This decade's output of television—the good, the bad, and the ugly—was staggering. At times, it was hard to keep up. But we tried our best. To qualify, a show had to air not entirely but mostly in this decade, and to have made a cultural impact on the 2010s. Below is Street's list of our favorite television shows from this decade, listed in the order in which they aired.
30 Rock (2006–2013)
What makes 30 Rock so funny, and, ironically, sets it apart from many contemporary sitcoms is the jokes. The sheer volume of jokes, from quick cutaway gags to extended bits spanning whole seasons, and the quality of Tina Fey’s writing means that 30 Rock holds up on rewatch after rewatch. And that ensemble—Jane Krasowski as an unhinged Jenna Maroney, Alec Baldwin as the smug corporate honcho Jack Donaghy, Tracy Morgan as the childish Tracy Jordan. 30 Rock works on many levels; It references Fey’s time as a writer on Saturday Night Live and her relationship with the network. One particularly memorable comedic thread through the show is its adroit skewering of NBC (the network on which it aired)—particularly the creation of a veritable 30 Rock extended universe with the inclusion of absolutely terrible shows that I would definitely watch, including “Milf Island” and “Queen of Jordan.” It’s hard to keep pace with 30 Rock, but it’s also hard not to love it. Fey’s beleaguered, sexually stunted Liz Lemon and the way she tries to hold her life and work together through the chaos of everyday life still resonate.
— Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief
Mad Men (2007–2015)
Mad Men started before the 2010s—which, in some ways, makes it the most "2010s" show possible. Soon after the series' debut showcased the glitzy, mid–century aesthetic of ad agency Sterling Cooper’s fancy offices alongside expensive food and classic American cars, our economy crashed, and the country faced one of the worst financial crises in history. Although the origins of the crisis (and the social and political changes that followed) marked the end of the aughts, the 2010s were defined by slow recovery—and conversations about the excesses of capitalism and the explosion of wealth inequality. Mad Men didn’t need this context to be an incredible show—the plotlines and character arcs are compelling, and Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) brilliance and personal shortcomings are displayed in many contexts: in pitch meetings, with his family, and throughout the advertising world. The show is visually stunning and achieves nostalgia and disgust for a period in American history that's often lionized, but was marked by discrimination and rampant workplace sexual harassment. Mad Men is beautiful, smart, funny, engaging, well–written, and well–acted. But what elevates it to its position as one of the best shows of the decade is that within this perfectly crafted storytelling is a commentary on the hollowness of the advertising industry. We see that consumers in Mad Men are motivated to buy products they don’t need or—in the case of frequent Sterling Cooper client and cigarette company Lucky Strikes—products that are actively killing them. Don Draper empowers companies that already control enormous wealth to control the way people think. This decade was defined by the recession that preceded it—a crisis that has forced discussions of corporate power into the fore. Whether the show meant to or not, Mad Men was a part of that conversation.
–Sam Mitchell, Incoming Street Campus Editor
Breaking Bad (2008–2013)
Breaking Bad, the saga of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher cum meth dealer, is a family epic with a drug dealing twist. His relationship with Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman gave it some elements of the buddy comedy, but the show doesn’t ring funny. It errs more on the side of devastating. After The Sopranos and even, some have argued, Sex and the City, the concept of the antihero entered public discourse. But no show—not even Mad Men—encapsulated this trope like Breaking Bad. Watching Walter descend into villainy and rationalize that he’s still doing everything “for his family” made for prestige television so gripping and emotionally relevant that it was hard to watch, but harder to look away.
–Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief
Parks and Recreation (2009–2015)
No show in comedy has gone on to produce so many big names in the 2010s like Parks and Rec, taking many—such as Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza—from relative obscurity to household names. Although initially capitalizing on the success of the mockumentary–style sitcom that made The Office a phenomenon, it went on to have a life of its own with its charming portrayal of small town life, driven by Amy Poehler’s exuberant government employee Leslie Knope. She’s not alone, however, joined by a cast of some of the funniest people in showbiz—from Aziz Ansari to Nick Offerman to Retta. The show truly hit its stride with the arrival of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, rounding out the cast with perfect chaotic energy. On top of all the hilarity, though, there’s a genuine concern for the responsibilities of the government, and the ways that even the most mundane decisions can still change the course of a person’s life. Amid the antics of the many screwball storylines that run throughout, Parks and Recreation remains one of the more grounded shows of the decade.
— Sam Kesler, Music Editor
Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
From 2011 to 2019, captivated fans waited to find out who would end perched upon the Iron Throne of Westeros. Game of Thrones set the bar high for fantasy productions—and for TV as a whole—leveraging the highest production budget in the business, to craft a cultural phenomenon. From the first episode, where an act of incest between a lord and lady leads to the near–death of a child, to later seasons where the family dynamics have surpassed even the most toxic of Thanksgivings, the storylines and relationships between characters, kingdoms, and monsters all make use of the genius of George R.R. Martin’s world. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillan), and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are among the most complex characters to appear on screen this decade, and the visual effects, costumes, and makeup are unparalleled. Of course, you can’t bring up Game of Thrones without mentioning its schismatic final season, but it’s built up such a legacy that it almost doesn’t matter. Game of Thrones—at least when it’s at its best—has become the new standard.
–Alec Druggan, Sports Photo Editor
Black Mirror (2011–present)
With the sixth season of Black Mirror on the horizon, the high demand for the Netflix anthology’s return reflects its ability to both terrify and challenge us. By tackling social topics from a technological angle, including our relationships with sexuality, social institutions, and consciousness itself, the show requires that we become more cognizant of the issues facing society. Layering these themes with realistic hypotheticals in a future of heightened technology and lessened humanity, Black Mirror asks the one question that we all need to ask ourselves: Are we moving in the right direction? At the same time, Black Mirror never ceases to portray the truth about our actions in a world where objectivity seems insignificant. Not only is Black Mirror unpredictable at every turn, but it is haunting in the most refreshing way. Horror can ring false because it can remind you of the imaginary—but the questions that Black Mirror raises are anything but.
–Alana Kelly, General Assignments Reporter and Design Associate
Nothing describes the 2010s better than the rise—and subsequent fall—of Lena Dunham’s Girls. A self–aware and unflinching character study of Dunham’s ilk—millennial Brooklynites and privileged artist–types—Girls gets just about everything right. Its dry humor, cynical outlook, and meticulous world–building sheds a harsh light on Dunham’s New York, one that exposes all the self–hatred of being young and privileged and semi–sexually liberated. Girls managed to make the banalities of everyday Brooklyn bizarre, and the oddities of everyday Brooklyn banal. Whatever you thoughts on the show’s creator, it’s evident that she knows who she is and how to make fun of herself.
–Samantha Sanders, Film & TV Beat
Veep isn’t just a comedy. Yes, Julia Louis–Dreyfus is a comedic genius who lands every line. And yes, the farcical, grotesque satirization of the state of our political system is as hilarious as it is horrifying. But where it rises beyond the typical sitcom is in the way it uses profane humor to get at the heart of the hypocrisies in American politics. Veep spares no party and no political persuasion in its single–minded commitment to the case that our country is being run by a group of bumbling, power–hungry fools. Although she’s also the source for much of the show’s objectionable behavior, Selina Meyer is also forced to grapple with the institutional sexism that runs deep through the historically male–dominated halls of government. Instead of just being distressing, the show is incredibly clever and funny—how could it not be, with its nonstop barrage of jokes, ranging from thoughtful to crass? Veep isn’t just another comedy—it’s one of the funniest shows of the decade.
–Sam Mitchell, Incoming Street Campus Editor
Broad City (2014–2019)
Broad City seems, at first, like a low–stakes endeavor. The raunchy buddy comedy starring real–life best friends Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as analogues of themselves romping around New York City and generally getting into weed–fueled mischief evokes a very specific and often ridiculous mood. No bodily function is too gross to detail, smells and all. No sexual encounter is off the table. But to write Broad City off as crass comedy does a disservice to the beating heart of the show—Abbi and Ilana's friendship. Written, as many millennial best friendships are, somewhere between sexual fascination and platonic obsession, their relationship sustains the show and gives its wacky antics emotional weight. Where many other shows idealize the mid–20s, post–college aesthetic, Broad City commits to the day–to–day reality of it all, anchored by an excellent ensemble featuring Hannibal Buress and D'Arcy Carden, among others. There's probably no better explanation of its resonance than the show's final scene. Abbi and Ilana have grown up; Abbi has left the city. The camera pans to other best friends emerging from the Union Square subway station, talking and laughing and making the city their own. Broad City isn't a show about farts or sex or Abbi or Ilana. It's a show about the experience of best friendship.
— Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief
Bojack Horseman (2014–present)
In a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist, Bojack Horseman has set the standard not just for animated shows, but television as a whole in the 2010s. Through the titular character (Will Arnett), a washed–up 1990s television star and horse, showrunner Raphael Bob–Waksberg creates a tragicomic story that captures topics such as mental illness, addiction, and self–discovery in a manner unparalleled by any other show within the past decade. The social commentary is also gripping, as it analyzes the impacts of political correctness, sexual harassment, and gun control, among other subjects. From episodes such as “Escape from L.A.” to “Time’s Arrow” to “Free Churro,” the viewer laughs and cries as Bojack and secondary characters such as Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a golden retriever, experience trials, suffer hardships, and make mistakes. As a whole, it’s an expression of personal struggles that allow the viewer to identify with the characters’ personality and learn from the obstacles that they face. You find yourself in Bojack Horseman because it really gets you—and frankly, in a way that few other forms of entertainment have been able to in the past decade.
–Arjun Swaminathan, Staff Writer
Schitt’s Creek (2015–present)
Schitt’s Creek works better than it should. The show starts off with the uber–wealthy Rose family being yanked from their enormous estate after being defrauded by their business manager. With no money left to support themselves, they’re dropped in a ratty motel in a podunk town that the patriarch, Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), bought as a gag gift for his son years prior. They then make their way through the world, trading butlers and private jets for creaky twin beds and shoddy indoor plumbing, all the while gasping in disbelief at the lives of the simple folk—people they haven’t encountered, ever, in their entire lives. It sounds like a shtick that would get old by the middle of the first season, but creator and writer Dan Levy is smart enough to go beyond the fish–out–of–water premise and create characters that feel three–dimensional in their absurdity. Town locals like diner waitress Twyla (Sarah Levy) and the chipper mayor’s wife, Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), bring an appropriate level of clueless warmth, but this is the Rose’s show through and through. From David’s (Dan Levy) sardonic disgust at the slightest middle–class inconvenience to Alexis’ (Annie Murphy) ditzy charm, the jokes come a mile a minute. And we haven’t even talked about the heavy hitter yet. Catherine O’Hara gifts us with an icon for the ages in Moira Rose, the neurotic, dazed matriarch who bulldozes her way through every scene she’s in. Her collection of monochromatic, avant–garde clothing (the costume design for this show is a delight—especially for high fashion devotees) and her faux–Transatlantic accent are some of the best things to grace television in the 2010s. The show has accrued a cult following over the years, and all of its diehard fans are looking towards its final season, set to air next year. Here’s to many more outlandish Moira wig changes.
–Dalton DeStefano, Managing Editor
Stranger Things (2016–present)
Of all the shows that transformed Netflix into a content juggernaut, Stranger Things is perhaps the most universally appealing. With the show’s nostalgia–drenched scene–setting, teenagerish monster–battling, and threads of first loves throughout the narrative, it’s not difficult to see why Stranger Things was so successful immediately following its release. Through each season, the show’s creators have proven to be experts at harnessing ‘80s nostalgia and the show’s social media popularity, keeping fans hungry for each trailer drop or release date announcement, as the adventures of Will, Eleven, and their friends progress. The heart of the entire project is the friendship of the core group of kids. As the audience watches them age and traverse through their awkward years of bad kissing and living with the Upside Down, it’s clear the fan base will continue to grow along with the actors—and the characters they play.
–Mehek Boparai, Music Beat
Any writing about Fleabag pales in comparison to the writing of the show itself. The first season of Phoebe Waller–Bridge’s black comedy focuses on the death of Fleabag’s best friend and the nature of grief. It questions what it means to be responsible for something, and for yourself. Its second season crystallizes this coming–of–age, giving us a Fleabag seeking emotional clarity, sleeping with a priest, and dealing with the self–hatred that propels the narrative. And then, at the end, she leaves us. I say “us” because Fleabag is a show deeply concerned with its audience. Though other television from this decade, most notably House of Cards, breaks the fourth wall, it’s never felt more effective than it does here. Where House of Cards' direct–to–camera asides reek of artifice and leave us feeling judged, Fleabag’s are so intimate that they’re painful. And no other show from this decade gave us a cast like Fleabag’s ensemble—from Andrew Scott’s devastatingly hot “hot priest” to Olivia Colman’s deliciously condescending “Godmother.” Though much of the reception centers around Waller-Bridge herself, these deadpan Brits flexing their comedic and emotional muscles—often at the same time—is what makes the show so sharp. In the first episode of the second season, Waller–Bridge sets up Fleabag’s tendency to self–narrate in a way that’s both explicit and achingly subtle. “This is a love story,” Fleabag mutters to the camera, blood pouring out of her nose. She’s telling her own story, but also shaping it, self–editing in real time until it becomes impossible to truly live. Though it feels authentic, it’s inherently constructed. Ultimately, what makes Fleabag so perfect is its deconstruction of the fourth wall, its willingness to strip itself for parts. In the end, Fleabag walks away from the camera and we feel abandoned. Because we’re no longer seen. We’re no longer complicit. We’re free.
— Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief
The Good Place (2016–present)
At times during this decade, it seemed as if “peak TV” had displaced the network sitcom. While there are, of course, occasional successes within the formula, the age of prestige TV has audiences gravitating towards weightier fare. So The Good Place offers up something different. Ted Danson of Cheers is a welcome harkening back to the popular sitcoms of years past, while the rest of the cast (including Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, our protagonist) are of the new guard. The cast works well together, all the actors give nuanced performances, and the show is good. Like, seriously good. Following Bell as Eleanor— an objectively bad person— when she is mistakenly put in "the good place," the comedy reckons with basic ethical and moral quandaries like the trolley problem in the most bizarre, interesting, and often literalized ways. The Good Place never fails to deliver and it never fails to surprise. It’s funny, it’s weird, and it’s one of the best comedies on television— prestige TV included.
–Samantha Sanders, Film & TV Beat
We probably don’t need an HBO drama about super–rich white people concerned with the future of the family business. But we make room for Succession because it’s basically perfect. This Jesse Armstrong–created show about the uber–rich Roy family is absurdist Shakespeare. It's deeply chaotic, tragedy as farce, a show about capitalism with a deep–rooted understanding of the meaninglessness of it all. Succession’s attention to detail is admirable, creating a mood of foreboding and ridiculous excess drenched in tasteless cashmere and pitch–perfect set dressing. And its ensemble cast, populated with New York theater actors, gives it a sense of the family epic rendered on stage, with the benefit of an HBO–level budget. Succession is a uniquely 2019 artifact, a show about what happens when late capitalism messes with both the intimacies of a family dynamic and the worldwide reach of a global business. Another show reckoning with these things would be so bleak as to be unwatchable, but Succession realizes how hilarious it is to live in a world that's falling apart.
— Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief