The general vibe of television in the 2010s is impossible to summarize. Online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGo completely redefined the landscape, spiking the popularity of TV shows by giving people the newly-provided ability to “binge-watch” them. This, in turn, led to a vast number of quality series being pumped out by networks. It was easily the greatest decade of TV in the history of its existence. Given the fact that I was born in 2000, I have a definite recency bias, but there’s a reason the moniker “Peak TV,” which was coined by an FX network chief, has been widely-used to describe the decade. I obviously haven’t seen all 495+ series that aired in the 2010s, because I have a life, but I’d say that I’ve watched a pretty solid selection of the more notable ones. It’s tough for me to narrow down a top five favorites list due to the overwhelming amount of great shows, but the five that I’m including impacted and entertained me to the highest degree. I’m not really discounting much: if a show aired for even a single season from 2010-2019, it’s fair game. I don’t consider myself in the slightest to be some sort of TV show connoisseur--these shows just fit my personal taste; if you haven’t seen any of the five, I recommend you check them out.
5. Eastbound and Down: Eastbound and Down is the absurd, depressing-yet-hilarious tale of a washed-up former MLB pitcher. The series chronicles his journey to make it back to the league. Danny McBride plays the main character, Kenny Powers, to a tee, creating a caricature that sort of resembles John Rocker with a mullet. Kenny is one of the bigger antiheroes in modern TV--sometimes it’s hard to root for him, but his hilarity and underlying good side keep you absorbed. It definitely helps that the show’s over-the-top villain, the Ric Flair imitator/BMW dealership owner Ashley Schaeffer, is played by Will Ferrell. Being that most of the lines in the series are improvised, there are some hysterically-bizarre (emphasis on bizarre) interactions between characters that will have you crying tears of laughter, especially the scenes between Ferrell and McBride. Guest appearances from Jason Sudeikis, Matthew McConaughey, Seth Rogen, and Don Johnson also are entertaining as hell. The underlying plot of Kenny’s comeback keeps the show flowing and adds a poignant note, creating a powerful, well-executed story. Even if you don’t like baseball--and aren’t easily offended--you should give Eastbound a watch.
4. Breaking Bad: While Eastbound and Down is a story of a man seeking redemption, Breaking Bad is the story of a man’s downhill spiral into the murky depths of the Southwestern drug trade. Walter White (aka Heisenberg) is a former high school chemistry professor turned meth kingpin. Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul) is White’s former-student-cum-drug-dealing partner. Breaking Bad has some of the best dramatic storytelling in TV history, with Walt constantly finding himself in horrifying situations (usually involving the Mexican drug cartel or DEA) that legitimately leave the viewer wondering what the hell is going to happen next. The series, which is set against the drab, nondescript background of Albuquerque, pays homage to old Western movies with its shootouts, Mexican standoffs, and one-liners. Jesse and Walt are complex, interesting characters, and each one undergoes a transformation over the course of five seasons. The acting is top-notch and the supporting characters are entertaining and unique. The sense of impending doom is what really sells the show, though, as tension builds heavily throughout its course until a stunning finale. My only real beef with Breaking Bad was the character of Skyler, whom I consider to be the most despicable character on any medium in the history of the world.
3. South Park: South Park is the most ridiculous show ever created, and it’s probably right up there for most offensive, too. The writers (Matt Stone and Trey Parker) mock celebrities, religion, political candidates, and popular culture with vicious impunity and spin it all into a ludicrous, twenty-minute story. The long-running animated TV show follows a group of fourth grade friends and their misadventures in the town of South Park, Colorado. It’s definitely one of the most convenient shows to flip on when you’re bored because of its short runtime and highly-entertaining content. The episodes always integrate current events in an absurd, but clever way, caustically satirizing everything from the MeToo movement to Scientology (the latter resulting in a lawsuit from a pissed-off Tom Cruise). The cast of characters is boundless, with each one being used as a vehicle for Stone and Parker to tear into PC culture. None stands above Eric Cartman, however, the antagonist/co-main character and perfect embodiment of the show itself. Cartman’s antics--which have consisted of faking Tourette’s syndrome; grinding a kid’s parents up into chili and tricking him into eating them; convincing Bill Clinton to declare the South the winners of the Civil War; and befriending the ancient demon Cthulhu--are the lifeblood of the show. Without Cartman, it wouldn’t be the same. As long as wack things continue to happen in the world, South Park will continue to pump out amazing satire.
2. Game of Thrones: It pains me to place GoT at number two here--I agonized over whether it should take the top spot--but in the wake of that final, sloppy season, there was no other choice. Aside from that, Game of Thrones is one of the greatest stories ever written. The series contains an enormous number of characters, all of them unique and incredibly complex, as well as a detailed, twisting narrative that leaves you slack-jawed throughout. Seemingly every genre is felt throughout the show, which is one of the features that first pulled me into the story. Action, horror, mystery, romance, and comedy all are prevalent, and at many times the show feels more like a modern political thriller than a medieval drama. I also believe that The Hound is one of the greatest characters ever invented. It is beyond my ability to do justice to such a complicated character with a few descriptive lines here. You simply have to watch him. The dialogue (for the first six seasons, at least) is also unbelievably good and one of the show’s greatest strengths. If only it’d been done justice with a fitting ending…
1.True Detective (Season One, eight episodes): I made the season one distinction because the subsequent seasons of True Detective are completely different--different cast, different story--than the first season. In other words, they’re worse. But that first season… wow. It features Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as partnered detectives in a small town in Louisiana, investigating a series of sinister occult murders. It’s the best season of TV I’ve ever seen. McConaughey burns up the screen as a haunted, cynical Texan, and Harrelson balls out as his family-man, alcoholic partner. The duo play incredibly well off of one another (think Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller), reeling the viewer in immediately, and the dialogue is intricate and well-written: “The world needs bad men, Marty. We keep the other bad men from the door.” I wish I’d written that. McConaughey has some trippy lines that stick with you well after you finish the series. In fact, the entire show has a very dark, strange feel, but it completely sucks you in, lingering in your mind after you’ve finished. It’s a completely unique season of TV and it might be McConaughey’s greatest role. Certainly a must-watch if you haven’t checked it out yet.
Rick and Morty
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Key and Peele