The 100 Most Defining Shows Of The Decade

A Countdown Through Today’s Golden Age Of Scripted Television.

Channel Guide Contributor

The past 10 years have yielded such an abundant mix of series riches, it’s difficult to whittle the best and buzziest shows down to a list of just 100. Let’s start by explaining the criteria for how this list was created. First, the decade spans from 2010 to 2019, and we only considered shows that were first introduced during this time frame, which eliminates favorites like Breaking Bad and Mad Men that ended in this decade but started prior. We only concentrated on scripted dramas and comedies — no reality, no documentaries, no sketch or news shows, and no young adult. The series that made the cut had a significant impact on culture and were ratings juggernauts, critically praised, award winners, hidden gems and/or beloved by loyal TV fandoms. Behold your guide to the greatest shows of the decade …

100. Hap and Leonard
(2016-18, SundanceTV)

The pages of Joe R. Lansdale’s noir-ish book series were brought to vivid, satiric, sometimes heartbreaking detail thanks to the brilliant pairing of the extraordinarily talented James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams. It was the highest-rated series in SundanceTV’s history.

99. The Haunting of Hill House
(2018-present, Netflix)

Between the abundant jump scares throughout the 10-episode first season of this anthology series is a beautifully haunting story of the power of family.

98. Godless
(2017 Limited, Netflix)

Jeff Daniels, Michelle Dockery, Jack O’Connell and Merritt Wever proved in this aching, gritty, unforgettable story that Westerns still are fresh and compelling.

97. NCIS: New Orleans
(2014-present, CBS)

The third series in the juggernaut NCIS franchise is six seasons and counting.

96. Yellowstone
(2018-present, Paramount Network)

95. black-ish
(2014-present, ABC)

The Emmy-nominated sitcom redefined modern comedy, addressing racist stereotypes, politics and family life with explosive humor.

94. Person of Interest
(2011-16, CBS)

93. UnREAL
(2015-18, Lifetime/Hulu)

Marti Noxon showed us the salacious, behind-the-scenes happenings of producing a reality TV show in this fictional drama, and we all got a better insight on how The Bachelor really works.

92. When They See Us
(2019 Limited, Netflix)

91. The Blacklist
(2013-present, NBC)

90. The Missing
(2014-17, Starz)

Fear and despair, brooding anguish, and heartbreaking cliffhangers — sound entertaining? Starz’s intense anthology series was a nail-biting, riveting mystery thriller that kept you guessing (and hoping, in Season 1) for a happy ending.

89. Young Sheldon
(2017-present, CBS)

88. Jack Ryan
(2018-present, Amazon Prime Video)

87. Pose
(2018-present, FX)

Ryan Murphy’s captivating depiction of New York’s ballroom culture in the late ’80s features the largest transgender cast ever and broke ground in sharing the legacy and traditions of this community.

86. Poldark
(2015-present, PBS)

85. The Kominsky Method
(2018-present, Netflix)

84. Madam Secretary
(2014-present, CBS)

83. Power
(2014-20, Starz)

Six years ago, Starz execs sat in on a pitch from rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and executive producer/creator Courtney Kemp on an idea about a show that covered themes from the path not taken and destiny to code switching, concierge drug dealing, and social opportunities. Today that show is a tour de force, with an expanded 15-episode final season, an aftershow and a spinoff in the works. Now that’s the definition of power.

82. Elementary
(2012-19, CBS)

81. BoJack Horseman
(2014-present, Netflix)

80. Hannibal
(2013-15, NBC)

Stepping into the shoes of Anthony Hopkins’ tongue-twitching, manipulative Hannibal Lecter seemed implausible, but Mads Mikkelsen took us along for a frightening, sometimes humorous, often gory thrill ride.

79. Pretty Little Liars
(2010-17, Freeform)

This teen mystery thriller ended up on many adults’ watchlists. The success of the TV show prompted the book series to be extended and created a gargantuan fandom on social media.

78. Mom
(2013-present, CBS)

77. The Affair
(2014-19, Showtime)

This bold storytelling was refreshingly unique as illicit lovers (Ruth Wilson and Dominic West) served as unreliable narrators of their tempestuous love story. Each episode was split — reliving events from their separate perspectives, which rarely jibed. The only truth we were sure of was the pain they caused their spouses.

76. 13 Reasons Why
(2017-present, Netflix)

Bullying, self-injury, sexting, rape, mental health and suicide. The series was a cultural phenomenon in binge-watching and spurred conversation, as it was a frank portrayal of what high school life is like for our children today and was utterly heartbreaking, horrifying and all too real.

75. Narcos
(2015-17, Netflix)

74. Luther
(2010-present, BBC America)

73. Lucifer
(2016-present, FOX/Netflix)

72. Longmire
(2012-17, A&E/Netflix)

This modern-day Western followed the adventures of Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) and resonated with viewers for its innate decency, as it had a powerful style of showing ordinary people trying to do the right thing when circumstances often piled up against them. The series debuted on A&E in 2012 but was abruptly canceled; Netflix picked up the revival in 2014.

71. Insecure
(2016-present, HBO)

Everyday life often throws us into some uncomfortable situations. Issa Rae (who plays a fictionalized version of herself) took that thought and magnified it by poking fun at the challenges of African American women in this wicked-smart award-winner of a comedy.

70. Transparent
(2014-19, Amazon Prime Video)

69. Fresh Off the Boat
(2015-present, ABC)

68. Halt and Catch Fire
(2014-17, AMC)

67. The Goldbergs
(2013-present, ABC)

66. Billions
(2016-present, Showtime)

Oh, if only we had the money and power of Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, a self-made hedge-fund billionaire (played by Homeland‘s Damian Lewis). This slick and juicy high-finance melodrama pits Axe against a ruthless U.S. attorney (Paul Giamatti) in a bitter campaign of alpha-takes-all combat.

65. American Crime
(2015-17, ABC)

64. Mindhunter
(2017-present, Netflix)

Despite the nearly two-year wait between seasons of this intensely compelling crime drama, viewers still came back to follow the stories about criminal profilers studying real-life serial killers, including Charles Manson and “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz.

63. Peaky Blinders
(2013-present, Netflix)

This award-winning gangster drama set in postwar Britain is rich with color, costuming and cinematic grandeur. Cillian Murphy heads an absorbing cast as Tommy Shelby, the sartorially distinctive and emotionally broken head honcho of a Birmingham gang. It’s Murphy’s remarkable performance that makes this show a can’t-miss.

62. Scandal
(2012-18, ABC)

Many a wine night was created to watch Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) take on her detractors as a behind-the-scenes “fixer” at a crisis management firm. Her relationship with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) was a main reason to tune in.

61. Broadchurch
(2013-17, BBC America)

This British series followed the murder of a young boy in a small town and the subsequent investigation by two detectives — Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (future Oscar winner Olivia Colman) — in maybe the two actors’ best performances to date (and that’s saying something!).

60. The Man in the High Castle
(2015-present, Amazon Prime Video)

Have you ever imagined a world where the Axis powers won World War II? This series, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, does exactly that. Its unnerving tone is well-served by its adept performances, especially Rufus Sewell as John Smith.

59. Empire
(2015-present, FOX)

A force since its premiere nearly five years ago, Empire has flourished in its own spotlight and is responsible for introducing the world to Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), one of the decade’s most defining characters.

58. Dead to Me
(2019-present, Netflix)

TV hasn’t seen such a delightfully complicated pairing as the likes of Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) in this dark comedy with plenty never-saw-it-coming plot twists. The half-hour episodes make this 10-episode series a fabulous one-day binge.

57. Succession
(2018-present, HBO)

Sharp, biting and witty, Succession’s fictional Roy family is definitely not one you’d like to see around your Thanksgiving table. Luckily, that makes them great television.

56. Bob’s Burgers
(2011-present, FOX)

If you’re looking for something guaranteed to cheer you up on a bad day, you can do no better than Bob’s Burgers, home of the famously wry burger specials and the best cartoon family since the Simpsons.

55. Broad City
(2014-19, Comedy Central)

No show has quite explored female friendship like this. Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) were best friends navigating their way through New York, and we wanted nothing more than to hang out with them as they did.

54. Westworld
(2016-present, HBO)

Western, sci-fi, thriller — Westworld is a terrifying mashup of genres that makes it impossible to skip. Though it can overcomplicate itself, the show’s thought-provoking episodes are fresh, relevant and ready to be discussed among all your friends.

53. The Mindy Project
(2012-17, FOX/Hulu)

We loved the charming Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) and her quirky cast of coworkers at her medical practice, but we tuned in for the chemistry between her and Danny (Chris Messina).

52. Suits
(2011-19, USA Network)

Long before the series had the bragging rights of being “the show” the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) starred in, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) was redefining law procedurals with his arrogance and zest for controversy, and his unlikely pairing with a college dropout (we miss Mike Ross!).

51. Sharp Objects
(2018 Limited, HBO)

Amy Adams starred in this searing eight-part series based on Gillian Flynn’s masochistic novel. This show had one doozy of a finale, but it was after the final credits rolled that the real gut punch was delivered in a goose-bump-inducing reveal that left the world talking.

50. Blue Bloods
(2010-present, CBS)

The right time slot (Fridays), the right stars over 10 seasons (Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Will Estes, Vanessa Ray) and the right character-driven premise give this show top ratings year after year.

49. Bates Motel
(2013-17, A&E)

Emmy nominee Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore were creepily on point as too-close-for-comfort mother and son Norma and Norman Bates in this dark drama that proved a worthy prequel to Psycho.

48. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
(2015-19, The CW)

Rachel Bloom’s incredibly fun, romantic, musical comedy-drama series was originally developed by Showtime, who eventually passed on it. But that was The CW’s gain, as they ended up with one of the most unique and enjoyable shows of recent years, with hummable original tunes introduced in each episode of a series that also managed to deal frankly with issues like mental illness and female sexuality.

47. Shameless
(2011-present, Showtime)

Now the longest-running original scripted series in Showtime history (Season 10 premieres this month), this adaptation of the British hit has consistently managed to walk a fine line as it pulls no punches (and has no shame) in mining laughs from the tribulations of an impoverished family with an almost-always-drunk patriarch (frequent Emmy nominee William H. Macy), while managing to not laugh at them.

46. The Newsroom
(2012-14, HBO)

Just as his series The West Wing had been previously, Aaron Sorkin’s political drama set behind the scenes at a cable news outlet tended to be a love-it-or-hate-it production for critics and audiences. It inarguably got people talking.

45. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
(2013-present, FOX/NBC)

As a testament to the hilarity and originality of this cop sitcom, another winner with a Michael Schur (The Good Place) pedigree, fan outcry over its cancellation by FOX after five seasons led to an almost immediate pickup for a sixth season by NBC (which had passed on the series at its outset, so things have come full circle).

44. Ray Donovan
(2013-present, Showtime)

Entering its seventh season this month, this darkly humorous crime drama with Emmy-nominated Liev Schreiber as the title “fixer,” and Jon Voight as his shady father in a bit of inspired casting, has lost none of its edge since moving its compellingly down-and-dirty action from Los Angeles to New York City a few seasons back.

43. Homeland
(2011-2020, Showtime)

The long-running spy thriller about CIA agents (its eighth and final season debuts in February 2020) has evolved over the years in terms of its storylines, just as the world events upon which it is based have. But what has remained consistent is its powerful leads in Claire Danes, a two-time Emmy winner for her role as Carrie Mathison, and Mandy Patinkin, a four-time Emmy nominee for his role as Saul Berenson. And how many other shows have had a U.S. president, in this case Barack Obama, praise them?

42. Fleabag
(2016-19, Amazon Prime Video)

Before she helped guide the successful direction of Killing Eve as that series’ Season 1 showrunner and head writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge created and wrote this wildly original and enjoyable comedy-drama in which she also starred in the title role. The show’s second, and reportedly final, season recently won six of the 11 Emmys for which it was nominated.

41. Killing Eve
(2018-present, BBC America/AMC)

This fun cat-and-mouse thriller tinged with dark humor about an intelligence agent (Sandra Oh) tracking a psychopathic assassin (Jodie Comer) not only features two strong female leads but also has had different female showrunners/writers for each season, including recent Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Season 1.

40. Atlanta
(2016-present, FX)

Donald Glover created, stars in, and serves as a writer and director on this hilarious series that is a perfect vehicle for his unique, somewhat eccentric, style of humor. Yet, aside from the laughs, the show also offers poignant observations and nuanced insights into various character types inhabiting the title city.

39. Grace and Frankie
(2015-Present, Netflix)

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are absolute perfection in this comedy about an unlikely friendship.

38. Fargo
(2014-present, FX)

Dontcha know, big drama is found in small towns in this quirky, dark anthology inspired by the Coen Brothers’ 1996 Oscar-winning film. The series translated to the small screen everything the charming murder movie so delightfully and darkly conveyed (woodchipper and all).

37. Portlandia
(2011-18, IFC)

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sketch comedy series is as weird and wonderful as the city with which it shares its name.

36. Silicon Valley
(2014-19, HBO)

King of the Hill creator Mike Judge used his experiences working at a startup in the 1980s as the inspiration for this comedy about the rise and fall of an app. The series’ sixth and final season premiered Oct. 27.

35. True Detective
(2014-present, HBO)

Each season of this artsy police anthology draws the eye-catching star power of Hollywood’s A-listers including Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson (Season 1), Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams (Season 2) and Mahershala Ali (Season 3). Season 1, however, remains the best as it teetered between timelines (1995 and 2012), and you never quite knew which of the protagonists you could trust.

34. Orphan Black
(2013-17, BBC America)

Tatiana Maslany should play every role from now until forever. The versatile actress played all five main clones (and others) in the addictive sci-fi thriller.

33. Girls
(2012-17, HBO)

Lena Dunham’s semi-autobiographical series was either loved or loathed for its quartet of heroines’ frank examination of sexuality, relationships and careers.

32. Boardwalk Empire
(2010-14, HBO)

You know a series is going to be epic when Martin Scorsese directs its $18 million pilot.

31. American Horror Story
(2011-present, FX)

This terrifying anthology series proves that there is nothing scarier than Ryan Murphy’s mind.

30. Jane the Virgin
(2014-19, The CW)

In this satirical twist on the telenovela, a young woman (Gina Rodriguez) is accidentally impregnated by artificial insemination, leading to hilarity, drama and romance.

29. Outlander
(2014-present, Starz)

For anyone who is a book-to-TV snob, Ronald D. Moore’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s beloved time-traveling novels has been nothing less than spectacular. Stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have made this steamy, kilt-dropping story perfection.

28. Justified
(2010-15, FX)

Timothy Olyphant plays a U.S. marshal who brings an effective but controversial Old West mentality to law enforcement.

27. The Leftovers
(2014-17, HBO)

Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston led an ensemble cast in this emotionally engrossing, supernatural “sudden departure” drama based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name. It was a mystifying meditation on sorrow, loss and faith that left viewers struggling with its implications and who they might become in the aftermath.

26. Master of None
(2015-present, Netflix)

Aziz Ansari’s Emmy-winning, post-Parks and Rec gig follows him as a young and struggling Indian actor in NYC, where he proves he is a master of creativity.

25. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(2015-19, Netflix)

After being held in an underground bunker for 15 years, a young woman (Ellie Kemper) brings her naiveté and optimism to New York City to experience all that life has to offer. The series features absurdist humor, an earworm of a theme song (“It’s a MIRACLE!”) and a stellar cast that includes Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski.

24. Mr. Robot
(2015-present, USA Network)

Sam Esmail’s slick thriller about computer hactivists made Rami Malek a star and gave ’90s heartthrob Christian Slater a career resurgence. The series began its fourth and final season on Oct. 6.

23. Parenthood
(2010-15, NBC)

Viewers were drawn to the sentimental saga of the Braverman family and were inspired to follow in their tradition of large, outdoor, communal dinners.

22. GLOW
(2017-present, Netflix)

The fictionalization of life on the 1980s women’s pro wrestling circuit has been a (body) slam-dunk with fans.

21. American Crime Story
(2016-present, FX)

The Ryan Murphy-produced series based its first two award-winning seasons on the O.J. Simpson murder trial and Andrew Cunanan’s multi-state murder spree that claimed the life of fashion mogul Gianni Versace. Every episode was gritty, gripping and glorious.

20. Ozark
(2017-present, Netflix)

Netflix set the summer of ’17 ablaze with this darkly funny hit starring Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, a money-laundering mastermind from Chicago who butts heads with deceptively smart criminal mountain folk in Missouri.

19. Better Call Saul
(2015-present, AMC)

There was the Chicago Sunroof, and the rest is history. The Breaking Bad spinoff filled us in on how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) morphed into “two-bit, bus-bench lawyer” Saul Goodman.

18. Chernobyl
(2019 Limited, HBO)

From selfless heroes to self-serving Soviet bureaucrats, this limited drama series was a chilling dive into history’s worst manmade disaster. It’s only five episodes, but Chernobyl’s fallout will spread for years.

17. Barry
(2018-present, HBO)

HBO combined Bill Hader’s socially inept contract killer with Henry Winkler’s off-kilter acting coach to assemble the breakout hit comedy of 2018. With a third season on the way, they’re just getting warmed up.

16. House of Cards
(2013-18, Netflix)

The political thriller became the first streaming-only series to be nominated for a major Primetime Emmy, but we’ll never know what might’ve been had President Frank Underwood not been killed by Kevin Spacey.

15. Black Mirror
(2011-present, Netflix)

This sci-fi anthology series struck a nerve from the get-go, cleverly forcing us to confront our fears about where technology is leading us as a society and as a species.

14. The Crown
(2016-present, Netflix)

Claire Foy led a superb cast in this historical drama that exceled as a personal character study of the British royal family and its relationships strained by protocol and duty in a changing society. Olivia Colman stars as Queen Elizabeth II in the new season bowing Nov. 17.

13. Schitt’s Creek
(2015-20, Pop)

Eugene Levy and son Daniel put Pop on the map with their quirky riches-to-rags comedy that evolved past its absurdist humor to become an endearing fan favorite. The final season debuts in January.

12. Orange Is the New Black
(2013-19, Netflix)

One of Netflix’s first signature original series, OITNB humanized women’s prison inmates and introduced iconic characters like “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Emmy winner Uzo Aduba). It was also the first series to receive Emmy nominations in both comedy and drama categories.

11. Sherlock
(2010-17, PBS)

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern take on the classic characters was a must-watch, due in large part to Benedict Cumberbatch’s charismatic Sherlock Holmes and his chemistry with Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson. The big mystery: Will we ever get another season?

10. The Handmaid’s Tale
(2017-present, Hulu)

Blessed be the fruit. Elisabeth Moss’ haunting portrayal of Offred in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel could be the finest acting performance of the decade.

9. The Americans
(2013-18, FX)

Undercover KGB agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) made the Cold War hot again in this critically adored series that excelled as both a family drama and an espionage thriller.

8. This Is Us
(2016-present, NBC)

Creator/writer Dan Fogelman’s twisty, time-jumping tearjerker still gives us all the feels and blows our minds. It made stars of Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley and Milo Ventimiglia, and it is the rare broadcast network show that got the nation talking about slow cookers.

7. The Good Place
(2016-20, NBC)

It’s the best forkin’ broadcast TV sitcom of the decade! Stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson achieved nirvana with this thought-provoking, consistently astonishing afterlife comedy that’s playing out its final season.

6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
(2017-present, Amazon Prime Video)

Rachel Brosnahan is simply marvelous in her breakout role as housewife-turned-comedienne “Midge” Maisel in Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Emmy-winning period dramedy. Season 3 takes the stage in December.

5. Veep
(2012-19, HBO)

When Veep took office in 2012, no one imagined that the Washington circus it depicted could be upstaged by real politics. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ tour de force was as prophetic as it was funny.

4. The Walking Dead
(2010-present, AMC)

From the moment a bewildered Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) woke up in a hospital to discover the world had gone to hell, we were bitten by the TWD bug. The AMC powerhouse has produced some of the most dramatic, gruesome, shocking and talked-about moments of the decade.

3. Stranger Things
(2016-present, Netflix)

This one goes to Eleven. The supremely Spielbergian sci-fi/horror ’80s throwback was expertly built for binge-watching. It also introduced us to Millie Bobby Brown and reintroduced us to Winona Ryder.

2. Game of Thrones
(2011-19, HBO)

It had hiccups (Ed Sheeran) and rogue coffee cups, but the fantasy epic’s eminence shall echo through the ages. The mighty awards and ratings juggernaut roused passions, stirred the imagination and could seldom be ignored.

1. Downton Abbey
(2011-16, PBS)

“Vulgarity is no substitute for wit,” Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) professed and Downton Abbey proved. If a British prestige period drama on PBS can earn middle America’s affection, there is hope for us yet.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*