TV changed a lot in the 2010s, and the decade’s best reflects that

It’s hard to imagine, given what makes for TV news these days, but just 10 years ago no one had heard of Netflix originals, Amazon Prime series, YouTube TV, Apple TV+, Disney+, or even HBO Go. Most American households, for instance, still defaulted to cable, and we watched on dedicated sets (even if the push for multi-screen experiences and laptops/computers as primary consumption devices had already started).

TiVo existed and felt cutting edge.

Perhaps more than any other entertainment medium, TV has changed a lot in the last decade. And that makes trying to piece together a Best Of list for the 2010s extremely difficult. To start, there’s simply more than ever before. When even Facebook consistently debuts original “TV shows” at this point, keeping up with everything may literally be impossible. The breadth of what’s available is also at an all-time high. How do you compare some 10-episode, 12-minute sketch comedy show on a streaming service to something on traditional cable drama with 10 seasons and many, many hours of thought put into it? Well, you probably in any authoritative or comprehensive way—but that won’t stop us from trying.

For an Ars-y Best TV of 2010s list, know up front this isn’t an all-encompassing “best” exercise. Many undeniably great things et al.) do not fall within our narrow wheelhouse of science, technology, and genre fare. And to make things slightly simpler, we only considered TV (so no or , but no or , eitherInstead, the following shows are some combination of stuff from the last decade that changed what we think of as “TV” and stuff we’ll certainly be thinking about and returning to in our maybe-cable-less future.

So with apologies to the many close calls that felt too small (, , ), too uneven (seasons 1 and 4 could definitely be here; same for S1), or just too-good-but-not-great in the face of this competition (, , , ), here are Ars’ “ten” favorites, in alphabetical order:


What more can you say about at this point? It delivered the most anti-anti hero of a Golden Age of TV riddled with such characters. Its fourth season featured perhaps TV’s greatest villain. And it features immensely clever applications of science and tech both on-screen (“Science, bitch!”) and off.

But should perhaps be remembered just as much for how influential it was in changing the way TV worked for many of us. Though this is the lone series on this list to start outside of the 2010s, most fans likely didn’t see it until after 2011. That’s when Netflix reached a deal with AMC Networks to exclusively carry the network’s programming for a bit. The star of that deal at the time was, of course, , but quickly became the big benefactor. Maybe AMC marketing couldn’t get a massive fan base for a show about a chemistry teacher selling meth, but—whether it was word of mouth or critical recommendations driving it—Netflix seemed up to the task. The show’s S4 premiere reached 5.9 million viewers, more than double the show’s previous best. With all-at-once drama releases not yet the norm, may have represented the first major bingewatch of the decade.

Many other soon-to-be TV-culture norms would follow. Expanded universes? Look to the (equally great) and (perfectly enjoyable) to start. Miss TV monoculture and “everybody’s watching” moments? The finale hit 10.3 million viewers (that’s at least in the conversations with industry heavyweights like and ). And enjoy a good aftershow? Both and inspired a tremendous one—no, no, not (which is a totally real thing AMC aired). Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould take listeners behind the scenes of the writer’s room and production effort of each episode in their official show-companion podcast.

(2019) / (2019) / … and (2011-2019)

Yes, yes, this decade of TV be discussed without a mention of . Its early seasons felt revolutionary for how they subverted audience expectations, it propelled much of the show’s female-centric cast to stardom, and its VFX may very well be the best we’ve ever witnessed on TV. And yet… those later seasons, right? After George RR Martin’s books ended, the show’s mojo seemed to follow. It may have still constituted event TV, but in retrospect that was based on the strength of the fan community and massive marketing more than the material itself. We’ll remember  for its immense cultural capital, not as a show with something immense to say about culture.

But if TV watchers felt concerned about the next era of HBO when corporate behemoth AT&T took over and stalwarts like , , and signed off, 2019 should provide some comfort. With and , the network showed that its penchant for innovative and kinetic storytelling is alive, well, and adapted for the current TV landscape. Definitely a one-season limited series, showed audiences the dangers of authoritarian governments that refuse to acknowledge reality and insist on the narrative above all else. In what might also prove to be a one-season series, somehow spun a nearly four-decades-old comic franchise rapidly into the 2020s, asking questions about nostalgia, inherited tragedy, and race and authority in America. Each show has powerhouse performances (Jared Harris as Valery Legasov; Regina King as Angela Abar), each show looked like little else on TV, and each displayed a level of creativity and thought that the writers behind Westeros’ late seasons could only dream of. (You’ve listened to writer Craig Mazin’s podcasts about each, right?) Having any of these titles on your network would be an accomplishment in any decade; HBO aired all of ’em within a matter of months.

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