illustration by Ren Rader
The curtain is drawing on the decade that had critics spanning nationalities and outlets saying audiences had entered the “Golden Age” of American television. This was mainly due to the work done by “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing.”
These claims were made even before landmark shows such as “Orange is the New Black,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Mad Men” showed that this renaissance of television would be continuing throughout the decade. But one show began to dominate society in a way few shows have ever done. “Game of Thrones” swallowed the attention of audiences across the globe, accruing a cult-like following that resulted in its final season averaging 16.1 million viewers an episode. It dominated every award show, accumulating 260 awards over its nine-year reign.
But not that show, nor any of the others I mentioned, were the best shows of the decade for me. Five other shows will stand the test of time as pristine representations of television mastery. While other shows may have typified this decade, these shows’ shelf lives will go far beyond the tales of dragons, prisoners or pretty men in suits; they will enter the canon of shows that changed the very idea of what television can be.
The order of the shows I will discuss will act as my ranking of them. While all could be the top spot, there is one that takes the proverbial cake.
The first show I’d like to discuss is “Bojack Horseman,” an animated show by Netflix that follows the life and trials of a horse-man named Bojack Horseman. The lead, voiced by Will Arnett, is joined by a wealth of talent that all add to a series that appears to be a cartoon about a wayward celebrity, but is truly a show discussing the sadness of celebrity and one that ruminates on concepts of love, death and the unspoken pains that exist within fame. It never gives up its kitschy jokes or poking fun at the show’s world, but it never forgets whats it’s really about: what it means to be alive. “Bojack Horseman” altered the level to which animated shows can strive for in this decade.
Slotting above “Bojack Horseman” is the beloved sit-com “Parks and Recreation.” “Parks and Recreation” glides easily through each scene, the humor and character each of the cast brings doesn’t diminish anyone else’s role. They all share the screen, an ensemble cast that one grows to cherish like an old friend. It at times feels like watching an improv show, the timing, script and layered jokes reminiscent of “Cheers” in its heyday. What makes “Parks and Recreation” so special is that while not doing anything new, it exists in its genre as a testament of how to do sit-com right, and how if well executed, sit-coms can be some of the most rewarding television out there.
Coming in at the middle of the pack is the first season (there is no need to discuss the other two seasons; the mere thought of them detracts from the majesty of the first) of “True Detective,” a grisly show that stands as possibly the best-written show of all time. The show follows two Louisiana cops as they unpack a gruesome string of cult-inspired murders and abductions, yet the case is but the pulse that drives the larger story, which analyzes what it means to be human. The flashback structure keeps the viewer constantly engaged, and its tragic ending leaves one hollow, devoid of any resolution as to the question the show ponders throughout, “Are we all evil?”
“Stranger Things” is the second-best TV show of the decade for its pure ability to use society’s love of nostalgia, of looking back on what initially seemed to be simpler times, completely reversing it and placing those ideas in the “upside-down.” Set around the Wellsian adventures of a ragtag group, the show borrows from classic 80s tropes, handpicking the iconic decades greatest hits and giving the boomers and the youths a blast from the past. But those moments are brief, for the show is quick to deconstruct those idealized notions of the past that forget the fear and anxiety that permeated through the entire world during the 80s. That is where “Stranger Things” shines — it’s about showing its audience that no time is perfect, they all have things that make us scared. But don’t let them make you forget what makes life worth living: friends, family and music.
The best TV show of the decade for me was Netflix’s “Master of None,” a show that starred the shows writer, producer and sometime-director Aziz Ansari. Set around his life in New York City as an actor jumping from gig to gig, the worst part of the show is Ansari, but luckily, he is dwarfed by the show’s plethora of genuine and wonderful characters, each who outshine him in nearly every scene.
That is the elegance and possible brilliance of the show. Once you stop paying attention to its lead and admire the details or the background, you see the most beautiful love letter to a city and the time he spent there. It is also one of the few shows ever to follow a stellar first season with maybe the best second season of television ever.
Some shows hit gold once, “Master of None” hit the vein twice. If you watch only one episode of the whole show, watch either “Thanksgiving” or “New York I Love You.” Both mean and say more than I can put into words. They break the boundary of the viewer and show more than any other show I can think of. They made me feel more than any show I’ve ever watched.
Picking five shows is hard in a decade that has some of the crème de la crème that TV has to offer. I’d recommend you sit down and pick out your five and playback the hours of watching something you love, it’s just as nice as it sounds.