If you’re a committed tellyhead (guilty!), the 2010s was the decade you took over. Never before has so much TV been available to so many. First, Netflix blew up the tried-and-tested paid model, supplying more content than you could shake a remote at for one relatively low, monthly payment. Then, after we’d all had our fill of Netflix (with or without the chill), others crawled out of the woodwork – Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, BritBox and many more. Disney+ and HBO Max have both been slow to buffer – they arrive in the UK in 2020.
At the same time, the rise of streaming coincided with the emergence of the binge-watch – the television version of scoffing as much junk food as you can until you make yourself sick. And so, cinema’s pint-sized little brother was allowed to grow into something more, telling longer, more complex stories – its budget swelling as a result. Where once we had dodgy props and wobbly sets, we now had properly realistic CGI in the likes of Game Of Thrones, which grew into the biggest TV series on the planet. Meanwhile Netflix Originals led the new vanguard of streaming-platforms-turned-production-companies, creating brand new shows like Stranger Things. There was a veritable feast of expensive, gripping TV to gorge on.
So, as a decade of TV dominance draws to a close, we’ve flicked back through our watchlists to find the greatest sitcoms, thrillers, dramas and fantasy epics of the 2010s. Telly addicts, binge away!
– Alex Flood, Film and TV Editor
Words: Jordan Bassett, Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, Christopher Hooton, Jack King, Sam Moore, Nick Reilly, Thomas Smith, Andrew Trendell, Dan Stubbs, Andrew Trendell, Gem Wheeler
20‘The OA’ (2016-2019)
This oddball sci-fi fantasy kind of plays out like Stranger Things for people who think they’re too grown-up for Stranger Things (they are wrong about this). Created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (brother to Rostam from Vampire Weekend, fact fans), this wildly inventive show tells the story of Prairie (Marling), a blind woman who reappears after a seven-year disappearance – with her sight restored. Cue tall tales about immorality, captivity at the hands of a mad scientist (Jason Isaacs) and, erm, a magical dance that opens portals. But is Prairie a reliable narrator? Sadly, The OA was canned after two seasons, prompting a furious – and ultimately fruitless – social media campaign to get it reinstated. Bummer.
Biggest fan: Your ex-girlfriend’s mum who reckoned she could talk to ghosts and collected crystals. Nice lady. JB
19‘Bojack Horseman’ (2014-present)
There aren’t many truly unique premises in TV history. Hats off to Bojack Horseman’s creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and designer Lisa Hanawalt, then. Their weird, wonderful satire of Hollywood failure casts more light on human nature in one episode than most series manage in multiple seasons, scrutinising every shard of its characters’ fractured souls. Considering many of those characters are talking animals – Will Arnett, Alison Brie and Aaron Paul in a superb voice cast – that’s quite something. Its sixth season will be its last. If you haven’t caught it already, start now.
Biggest fan: 30-something with fond childhood memories of The Simpsons and Daria. Blessed with an unusually high whimsy threshold thanks to a university career saturated in The Mighty Boosh. Their favourite was always Howard, since you asked. Melancholic with a tendency towards the surreal and, beneath all the sarcasm, a bit of a romantic. GW
“Six seasons and a movie” – a viral request-turned-rallying-cry from Community fans desperate for more comedy capers about an oddball gang of students at college. They didn’t quite get their wish – no film has been commissioned as yet – but in its 110-episode run, Dan Harmon’s goofy sitcom gave us more than enough laughs. Snarky and fast-paced, it combined an increasing number of meta in-jokes with an ever-changing cast that included Alison Brie, Joel McHale and – of course – Chevy Chase to produce a lively, funny show that never stopped moving. So, where’s that movie?
Biggest fan: First year students looking for a quick-witted binge watch that doesn’t test the senses too much. They also have enough time to learn every single in-joke – and spend pre-drinks reciting them to fellow ‘Human Beings’ (the self-dubbed fandom). AF
17‘This Country’ (2017-present)
If you’ve never been to the Cotswolds, you’ll probably think of it as the place where pampered politicians and city boys decamp for boozy weekend getaways. This Country shows an entirely different side to rural life. First aired in 2017, the dry BBC sitcom follows bored youngsters Kerry and Kurtan as they wile away the hours, cultivating their reputations as local troublemakers. While consistently hilarious, it proved incredibly emotional too – with storylines that focused on the effects of rural deprivation and, perhaps most painfully, the impact of Kerry’s eternally absent dad. Fuck you, Martin Mucklowe.
Biggest fan: Anyone who’s ever drank a can of lager around the back of Tesco while dreaming of bigger things. Anyone who’s ever dared to think that there might be life beyond the village hall disco on a Friday night. Anyone with impossible ambitions. NR
16‘Big Little Lies’ (2017-present)
Big Little Lies is a difficult show not to like. The HBO drama has a gossipy, soap opera quality that makes it very easy to watch, but comes with the kind of smart, cutting dialogue you’d expect from an Aaron Sorkin script. Based on a novel of the same name, the mystery drama focuses on five working mothers whose chai lattes and yoga lessons are interrupted when they get caught up in a murder investigation. The second season feels a bit superfluous, but the first is irresistible; so easily consumed all in one go. It’s Desperate Housewives meets True Detective.
Biggest fan: Someone who likes Mean Girls as much as they do Mad Men. The show is partly a satire on the US coastal elite, and a big fan might well live in a rich suburb somewhere outside Silicon Valley themselves, giggling as their hypocrisies are reflected back at them. CH
15‘Parks and Recreation’ (2009-2015)
‘Gentle’ is a difficult thing to pull off in a TV show. The very word brings to mind the blandness and banality of the kind of Sunday night BBC fodder you suspect is commissioned purely to make the nation less depressed about returning to work the next day. Yet, taking cues from the sanitised but hugely enjoyable US version of The Office, sitcom Parks & Recreation was a gentle comedy with appeal among even the most cynical viewers. As the relentlessly positive and fearlessly ambitious Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler heads a cast of lovable weirdos working in an utterly inconsequential US local government department in the equally inconsequential city of Pawnee. Its cleverest trick? In showing us the machinations at the smallest scale, Parks taught us as much about US politics as The West Wing ever did.
Biggest fan: Like fan-favourite character Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), your Parks superfan will present a hard, unfeeling exterior, but secretly get all gooey every time tiny horse Li’l Sebastian (RIP) pops up on screen. DS
14‘South Park’ (1997-present)
Still pissing off powerful people to this day (read: the Chinese government), Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s infamous cartoon creation has retained much of its bite over the past 22 years. From the ever-quotable ‘Member Berries’ to Randy Marsh’s ‘Tegridy Farms’ via the sublime Game of Thrones piss-take ‘A Song of Ass and Fire’ and Mr. Garrison going full-Trump, South Park’s relentless and close-to-the-bone brand of satire remains as essential a weekly watch as it was when it first offensively burst onto the air. ‘Member 1997? Oh, I ‘member…
Biggest fan: Pessimists who read the so-often depressing and horrifying news headlines which fill our social media timelines, utter a brief sigh and then remember that everything will be OK: because Trey and Matt will more than likely take the piss out of it in South Park the following week. SM
13‘13 Reasons Why’ (2017-present)
Probably the most argued-about show on Netflix, teen drama 13 Reasons Why got as many things wrong as it did right during its three seasons to date. The wrong: bloated runtime, not knowing when to stop telling a story and an extremely questionable decision to show actual suicide methods on screen. The right: gripping drama, breakout performances from some of Hollywood’s hottest new talent and a rare willingness to discuss mental health issues out in the open – a recent study showed 71 per cent of teens were more likely to talk about their problems after watching. As you’d expect, 13 Reasons Why is a show not everyone will love, but those fans who do will find many more reasons than 13 to keep tuning in.
Biggest fan: High school outsiders who wear too much eye shadow and keep their snacks in a lunchbox plastered with stickers of their favourite indie bands. AF
12‘Rick and Morty’ (2013-present)
It’s a testament to the quality of Rick and Morty that a cartoon airing on a relatively niche network like Adult Swim (E4 in the UK) has managed to find such a vast, mainstream audience. Its premise is simple, stupid and wonderful: an awkward boy (Morty) and his misanthropic scientist grandfather (Rick) go on adventures. Across four seasons, creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have taken the characters on some unbelievably labyrinthine journeys to parallel universes. Insightful and – dare I say it – moving when it comes to the topic of death, Rick and Morty is meta to an unprecedented degree. And yet it couldn’t take itself less seriously, the jokes often ridiculing the show itself. Wubba lubba dub dub!
Biggest fan: A Reddit lurker who has seen every action/sci-fi movie under the sun and now enjoys watching them get thoroughly parodied in the show. Probably hip to cryptocurrency but, ultimately, couldn’t be bothered with it. CH
11‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015)
Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Then you’ll relate hard to the sublime Mad Men. We’re in the ‘60s New York – Madison Avenue, to be exact – advertising industry, where the times they are a-changing, albeit initially very slowly. Set across the entire decade, this impeccably written show documents the messy lives of Don (Jon Hamm), a flawed genius with a secret; ambitious Peggy (Elisabeth Moss); wily Joan (Christina Hendricks); caddish Roger (John Slattery) and more. The ‘60s unfold around them – the Civil Rights movement, the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing are all here – though it’s the human drama that really grips.
Biggest fan: That couple who are really into rockabilly weekenders. He’s got a mighty quiff and she has six pairs of cat-eye specs. They dance a great lindy hop, but it looks weird when they have to go to, like, the bank or something. JB
10‘Making A Murderer’ (2015-2018)
Until this decade, true crime was considered a maligned, trashy genre that exploited families’ trauma and served only to glorify vicious killers. But Making a Murderer wasn’t interested in that. Instead, it was a desperate plea to try and exonerate two inmates convicted of murder – Wisconsin man Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey – whose interactions with law enforcement was complex and controversial. Alongside investigative podcast series Serial, the Netflix documentary helped spark an interest in the genre, and became such a pop culture phenomenon that in 2015, President Obama was forced to comment that he was unable to pardon this potentially incorrectly detained prisoner.
Biggest fan: An amateur detective on Reddit, whose time spent mining through decades-old court documents and newfound expertise in DNA and data gathering led them to think that it was they who had the case’s crucial breakthrough, right at the tips of their keyboards. TS
9‘Peaky Blinders’ (2013-2019)
Accompanied by the moodiest of indie-rock theme tunes – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’ – Peaky Blinders follows the plight of Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), the brutal incarnation of the “tall handsome man” with a “catastrophic plan”. Returning from World War One with PTSD, a haunted Shelby takes no prisoners as he conquers 1920s Birmingham and beyond, leading his tribe of gypsy outlaws as they progress from backstreet gang to one of the most powerful crime families in the country. With an unpredictable and Shakespearean plot, an incredible supporting cast of Helen McRory, Paul Anderson and Tom Hardy, Peaky Blinders landed as an instant classic. You’d also struggle to find a show with a better soundtrack.
Biggest fan: A husky-voiced, flat-capped, vintage-obsessed deviant with a romantic penchant for opium and ultraviolence. AT
8‘Breaking Bad’ (2008-2013)
Perhaps the most misunderstood TV show of the decade, Breaking Bad has – in certain quarters – been dismissed as an idiotic, gleeful celebration of toxic masculinity. Those Los Pollos Hermanos t-shirts can’t have helped. Yet the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a middle-aged sad-sack teacher who, with the help of wayward 20-something Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), becomes a brutal meth kingpin, is much more moralistic than that. At first we cheer Walt on as he rediscovers his mojo, making money and kicking against the pricks. Then, over the course of five harrowing series, we’re forced to confront the fallout of his transgressions: death, devastation and, ultimately, deep loneliness.
Biggest fan: If detractors are to be believed, it’s your mate’s boyfriend who’s getting really into NFL and was into Brewdog waaay before Sainsbury’s had a craft beer section (which he hates, by the way). JB
7‘The Walking Dead’ (2010-present)
It might be shocking to consider now, given the saturation of severed limbs and spilled guts on our screens, but popular TV dramas haven’t always been gore-fests. And they certainly didn’t off their stars. Enter The Walking Dead, which took the prevailing cinematic obsession with the undead and placed it on the small screen. Frank Darabont’s series began by mapping out the story of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), an Atlanta sheriff who wakes up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. 10 seasons on and the show’s lost some of its potency, but it still established a new norm for television: vulnerable stars, character-led drama, and lashings of gruesome violence.
Biggest fan: The type of person to attend ‘act like a zombie’ workshops and spend £300 on fake blood and latex every Halloween. JK
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s hit comedy shook up the usual accidental pregnancy narrative by having its reluctant new parents pledge to spend their lives together for the sake of their child. While it tackled the darker sides of modern life (addiction, death, selling your soul to evil corporations in order to feed your family) with gloriously wicked humour, Catastrophe also showed a depth of emotion and sensitivity beneath the black comedy. After four exceptional series, its cliffhanger ending finished the show’s run in typically subversive form, refusing to give the clean, definite conclusion that big TV series normally offer.
Typical fan: Big city-dwelling, ‘proper’ adults edging closer and closer to giving up weekends spent in the pub in favour of settling down in the leafy suburbs. RD
5‘Black Mirror’ (2011-present)
There are few consistencies in Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ masterful anthology series of self-contained mini-movies. It’s shocked us (the harrowing revenge story White Bear), baffled us (the pioneering choose-your-own-adventure experience Bandersnatch), thrilled us (shocking twist-fest Shut Up And Dance), scared us (Metalhead), filled us full of the flushes of love (San Junipero) and bummed us out to the point of pure, existential bleakness (Fifteen Million Merits). The one constant? The sheer quality of storytelling. Though it’s what might reductively be described as science fiction and generally set in a recognisable near-future, Black Mirror has, in the 2010s, summed up contemporary fears with precision. For better or worse, all of modern life is here.
Biggest fan: Tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, watching Netflix on a burner account via a proxy server so GCHQ doesn’t get any intel on them. DS
Horny, destructive, and often very unlikeable, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is also battered by grief that she struggles to handle: her mother and her best mate Boo are both dead. In just one of the show’s many surreal twists, she’s left in charge of the wildly unsuccessful guinea pig-themed cafe that she opened with said friend. Later, she’s caught up in a series of absurd tragi-comedies – involving a sexy Catholic priest, Fleabag’s ongoing war with her evil stepmother, and sister Claire falling in love with a Finnish man, also named Klare. As a result, the show becomes about something far bigger: sexuality, death, human flaws, and gunning for what you believe in. And all crammed into single 20 minute episodes that leave you with lock-jaw from laughing so much.
Biggest fan: Based on the audience at Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s final performance of the original stage production, a sell-out theatre run at the Wyndham Theatre in Soho. Rowdy women clutching multiple bottles of wine, laughing like drains at all of the dirtiest jokes. EH
3‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ (2005-present)
The fact that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is now the joint longest-running live-action comedy series in television history (tied with Ozzie & Harriet – us neither) is something of a miracle, because this cottage industry comedy, written by and starring a married couple, two friends and – yes – Danny DeVito, breaks every rule in the US TV guidebook. There’s no humour-by-committee, the characters are drunk and deplorable, the humour is black as pitch and it finds fun in all the places it shouldn’t (AIDS, misogyny, pick-up artistry – we could go on). And yet – and yet! – we like the gang and we wish we were one of them. It’s a show that’s given its audience laughs that actually hurt, it’s given the world ultimate party game CharDeeMacDennis, and it’s proof, in the cynical world of TV, that the cream rises to the top, no matter what.
Biggest fan: You know that friend who could spend two hours telling you why Richard Curtis movies are the lamest, laziest, schmalziest crap ever put on film? It’s that person. And they’re eating rum-ham. DS
2‘Game Of Thrones’ (2011-2019)
If, like us, you waited more than half a decade for winter to finally arrive, you were probably a bit disappointed by Game Of Thrones controversial ending. Over six very long episodes, the final season shortchanged the women of Westeros, sacrificing painstakingly crafted character arcs for crowd pleasing action-packed spectacle – some of which couldn’t be seen on-screen properly because it was too fucking dark! What a letdown, right? Well, no actually. The thing people forget about Thrones is how it made its name in the first place. From Ned Stark’s untimely death to the bloody Red Wedding, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ fantasy epic hooked millions with its uncanny ability to shock and awe. That its final act pissed off more people than ever is just more proof that it remains TV’s most provocative series of all time – and that’s why we’ll still be talking about it long into the 2020s.
Biggest fan: Spotty keyboard warrior who loves tits, dragons and gore-filled, bloody violence. Not necessarily in that order. AF
1‘Stranger Things’ (2016-present)
Growing up in an average town where nothing ever happened looked pretty appealing after watching the kids of Hawkins, Indiana have their lives put in jeopardy by demogorgons, evil Russians, and the Upside Down. As well as dealing with first love and typical teen troubles, the gang battled against disbelieving adults and supernatural monsters in a series that continually shocked, surprised, and kept you on the edge of your seat. Stranger Things was not only one of the defining shows of the decade but also introduced a host of young stars who look set to dominate film and TV for years to come. Even the little squirt everyone forget about after season two.
Typical fan: ‘80s-obsessed sci-fi nerds, united in their thirst for unpredictable, compelling action that satisfies their ever-dwindling attention spans. Can name every kid from The Goonies. RD