The 21st Century can be described as a golden age for television dramas and this decade matches the impacts of its predecessor. In my opinion, we’ve sustained the quality set by shows like ‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007), ‘The Wire’ (2002-2008) and ‘Deadwood’ (2002-2004) etc.
There have been so many brilliant dramas this decade and my shortlist of almost 30 TV shows has been negotiated into a top ten. I have included shows that have started and/or ended between 2010-2019. This list is devoid of reality shows and chat shows.
1. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad is the Best TV Show of the Decade. In its first season of six episodes, the show was not instantly spectacular, but as it continued its growth became exponential to say the least. Every season improves on the last and when the audience thinks that the show cannot top its top it does so in unbelievable fashion. It is without a doubt that the shows individual and collective acting performances are almost unrivalled by any other TV show ever made. They capture raw emotion and inner conflict. I have never seen anything quite like it. Producer and director Vince Gilligan delivered a genius ridden show of world-wide acclaim that will forever be cemented in entertainment history.
The story is widely known but I’ll break it down. Breaking Bad is about a chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and wants to provide for his family by any means necessary. While watching the news, Walt hears the enormous worth of a drug haul crackdown; he has an epiphany. He decides to cook methamphetamine (crystal meth) to garner funds, but he lacks the ability to sling the product on the streets. Incidentally, Walt runs into one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who has enough street credibility to push dope from. They form a partnership and sell meth from street level to drug cartel level and even international level – a massive mountain of success which ends in tragedy and loss.
The writers originally intended to kill off the character of Jesse Pinkman at the end of season 1 thankfully however they did not go through with this. Pinkman soon became a major character with a major role for the rest of the show’s episodes.
Breaking Bad concludes with a trilogy of perfect episodes, (‘Ozymandias’, ‘Granite State’ and ‘Felina’) which reach the pinnacle of acting and directing. The fact that the ending is better than previously outstanding seasons makes the show the greatest over the last 10 years. Some shows on the list are lower due to poor final/latter seasons but this show has a consistency of quality throughout every season.
Premiering in 2008 the show makes the cut as it ended in 2013. This drama is made up of five seasons (62 episodes).
2. Game of Thrones
The fantasy drama cemented in history as one of the greatest dramas of all-time, enters this list at number of two. The introduction of Game of Thrones in 2011 shattered television viewing audiences and dominating the culture until its end in early 2019. Its run of 8 seasons contain multiple jaw-dropping and outstanding episodes. This is a staple of the decade’s entertainment if one is looking for a show to watch. The best elements of the show come with the brilliantly interwoven and complex storylines, first class acting, stunning visuals and directing. It is certainly an all-rounder and is perfect for the list.
Game of Thrones is a drama about the power-struggle in the fantasy world of Westeros (and Essos) as people scramble for control of the Iron Throne. This power is fought over mainly by the Houses of Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Targaryen, Greyjoy and Tyrell. The first two or three seasons focus of the tensions between the Lannisters and the Starks. Throughout the show, the North and the South of Westeros are divided and have bad blood. Daenerys Targaryen is the daughter of King Aerys ‘The Mad King’ Targaryen and aims to reclaim the throne but is stuck in Essos which is separated by the Narrow Sea from Westeros. She has three dragons who are loyal to her and provide omnipotent force. In addition to these stories the underlying threat of ‘The Night King’ and the ‘White Walkers’ loom eerily from beyond ‘The Wall’ (North of the northern border).
The elephant in the room is its extremely poor 8th and final season. Even still, with this awful and lackluster end to such an amazing show, the consistency of the first six seasons were top draw and faultless. For 5-6 years this run of perfection impacted the decade more than any other show. With this acumen, many people view the show as the best of all time. In comparison to Breaking Bad’s final season, Game Of Thrones’ end is awful. Season 8 does taint the show, but does not take anything away from prior seasons. Such credibility and quality places the show at number two.
3. Better Call Saul
A spin-off of Breaking Bad, ‘Better Call Saul’, tells the story of Jimmy McGill and his journey from small-time lawyer to the notorious Saul Goodman. A stellar cast including Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill), Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler), Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut) ooze quality acting and chemistry. This show began in 2015 and is set for a fifth and final season in 2020.
Jimmy McGill is a small-time lawyer hustling for a better life. His brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) suffers from a rare condition whereby he is ‘allergic’ to electrical devices. This irrationality is overlooked by Jimmy who looks after Chuck dearly. Chuck was a CEO of Hamlin Hamlin McGill, a law firm, where Kim Wexler works. Kim is a friend of Jimmy’s and we usually see them smoking together. They have a strong relationship and develop a love for one another. Mike Ehrmantraut, the mercurial hitman/clean-up man in Breaking Bad, is a car park booth attendant. We see Jimmy and Mike meet each other at the booth and eventually develop a friendship or acquaintance at first. Later in the show, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is introduced, the drug kingpin from the show’s parent show, and we are given an insight into Fring’s involvement with Don Eladio and Hector Salamanca.
An amazing and worthy prequel to Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan delivers yet again with a masterpiece. It is common that prequel/sequel shows to a great show underdeliver, but this is clearly not the case. I have to include this on the list along with Breaking Bad. This was imperative as this show breaks through into this upper echelon. The reason the show is so successful is because we know the outcome of the show, the carnation of Saul Goodman, but the story is still unpredictable and riveting, almost distracting audiences.
4. Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders started in 2013 and is still running making it a perfect fit for the decade list. It currently composes of five seasons (30 episodes).
This period gangster drama stars Cilian Murphy as the illustrious Tommy Shelby, the head of the Peaky Blinders. Made up mainly of family members, Tommy holds his own and preserves his family name among the mayhem of post-WW1 Birmingham, England (1920~30). Shelby is involved in businesses, legal and illegal, and builds an empire epitomised by Shelby Co Ltd. Shelby’s crew are ear marked by the phrase ‘By order of the Peaky Blinders!’, rather iconic given the show’s prominence.
Peaky Blinders is especially dear to me as I am a Brummie and is in the top ten without bias. Every season illustrates the progress of the gang and their various endeavours. We see Shelby have a conflict between rival gangs in Birmingham in season one and two. This then shifts to international rivalry between Russia in season 3 and the Italian-American Mafia in season 4. The latter propelling the show and the characters greatly. The latest season involved political rivalry as Shelby becomes a politician in the House of Commons.
Tommy’s meteoric journey from a back-street razor gang to an established businessman and politician is what makes the show so great. To boot, performances from Paul Anderson (Arthur Shelby), Helen McCrory (Polly Gray) and Tom Hardy (Alfie Solomons) are master classes in a complex, intriguing narrative. Every season is just as good as the last making it consistent and thus high on the list.
5. The Walking Dead
This post-apocalyptic zombie drama tells the story of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the Deputy Sheriff of Kings County, GA. along with a group of survivors who embark on a perilous and extraordinary journey of survival.
When shot by a criminal on the job Grimes is in a deep coma. Waking up, he finds himself in an abandoned, vandalised hospital. He is dumbfounded when he realises that there are zombies (walkers) everywhere and that he must find his family. Through trial and tribulation, Rick finds his family with the help of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) who is in a group with them and others. Lori (Rick’s wife, played by Sarah Wayne Callies) is shocked at his arrival and his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) is filled with joy. We are introduced to Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and others.
Rick soon integrates into the group and eventually takes role as leader. He leads them with a strong incentive for survival and assumes responsibility for the lives of the survivors. The group encounter a great number of zombies along their journey and soon face human opposition in a fight for survival of the fittest. We see the rise of the survivors from a small doggedly determined group to a community full of other survivors.
‘The Walking Dead’ begun in 2010 and is still running with its tenth season currently on a mid-season break. Therefore, it is a perfect fit and a representative for the entire decade. This is the only show to do so on the list and combined with its overall quality it is deserved of being included. I have placed the show at number of five on my list, and more important than its longevity, is its immense impact on popular culture. This has heavily influenced the silver screen with the inventive, masterful take on the zombie genre placing it amongst some of the greatest TV shows ever made. Despite criticism of its latter seasons, the brilliance throughout the rest of the drama outshines such negativity. I am an avid fan of the show and I certainly enjoy watching it.
This HBO science-fiction phenomenon was created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. It stars Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris. ‘Westworld’ is an expansive, futuristic, wild-west themed theme park where the filthy rich pay to indulge in fantasies through interacting with brothels, saloons and so on. The space is filled with robotic ‘hosts’ who have extremely accurate human features and play out certain roles in their individual stories.
The narrative of the show explores the malfunctioning of the imitation of the creation of the human form. This creation can be seen as a divine design which symbolises blasphemy and rebellion in imitating it. This most certainly leads to the downfall of the creators and runners of the park. The first season plays around with the idea of consciousness is played around as the antagonist, The Man in Black (Ed Harris), is in a desperate search for the ultimate secret/true purpose of the park. The second season picks up from the revelations and mayhem of season one as the park reaches a critical state.
This show begun in 2016 and is definitely deserved of inclusion on the list. In the crowded genre of science-fiction, this show stands out as innovative and unique. The storylines are incredibly complex and unpredictable with each season’s episode acting as a part to a puzzle which is complete in the finale. I believe it is head and shoulders above the majority of current television and it sits in the middle of the list as triumphant feat of entertainment. It is held back by its run spanning two seasons long with a third season premiering in 2020.
7. Stranger Things
Stranger Things began in 2016, making it a mid-decade entry, and is still running. It currently has three seasons (25 episodes), the latest debuting this year in 2019.
Stranger Things is set in the 80s in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. It charts the journey of four middle-schoolers, MikeWheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Will Buyers (Noah Schnapp), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), who encounter 11, a mysterious girl with telekinetic abilities. We see the group searching for the truth about Hawkins Labs, the place where 11 escaped from. A threatening world of danger soon envelops them as they face the scientists determined to experiment upon the unruly world of ‘The Upside Down’. Along with them, are the ‘Demogorgons’ and the overarching nemesis of the first three seasons, ‘The Mind Flayer’.
Like ‘Westworld’, this show is a science-fiction/horror series and is refreshingly original and intelligently made. The Duffer Brothers have created a program that gives us action, suspense, comedy and drama. The show has a broad audience range from teenagers to adults like me. I believe this is because it has the ingredients of a classic sc-fi show for adults but also the element of it being from the point of view of children which appeals for younger audiences. The 80s setting may also entice those who grew up at this time to watch. I believe the show is an all-rounder. It is also very consistent in its quality and will continue to grow over the coming years.
8. Rick And Morty
Rick And Morty is an animation for mature audiences created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon. The show begun in 2013 and has four seasons (31 episodes) with the fourth currently airing.
This work explores the adventures of Rick Sanchez, a drunk mad scientist with a spaceship, and Morty Smith, his 14-year-old grandson. Rick goes to countless worlds and dimensions either due to relations and obligations or personally driven motives. Rick often brings Morty with him on his escapades and exposes him to his odd and crazy world either accidentally or intentionally. As a result of taking Morty on intergalactic adventures, Rick is lamented by Morty’s parents Beth (his daughter, played by Sarah Chalke) and Jerry (Chris Parnell) who do not approve of his ways. They see Rick as a bad influence, which is understandable given his alcoholism and general disregard for anyone besides himself.
Morty’s sister Summer (Spencer Grammer) is an occasional passenger in Rick’s spaceship and is a more assertive character than Morty. Throughout the show Rick’s actions have large repercussions on his family and the planets he visits. This element is interesting as this is what propels the show. In one respect, Rick is an anti-hero who saves his family and various civilisations but more than likely leaves a blood trail on his path to salvation.
This show is a comedy but has dark elements from time to time making it deeper and more dramatic. This embeds the show into a higher level of television. This is a main reason for the show’s inclusion on the list. It incorporates science-fiction, comedy and horror which makes it gripping and appealing to a wide audience. Rick’s misadventures are what characterises the show. Yet again, this program has originality and consistency. Each episode progresses Rick and/or Morty’s storylines. Roiland and Harmon have elevated this show into one of the greatest animations of all time. To boot, Roilandvoices both Rick and Morty.
This comic-book drama is the story of Matt Murdoch (Charlie Cox) the blind vigilante of Hell’s Kitchen. His alias is Daredevil and his abilities of super sensitivity to sound give him extraordinary control of his environment. The show composes of 3 seasons and 39 episodes and ran from 2015-2018.
By day Murdoch is a lawyer with his friend Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). Their firm ‘Nelson and Murdoch’ deal with small-time cases in the inner city. The drama gives us a look into the duplicitousness nature of a morally troubled man. We see Daredevil taking down petty criminals and as street murders and crime pile up, he is found tracking down an even larger enemy, Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio).
The drama gives us a look into the duplicitousness nature of a morally troubled man. Murdoch finds himself caught between his life as a blind lawyer and friend and his other persona. This aspect of the show displays the inner conflict and multiple shades of its protagonist. Ultimately, the raw complexity of Murdoch’s life makes the show so special. His choices are what dictates the show’s pace and the best parts of the show stem from this. As a cutthroat, experienced fighter Murdoch choses not to inflict death upon anyone and avoids this outcome at all costs. We see this type of heroism in a corrupt city in DC Universe’s The Dark Knight who follows similar attitudes.
Even though it spanned during the second half of the decade, it still delivers a great enough impact on me to be included on the list. Out of the entire Netflix Marvel Universe, this is the show and story which stands out. In addition, the whole comic-book/superhero TV genre is in the shadow of this show.
The genius of Donald Glover (aka ‘Childish Gambino) is epitomised in his comedy drama ‘Atlanta’ Starring him as well, main cast members include Zazie Beets, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield and Khris Davis. Even though it only has two seasons, the first in 2016 and the second in 2018, it is truly decade defining. Also, its third season is set to drop in 2020. ‘Atlanta’ is the only pure comedy drama listed in this top ten, so it permeates as the best one ahead of shows like ‘Veep’, ‘The Office US’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’.
Since its birth in 2016 the show has grown into a phenomenon documenting the struggles of a black man in America. Set in, you guessed it, Altanta GA, Earn (Donald Glover) is the manager of Al aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), a small-time rapper well-known in his neighbourhood. Earn is the ‘average guy’ and his on-and-off girlfriend Vanessa partakes in a number of social events often involving white people. We see the differences in the lives of Earn and usually white people/other cultures. This is portrayed in a very comedic and ironic way. We see the hypocrisy of the perceptions of the black male. This is also seen through the views fans have when they see Paper Boi who they expect lives the persona he advocates in his raps. Al does partake in some illegal activity however which sometimes leads to tight situations. Demetrius is probably the funniest character on the show. His demeanour and acting is amazing in portraying to put it bluntly, a simpleton. His idiosyncrasies are hilarious, and he has a pure heart and good intentions.
I must include ‘Atlanta’ on the list due to its top-class social commentary and comedic value. This show is greatly unpredictable, and its entertainment value elevates it above most comedy programmes. The production and directing is first-class and its unorthodox style of portraying the struggles of a man in such a humorous fashion is what makes it so special. Each season is said to be told from the perspective of different characters. This is somewhat mysterious, yet it is this which allows the show to display a number of storylines occurring in similar time frames. Consequently, a masterpiece is formed. Now, the show sits at number 10 mainly due to its two-season run. In comparison to Westworld with the same number of seasons, the show is very impactful, but I am more inclined to science-fiction-esque dramas and this one is one and also carries a great impact.
Lost (2004-2010), Luther (2010-), Line Of Duty (2012-), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Chernobyl (2019), The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019), Fargo (2014-), Top Boy (2011-), The Office US (2005-2013), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-), Veep (2012-2019), Legion (2017-2019), Killing Eve (2018-), The Boys (2019) and many more