The Best TV Shows of the 2010s Manage to Stand Out in the Greatest Decade of Television
The term "Peak TV" might have been coined almost exactly halfway through the 2010s, but the groundwork had been set long before the decade began. The origin of this era of prestige television is marked by the phenomena that was The Sopranos, which began in the waining days of the 20th century and ended in June of 2007. That same year The Sopranos ended, it passed the baton to Mad Men, AMC's '60s drama that carried Peak TV into the 2010s where it exploded across cable and streaming services. Mad Men ended in 2015, the same year the term Peak TV originated when we were two years into the next era of streaming originals, past the stunning conclusion of Breaking Bad, and well into the cultural fascination with the swords and dragons and fantasy that was Game of Thrones.
In just the last half of this decade, we've been overwhelmed with so much big-budget, high-concept content that it's almost impossible to pick just 10 stand-out TV shows that define these years. And for the purposes of this thought experiment, we stuck with shows that aired a majority of its seasons this decade. Since the influence of Mad Men and Breaking Bad resoundingly echoed throughout the 2010s, they couldn't be left off this list of the best TV shows of the decade. Though those shows are behind us, the future of television beyond this decade is even more promising, with talents like Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge just getting started. We go into the 2020s with TV in a more intellectual, diverse place, which has produced a fundamental shift in what we watch and how we watch it. —Matt Miller
10. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Yes, many fans were disappointed by the ending. And Yes, the show dipped in quality after it surpassed the book. But, it’s indisputable that this was a television event the likes of which we’d never seen and will likely never see again. One of the most expensive shows ever made—all the money was right there on the screen from the immersive, elaborate set design, CGI, and battle sequences. Plus, Game of Thrones rejuvenated our love of fantasy and has inspired every other network and streaming service to have a high fantasy hit of its own. We’ll be seeing imitators for years to come. And that’s not a bad thing. — Matt Miller
9. Veep (2012-2019)
As political life in America became a farce, Veep rose to meet the challenge with potty-mouthed genius. With a record-setting joke-per-minute velocity and a peerless flair for profanity, it was a political satire that cut straight to the heart of American politics, exposing the myopia, amorality, and sheer uselessness at the rotten core of Washington. — Adrienne Westenfeld
8. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
Before everything went to shit, we had one lone beacon of government-employed optimism, deep inside in the endlessly bureaucratic, fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana: Leslie Knope. Even with its grouchiest character—the mustached, steak-shoveling Ron Swanson—Parks and Recreation showed what can be won when there’s a little heart buried in our windowless government offices. —Brady Langmann
7. Bob’s Burgers (2011-)
Coming on the heels of caustic fare like South Park and Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers proved with heart and humor that animated shows needn’t be unkind. Ten seasons in, it’s as glorious and goofy as ever, with a takeaway as heartwarming as one of Bob’s cheeseburgers: the right people will love you for exactly who you are, because what makes you weird makes you wonderful. —A.W.
6. Black Mirror (2011-)
As damning of humanity as it is haunting, Black Mirror spent most of the decade theorizing how our greatest technological advances could be our demise. Whether predicting headlines (“The National Anthem”), producing the most endearing love story of the decade (“San Junipero"), or changing the way we interact with film (“Bandersnatch”), Black Mirror led the charge on innovative storytelling. —Justin Kirkland
5. Fleabag (2016, 2019)
In twelve formally daring, perfectly compact episodes, Fleabag excavated family, grief, trauma, and spirituality, all through a remarkable arc of growth and self-knowledge. Piece of cake, right? Fleabag was hands-down the most emotionally intelligent show of the decade, and in the era where nothing ever ended, it set the bar for how to prioritize creative integrity over a big Amazon payout. —A.W.
4. The Americans (2013-2018)
Who knew a television show about Russian interference in American politics would only get more timely following its 2013 debut? Led by Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys as married Soviet spies living on U.S. soil, FX’s suspense-wrought drama was remarkable in its ability to make you root for individuals with much(!) blood on their hands. But more, it begged that you examine the very notion of loyalty, and what happens when it leads you astray.—Madison Vain
3. Mad Men (2007-2015)
AMC’s complex portrait of mid-century America set the tone for television in the 2010s. Don Draper was the slick-haired ad guy who brought the antihero trope back into vogue. Though many followed Mad Men’s narrative lead, finding a character more suavely corrupt and broken than Don is nearly impossible. Bonus: Peggy’s loose-lipped cigarette strut through McCann Erickson remains television perfection. —J.K.
2. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Having ushered in our modern era of Peak TV, Breaking Bad remains a historic achievement in visual storytelling—a complex and obsessively detailed and brilliantly acted narrative of greed and darkness lurking in suburban America. Fans remain so enamored with Vince Gilligan's masterpiece that it has been expanded into a nearly-as-fantastic Better Call Saul spinoff and a Netflix film to conclude Jessie Pinkman's story. —M.M.
1. Atlanta (2016-)
In just two seasons, Atlanta managed to subvert and transform our expectations of television. A surrealist commentary on race, class, the music industry, and more—every episode of Donald Glover’s show delivers something completely unexpected. Whether it’s Glover himself acting uncredited in whiteface, launching the viral Migos phenomenon, or the careers of Lakeith Stanfield, Brian Tyree Henry, and Zazie Beetz—Atlanta is what the future of television looks like. —M.M.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.