunning, the acting outstanding (David Tennant, Olivia Coleman, and Jodie Whittaker in particular), and the story is compelling. Murder doesn't just shatter one family; it reveals the seedy underbelly of a seemingly pleasant small community. It isn't the best version of this genre of TV, but it was one of the first. Ultimately, while I thought that Season 1 of Broadchurch was excellent, I can understand why it might not be for everyone given its difficult subject. Later seasons become a bit muddled and less interesting, but the tight focus of Season 1 makes it worthwhile.

 

Game of Thrones – HBO – Season 3

8 Seasons - 2011-2019: I lied - I placed Game of Thrones at the end of the list on purpose. Although early seasons (especially 3 and 4) felt exciting and fresh, with fantastic writing and acting, critics agree that the final seasons (especially 7 and 8) were total narrative disasters. Fans know that the show (based on the books by George RR Martin) ran out of source material around Season 6, which made the final seasons feel like a bullet-pointed list of plot devices and character-arc resolutions that the show's writers did not know how to develop. The complex web of plots that propelled its popularity ultimately contracted into its final two: 1) Fighting the White Walkers in the North; and 2) War in the South. Of course, contraction isn't a bad thing - it's how you wrap up a story. And even Martin seems to be having a rough time managing this challenge. However, when resolution and contraction begin to feel like a checklist rather than earned or rewarding payoff, something has gone wrong. Still, there is no doubt that Benioff and Weiss (the showrunners) are masters of adaptation, effectively transforming long, complex novels into clear and concise TV scripts, even using some of Martin's book dialogue (for his part, Martin wrote one episode a season for the first four). With such strong early seasons, and for paving the way for more serious consideration of what were once considered 'fringe' or 'genre' shows, Game of Thrones deserves to be on this list, even though it would likely also sit atop a list of the most disappointing shows of the 2010s.

 

And that's it for now! Did I actually miss your favourite show now, officially? Am I a monster for having done so? You tell me - in the comments!

Written by Cadence on Jan 26, 2020

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