Let’s be honest, this list is entirely subjective.
As one person, I could only watch so many shows and a lot of what others consider the best are getting left in the dust.
Just for the heck of it, I even added two shows that never get any love. One is a procedural that still holds a special place in my heart, and the other is an international show from Ireland.
It’s hard to pick one show to be the very best, especially when the top three listed below are all spectacular. If I could have done a top three, they’d be on it.
This list focuses on shows that made such an impact that they won’t be forgotten long after the decade ends.
As such, here are my picks for the best of the decade.
The Leftovers – HBO (2014-2017)
Exploring the aftereffects of a rapture-like event that saw 2% of the world’s population disappear in the blink of an eye, The Leftovers’ rather lackluster first season didn’t stop the show from becoming something genius in its remaining and final two seasons.
Guilt and loss were the throughlines of this HBO series from Tom Perotta and Damon Lindelof, and they drove the points home with complicated family connections and faith — in God, each other, and the actions of individuals.
The cast got career-defining performances from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, and Christopher Eccleston while making Ann Dowd one of the most celebrated actors of the decade.
This show will be not only here but on the decade’s best overall thanks to those performances and the thought-provoking content the writers created.
The Americans – FX (2013-2018)
Even though we knew already how the cold war ended, we were always guessing what might come next for our favorite Russian spies (played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) and their “American” family.
Breakout performances from the entire cast, including the ever-versatile Margo Martindale, were inspiring.
And the series finale was one of the greatest we’ve ever seen, as it’s a challenge to wrap up a show in such a gratifying and heart-wrenching bow.
Halt and Catch Fire – AMC (2014-2017)
Halt and Catch Fire was a brilliant character study of four people riding the wave of technological advances in computers from the rise of the PC to the dawn of the World Wide Web.
Joe MacMillian, Gordon Clark, his wife Donna, and Cameron Howe, the genius and Joe’s on-again-off-again significant other pushed against each other and big business as they fought to make their marks in the computer world.
Starring Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé, and Mackenzie Davis, Halt and Catch Fire was more significant than it got credit for critically or in the way of viewership.
But this period piece will stand the test of time, so put it onto your Netflix watch list and dig in.
The Good Wife – CBS (2009-2016)
Michelle King and Robert King have become known for their ability to deliver intriguing plots that play out around their well-realized characters.
The Good Wife’s initial story about a woman standing tall and taking back some agency in her life after the very public dalliances and crimes of her husband propelled the narrative into numerous avenues about women, wealth, love, marriage, law, and society.
Our lives and our thoughts were perfectly reflected on The Good Wife which never presented its topics in black and white but always shades of Grey.
As the lead, Juliana Marguliese’s Alica Florrick was as flawed and made as many questionable decisions as her husband. The series also introduced Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, a character brilliantly political but open to conversation in ways we could all learn from.
Breaking Bad – AMC (2008-2013)
Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan and starred Bryan Cranston as a chemistry teacher who upends his life after a diagnosis of lung cancer.
It explored the dual nature of individuality as Walter White tried to maintain his roles as husband and father while diving headfirst into the methamphetamine trade as a fellow named Heisenberg with the help of his former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
The action was so intense and the moral dilemma so profuse that viewers heatedly tried to determine to what lengths the duo would go and how it would all end.
The series also spawned another successful and critically acclaimed series, Better Call Saul about Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman, and a movie on Netflix that offered some closure on Jesse’s story.
The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story – FX (2016)
A retelling of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and the subsequent trial of the century that followed, The People vs. O.J. Simpson featured a stellar cast.
Starring Sarah Paulsen, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bruce Greenwood, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance, Nathan Lane, and John Travolta, the series introduced the wonders of Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden to an audience waiting for someone of his caliber to take the stage.
For the generations who lived through the crime and OJ’s prosecution, American Crime Story managed to make a show with an inevitable conclusion riveting despite knowing the outcome.
Examining the crime and its effects from every angle without pulling any punches allowed a better understanding of what everyone experienced including the American people who were transfixed from June of 1994 to October 1995.
The trial of the century has seeped into the 21st century with this FX production.
Justified – FX (2010-2015)
Graham Yost created this FX series based on an Elmore Leonard short story titled “Fire in the Hole,” in which U.S. Marshall Timothy Olyphant’s Ryland Givens doles out justice in Kentucky.
Walton Goggins starred as Ryland’s nemesis, Boyd Crowder, and the two reveled in the witty dialogue and frequent shootouts.
Other rich characters were played by Joelle Carter, Nick Searcy Jacob Pitts, Jere Burns, and Natalia Zea, and the series received a lot of critical acclaim during its run matching the excitement of zealous viewers.
Veep – HBO (2012-2019)
Armando Ianucci created Veep based on his British sitcom, The Thick of It. Politics have never been as amusing and joyful as they were with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a woman hell-bent on making history with her run as Vice President and President.
Always a little too short-sighted to get it right and putting her faith in people who were as unabashedly self-promoting as she was meant she was bound to fail, but every 30 minutes of this show provided laugh-out-loud comedy and a little too much food for thought about our political parties.
The accolades almost got embarrassing with consecutive nods for best comedy and acting nods out the wazoo including seven for Louis-Dreyfus, six of which she won.
Southland – TNT (2009-2013)
Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, Shawn Hatosy, and Ben MacKenzie. That’s a dream cast, isn’t it? They’re just at the top of the list of the incredible series from Ann Biderman about Los Angeles beat cops.
Always thrilling and filled with emotional bombshells, this look at the police tasked to keep us safe was dramatically satisfying.
Whether patrolling the streets, investigating, or trying to forget all about their jobs in their downtime, characters on Southland got under our skin.
Cut short before its time, Southland delivered one of the most stunning finales in television history.
Love/Hate – RTÉ (2010-2014)
This Irish production featured explosive storytelling about the criminal underworld in Dublin. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Killian Scott, Robert Sheehan, Ruth Negga, and Aidan Gillen all had large roles.
Sheehan was the initial focal point as a guy named Darren who wanted to steer clear of old habits but who found himself lured in again and again by his former friends Nidge and Tommy.
The characters get under your skin and dilemmas, and poor decisions stick with you and every hour is fraught with tension and dread.
This one flew under the radar even when it was available on Netflix, but if you’re a fan of crime dramas and watching as people struggle to keep their lives together, seek out Love/Hate on Amazon Prime. It’s well worth your time.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the (), enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.