No major spoilers – so don’t worry if you haven’t seen these shows yet.
Rules: I set myself two rules when making this list: that only shows with at least 3 seasons would be counted (2 excellent seasons, while notable, can’t really make something a standout from the whole decade) so don’t expect to see stuff which only started in 2019 like The Witcher or limited miniseries like The Bodyguard. Secondly, nothing from before 2010 counts – so while Merlin ran until 2012, a lot of its best episodes come from 2008 or 2009, so it won’t make this list (not that it necessarily would have anyway – it’s just a nice example to use).
Also, obviously, this is my personal list, so feel free to comment your own – I haven’t watched a lot of shows like Breaking Bad or Daredevil so other people’s lists may be entirely different. Anyway, without further preamble, here’s my picks from the past decade:
10: iZombie: iZombie at its best is hilarious, heartfelt and a good detective story, often all within the same episode. Boasting an excellent cast headed by Rose McIver as Liv, the show is further boosted by writing that is pretty consistent and villains who remain compelling throughout the shows run. While there’s been the occasional cringeworthy episode, the majority have been good and a significant proportion great (particularly in seasons 1 and 2). Its neat main concept (Zombies gain memories and personalities temporarily from the brains they eat) allows the Zombie cast to play around with a wide variety of personas, often to great comedic effect (Liv can be on the brains of a D&D player one episode, a shameless gossiper the next and a wannabe superhero the one after). The shows wider plot, examining how Zombies would try and survive undetected, a black market for brains, and how human characters react when they discover zombie’s exist, is all done in a very interesting way, and with more intelligence than is common for this genre. If you’re interested, it’s all on Netflix.
9: Homeland: Homeland was essential viewing at the start of the decade. Billed as ‘the thinking man’s 24’ and a favourite of none other than president Obama, Homeland stars the wonderful Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a gifted CIA analyst who struggles with bipolar disorder and frequently crosses ethical and personal lines trying to foil terrorist plots. Initially focused on the USA, the series has had seasons set in Pakistan and Germany, and featured some great actors in its supporting cast, mostly notably Damien Lewis, who was a key feature in the early seasons as an American POW who Carrie was investigating, in fear of the possibility he’d been ‘turned’ during captivity. While Homeland isn’t quite as good now as it used to be, its still been something I’ve followed thorough the decade, and the strength of seasons 1, 2, 4 and 6, as well as a fair few standout episodes from the other seasons, still leaves it as one of the best spy thrillers around.
8: Jessica Jones: I’ve watched a lot of Superhero TV shows over the past decade, and it was perhaps inevitable that one would get on this list. Deciding which one was hard: after all, many had strong starts (The Flash, Arrow, Black Lightning) only to fall apart later on. Others have been very good recently, but had difficult starts (Supergirl, Luke Cage). In the end, only three of the ones I’ve seen have been good the whole way through: Jessica Jones, Legends of Tomorrow and Gotham. Legends probably would have won that contest two years ago, but its last two seasons, while hilarious, have got a bit too silly and lost their edge. Gotham has had some real bright spots, but lacked Jessica Jones’ focus – its need to have 22 episode seasons meant there was often too much filler or strung out subplots. Jessica Jones may have felt padded in places, but overall did the best job of any Marvel Netflix series in terms of justifying its runtime. Krysten Ritter has been one of my favourite actresses since I tuned into JJ, and like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, its hard to ever see someone else playing the role now that she’s absolutely nailed the character. If that wasn’t enough, David Tennant’s Kilgrave remains one of the creepiest supervillains any show has given us, and one no one will forget anytime soon.
7: Stranger Things: Just when Doctor Who started to falter, Netflix stepped up to the plate with this great sci-fi series. Acting as a homage to numerous 80’s films, including classics like Aliens and The Terminator, it still remained very much its own thing. It has one of the best young casts you’re ever likely to see, including Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown, backed up by established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. The special effects look brilliant and the direction is consistently strong, while an excellent soundtrack coupled with classic 80’s hits adds to the atmosphere in a way that Guardians of the Galaxy would be proud of. The three seasons so far have provided a entertaining mix of sci-fi, horror, coming of age stories and comedy, and I for one can’t wait for season 4 – particularly after all the cliffhangers season 3 ended on… don’t make us wait too long eh Netflix?
6: Orange is the New Black: One of Netflix’s most consistent shows, OITNB’s mix of drama and comedy has been a winning combination since the get go. With a superb cast, most of whom get their own episodes to shine in as we get frequent flashbacks to prisoners and guards pasts, this has been one of my go to series for a while. Which season you’ll think best is hard to judge, some take a lighter tone, some darker, some are more political than others etc. The good thing is that there’s no season in the run of 7 I’d give a bad score too. Given how often the cast and plotlines get shaken up, its consistency is remarkable. It touches upon big issues frequently, and isn’t always an easy watch, but it makes you care about the characters, whether ones you love, sympathise with, or the antagonists you just plain out hate. If you haven’t checked it out already, i’d always recommend trying it – it won’t necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, but its one of Netflix’s most successful shows for a reason.
5: Doctor Who: This would have been much higher up the list had I made it in 2015, but Matt Smith’s excellent run, the 50th anniversary special and Capaldi’s stellar first two series mean it still makes it despite a lacklustre series 10 and Chibnall’s catastrophe of series 11. We’ve had some great series arcs during the decade, including The Cracks in Time and Missy, renowned writer like Neil Gaiman contributing scripts for the first time, and fantastic episodes like The Pandorica Opens, The Doctor’s Wife, Listen, Heaven Sent and The Day of the Doctor. Its made household names of Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and Arthur Darvill, as well as making Capaldi and Smith two of the most sought after actors in the business. Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, while divisive, is still in my opinion one of the best in the shows history. The only pity is that it may be the last one I watch… hopefully the 2020’s will see it recover from its current nadir.
4: The Crown: Netflix’s series on the royal family is one of the most lavish, beautifully shot productions you’re ever likely to see. The direction, set design and production values are second to none. The show dramatically brings events from the Queen’s reign to life, including several, such as the Aberfan tragedy, that my generation would not otherwise have heard of. The show also touches heavily on political history, with the various prime ministers of the Queen’s reign depicted in detail (particularly Churcill and Wilson, with Thatcher set to be a key part of season 4). If you have any interest in recent history, British politics or the Royal family, this is definitely a show worth checking out. The fact its cast was completely reshuffled between season 2 and 3 and there was no discernible drop in quality (if anything its arguably got better), speaks volumes about its appeal. With such superb actors as Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Olivia Coleman, Helena Bonham Carter, Charles Dance, Jon Lithgow and Derek Jacobi all appearing in the first three seasons, its one of the finest ensembles on Netflix, which is usually a sign of a great show.
3: Black Mirror: Starting on channel 4 then taken over by Netflix, Black Mirror is the brain child of Charlie Brooker and has provided some of the best hours of television in the past decade, earning it a spot in my top three, a big achievement for something that has only had 22 episodes and one movie length special. Episodes can vary between highly tense drama and pure sci-fi horror at ease, sometimes within one episode! While the show has the occasional misfire (The Waldo Moment, Bandersnatch), it has a very high strike rate. Its nature (an anthology of stories with similar themes but no overt connection to each other) gives it the freedom to experiment and tell any story it wants. It has starred some huge acting talents over the past decade, including Andrew Scott, Antony Mackie, Maxine Peake and Lindsay Duncan, not to mention plenty of lesser known actors who its helped bring to the fore. While everyone will have different favourite episodes, I would say the highlights include Series 2’s Be Right Back, 3’s San Junipero and Hated in the Nation, 4’s USS Callister and Black Museum and Series 5’s Smithereens. If you don’t like the first episode you watch, keep going – because they vary so heavily, there’s bound to be one that’s to your taste!
2: Game of Thrones: When season 4 finished, this would have come first on this list, without a doubt. But while I did enjoy large parts of Seasons 5-8, its reduced complexity and lack of input from George R. R. Martin did cause some significant issues with pacing, character arcs and the overall direction of the series. I still liked the final product for the sheer spectacle it provided and the wealth of talent the show maintained in its actors, directors and effects department. We may never see a TV show with quite the worldwide impact of this one again. But, to those who have cursed its ending, ask yourselves, how many shows maintain their quality for 8 seasons? Virtually none. Think about Lost or the Walking Dead: Game of Thrones may have stumbled in its last few seasons, but it didn’t fall off a cliff the way those other blockbuster TV shows have. Overall, Game of Thrones is still an immense achievement for all involved, and one of the best fantasy TV shows of all time. We may never see its like again…
1: The Americans: My show of the decade – and I’ll be surprised if even a third of my viewers have heard of this, much less watched it, as it hasn’t aired on free UK TV since season 2, and is only available on Amazon Prime now. The Americans follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Russian spies embedded in 1980’s America at the height of the cold war – to the extent that they have American jobs, American friends and American children of their own. Elizabeth is a stone cold loyalist who rarely flinches from what is asked of her – Philip a more open minded type – equally driven, but more questioning of what they do and more open to American ideas – it creates an underlying tension between the pair which rears its head frequently, despite their love for each other. Homeland may be a more popular spy drama, Game of Thrones may be far more entertaining, The Crown may have more famous actors, but none have held a candle to this in terms of either quality or consistency. I’d give 3 episodes out of 75 a score of 3.5/5. Everything else is a 4 or above – at least half would garner a 4.5/5 or above. Not even Thrones has that kind of strike rate. The two leads, the writing, the music and direction has never wavered. Of its 6 seasons, five were excellent, one merely good. Its a real slow burner of a spy drama – you need patience and intelligence to properly appreciate it – I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone – its like Joker, brilliant but not to everyone’s taste. Subplots and character arcs can take 20 episodes to fully play out, while earth shattering moments are usually the result of discussions or confrontations instead of action scenes, not that the show shies away from those when it needs them. It has the occasional flaw – most in season 5, which lacks a main plot as compelling as the others, but these flaws are few and far between. Even if Thrones’ final season had blown everyone away, I’d probably still have put this in first – its final season, by comparison, was faultless and the best of its run. I’m going to miss it – spy dramas this clever are very, very rare.
My TV Awards 2010-2019
Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Runners Up: Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Peter Capaldi (Thick of It, Doctor Who)
Best Actress: Keri Russell (The Americans)
Runners Up: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Claire Foy (The Crown)
Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (Fleabag, Sherlock)
Runners Up: David Tennant (Jessica Jones), Tom Cavanagh (The Flash)
Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Killing Eve)
Runners Up: Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Winona Ryder (Stranger Things)
Best Young Actor: David Mazouz (Gotham)
Runners Up: Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things)
Best Young Actress: Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)
Runners up: Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Dafne Keen (His Dark Materials), Camren Bicondova (Gotham)
Best Director: Miguel Saponchik (Game of Thrones)
Runners Up: Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who), Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones)
Best Showrunner: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve S1)
Runners Up: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things), Steven Moffat (Doctor Who)
Best Writer: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock)
Runners Up: Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)
Best Season Finale: Victory (Spartacus Season 3)
Runners Up: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones Season 6), START (The Americans Season 6)
Best Episode: The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones – i.e. The Red Wedding)
Runners Up: Be Right Back (Black Mirror), Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)
Best Composer: Ramin Dwajadi (Game of Thrones)
Runners Up: Blake Neely (Arrowverse shows), Murray Gold (Doctor Who)
Best Theme Tune: Game of Thrones
Runners Up: The Defenders, Stranger Things, His Dark Materials
And now some of the disappointments… (I’ll keep these brief – prefer to keep this article positive!)
Worst TV Show: Britannia
Worst Episode: Finish Line (The Flash Season 3 Finale)
Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Divis/Weird Driud Guy – Britannia)
Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor – Doctor Who)
Worst Supporting Actress: Candace Patton (Iris West – The Flash)
Worst Showrunner: Chris Chibnall
Worst Writer: Chris Chibnall
I’ll try and get my Top Games and Films of the Decade finished sometime tomorrow. Hope you all tune in then!