With the decade drawing to a close, One Large Popcorn, Please! has been honouring the greatest films of the past ten years. But this week, the decade’s greatest television programmes are in focus.
Thanks to the evolution of technology and meteoric rise of streaming, the medium once referred to as the Idiot Box has become the first destination for quality storytelling. No longer are consumers forced to endure a week’s wait for new episodes, nor find themselves paying exorbitant amounts to watch an entire season at their leisure; today both issues are resolved with the advent of On Demand viewing services.
This new method of watching television has seen networks, studios and distributors spending millions of dollars to produce new series, to the point where the market has become saturated with programming. Resultingly, this author has found it incredibly difficult to keep abreast of the most popular shows, possessing a watchlist that grows longer by the day.
Yours truly must also confess that he does not consume as much television as others, having not seen the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and many of the other programmes that have been praised by critics and couch-potatoes alike. For this reason, the following piece is not so much a thorough review of the last decade in television as it is a retrospective of the shows he has most keenly followed.
Listed below, in alphabetical order are Tom’s Top Ten Television Shows from the past ten years – shows that he has found himself eagerly awaiting, watching repeatedly, and only too keen to recommend to others.
The 2010s witnessed a reinvigoration of the spy genre, a trend which this animated series is partly responsible for. Following the happenings of a dysfunctional intelligence agency, Archer boasts a talented voice-cast and brilliant writing, with one-liners delivered as rapidly as the ammunition from a TEC-9. Efforts to freshen the show haven’t always been successful, but it nevertheless remains one of the funniest and most energetic sitcoms of the past ten years.
Donald Glover is a genius like no other. Having already made his mark as a comedian and rapper (under the alter-ego of Childish Gambino), the multi-talented artist became the show-runner of Atlanta, a biting, quirky and occasionally surreal examination of race in contemporary America. Glover stars alongside Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz, all of whom deliver fantastic performances in a constantly compelling series.
In the three decades since its debut, The Simpsons has yet to be supplanted as the most popular animated sitcom. Bob’s Burgers is the programme that has come closest to claiming that title, due to a combination of charming protagonists, bright visuals, catchy music, wholesome stories and oddball gags. Ten seasons in, the quality of the show has yet to wane and its characters remain as popular as ever – and that’s just as well, because there’s a feature-length movie based on the show due July of this year.
The third animated sitcom to feature on this list, BoJack Horseman is a profound, multilayered experience like none other. Initially pitched to viewers as a cynical observation of life as a celebrity, the series quickly evolved into a thoughtful, heartfelt study of loneliness, need, belonging and mental illness, with the bright colours and distinctive illustrations helping to alleviate the darker moments of the show. Such contributions are necessary now more than ever in the medium.
Part thriller, part drama, part comedy and part romance, this female-driven phenomenon ticks all the boxes. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer lead as an intelligence analyst and contract killer, respectively, who chase each other across Europe under the judgemental eyes of their peers and superiors. Killing Eve has truly established itself as a programme for the ages, possessing smart writing, gripping performances, a perfectly-paired soundtrack and style like none of its contemporaries.
Comedies centred around households often craft the family members to be as frenetic and nonconformist as possible in the hope of generating as many laughs as possible. British sitcom Outnumbered is a welcome deviation from the formula, mining humour from mundane, everyday occurrences to provide the most accurate reflection of family life ever witnessed on television. Placing it over the line is some brilliant comic timing and improvised one-liners from the gifted cast.
Over the Garden Wall
Timeless stories. Eccentric characters. Ragtime music. An autumnal palette. Welcome to the mesmerising and unconventional world of Patrick McHale’s Over the Garden Wall, a Cartoon Network mini-series that subverts the tales of old and transforms them into a charming ten-part narrative that viewers of all ages can appreciate. The illustrations, soundtrack, gags and voice-acting (from both leads and supports) are magnificent in every episode, and only made more enjoyable on repeat viewings.
The televisual embodiment of the Little Aussie Battler, this comedy-drama is of a quality hitherto unseen Down Under – a feat even more remarkable when one considers it was financed and produced by the nation’s public broadcaster. Led by the wonderful Richard Roxburgh, Rake is a caustic look at Australian society, containing sharp dialogue, loveably roguish personalities and clever allusions to real-life events. And with the series now over, its brilliance is unlikely to be witnessed again.
Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell
The second ABC show to grace this list, and possibly the most unconventional choice of all, Mad As Hell is a constant source of relief for this author, who must constantly endure a dire political landscape. The satirical news programme uses a supporting cast of comedians to deliver sketches, jokes and mock-reports inspired by recent events, while the titular host uses wordplay and his ever-expressive face to add yet more amusement. Put simply, there is no funnier show on Australian television.
This truly is something special, a show with numerous allusions to Eighties pop-culture – some obvious, some more subtle – based in a Midwest town where courage, determination, friendship and scientific knowledge save the day. Across three magnificent seasons, Stranger Things has delivered thrills, scares, laughs and some truly heart-warming moments, being at the peak of both the science-fiction and horror genres – and putting some of its theatrical contemporaries to shame in the process. Of all the series discussed here, it’s the one that this author has returned to most, and his undoubted favourite of the past ten years.
Honourable Mentions: There were numerous animated shows considered that didn’t make the list above, including The Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, Star vs the Forces of Evil and Rick and Morty, all of which have revolutionised the medium for children and adults, but haven’t held this author’s attention throughout their entire run. Although not quite as innovative as the aforesaid shows, We Bare Bears also deserves a mention for its numerous charms.
Next comes the live-action shows, of which there were fewer in contention for a Top Ten spot. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was blessed with solid writing and a loveable cast, attributes shared by Peter Morgan’s The Crown; factual British motoring show Top Gear would have made the top tier of this list for stoking this author’s love of cars, were it not for Mr Clarkson saying awful things one too many times; British drama Broadchurch brought thoughtfulness and poignancy to the police procedural; and the clever, underappreciated mockumentary American Vandal very narrowly missed out on the final list, being more heartfelt than a series about phallic humour and scatology had any right to be.