The Most Significant Television Shows of the 2010s
There’s certainly no shortage of television shows out there — any one of us surely has a watchlist of countless programs across basic and premium cable, not to mention the plethora of original offerings each digital streaming service boasts. As this era of Peak TV enters its third decade — beginning in the 2000s and now stretching into the 2020s — it's worth taking a look back on some of the most influential shows of the last 10 years.
The Starz original series Spartacus (also known as Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus: Vengeance or Spartacus: War of the Damned, depending on which season you're watching) kicked off the 2010s with force. No, seriously — with the amount of violence in the show, it's fair to say it literally kicked the decade off.
Judging by the show's ads back in the spring of 2010, some FX viewers might've dismissed Justified as just another cop procedural. They'd be wrong, though — Justified is far from your run-of-the-mill police drama. It's much more important than that.
Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (2010–2017)
The 2010s can be seen as a time when absurdist humor was allowed to thrive and run rampant across the comedy scene. Untethered from the traditional joke formats of the past, comedies in the '10s were stranger than anything that came before them. Case in point: Adult Swim's Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule.
Downton Abbey (2010–2015)
A sensation across the United States and Europe, Downton Abbey proved that prestige TV wasn't just a thing for Generation X and viewers who are younger. Following the lives of a family of British aristocrats, their servants and their daily goings-on in the early 20th century, Downton Abbey shattered expectations from the start.
Shameless (2011– )
There's really no other show like Showtime's Shameless. Recently surpassing 10 seasons, the show is not only a monumental achievement for the network but is also a staple of the decade's comedic stylings. Raunchy, unapologetic and surprisingly heartfelt, Shameless is exactly what its title suggests.
Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
Based off of the series of hit fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin (that have still yet to see a conclusion), HBO's Game of Thrones can be seen as a metaphor for Peak TV in the 2010s. Arriving in 2011 and concluding in 2019, the show stretched throughout the decade and continually captivated audiences.
Black Mirror (2011- )
In our current cultural climate, a time when technology is integrated into our daily lives and relationships with other people, it was only a matter of time before someone came along and mined this reality for the sake of entertainment. In Black Mirror's case, that person is Charlie Brooker.
The Eric Andre Show (2012– )
Like Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, Adult Swim's The Eric Andre Show harvests the surreality of 2010s comedy and amplifies it to the Nth degree. A parody of the old-school talk show format, the sketch show is genuinely absurd beyond words.
Nathan for You (2013–2017)
Money makes the world go 'round. It's a simple fact of life in the Western world. This means that, in search of the American Dream, countless businesses come and go. Comedian Nathan Fielder managed to tap into this desire and create a completely baffling bit of TV.
These days, it seems sequels and prequels and spinoffs are driving the television and feature film industries more than any other story idea. NBC's Silence of the Lambs prequel, which arrived back in 2013, does an amazing job showing how it's done.
True Detective (2014– )
One of the most popular trends in 2010s television was the anthology series. Abiding by the same basic structure and themes from season to season but recasting the series roles and telling new stories with each new batch of episodes, anthologies really resonated with viewers.
Silicon Valley (2014–2019)
Wrapping up right in the nick of time — just mere weeks before the end of the decade — Mike Judge and Alec Berg's big-tech satire Silicon Valley started out as a pleasant little comedy about hapless internet billionaires and eventually evolved into a searing critique of some of the most controversial figures in tech today.
Fargo (2014– )
Combining the format of an anthology series with the popularity of rebooting intellectual property, Noah Hawley's FX series Fargo extrapolates on the Coen Brothers' hit film Fargo by applying its themes and setting to separate stories within the same universe.
BoJack Horseman (2014–2020)
One of the earliest Netflix Original Series and the streamer's very first adult cartoon, Raphael Bob-Waksberg's BoJack Horseman stars Will Arnett as a talking horse from a retro sitcom who's struggling to make do (and find work) in a modern world where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist.
Better Call Saul (2015– )
A spinoff of/prequel to AMC's smash-hit television series Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan's Better Call Saul tracks the origins of Bad’s scene-stealing criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (formerly Jimmy McGill, as Saul reveals) while occasionally providing a glimpse at his life after Breaking Bad.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)
Another hugely popular trend of the 2010s was true crime. Across TV, film and podcasts, the true crime genre hooked millions by telling true (and often truly baffling) stories that continue to perplex and mystify those involved years after the events transpired.
Mr. Robot (2015–2019)
Like Black Mirror, USA's Mr. Robot sets out to tackle the ways in which we allow technology to infiltrate our lives and our privacy in ways we would never let another person do. Unlike Black Mirror, though, Mr. Robot is not telling a different fable with each episode. It's serialized, and it's arguably a lot more serious.
Credited with kicking off Marvel's desire to create a congruent set of television shows akin to their Cinematic Universe (MCU) on the big screen, Netflix's short-lived but highly successful series Daredevil undoubtedly started a movement.
Ash vs Evil Dead (2015–2018)
Unlike Fargo or Hannibal, Starz's Ash vs Evil Dead is nothing more and nothing less than a straight-up sequel to the Evil Dead trilogy. Catching up with Bruce Campbell's inimitable horror movie hero Ash many years after the events of Army of Darkness, the show was as big a cult favorite as the films themselves.
Making a Murderer (2015– )
Netflix's answer to HBO's success with The Jinx came in the form of 2015's Making a Murderer. Continuing to update viewers with new information regularly, the true crime series ignited a debate among viewers that was unlike anything the streamer had seen before or after.
American Crime Story (2016– )
By combining key story elements of the true crime genre and utilizing the structure of an anthology series, Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story — with two seasons so far, one covering the OJ Simpson trial and the other covering the murder of Gianni Versace — is an exemplary master class in storytelling.
Stranger Things (2016– )
There's one big aspect of entertainment in the 2010s that hasn't really been discussed yet: nostalgia. A yearning for the way things used to be in the ‘70s, the ‘80s, the ‘90s — you name it. It's a longing for the past that drives shows like Stranger Things.
Atlanta (2016– )
When Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) left NBC's Community to focus on his own projects, it was unclear what exactly that would entail beyond "new music." When his FX masterpiece Atlanta premiered, it was obvious he made the right choice to go his own way.
Planet Earth II (2016)
Ten years after David Attenborough's Planet Earth provided audiences around the world with access to wildlife they might never have seen before or after, the famed documentarian returned with Planet Earth II. Equipped with even more breathtaking footage, the series resonated even more strongly than its predecessor.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017– )
The second show to come from the mind of Amy Sherman-Palladino in the years that followed hit CW series Gilmore Girls, Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows a 1950s housewife (Rachel Brosnahan) who gives it all up to become a stand-up comedian.
The Handmaid's Tale (2017– )
Based off of the ever-popular novel of the same name by author Margaret Atwood, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale brings Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss back to the small screen to tell a political allegory about a dystopian America where women live as concubines under a dictatorship.
Twin Peaks (2017)
A continuation of the story David Lynch started all the way back in 1990, Showtime's Twin Peaks picks up 25 years after the events of the original series and its prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Combining the best elements of both the show and the film, Twin Peaks completely stands alone.
Pose (2018– )
For fans of Ryan Murphy, it's pretty hard to keep up with all the projects the writer-director-producer involves himself in. By picking and choosing what he writes, what he directs and what he produces, Murphy is able to spread himself across multiple TV shows and networks at once.
Surviving R. Kelly (2019– )
Originally airing on Lifetime and spanning the course of six incredibly difficult episodes, the documentary miniseries Surviving R. Kelly managed to confront the nation with the cold, hard facts surrounding popular R&B singer R. Kelly and the profoundly disturbing details of his personal life and relationships.
The most recent series compiled here — and one of the shortest — HBO's Watchmen sequel (also titled Watchmen) comes from showrunner extraordinaire Damon Lindelof and provides a completely original look at what happened to the world in the wake of the events of the hit graphic novel from the ‘80s.