NerdyPoC’s Best of the 2010s series continues with television!
This decade was undoubtedly a new golden age for TV. From a seemingly inexhaustible list of high quality shows and series from across different networks and streaming platforms, NPoC has had a tough, but enjoyable time narrowing it all down to just ten favourites. Check out our list, and be sure to let us know what you think!
If you missed the start of our Best of the 2010s series, check out our 10 favourite movies of the decade here!
(Note: The list is presented in chronological order.)
1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-present) NBC, FOX
What makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine (B99) so good is that it’s “easy-watching” at its finest. It is led by Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta and Andre Braugher as the endearingly deadpan Captain Raymond Holt. This binge-able, quotable show is everything you need in order to recover from a bad day. The cast has fun and easy chemistry that elevates the show’s already excellent writing.; it’s tough to find an actor on TV more committed to mining the deepest depths of each line for maximum funny potential like Joe Lo Truglio, who plays Charles Boyle.
While B99 didn’t revolutionize the widely favoured ensemble comedy format, it definitely upgraded the formula by venturing out of safe laugh zones to touch on legitimate issues of family, friendship and, more notably, LGBTQ+ representation and visibility. With each season of B99, co-creator and showrunner Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation) continues to prove himself as a veritable standard for sitcom writing.
(By Sabrina Fearon-Melville with Emily Yoshida, Naomi Alexander and Melissa Lee)
2. BoJack Horseman (2014-2020) Netflix
In a world of Family Guy‘s and Big Mouth’s, BoJack Horseman bypasses the irreverent standards set by its peers in the animation-for-adults genre to examine and question human nature and society at its ugliest. The show is not without its flaws – creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has rightly addressed his “original sin” of neglecting to cast non-white actors, especially to play characters of colour – but its biggest strength is that it’s never trying to be perfect, but merely honest.
With its titular protagonist (voiced by Will Arnett), BoJack poses an intriguing dilemma to audiences: should we root for BoJack, or not? Should we love or hate him? The show does not try to answer these questions for us, but merely lets us in on every inch of BoJack’s past, present and future, and how his experiences influence the way he treats himself and those around him. These questions are difficult and nearly impossible to even consider and can be deeply uncomfortable for viewing in some cases, but important nonetheless.
Ultimately, BoJack teaches us an important lesson not often discussed in popular media: that your intentions do not automatically absolve you of the consequences of your actions. As BoJack slowly begins to grasp, knowing and understanding yourself is only half the battle. True, meaningful change only occurs when you put in the work and commit to it.
(By Melissa Lee)
3. Jane the Virgin (2014-2019) The CW
In a decade that saw a rise of bleak, grimdark TV shows, Jane the Virgin was a refreshing break from the dank and doom. Its bright, warm style of storytelling relied on and borrows heavily from telenovela tropes. It cleverly struck a balance between poking fun at the genre’s signature melodramatic ludicrousness and paying earnest tribute to Latinx media and culture; bridging the gap for modern, non-Latinx audiences to appreciate the art form as well. Through heartfelt family drama, Jane the Virgin sensitively tackled complex real-life issues such as the US immigration policy, religion, and abortion. While results varied sometimes, the show’s effort to cover a myriad of topics important and relevant to viewers is commendable, as is its consistency in underscoring everything with a well-balanced touch of comedy and genuine optimism.
(Note: NPoC strongly condemns the antiblackness repeatedly displayed by Jane The Virgin star and eventual executive producer Gina Rodriguez and cannot, in good conscience, direct any individual praise to her for her efforts on the show.)
(By Wu Xueting with Melissa Lee)
4. Daredevil (2015-2018) Netflix
Before 2015, superhero TV shows were just, well, fine. Fresh off their successes with original shows Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, Netflix teamed up with Marvel to bring Matt Murdock to life. Daredevil proved that a superhero television show could not only be more than fine, but exceptional. This gritty crime drama, definitely not for kids, made instant waves upon its premiere and spawned four more widely-watched and -discussed Netflix-Marvel series, including the highly anticipated The Defenders. Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll and Rosario Dawson all gave valuable performances, while Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as Kingpin was nothing short of award-worthy.
Despite some bumps and dips in quality midway through its three-season run, Daredevil was a big step towards legitimizing comic book stories on the television screen, no doubt paving the way for the likes of Bucky Barnes and Wanda Maximoff to receive their own upcoming series on Disney+.
(By Ariel Rada with Melissa Lee)
5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019) The CW
In Rebecca Bunch, co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna created one of the most memorable TV protagonists of the decade. Rebecca (Bloom) was a delightfully confusing bundle of flaws, flaws that made us want to both shake her by the shoulders and give her a big, warm hug.
CXG is also a lesson for writers on listening to their own characters instead of restricting their growth. The show invested the necessary time and work to develop characters that were initially introduced as one-dimensional side features to create fan favourites like Valencia Perez (Gabrielle Ruiz) and Heather Davis (Vella Lovell).
Above all, CXG was uniquely innovative and relentlessly creative. Through deftly written dialogue and an impressive host of original songs that were both laugh-out-loud funny and painfully honest, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CXG) burrowed its way through concepts of romance, friendship, feminism, mental health, sexuality, family, self-image, identity, and more. It balanced the comedic and emotionally dramatic with a daring ease few shows on air have managed to match, making it one of the most rewarding viewing experiences of the 2010s.
(By Melissa Lee with Wu Xueting)
6. Stranger Things (2016-present) Netflix
One summer night in 2016, the entire TV zeitgeist changed when an unknown, little-advertised small-town sci-fi horror series dropped, seemingly nowhere. This 80s-set show jumped on the nostalgia train and never looked back. Between sets, costuming, styling and props, the show paid homage to everyone’s favourite 80s properties without ever feeling derivative or cheap. Fast forward to 2019, with three seasons on Netflix and multiple awards under its belt, the show has taken on a life of its own and has joined the pop culture giants that it first emulated.
Feel-good nostalgia aside, Stranger Things is a masterclass on how to evoke a Mood™ on TV, veering between heartwarming moments to high-strung, edge-of-your-seat tension, bolstered by superb sound and music and some truly terrific visual effects. The cast, led by Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown, deliver memorable performances. The writing is sharp and well-paced for the most part, and the monsters are nightmarishly terrifying. All in all, Stranger Things is one of the most immersive binge-watching experiences of the decade.
(By Ariel Rada and Wu Xueting)
7. The Get Down (2016-2017) Netflix
The Get Down‘s abrupt cancellation in 2017 sparked widespread fan outrage that persists even to this day, and for good reason. Stylistic but gritty, raw but abstract, this 1970s-set show did a fantastic job balancing social issues like race and poverty with positive themes of hope and friendship. It did so with a killer soundtrack and seriously enviable threads. (Shout-out to series costume designers Jeriana San Juan and Catherine Martin for the amount of research clearly put into their work.)
The young cast was relatively unknown at the time, but every single one of them delivered raw, engaging performances even longtime screen veterans would be proud of, including future Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse lead Shameik Moore (Shaolin Fantastic), surprise fan favourite Skylan Brooks (Ra-Ra Kipling), and first-time series lead Justice Smith (Ezekiel Figuero). They made us believe it all: heart-wrenching arguments between family both blood and chosen, the joyful abandonment of youth, and the ferocious commitment of young musicians devoted to their craft.
This really was Baz Luhrmann like you’ve never experienced him before – down and dirty.
(By Melissa Lee with Emily Yoshida)
8. The Good Place (2016-2020) NBC
From Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-creator Michael Schur comes another winner. The Good Place is clever and original, playing out its morality narrative with a strong sense of direction and a healthy dose of interesting twists. One of the best things about the show is how it makes you think and feel in equal measure, thanks to sharp writing and excellent performances from the ensemble cast led by Kristen Bell. Most importantly, The Good Place introduced the world to the most beautiful man in the world: Filipino-Canadian actor Manny Jacinto, who shines in his first series regular role as the air-headed but unfailingly compassionate Jason Mendoza.
Compared to its other cable sitcom peers, The Good Place is relatively small, consisting of just 53 episodes over four seasons (the final episode is set to air on Jan 30). Nevertheless, the show consistently makes the most of what little air time it has, delivering high standards of storytelling and comedy that leaves viewers both satisfied and wanting more.
(By Emily Yoshida with Wu Xueting)
9. POSE (2018-present) FX
Amid the current TV trend of paying lip service to diversity, POSE has been widely lauded for shining the spotlight on LGBT+ people of colour by letting them take the stage both in front of the camera and off it. In an industry where so many seem to think filling out an apportioned half of their TV writers’ rooms with white women counts as diversity, the Ryan Murphy-created drama makes no effort to hide its inclusion of queer and trans people as writers, producers, choreographers, so on and so forth.
As for what POSE delivers on-screen, it’s drama of the very best kind – drama that is meaningful. Each character is built and developed with layered dimensionality; their journeys are complex. We follow the ferociously big-hearted Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and her “House of Evangelista” through triumphs, failures, alienation, friendship and heartbreak as they strive to create a loving family not just for themselves, but for everyone else in their marginalized community.
All in all, POSE is a beautiful tale of humanity and family, anchored and accented by the fabulous glamour of 1980s ballroom culture.
(By Wu Xueting with Melissa Lee)
10. Russian Doll (2019-present) Netflix
So rarely are shows entirely written and directed by women, and Russian Doll stands as a TV monument to female talent and capability. Cleverly written and constructed with brilliant directorial vision, this comedy-drama-fantasy-mystery hybrid comes alive from the very first frame. The show is vibrant and sonorous, and every bit of its vaguely ludicrous time-loop premise is spectacularly sold by a skilled cast led by co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne.
On the night of her 36th birthday party, Nadia (Lyonne) meets her unlikely death, but unexpectedly wakes up again to repeat the same day over and over again throughout the eight-episode season. Like any sane person being pushed to the brink of their sanity, she begins to search for a way out, and therein lies the core of the series’ remarkable poignancy – Russian Doll is an intricate, introspective exploration of healing and restoration, of rebuilding one’s wholeness in order to live freely in the present and move towards the future with an assured sense of peace.
Above all, the show has a knack for inspiring one to think sensitively and critically about how our words and actions have consequences bigger than ourselves. Russian Doll doesn’t always give you all the right answers, but it definitely asks all the right questions.
(By Naomi Alexander with Sabrina Fearon-Melville)
Best Performance: Tatiana Maslany
Orphan Black (2013-2017) BBC America
With Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany showed the world that she is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile actors in the game today. She played about a dozen different characters, five of whom were regular or recurring characters, and completely sold them all as unique, differentiated individuals.
The show itself was innovative and thought-provoking, raising vital questions about power and ethics in science and female identity. In later seasons, it also had a tendency to oscillate between dull, repetitive circles and over-ambitious reaches that often failed to stick the landing. Through it all, Maslany never once ran cold or even lukewarm, delivering stellar performances in episode after episode, despite regularly putting in at least twice as many hours as any other cast member. Her standout showing on Orphan Black is undoubtedly the best TV performance of the decade.
(By Wu Xueting with Sabrina Fearon-Melville and Melissa Lee)
Biggest Disappointment: Game of Thrones (2011-2019) HBO
In what was perhaps the biggest entertainment upset of the decade, Game of Thrones not only fails to earn a spot on this list, but it might actually belong on an entirely different list: “Worst of the 2010s”.
When the original source material dried up sometime around Season 5, GoT‘s legions of fans still believed that showrunners D.B Weiss and David Benoiff would do justice to the globally beloved characters and their stories. Unfortunately, we were given gratuitous violence, sex, gore and rape scenes – none of which were canon in the books. Hugely important plots were either cut entirely (e.g. Lady Stoneheart, Dany’s dreams, Arya and Jon’s “warging” abilities) or immediately forgotten about after their introduction (we’re repeatedly told that Jon is “the prince who was promised” only for it to wind up as a complete non-factor).
Still, GoT‘s dedicated fans held out hope over a two-and-a-half year hiatus. They went into the final season with high expectations and bated breaths; excited to witness the conclusion of an epic story followed over the better part of a decade.
What we received was a rushed, nonsensical six-episode mess. Over and over again, Season 8 broke the most important rule in storytelling: “show, don’t tell.” Iconic and established characters made decisions that seemed completely antithetical to the individuals we’d watched them grow into becoming for years. It practically became necessary for fans to watch the post-episode videos released by HBO in order to understand what they’d watched just moments before.
Thanks to Weiss and Benioff’s many blunders, instead of closing out a legendary franchise on a high note, “pulling a Game of Thrones” has now essentially become synonymous with failing on an epically disastrous level.
(By April Morris)
Edited by Abeer Khan