Choosing and ranking the best TV shows of the decade might have been the most daunting task especially in the era of “Peak TV” where every provider churns out quality pieces at an unprecedented rate. But I’ve managed to narrow the list down to ten. I’m sure I have missed many gems, and this list is not the most objective (I do have a soft spot for comedies), but here we go:
1. Fleabag (2016 - 2019)
Fleabag as previously mentioned is undoubtedly my favourite show of all time. What Phoebe Waller-Bridge has created can only be described as a masterpiece - every second of it delivers something unexpected. The way it breaks the fourth wall is a necessary touch but also incorporates the sort of ambiguity that I thought was exclusive to literature - each sentence carries a different weight. You get to delve deep into the character’s mind while the narrative continues. If there’s a textbook on the history of television shows, I firmly believe that Fleabag deserves its own section.
2. Breaking Bad (2008 - 2013)
I went in for the premise of high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-dealer (honestly who wouldn’t?), and little did I know what I was in a ride for. I can’t even pinpoint the best part of the show because every aspect is simply perfect. Very few shows have managed to achieve this level of character development to the point that the first and last seasons feel like they belong to two completely different shows, yet the plot moves so naturally and builds such a convincing backstory. Every episode leaves you pondering where it will go next. It also takes brilliant acting to bring life to the complex characters. In short, AMC’s Breaking Bad lives up to its hype as “one of the greatest TV shows of all time.”
3. The World Between Us (2019)
I hesitated for a moment whether to include HBO Asia’s The World Between Us in this list - but I figured I had to for its impact on the Asian TV scene. It is a Taiwanese series that explores the aftermath of a mass shooting, skillfully intertwining perspectives of all parties involved. It holds a special spot in my heart - my buckets of tears are all the evidence you need. The characters are exquisitely crafted; the dialogues are written and delivered with such emotional precision. I want to applaud the show creators for their brutally honest take on the uneasy topics of morality, mass-killing, human rights, and mental health. It’s certainly the Taiwanese show of the decade.
4. Sherlock (2010 - 2017)
BBC’s Sherlock is the modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and it’s the perfect balance between old and new. It’s a rather difficult task to put a twist on a well-known classic, but Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss execute it flawlessly, staying faithful to its source material while adding a refreshing and inventive flare. Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Martin Freeman’s superb acting bring life to the classic duo. Although the last season falls short of my expectations, I still regard it as one of my favourites of the decade for its witty lines and impeccable chemistry.
5. Westworld (2016 - Present)
Diving into Westworld I was initially uncertain about the cliche AI uprising trope, but thankfully it did not disappoint - setting it in a western theme park is kind of a genius move. The highlight for me is definitely the visual stimulation - be it the meticulous special effects or the set design. Undeniably Westworld is multilayered and fascinatingly explored, brought out by its critically acclaimed cast. For all the violence and misogyny, Westworld still remains within the acceptable boundaries and nevertheless presents an interesting case of humans losing humanity and androids gaining it.
6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017 - Present)
This period-drama comedy is set in 1950’s Manhattan centered around Miriam “Midge” Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan), an upper-class Jewish American housewife who’s pursuing a career in stand up comedy after her husband has an affair and leaves her. It’s simple, delightful, energetic and has an upbeat optimism that puts a smile on my space any day. There’s a cheerful elegance to the fifties tied in with the universal theme of a woman finding her own voice that makes the show work.
7. Modern Family (2009 - Present)
Modern Family is a mockumentary capturing the trials and tribulations of the Pritchett families, three very different yet interconnected families. Although I have to admit that there is a decline in the later seasons, it’s still neurotic, hilarious, and heartfelt. It’s also very reflective of a typical American family and is decade-characteristic, which was why I related the show in the first place when I moved to the States. It’s the sort of “pick-me-up” or “feel-good” show that’s a staple on everyone’s rewatch list.
8. The Big Bang Theory (2007 - 2019)
The twelve-year run The Big Bang Theory tells the story of two CalTech physicists and their new neighbor next door. While many cite an inconsistency in the quality of each season, it finished with a strong ending that beautifully wraps up the twelve seasons. The geeky dynamics and nerdy references were nicely played out (except when the writers fell into the trap of stereotyping). Nonetheless, this show has accompanied me through many stages of life and can be framed as a decade-defining sitcom.
9. Killing Eve (2018 - Present)
Here we have yet another gem from Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Killing Eve is a thrilling cat-and-mouse tale between MI6 operative Eve Polastri (played by Sandra Oh) and psychopathic assassin Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer). There’s unbelievable chemistry between the pair that defines the show. Every aspect - plot, character development, set design, costume design, cinematography - is simply excellent. Unquestionably Waller-Bridge has mastered the art of storytelling.
10. Chernobyl (2019)
HBO’s Chernobyl is a five-part miniseries based on the catastrophic 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl. It’s gripping, disheartening, painfully honest, and can be best summarised with the question “What is the cost of lies?” Its focus on humans is what sets it apart from other documentaries and what makes it all the more horrifying and blunt. It’s era-defining, paradigm-shifting, and well-deserved of its nineteen Emmy nominations. It’s a story that needed to be told, and I’m glad HBO found the right people to tell the story.