The past ten years has been an exciting, fast-paced, and ground-breaking decade for television. With fewer boundaries on the subjects TV can explore, and more money funnelled into their production and dissemination, television series have become the main platform used to discuss important issues such as the pitfalls and corruption of capitalism and the diverse experiences of ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people.
Moreover, with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime TV rising in popularity, television has become massively lucrative, and arguably more culturally relevant than film, meaning the quality and quantity of recent TV series has skyrocketed. So, without further ado, here are – in my opinion! – the top ten television series of the last decade.
10 – Sense8 (2015-2018)
Starting off with an epic and ambitious series, we have the Wachowski sisters’ (The Matrix) global sci-fi drama. When eight strangers from around the world discover they are inexplicably psychologically connected to one another, their intimate personal lives become enmeshed and entangled in a high-stakes, violent web of supernatural mystery. The expansive series unapologetically addressed issues of gender, sexuality, and identity, which its creators – two trans women – felt had seldom been explored on television, whilst managing to develop loveable and complex characters and relationships which stay engaging to the end.
9 – Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Whilst hardly surprising or niche, the cultural impact of Game of Thrones cannot be disregarded. The many narrative strands, wide range of characters, ruthless and intriguing drama, and extensive budget, contributed to the show’s mind-blowing popularity, with it collecting 59 Emmy Awards and around 44 million viewers. Though the final season was viewed by many as a disappointing – if not disastrous – end to the show, the first 5 seasons are a masterclass in fantasy world-building and book to TV adaptation, paving the way for the success of further series such as The Witcher, and spawning a prequel series (House of the Dragon) set to debut in 2022.
8 – Hannibal (2013-2015)
With consistently excellent performances from its lead actors (Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen) and devilishly ingenious writing, Bryan Fuller’s depiction of the infamous Hannibal Lecter is rightfully considered by many as among the greatest series of all time. Graphically violent and masterfully shot, the psychological horror-thriller has gained a cult following, with Twitter remaining rife with discussions on its queer subtext and potential for a new season, despite its abrupt (and, in my opinion, unwarranted) cancellation 6 years ago. If you are thinking of giving it a go, be warned that it is rated an 18 solely for its gore and brutal depictions of cannibalism.
7 – Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)
Next up is the mega-popular series portraying incarcerated women in a US federal prison. Orange Is the New Black broke boundaries in the diversity of its huge ensemble cast, depicting lesbian relationships and people and women of colour, as well as being one of the first series to feature a black trans woman as one of its main characters. These wonderfully complex and authentic characters, as well as the ways in which it worked to humanise incarcerated people, mean that this action-packed and phenomenally acted show deserves the spot as one of the greatest of the last decade.
6 – The Good Place (2016-2020)
Moving onto a more family-friendly but nevertheless similarly brilliant series, we have the hugely popular fantasy-comedy series The Good Place. Following in the vein of series such as Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (and indeed created by the same producer, Michael Schur), the show depicts a diverse cast of brilliant, wildly amusing and lovably flawed characters as they form bonds and adventure through the afterlife, with zippy one-liners and acerbic political commentary balanced wonderfully with an overarching emphasis on essential human goodness and empathy. Where many shows fall flat in executing a satisfying conclusion, this much-adored series ended with a heartwarming finale, reflective of the brilliant writing and world-building of the previous 4 seasons.
5 – Black Mirror (2011-2018)
In number 5 is Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, the anthology series exploring dystopian extrapolations of current technological realities. Though its central theme of the dangers of capitalism was ironically contradicted by the series’s move to Netflix in 2016, the first three seasons are exceptional examples of ingenious writing, with episodes such as Be Right Back and Shut Up and Dance combining terrifying concepts with heart-wrenching/stomach-turning narrative twists.
4 – Young Royals (2021-present)
This recent Swedish show about the young Prince of Sweden and his experiences at an elite boarding school was met with phenomenal success, and for good reason. Young Royals is mould-breaking in its utilisation of teen actors – several with cystic acne – in a genre where a realistic portrayal of hormonal teenagers is far from common. Moreover, the show depicts the central budding gay romance with authenticity and heart, staying firmly away from overused miscommunication tropes and instead painting a portrait of a healthy, loving couple faced with external strife – a highly important relationship dynamic to show its primarily young, queer audience. Season 2 is confirmed for 2022!
3 – Squid Game (2021)
Netflix’s new psychological dystopian drama, set in South Korea, has been breaking records worldwide, and rightfully so. If you aren’t aware yet (what’s it like living under that rock?) Squid Game centres on a horrifying survival game in which severely indebted people compete to win a massive cash prize. With endless gut-wrenching plot twists, incredible performances from its outstanding cast, and astute social commentary, Squid Game is as much addictive, highly intelligent, and culturally important, as it is an indulgent gore-fest – a season two is almost certainly guaranteed.
2 – Fleabag (2016-2019)
Now to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s masterpiece, Fleabag. Just pipped to the post by my number one pick (keep reading!), the series is a masterclass in both acerbic comedy and poignant tragedy, with Waller-Bridge writing and delivering whip-smart one-liners and devastating lines on the pain of existence in quick succession. With a second season outmatching the first and a long list of accolades to its name, Fleabag is essential watching.
1 – Sex Education (2019-present)
In first place, we have Netflix’s Sex Education, the wildly popular British comedy-drama portraying the personal and sexual lives of students, staff, and parents at Moordale Secondary School. The conversations it generates about gender, sexuality, race, and identity are essential for the teenagers (and, indeed, adults) of today, and it deftly interweaves these topics with belly-aching hilarity, authentically complex relationships, and genuinely loveable personalities (Aimee Gibbs, I adore you). Sex Education tops the list of series from the past decade due to its heart-warming and riotous depiction of the ridiculous, seemingly never-ending mishaps of its brilliant ensemble of characters.