A decade in review: top 10 best TV shows

We count down the best shows of the decade as voted for by our editors and writers

multiple writers
8th December 2019
Credit: IMDb
Before we look ahead into the new decade, we had a poll on The Courier TV Writers 2019/20 Facebook page, and our writers chose their top 10 TV shows. Let's reminisce on the best of the best.
  1. Sherlock
Reaching almost a decade since this intriguing series was aired in July 2010, it is still a master-class series, which continues to gain new fans every year.  

The show is based on the famous book series of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, and it follows the adventures of a brilliant detective and his flatmate, Dr. John Watson, solving various mysteries in modern-day London. Staring Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) and Martin Freeman (John Watson), the series brings to life a thought-provoking story, which is bound to leave you in awe. Whether you are looking for a detective series with ingenious mysteries, a brilliant depiction of how every small detail can reveal someone’s story or a sarcastic bromance, Sherlock is the show for you.  And if you are still not convinced, the best way to describe this show is through one of the most iconic lines of Sherlock: “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson. I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.”

Credit: IMDb
by Maria Savin

2. Fleabag

A late comer to the Best Shows of the Decade, Fleabag edges itself in the list thanks to its second (and final) season that premiered at the start of 2019. The first season, which debuted in 2016, was everything that you could now expect from Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/Lead Actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge: tight writing and phenomenal casting.

While everyone in the cast deserves their dues, Olivia Colman (Godmother), Sian Clifford (Claire) and Andrew Scott (The Priest) stand just above the rest thanks to emotionally satisfying character arcs for Claire and The Priest, with Coleman encapsulating the passive-aggressiveness of British culture. The character of Fleabag herself is poignantly crafted, with every smirk and eye-flick towards the camera lingering just long enough to accentuate the hilarity of every sexually awkward moment without ever feeling cheapened as a comedic gimmick.

Incorporating themes of sexuality, mourning and depression, Fleabag perfectly illustrated that levity need not be sacrificed to explore its messages with depth and compassion. In particular, Fleabag’s relationships with best friend Boo and The Priest encompassed a powerful and, at times, harrowing study of power and control within the boundaries of sexuality, while also examining the pretence of these boundaries.

More importantly, however, is its persistent female gaze. Subverting tired clichés of women and sexuality in comedy, Fleabag proved what shouldn’t need to have been proven: that female sexuality can be engaged with full agency rather than objectification. You don’t need to watch for long to find a wonderful feminist dialogue, but season two’s Hair is everything scene encapsulates the show’s essence tremendously.

by Peter Lennon
Credit: IMDb, ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images - Image courtesy gettyimages.com

3. Killing Eve

An amazing script, dark obsessions, and the use of a hair pin as a murder weapon, Killing Eve has it all. If you didn’t immediately binge watch it, I applaud your restraint.

The (literally) killer leading ladies, Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh play the brilliantly named Villanelle and detective Eve Polastri. Their mutual fascination with each other became our obsession, as they chased one another around Europe – Comer dressed in that pink Molly Goddard confection. Admit it: we all want Villanelle’s wardrobe. While Comer’s accent game is still on-point, series two lacked the cat and mouse element that hooked so many fans. Also missing was Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s trademark humour. Her deliciously dark comedy permeated series one, opening with Eve screaming in pain, only to reveal that no, she wasn’t in mortal danger, but had fallen asleep on her arm. These brilliant scenes make Eve relatable and lovably flawed. Add this to the obsessive, deadly Villanelle and you have a perfectly strange pairing. When’s series three?

by Sally Grey
Credit: IMDb, Parisa Taghizadeh/BBCAmerica - © Â2018 BBC America

4. Stranger Things

Stranger Things, a Duffer Brothers creation came out in 2016 on Netflix and ever since then, it has gained a cult following which continues in 2019, with the release of its third season.

It’s a comic book story right out of the 80s which features a group of nerdy kids from Hawkins, Indiana who play Dungeons and Dragons in their basements, befriend an isolated girl with psychokinetic superpowers, help in rescuing people trapped on the “Upside Down” and battle a Demogorgon. Some people are appealed by its 80s world with pop music and school kids in dressed in preppy clothes reading comics and riding bicycles around town whereas, others love how the narrative is an amalgamation of genres ranging from horror, sci-fi, teen drama and even fantasy.

The narrative itself is applaudable because it grips the viewers with its thrilling cliffhangers in every episode to an extent where the only appropriate way to watch it is by binge-watching the entire season. Although a fantasy narrative, it also allows the viewers to have a genuine identification with the human side of its kinda-scared, kinda-gutsy characters. Coming to the technical side, the intense use of primary colours of blue and red provides a more visceral and hypnotizing aura to the mise-en-scène of the show. The visual effects in terms of the Demogorgon, the literal gut-spilling and body melting scenes take reality to the next level.

by Arnojya Shree
Credit: IMDb,  Parisa Taghizadeh/BBCAmerica - © Â2018 BBC America

5. Game of Thrones

Do you remember when you used to be a Game of Thrones fan? Me too; the sprawling storylines, the political intrigue, the captivating dialogue and the intense battles. And throughout all this, the growing threat of the White Walkers, first glanced in the show’s very first episode way back in 2011, seemed to suggest that this series would be high fantasy of an entirely different calibre. It was a series that didn’t talk down to its audience, one that never looked for an easy way out and only utilised shock factor when it made sense (see the early departure of Ned Stark’s head).

And that’s what Game of Thrones was at its peak. Audiences tend to disagree on when the peak ended, some say during season 5, while others are more optimistic and believe that the 6th and even 7th seasons carried forward everything that made the show fantastic. But by season 8 most saw that Thrones had lost its shine. And while it is difficult to think back to earlier seasons without them being tarnished by the abysmal failure of its final 6 episodes, it is important to remember that this series was a titanic cultural icon that pushed the boundaries of what fantasy could be. It’s just a shame that, like in the Titanic, it ended in icy (and fiery) disaster.

by Steven Ross

6. Breaking Bad

There’s no doubt that Breaking Bad received significant critical acclaim throughout its original airing from 2008 to 2013, but the impact it had on wider TV culture operated on a time-delay. It wasn’t until the final culminating moments of the show’s broadcast alongside a healthy tenure on Netflix before it became cemented as a hit with audiences.

I was one of those newcomers. Early in 2015 and encouraged by the new TV my family had got a few months earlier, I began making my way through the first few episodes of the show. I was already well aware of the strength of Breaking Bad’s reputation, but the quality of what followed still caught me off guard.

The plot paved the way for character development and arcs with a refreshing level of depth. Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and the cast of characters that surround them continually develop and grow as though they are real people, just as the characters in any good drama should. Similarly, it feels unfair to label mainstays of the show, like Hank Schrader and Skyler White, as supporting characters – they share the mantle alongside Walt and Jesse, as they too are fully realised as living individuals.

I’ve got to give an honorable mention to the two excellent projects that live in the shadow of Breaking Bad’s formidable legacy – prequel Better Call Saul and sequel film El Camino. It’s great to see a refreshed, evolved filmmaking style that the Breaking Bad production team adopted while filming Saul. Seamlessly, they then returned to the feel of the original show for this year’s darker El Camino.

This has culminated in giving a cohesive wrapper to all three segments of this story. It’s left me incapable of properly answering a ‘top five shows’ list – I can’t help but cheat and bunch these three projects together as a single entry. Despicable behaviour, I know. The filmmaking on show, symbolism, intertextuality and thought put into the series make even the most understated of scenes hold the same weight and significance as some of the most powerful moments. To this day, Breaking Bad represents a high watermark that most dramas could only hope to match.

By George Boatfield

7. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Despite its creators never even being nominated for an Emmy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is clever, topical and honest. It managed to gather a devoted fan base with consistently excellent writing and at times daring directing, all anchored by an endlessly charismatic cast.

The show’s brilliance lies in its format. Taking the classic set up of a sitcom, the show is weirdly grounded by its horrible protagonists. Instead of starring two-dimensional ‘aspirational’ characters that never truly evolve, Sunny embraces the cyclical nature of the sitcom: by being centred on characters who refuse to ever evolve or learn from their mistakes, it follows that they continue to get themselves in the same wacky sitcom-worthy situations.

This show is not only incredibly funny, but it stays fresh due to its always sincere creators: from black face to trans rights, there isn’t one issue the gang will not address through shouting, toxicity, and selfishness. Now in its fourteenth season, Sunny remains a staple of dark comedy by reflecting the worst aspects of our society through a gang of seriously problematic people.

by Elisabetta Pulcini
Credit: IMDb

8. Black Mirror

A show that definitely doesn’t pull its punches, Black Mirror is as dark as it is amazing. The anthology series covers many different stories in a deep dive into the not too distant future and how disturbed it can possibly become.

First airing 4 December 2011, Black Mirror has five seasons up to now and an interactive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Due to it being an anthology series, each episode covers a separate story with different characters with each being written and produced remarkably, albeit messed up. Thanks to the different themes the show always manages to stay fresh and cover a lot of problems of today like forced social norms and bee population diminishing and even potential future issues.

Its several seasons have given us a wide range of amazing actors to which you are sure to know a lot of, be it Game of Thrones Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Marvel Superheroes Antony Mackie, Pom Klementieff and the likes Jon Hamm and Miley Cyrus. While definitely not for the faint of heart, Black Mirror is surely one of the best and impactful shows of the decade and one you need to check out on Netflix.

by George Bell
Credit: IMDb

9. Bodyguard

In a time of increased political instability and fears of national security, Bodyguard offered a unique and incredibly personal slant on terrorism in modern Britain.

With his classic “thank you ma’am”, lead actor Richard Madden really made his breakthrough on live BBC television. The six-part series focuses on Police Sergeant David Budd, played by Madden, who is a PTSD-afflicted army veteran working as the principal protection officer for Home Secretary Julia Montague. As well as detailing Budd’s horror-struck state after experiencing the devastation of war, the series explores his difficulty in maintaining his role as Montague’s bodyguard despite discovering very unsavoury information about her policies and the Government’s concealment of information from the public.

Crime dramas are becoming increasingly popular, but very few of them are told through the eyes of those who are providing the protection. Combined with the lingering suspense in each episode with the unexpected and often shocking plot twists, this perspective provides a fresh take on what is quickly becoming an over-saturated genre. And if none of that convinces you that this is one of the best series of the decade, then Madden’s delicious Scottish accent surely will.

by Grace Dean
Credit: IMDb, © Netflix

10. Peaky Blinders

Set in Birmingham in 1919, Steven Knight’s BBC drama Peaky Blinders (2013-) follows Cillian Murphy’s ruthless anti-hero Tommy Shelby’s quest for power following World War One.

Deriving from a family of gypsies, the Shelby family front as bookmakers whilst establishing their control over Birmingham as gangsters through violence and intimidation. After finding a crate of guns, Tommy sees his chance to move up in the world. Sporting razor blades in their caps, Tommy’s leadership of the gang is aided by his equally ruthless Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) and his unstable older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson). However, their behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sends over Irish spies Major Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) and Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis) to infiltrate the Shelby family. Set every two years, the Shelby’s progress is constantly in flux with those who want more, challenging them as a gang and often as a family.  It’s popularity and consistency absolutely earns its place in this list.

by Kate Dunkerton
Credit: IMDb, Robert Viglasky - © 2014 - BBC
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