20 Dec Doctor Jonathan Cartu Writes – The 25 Best TV Shows of the Decade
The last decade of television has changed the entertainment industry forever. Granted, that’s the kind of sweeping sentence that feels hyperbolic on the face of it, but make no mistake: The last 10 years’ explosion of television and streaming services has incontrovertibly transformed the medium. Sometimes, that means bold new shows with the guts to push boundaries beyond guileless platitudes; other times, it means Mad Libs swings at relevance as the TV landscape gets ever denser. Throughout the decade, however, TV has been fascinating even (and often especially) amidst its own mess.
In choosing our top shows of the decade, we narrowed down hundreds upon hundreds of options to the 25 we feel represent this era best. Many operate outside the usual bounds of the “comedy” and “drama” binary that had so long defined television’s genres. Many are keen and startling reflections of a period of time that, as it ends, seems to have been defined by anxiety and by change. Others just rank among our personal favorites. (If you don’t see yours here, consider that we imposed a “no shows that premiered before 2009” rule on ourselves, and also that taste is subjective and there was no possible way for us to get to everything, despite our very best efforts.) All are, or were, utterly fascinating.
Here are Variety’s top 25 shows of the decade.
The ability to recklessly reinvent is one of the great joys of television, and no show from the decade now concluding did this better than “The Leftovers.” This straightforward-ish drama about a surreal occurrence plunged between planes, to the border of truth and lies, and even to Texas. Beginning after the disappearance of two percent of the global population, “The Leftovers” imagines the mass cultural psychosis that follows. As a show about depression, “The Leftovers” uses metaphor powerfully to evoke a feeling of stuckness. The show’s endless peregrinations made its universe big and broad but showed the central truth of humanity’s deep need for something in which to believe. Its finale proved that with stunning power through a story, simply told, that’s either true or just another moving metaphor; Nora (Carrie Coon) claimed to have gone to another world, seen the family she’d been grieving for years, and chosen to come back to her own broken world without them. Kevin (Justin Theroux) chooses to believe her, or, maybe, it’s not a choice but a need. “The Leftovers” jumped all over the globe and universe to show us something ground-level simple: That to need connection and guidance is the frailty that makes us human. —Daniel D’Addario
When “BoJack Horseman” premiered over half a decade ago on a still nascent Netflix, it was natural to be confused. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated comedy stars an acerbic, alcoholic horse (voiced with equal parts gravel and pathos by Will Arnett) in a Los Angeles populated by anxious anthropomorphic people (designed by Lisa Hanawalt, the show’s not-so-secret weapon). While at first the show seemed impenetrably wacky and cynical, “BoJack Horseman” soon evolved into one of the most gimlet-eyed dissections of what it means to live and work in Hollywood that TV’s ever attempted. Its reputation for anticipating seismic events in the entertainment industry before they ostensibly hit mainstream awareness is well-earned, not least because the show is always careful to examine the systemic rot lurking underneath it all. The ways in which “BoJack Horseman” weeds through personal wreckage is trenchant, alarming, and even compassionate. (It’s also, not for nothing, extremely funny; the best kind of “BoJack” joke is one that waterfalls from one scene to the next, or else appears briefly in the show’s always dense background.) And yet, if “BoJack Horseman” were to premiere on Netflix today, it almost definitely wouldn’t get the time to grow that it did then, when it helped define the now titanic streaming service’s willingness to take risks in narrative, genre, and form. — Caroline Framke
Amy Jellicoe is better now. After having spent time undergoing holistic treatment following a breakdown, she’s ready to share what she’s learned, to be what she calls an “agent of change.” (She’s as zealous about her cause as are adherents of today’s wellness movement; Amy presaged our current essential-oils-MLM moment by only a flicker of time.) One of the many things “Enlightened” gets right is that the language of self-help can represent a special sort of self-harm — that Amy, with her newfound ability to deploy mantras, consistently grants herself permission not to get out of her own way. As played by Laura Dern in the first of her decade of major television roles (followed by “Big Little Lies” and “Twin Peaks: The Return”), Amy wants to do the right thing — to redistribute power justly, and to protect the earth from her rapacious corporate employer. It’s getting there that’s the hard part. Amy’s insecurity manifests as redoubled moral conviction; her journey toward justice is one we cheer not because it’s a triumph over herself. It’s because it harnesses the truly good parts of herself, the ones that no one else wants to see, the parts we euphemistically call “well-meaning” but that actually do mean for everyone to be well. Amy isn’t quite well, still, when the series ends, but her progress has brought seismic change, for the world around her and for herself. One doesn’t need to have the narcissism of the self-help community to suggest that those changes are equally important. —D.D.
- “The Americans,” FX (2013-2018)
There may no more technically perfect series on this list than “The Americans.” Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields’ was, from start to breathtaking finish, as taut and polished as anything that’s been on TV. Throughout six seasons, “The Americans” tells the intricate story of how a pair of Soviet spies (the incredible team of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) adjusted to the rise and fall of the Soviet Union amid their own shifting loyalties to their country, each other, and themselves. On the “other side” — a designation that gets more complicated as the show progresses — is their neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich), a CIA agent who could have been relegated to the background were it not…