Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#30 – #21)
We’re in the middle of our list of the 50 most awesome TV shows this staff could reasonably compile without getting into any fistfights, and today’s ten shows are a little bit weird, a little bit out there, and 100% awesome. Cutting the list into ten shows each really juxtaposes how diverse our list is. Where else do you see Boardwalk Empire sandwiched between Portlandia and Adventure Time? But isn’t that just TV? When giving movie recommendations we’re more apt to ask what people are “in the mood for.” When people ask about what shows to watch, we throw everything we’ve got at them. It doesn’t matter what mood you are in, these shows are just plain good.
So check out the next few TV shows we rave on as we countdown to the top 20 and then top 10 TV shows of the decade so far, and be sure to read the previous lists so you don’t miss out anything we recommend.
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far
(#30 – #21)
Positioning itself as The Simpsons for millennials, Bob’s Burgers maintains the tradition of warm but satirical family dynamics that have become a staple of FOX’s Sunday animation lineup. Unlike the other well-known would-be Simpsons successor Family Guy, the traits that have endeared Bob’s Burgers to the show’s fans stem from its off-kilter characters and unglamorous depictions of the Belchers’ lives while maintaining an optimistic tone. There’s the Belcher patriarch Bob, whose obsessive nature often leads him to make shortsighted decisions. His wife Linda, a boisterous, caring mother with a propensity to burst into improvised songs. She’s voiced by John Roberts, amusingly one of two men that portray females in the Belcher family.
The other gender-swapped voice-actor is Dan Mintz, who provides a droll, decidedly unfeminine delivery to the family’s eldest daughter, Tina, an adolescent awkwardly swept up by her burgeoning sexuality and desires. Along with the irreverent, goofball middle child Gene and the mischievous, occasionally manic, youngest daughter Louise, the Belchers scrape by with a business that’s barely staying afloat, rampant social ineptitude, and limited success at school. Despite their weekly difficulties, Bob’s Burgers remains a hopeful and hilarious show. The loving bond between the Belchers is their driving force, and the show’s ability to accept or understand different characters’ eccentricities instills a lasting sense of positivity. [Zach]
Adam Reed’s Archer had a sneak preview in 2009 but officially premiered in 2010, which is fantastic because an animated show with this much swagger, sarcasm, and hilarious one-liners begs to be qualified for this list. The whole show revolves around the all-American superspy Archer (impeccably voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), who wouldn’t want it any other way because he’s television’s most self-absorbed and egomaniacal adult in this century. Even when the entire nation is under some kind of nuclear, terrorist, or Soviet threat, or his agency is about to be sabotaged, there’s always room for insults, innuendoes, ego-strokes, and needles. Constantly irritated by his fellow ISIS employees (ISIS stands for International Secret Intelligence Service, in case you were worried), all in dire need for a lifetime worth of group therapy, Archer plays with stereotypes and taboos like a deranged baby plays with Play-Doh. What gives the show its special edge is how brilliantly meta it is; simultaneously supporting and tearing down its own genre. Who else can have an innate talent for counting bullets and a legitimate fear of tinnitus, other than someone who’s seen way too many James Bond films?
With a superb voice cast—including a couple of Arrested Development alumnae in Jessica Walter and Judy Greer—and classic comic-book animation, Archer is a self-deprecating parody like no other, and a different kind of ball’s-deep game. Phrasing, boom! [Nik]
Who knew the dream of the ’90s was still very alive in Portland? From the very first episode, Portlandia captures hipster subculture with such wit and self-awareness that it never alienates the very demographic to whom it caters. As a sketch comedy, Fred Armisen (SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag) transform into dozens of characters in any given episode. One of my favorite reoccurring characters is Peter (Armisen) and Nance (Brownstein), a middle-aged married couple who have very strong moral values (won’t eat hazelnuts unless their local) but prefer to play it safe when it comes to taking action (watch them cautiously drive to the hospital, absolutely hilarious). And let’s not forget the amusing Feminist Bookstore routine, where Armisen (impersonating a woman) and Brownstein passionately spread the word of feminism rather than helping customers in their store. Portlandia contains some of the best comedy on television at the moment (even Mr. Jerry Seinfeld agrees) with its sharp satire and charming absurdity. It makes Portland seem like an alternate universe filled with wacky people. Hell, maybe it is? [Dustin]
Say what you will about some of the narrative inconsistencies in Boardwalk Empire, this was Steve Buscemi’s time to shine as a bonafide lead after years of supporting jobs, and boy did he! Cut short with five seasons due to budget reasons, this 1920’s tale of prohibition-era gangsters who ruled the boardwalks, brothels, and boulevards with their grip on the black market alcohol trade will be dearly missed. Easily boasting the greatest ensemble cast of any TV show of the century so far (along with Buscemi, we’ve got Michael Shannon, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Shea Wigham, to name just a few), Boardwalk Empire hit the ground running with the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot, and hardly looked back until its final season (can’t fault the creators for rushing a few storylines with the final eight episodes, all things considered).
With its lavish set designs and costumes teleporting viewers back to the ’20s, the show was another major hit for TV ruler HBO; the only platform where no profanities are held back and Nucky Thompson’s (Buscemi) rise and fall could be told with sleeves rolled up. Created by Terence Winter (writer of The Sopranos and The Wolf of Wall Street), Boardwalk Empirewill endure for decades thanks to its authentic precision and stellar performances. [Nik]
Next up on my list of go-to’s for an instant pick-me-up is a show with 11-minute episodes that will have you laughing for at least seven of those minutes and feeling inspired the other four. A show like Adventure Time can only really be described in terms of the amazing made-up adjectives its characters so often use. It’s utterly mathematical, freaking rad-tastic, and totally lumpy. Inventing new words is only the least of what Adventure Time is great at. The show—made up of individualized adventures—center around Finn (the human) and Jake (the dog) who live in a post-apocalyptic world called the Land of Ooo. The two are best friends, living in a tree house, and having adventures with the animals/creatures/beings of Ooo while maintaining their rather sunny dispositions. Sometimes the show one-offs to focus on their friends’ adventures or alternate versions of Jake and Finn. What makes the show so watchable (its like candy, TRY consuming only one) isn’t necessarily what Finn and Jake get up to, since most of that is pretty silly if you analyze it too long, it’s their responses to their situations and the lessons that sneak up while your dying laughing.
Not to mention the way the show’s writers, and creator Pendleton Ward, play with language, often using young adult slang like “sucks” and “poo” interspersed with words I don’t even use on a regular basis in my so-called adult life. Some of my favorite lines from the show include “Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something” (there are so many life lessons to garner from the show) and also more complicated brain-twisters like “This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively. But, if sweetness can win—and it can—then I’ll still be here tomorrow, to high five you, yesterday, my friend. ” I mean…I can’t really say anything more except that if you don’t like the show you must be allergic to awesome. [Ananda]
The Eric Andre Show
Every episode of The Eric Andre Show, starts the same: Eric Andre destroys his own set, smashing it to pieces before the set magically rebuilds itself again. It’s a literal statement about Andre’s intentions to demolish the talk show format, but it’s also a neat summary of the show itself. The Eric Andre Show plays within the talk show format to build its own weird, Lynchian universe, but it also respects the genre by having its own strict structure. It’s just that, in the world of Eric Andre, a monologue can have him pissing in his own mouth, and an interview can turn into this. The Eric Andre Show is a comedy straight from the id, with every joke fueled by one rule: chaos reigns. It’s the kind of method that could fall flat on its face, but luckily Andre—along with co-host Hannibal Buress (whose laid back, lazy demeanor is the perfect match for Andre’s manic energy)—has incredibly funny instincts. And if the weird on-set segments don’t work for you, the shocking hidden camera pranks will. The Eric Andre Show certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who like it can’t help but love the show wholeheartedly. It’s the natural successor to The Tom Green Show and Jackass we didn’t know we needed. [C.J.]
So, before I can gush about The Newsroom, I need to out myself as an unabashed Aaron Sorkin fan. I get that by this point we all see through his usual tactics. But for many of us those fast-talking, speed-walking, mind-poking tactics still work really stinkin’ well. And yes, I know that in writing a TV show that focuses on being a few steps behind on real-life factual news events makes for some potentially touchy reactions when the episodes air and audiences have had time to feel quite strongly about said events. BUT it also makes for an intriguing viewing experience. That same curious nostalgic feeling that Boyhood incited in us (yeah, I know I’m totally referencing a critically loved film to argue in favor of a critically-iffy TV show), is exactly what I felt when first watching The Newsroom. Remembering how I felt when those news stories broke and the way the public reacted. It’s the same feeling you get when reading old journal entries or tweets. And in Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy we’re given someone who (hindsight being 20/20 and all) is able to react in a sharp and often inspired way. Or not, if it suits the story lines. I admit I have been very unimpressed with The Newsroom’s leading women, most of whom are more like caricatures of successful strong females and are actually quite shallow. What has made me stick with it (even if HBO didn’t as it was cancelled after its third season) is that Sorkin still makes me laugh, in-between cringing, and that almost every episode inspires real conversations and reflection on cultural happenings. Whether we agree with the way the characters handle these situations, or not, there is no denying how sharp the writing is and that it has been innovative in the way it melds reality with fiction. And, it should be noted, the opening credit sequence is pretty much guaranteed to instill a general pride and reverence toward those who bring us the news. [Ananda]
Those Danes really know how to put on a show. With three meticulously constructed and wonderfully compact 10-episode seasons, Borgen successfully replicates all the various levels of stress, ambition, and passions that are in constant flux along the winding roads of political and media career paths. Constantly juggling the personal with the professional, Brigitte Nyborg (the brilliant Sidse Babbett Knudsen) has to be a loving wife, a caring mother, and a stringent Prime Minister for the country she loves so deeply. Aided by her politically savvy spin doctor Kasper (Pilou Asbæk, on his way to becoming world renowned) and kept on her toes by a workaholic TV reporter Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Brigitte is faced with major challenges on a daily basis, and it’s preposterously addictive to watch how she handles them.
Series creator Adam Price assembled an A+ team both behind and in front of the camera, and delivered a knock out punch with each season. Even when the storyline jarringly jumps in time (like the transition between the second and third season), all questions get answered and satisfaction is guaranteed. An intelligent depiction of unassertive feminism and a delicate approach to the emotional consequences of having a patriotic heart; Borgen doesn’t rely on an ounce of sensationalism, hence why it’s one of the century’s greatest political shows. [Nik]
I’ll be brief here, because I’ve already written plenty about Utopia on the site already. Dennis Kelly’s short-lived series (it was cancelled after its second season performed poorly) was a show that felt like the future of TV was unfolding right in front of your eyes. It combined the pop art look of a comic book, the bleak universe of a Cormac McCarthy novel, and the humour of a Coen Brothers film. It was one of the best looking TV shows ever made, with its 2.35:1 aspect ratio erasing the dividing lines between film and TV. It spent an entire season building up a vast, terrifying conspiracy that actually lived up to its own hype. And it had one of the best scores on TV, too. Utopia really was its own beast, a truly singular show that was destined to be too strange to get properly recognized. Hopefully the upcoming HBO remake will shine some light on what might be TV’s first truly experimental drama.
“LUTHAH!” That’s me going around and recommending the BBC detective show Luther to anyone who’d care to listen. With the venerable Idris Elba playing Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, who’s part Jack Bauer part Sherlock Holmes but kicks both their asses (yep, Bauer’s too), it would be very difficult to muck this concept up. Thankfully, series creator Neil Cross does the exact opposite, honing his skills as a novelist to bring about a very organic and comprehensive psychological study of one brilliant detective. All the familiar tropes are present: an emotional attachment to catching killers, the hardships of committing to personal relationships, and a proclivity to play against the rules. It’s all there, but never allowed to feel clichéd thanks to the sparks created by Elba’s performance, Cross’ dialogue, and consistent directorial control.
Refreshing plot twists you won’t see coming, unpredictable relationship arcs (the one that develops between Luther and Ruth Wilson’s unbalanced Alice is beyond fascinating), and disturbing situations involving truly depraved criminals who always have it out for Luther; it’s no wonder this show is such a mega hit. Now on its way to a possible film version, and a definite fourth season (Cross was unsure at one point), Luther cures every ailment contracted from watching too much of the same-old-same-old detective yarns on American TV. [Nik]
Check out the rest of our Best TV Shows Of The Decade lists!
View Other Picks in this Feature:
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#50 – #41)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#40 – #31)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#20 – #11)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#10 – #1)