As we prepare to enter a new decade I wanted to compile a top 50 of the best of the last ten years. It’s fair to say that this decade has seen television reign supreme with film taking a back seat. It’s been a decade that has seen the rise of streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon and it’s fair to say the traditional broadcasters have struggled to find their feet as we have so many ways of consuming content.
This decade, we’ve told: “nobody watches television any more”. Though my twitter feed would disagree. To be fair, television’s boom began in the early 2000s with many crediting HBO’s The Sopranos with starting television’s leap into greatness.
This decade has been the most consistent, most innovate and most exciting ten years in television which I’m hoping the list will prove.
When compiling the list I set myself some parameters.
1) It had to have started in 2010. This immediately ruled a show that I consider the very best of television in Breaking Bad. That show ended its phenomenal run in 2015 but having started in 2008 it didn’t meet the criteria.
2) It has to have had an impact on its genre. For this take a show like The Killing which singlehandedly kick-started an appreciation/obsession with foreign drama as we started to use the phrase: Nordic-Noir.
3) Consistency. It has to have had a consistent run. Because there have been so many great over the last ten years if a show started strong but the quality had dipped it couldn’t be considered. With this in mind shows like Broadchurch and Killing Eve were dismissed. Broadchurch’s first series gripped us and was, without question THE show of 2013, but the subsequent series were ultimately unnecessary and a clear attempt by ITV to hold onto the huge audience the first series had bought them. Similarly, Sherlock which was one of the more exciting and discussion-worthy shows the BBC had produced when it arrived slowly became more convoluted with the creators enjoying toying with the fans and forgetting what made the show great in the process. Killing Eve, which surprised everyone with its rollercoaster ride of a first series didn’t make the list either. The second, with a brand new showrunner, was a bit of a narrative mess and I fear that, with another new showrunner for the upcoming third season, it will move even further away from its original premise.
4) We have to have loved it on the site. We’ve championed a lot of shows over the last ten years and those closest to our hearts take precedence over shows that you could argue had a bigger impact. We didn’t fall under the spell of Stranger Things as much as everybody else but it has made the list because its impact can’t be understated.
First, because TV has been so ruddy good over the last ten years and I only had 50 spots to fill I’d like to mention some honourable mentions that *just* missed out on a spot on the final list.
We’ve a few true-crime stories on the list meaning that ITV’s Appropriate Adult, Little Boy Blue and Manhunt *just* the cut. There a few foreign dramas on the list and whilst I loved the atmosphere and ambition of French drama The Returned the second series wasn’t as well developed so that missed out. I could say the same about Icelandic crime drama Trapped. The first series was wonderfully claustrophobic with a central mystery that kept the viewer on his/her toes but the second, although good in parts, didn’t quite have the same impact. James Corden & Matthew Baynton’s comedy The Wrong Mans was one of the more memorable comedies of the decade, action-packed and really funny that also *just* missed the cut. As did Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul. I love the slow pace and precise nature of the series but as it hasn’t finished its run at the time of publishing this list I couldn’t rightfully place it on the list when so many shows have ended so successfully. Lastly, and I’m still a little unsure of not putting this on the list, but Hugo Blick’s The Shadow Line didn’t make the cut either. Even as I write this I’m wishing it had.
Finally, as if any list, it’s based solely on my opinion. If your favourite didn’t make the cut or is lower down than you’d like don’t worry. Lastly, thank you to all of my team who helped to write pieces on each show. Also, I was lucky enough to hear from people integral to making the shows.
Luke – Editor of www.thecustardtv.com
50) Stranger Things (2016, Netflix) Leading off the countdown is Netflix’s homage to popular films of the 1980s – Stranger Things. Created by the Matt and Ross Duffer (the Duffer Brothers), this Netflix Original first started transmitting on the streaming service in 2016 with Series 4 currently in development. The show weaves elements from numerous horror and science fiction films of the era to craft a story about a pre-teen girl, (Eleven – Millie Bobby Brown) with powerful psychic abilities, a group of pre-teen boys searching for their friend Will (Noah Schnapp), and a town plagued by extra-dimensional horrors. Aiding Eleven in her quest to vanquish the monsters that continuously invade Hawkins, Indiana are Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin). An additional female protagonist (Max Mayfield – Sadie Sink) joins in Series 2 to help balance the dynamic as the group races towards puberty.
Many of the adults depicted in the series are clueless about the monster infestation – another standard 1980s movie trope. However, Will Byers’ mother (Joyce – Winona Ryder) and Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) play key roles throughout Series 1 – 3. Amongst the show’s horror elements the Duffer Brothers carve out time to tell a traditional soap opera involving the young adult set: Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). These characters are often islanded, but their arcs typically intersect with the adults and pre-teens midway through each series.
Stranger Things is currently one of Netflix’s most popular original dramas. When Series 3 debuted in July of 2019, Netflix released viewing data – something streaming services rarely do. With Series 4 coming (and potential future instalments) it is too early to say if the franchise has peaked. One of the show’s criticisms is the seemingly repetitive nature of each series so far. Based on the viewing numbers and Stranger Things merchandising the show appears to be critic proof. Plus the Duffer Brothers are not leaving Netflix (and the franchise) anytime soon. The pair inked a multi-year deal with Netflix in September 2019. Strangers Things may be a tribute to 1980s but it has clearly made an impact on telly viewers in this decade. Written by Mo Walker.
49) The Good Place (2016, Netflix) The Good Place began in 2016 with an original but seemingly straightforward premise. After self-confessed ‘Arizona dirtbag’ Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) suddenly dies, she is mistakenly sent to The Good Place, a branch of the afterlife that’s reserved for only the very best people on earth, and starts trying to become a better person in an attempt to avoid being found out and transferred to The Bad Place where she really belongs. However, at the end of its first season, the show pulled the rug from under our feet with something that blew up this premise, and it’s been repeatedly reinventing itself with unexpected twists and turns ever since.
Michael Schur is known for creating ensemble comedies with smart, laugh-out-loud funny dialogue and loveable characters (like Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and The Good Place is no exception. But it also differentiates itself by taking place in its own high-concept world – a colourful, secular version of the afterlife that’s full of eccentric characters and idiosyncratic rules, such as swear words getting replaced with ridiculous alternatives like ‘fork’ and ‘shirt’. It manages to be fun and escapist while tackling weighty philosophical issues, and has continuously raised the stakes over the course of its four seasons, as Eleanor has gone from trying to save herself to trying to save humanity.
In addition to cementing Ted Danson as an American national treasure, the series has launched D’Arcy Carden, Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper and Manny Jacinto into the spotlight. Although many of us watch the show via Netflix, it’s also worth remembering that it’s an NBC show, so is even more inventive and ambitious considering the standards of American network TV. Written by Sophie Davies.
48) No Offence (2015, Channel 4) Crime Dramas have been two a penny the last ten years but creator Paul Abbott had his own unique take on the genre. Sure, there were elements of Abbott’s previous Channel 4 hit Shameless in the DNA but this was like no show ever seen before. No Offence was chaotic, bizarre and hard-hitting. It was fast-moving and dialogue-heavy, so much so it could almost be disorientating. Hilarious one-liners and ludicrous situations mixed effortlessly with big issues such as the murders of girls with Downs Syndrome, child slavery and far-right politics.
With all that going on you need the performances to pay off so step forward Joanna Scanlan as Viv Deering. As Derring Scanlan intense, playful, hard as nails and vulnerable. Most of all though she’s funny as hell. There are so many wonderful quotes that there’s no point going into them all. If she’s not using breath spray on her privates she’s breaking the rules in her own style. Deering has to go down as one the TV greats.
No Offence is an ensemble piece and everyone has their moments. Elaine Cassidy as the intensely moral but wayward Dina gives the performance of her career. Alexandra Roach as the innocent but kick-ass Joy is a revelation. Then there’s Paul Ritter having the time of his life as Miller, a man in revels in the moribundity of it all and takes everything that bit too far. He is outstanding and one of his greatest moments came when he shouted “I’VE GOT GOAT ON ME!” before licking it off his coat “No, it’s Curry” Oh, by the way, they blew up a goat with a bomb. Of course they did.
Sadly, shortly after its third series, Channel 4 announced that No Offence was not coming back and that is a dreadful loss. Television needs brave, unique storytelling like this. One day it will be considered as a classic and when it is, Viv will be raising a wry smile knowing she was right all along. As always. Written by Michael Lee.
47) Fresh Meat (2011, Channel 4) Past masters of the flatshare comedy Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong might have been well past the fresher stage when they devised Fresh Meat, but the pair, who also created Peep Show, mined the grimy seams of student life and struck gold. No mean feat, given that flatshare comedies are probably the most over-visited resort for comedy writers (especially those starting out). It’s the certainly the stoniest ground for getting laughs if you are trying to eclipse, say, The Young Ones. However, the 1980s lives of Rik, Vyvyan et al were cushioned by the luxury of mandatory student grants; Fresh Meat’s intake were mostly entering long-term servitude with student loans.
What enlivened the series, set in a fictionalised version of the University of Manchester (alma mater of all the aforementioned), was its verisimilitude – the sense of familiarity we had with nobody’s favourite knob JP (Jack Whitehall), defensive army brat Vod (Zawe Ashton), pretentious ‘Oregon’ (Charlotte Ritchie), star-crossed would-be lovers Kingsley and Josie (Joe Thomas and Kimberley Nixon), and enigmatic failed philosopher Howard (Greg McHugh). Even if you weren’t in digs you knew someone reminiscent of them or saw it in yourself (your author watched Oregon’s tortured affair with Tony Gardner’s arrogant lecturer Tony Shales from behind the sofa).
We reached out to writer and co-creator Sam Bain to ask his feelings looking back on the show. Jesse and I wrote the first pilot script of Fresh Meat 4 years before the first series of Peep Show aired – when we were still young enough to have very fresh memories of university. We always felt it was a relatively untapped resource of comedy and drama (with the notable exception of The Young Ones), since uni is a world of enormous change and high emotion for students. I am still really proud of the show, in particular, the amazing teams of writers and actors we were blessed with. It’s always hugely gratifying when something you’ve written is taken to heart by an audience and that seems to have been the case with Fresh Meat. Sam Bain – Writer & co-creator.
The characters’ journeys were so elegantly paced: a first year of fun, fabricating their adult personas for the outside world. The posh kids try to roughen the edges of their cruel but privileged backgrounds, with Oregon’s paranoia about how she is perceived and JP aching to be cool despite being the epitome of uptight. Vod leads the others into hedonism and substance abuse, and Josie exits these excesses suffering from borderline alcoholism. As several students in the household ricochet between courses, adult life races all too close before finals, and hard choices have to be made in a savagely competitive 21st-century job market. Written by Deborah Shrewsbury
46) The Night Of (2016, HBO) Getting a remake right can be tricky but no such concerns surrounded HBO’s take on Peter Moffat’s acclaimed Criminal Justice which followed the travails of a young man (played by Ben Whishaw in the original and Riz Ahmed in the remake) who wakes up after a lengthy bender to find himself accused of murder.
Co-written by cult American crime writer Richard Price (Clockers, Lush Life) and Steve Zaillian, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Schindler’s List, The Night Of took Moffat’s claustrophobic tale of British justice and widened it out to cast a bleak eye not only on the American justice system but on race relations in the US as a whole.
In this version, the young man at the centre was Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Ahmed) a Pakistani-American college student who decides at the last minute to attend a college party, ‘borrowing’ his dad’s taxi to do so.
On his way to the party, a misunderstanding means that he picks up Sofia Black-D’Elia’s lost little rich girl Andrea. The two of them end up getting high and getting it on at Andrea’s Upper West Side flat, only for Naz to wake up with a killer hang-over and a dead body in bed next to him the following morning.
So far so true to Moffat’s original story but as the story progresses so Price and Zaillian, aided by a nimble performance from Ahmed, weave a complicated story of the death of promise and the true price extracted by the American justice system on countless young men.
While the increasingly befuddled Naz, who finds himself both making dangerous alliances and nurturing a burgeoning drug habit, is our guide to life behind bars, on the outside further illumination is shone by down-at-heel defence attorney John Stone (John Turturro).
Stone is both the moral heart of a dark world and a man who makes a living essentially ambulance chasing, offering his services to the most desperate and pulling any trick in the book to help them go free. Scrofulous, dishevelled and plagued by psoriasis he is an unlikely hero but a dogged, determined hero he is.
Turturro was rightly nominated for an Emmy for his beautifully judged turn while Ahmed won for his nuanced performance as Naz. Ultimately that was the right call. For all Turturro’s skill and style and all Stone’s empathy and wit, ultimately it is Naz, free from jail yet imprisoned by the weight of his experiences, whose plight lingers long after the final credits have rolled. Written by Sarah Hughes.
45) Accused (2010, BBC1) This series, written by one of the true greats, Jimmy McGovern, only ran for two series. Over the course of ten episodes, it cemented itself as one of the best BBC dramas of the decade. Each began the same: a person in a suit sat in a cell awaiting their trial. We don’t know anything about them and as the story flashes back we learn what has landed them in this awful predicament. All single stories, the series bolstered an impressive cast. Sean Bean, Christopher Eccleston, Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Andy Serkis, Sheridan Smith and Jodie Whittaker to name but a few. As we’ve come to expect from McGovern (and a co-writer on each episode) these were relatable stories filled with emotion. They felt true to life often putting the viewer in the position of questioning their own moral compass. Each episode told the story of how ordinary people can be pushed to do the unthinkable. The series didn’t make villains out of those in the dock, these were people who acted out of love, greed or survival. It’s the kind of show the BBC doesn’t make nowadays as they veer away from homegrown human stories in favour of BIG shows they hope can compete with what the streaming giants or HBO are doing. It is British drama at its most natural and raw.
44) Luther (2010, BBC1) Watching the first episode of this crime drama from Neil Cross you’d be forgiven for writing it off as just another crime drama. Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther is a maverick cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He can turn over his desk in a moment of anger, he’s separated from his long-suffering wife and even though he’s a loose cannon his bosses still trust him to crack the case. So far, so cliched, but at its heart, Luther is something very different. It’s gritty, violent, jump out of skin scary and all too often it’s completely bonkers.
The crimes here are more often than not the stuff of nightmares. Murderers who wait under the bed of their unsuspecting victims or stalk them in taxi cabs. Very rarely does the action feel grounded in reality but it really doesn’t matter. Over the course of its five series, DCI John Luther has become more of a superhero than a detective. Virtually unstoppable and always fighting with the dark side of society, the series is best enjoyed if you sit back and let it wash over you. Elba’s performance is always strong and his onscreen chemistry with nemesis/partner in crime Ruth Wilson as the equally enticing Alice Morgan is when the show is at its very best. Luther is full of horror, suspense and action that is almost unrivalled by any other show of the genre. If you watch it before bed you’re bound to be checking inside the wardrobes and under your bed before you turn out the light.
43) Big Little Lies (2017, HBO) Another TV trend in the last years, is the number of movie stars who are willing to make the leap to the small screen. At the start of the decade, the two mediums were still very separate with film stars often turning up their nose up at TV. Thanks partly to the rise of the steamers and also a hankering for serialised television those who used to work exclusively in film have made the move to TV in hopes of attracting a new audience and working on a great script. Perhaps the best example of this is this HBO mini-series based on the novel of the same name from Liane Moriarty and adapted by TV heavyweight David E Kelly. It brings together Reece Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Shailene Woodley and Alexander Skarsgård to tell an intriguing mystery set in the sun-soaked and wealthy community of Monterey California.
The story unfolds differently to most whodunnits as, while we know someone has been murdered the identity of the victim is hidden from the audience too. It’s a drama about female friendship, wealth and destructive relationships. Nicole Kidman gives a career-best performance as Celeste. She’s a woman who appears to have it all: a gorgeous home, twin sons and a husband who adores her. However, her husband Perry isn’t what he seems. A vicious man with a horrendous temper who attacks his wife both physically and mentally when the pair are alone together. The scenes of domestic violence scenes are difficult to watch but they are a good depiction of what women in these sort of relationships go through. When you add, Reece Witherspoon’s peppy/bitchy Madeline Mackenzie, Laura Dern’s spoilt Renata Klein Shailene Woodley’s quiet but damaged Jane Chapman to the story you get a series full of powerhouse performances.
Woodley’s performance as Jane Chapman is quiet and the most grounded of the series. She arrives in Monterey with her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) and is immediately taken under Madeline’s wing. It is clear from the off that Jane is a tortured soul who has landed in Monterey to escape her past. Her performance is more intimate than the others and perhaps because of that, she’s the most likeable of the women. It’s a truly engrossing story led by strong performances and a razor-sharp script. Given all that praise you may wonder why it didn’t make it further up the list. Unfortunately, a side effect of TV being so strong at the moment is that when something catches fire in the way Big Little Lies did, a broadcaster will inevitably order a second series/season to hold onto their audience. The first season ended with the same ending as Moriarty’s novel meaning Kelly and Moriarty had to explore what might have happened with the characters after the book. Whilst the second series bolstered a stunning performance from Meryl Streep and was fun, it, like so many series, that return when their story has been told, felt unnecessary.
42) The Handmaid’s Tale (2017. HULU/Channel 4) In spite of Margaret Atwood’s gripping novel having been released 30 years prior, this adaptation arrived at a time when the subject matter couldn’t have been more relevant. The chilling drama — set in a dystopian universe where totalitarian rule has been implemented, and women are forced to into servitude — was universally praised, and subsequently went on to win 8 Emmy Awards for its intense first season, and with spectacular scripts, sublime direction — not to mention one of the strongest casts on television, helmed by Elisabeth Moss who delivers a career-defining performance — the Hulu drama was nothing short of history-making.
Some have complained that the series unrelenting grim and whilst we’d agree it can be a difficult watch, the world is so involving/infuriating that you can’t help but root for these women as they try to escape this awful new world.
The second season was every bit as compelling as the first, and although the third somewhat stumbled, The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the most enthralling shows there is. Written by Stephen Patterson.
41) Broken (2017, BBC1) Jimmy McGovern has written about his catholic upbring before. His first feature film was entitled, Priest and centred around a homosexual Catholic priest who finds out during confessional that a young girl is being sexually abused by her father, and has to decide how to deal with both that secret and his own. The film wasn’t that well received with many US cinemas refusing to show it. McGovern was incredibly proud of Priest and disappointed it wasn’t more widely seen, perhaps because of this, Broken was born.
The series, which only ran for six episodes, starred Sean Bean as Father Michael. Michael is a Catholic priest presiding over a Northern urban parish who is Modern, maverick, and reassuringly flawed; his role calls for him to be confidant, counsellor and confessor to a congregation struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the challenges of daily life. Bean is fantastic as the priest who fights his inner demons whilst trying to be the best priest he can be. As with all of McGovern’s work, the series doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of modern life. The series begins with single mother Christina (Anna Friel) who is pushed to her limits when her mother dies suddenly. Christina’s story, like all of the stories here, is dealt with great skill. Though his characters are facing some of the darkest times of their lives McGovern scripts are always full of humour when things get really bleak. Broken is McGovern’s masterpiece of the 21st century helmed by a stunning performance from Bean.
40) Top Boy (2011, Channel 4/Netflix) When Top Boy first arrived on Channel 4 in October 2011 it felt like a breath of fresh air. Here was a drama that felt recognisably set in the London of today, that wasn’t selling a heritage version of Britain to the world but which instead preferred to train its focus on Hackney’s mean streets and the struggle of various residents to survive.
The show’s focus on the struggle between life-long friends Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (grime star Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson) to become ‘Top Boy’ on the Summerhouse Estate swiftly drew comparisons with The Wire – and it’s true that it shared certain traits with David Simon’s masterpiece, most notably in the way it made you care for even the most brutal of characters.
Yet Top Boy always danced to its own particularly British beat depicting a world where brutality and quick wit went hand in hand. Where the kids slinging dope on the streets spent as much time mugging each other off as they did selling product, where the bright lights of the wealthy part of London were another planet away and friendship could be both the thing that saved you and the weakness that brought you down.
It was also something of a launching pad for young Black British talent. In addition to the charismatic Robinson and Walters there were also eye-catching turns from Letitia Wright, Nicholas Pinnock, Tayo Jarrett aka grime star Scorcher and, in series two, Michaela Coel.
Yet despite critical acclaim and solid ratings Channel 4 abruptly cancelled the show following the second series in 2013, much to creator Ronan Bennett’s fury.
Thankfully salvation was on hand. Canadian rapper Drake, a long-time fan, stepped into the breach bringing Netflix – and thus a bigger budget – on board. The third series, expanded to ten episodes, aired this year. It was worth the wait.
With new cast members including award-winning rapper David Omoregie aka Dave (who has a ball as the psychotic Modi) and rising grime star Simbi Ajikawo aka Little Simz, bringing a welcome warmth as the kind-hearted Shelley, the extra episodes allowed Bennett and his team to tell wider stories – including a devastating plot focussing on immigration – about the world through which their characters moved.
It also allowed them to dig deeper into those we already knew. The focus here was as much on the passing of time as on the battle to be king of the estate with both Dushane, newly back from Jamaica with gangsters on his tail, and Sully, fresh out of prison and hoping for a new start, struggling to adapt to the times.
For while new cast members such as Jasmine Jobson as the abrasive Jaq and, especially, Micheal [CORR] Ward as smart and thoughtful would-be Top Boy Jamie made their mark this remains very much Walters and, in particular, Robinson’s show.
Walters’ calm, calculating Dushane might win our respect but the drama’s heart remains Robinson’s bruised, half-broken Sully. The scenes of him trying to connect with his estranged daughter or mourning his only true friend are among the most powerful in the series. They remind us that Top Boy might be billed as a gangster drama but its real focus is humanity and the daily struggle to get by. Written by Sarah Hughes
39) Atlanta (2016, FX) If you’ve never seen FX’s award-winning comedy-drama about a pair of cousins striving for success in the city’s rap and hip hop scene you’d be forgiven for assuming it was just another comedy. The brilliance of the show is that it refuses to be one thing. Created by Donald Glover who balances writing, directing, and co-starring in the series. Glover portrays Earnest “Earn” Marks who is attempting to manage his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles’ (Brian Tyree Henry) rap career while struggling to maintain his own wellbeing. Earn’s quest to build Paper Boi’s brand often collides with his responsibilities as a parent. Outside of Alfred, Earn’s most enduring relationship is with his daughter’s mother Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). Driving many of the show’s more absurdist escapades is Darius Epps (Lakeith Stanfield), Alfred and Earnest’s prophetic mate. Rounding out the show’s core cast is the city and surrounding counties of Atlanta, Georgia – providing a rich canvas in which episodes take place.
Series one dropped in 2016, followed by an equally impressive sophomore run dubbed Robbin’ Season in 2018. Paper Boi’s burgeoning career and its ramifications are routinely explored, however, episodes often inject other topics (like race/ethnicity, socioeconomics, homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse) into its narrative. Atlanta is not afraid to challenge perceived notions of episodic structures. Each episode Robbin’ Season included (at least one) criminal act that was committed by someone directly or indirectly part of the core cast. Bottle episodes appear throughout both series and provide opportunities for audience members to learn more about characters. Two of the more memorable ones include B.A.N. (Series 1), in which Paper Boi guests on a public affairs show with fake commercials, and Teddy Perkins (Series 2), a done-in-one American Horror Story-esque take on a child celebrity that was abused.
The first series of Atlanta earned Golden Globes for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. Donald Glover received a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy. He also earned Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (for B.A.N.). Series 2 amassed Primetime Emmys in the following categories: Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Katt Williams), Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour), and Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation.
Unfortunately, the show’s success is also its Achilles’ heel. Cast members (including Glover) received offers to appear in many high profile projects taking them away from the streets of Atlanta. Scheduling difficulties with cast members also appeared to impact Series 2 resulting in more bottle episodes. The much delayed Series 3 is slated to begin filming in 2020; earlier in 2019 Atlanta was recommissioned for Series 4. Given Donald Glover’s penchant for addressing societal issues through television and music (under the guise of Childish Gambino), expect Atlanta to remain relevant in the next decade. Written by Maurice Walker
38) Pose (2018, FX) This groundbreaking drama from Ryan Murphy is rooted in the New York ballroom scene of the 1980s (and early 90s in season 2), in which predominantly people of colour within the LGBT community would meet up and compete as part of ‘houses’ for trophies and status.
Pose puts a much-needed spotlight on people who have rarely been seen on TV before (particularly in lead roles), and it effectively balances the glitz and glamour of the balls against the grim realities of life for those who attend them, with members of the community facing up against constant discrimination as well as the AIDS epidemic. It movingly portrays how the balls give them an outlet to express themselves in ways that they can’t in the outside world, and allow them to essentially form their own families as many were disowned by their biological families after coming out.
There’s also the largest transgender cast to ever appear in a scripted TV show – including Mj Rodriguez as Blanca, who decides to start her own house at the beginning of the series after getting an HIV-positive diagnosis, Indya Moore as young sex worker Angel and Dominique Jackson as haughty house mother Elektra. In 2019, Billy Porter won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series (becoming the first gay black man to do so) for his standout performance as HIV-positive ballroom emcee Pray Tell. Season three is already confirmed and we can’t wait to be back in their world. Written by Sophie Davies.
37) Veep (2012, HBO) Created by Armando Iannucci who had also been the mastermind behind The Thick of It, this US remake of the British political satire that transmitted on HBO from 2012 – 2019 and starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Louis-Dreyfus portrayed American Vice President Selina Meyer and her Don Quixotesque quest to become elected President of the United States. Willingly (and at times unwillingly) assisting Selina in her quest were loyal personal aide Gary Walsh (Tony Hale); the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky); hapless Director of Communications Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh); Sue Wilson – Selina’s personal secretary (Sufe Bradshaw); and Dan Egan, the Deputy Director of Communications (Reid Scott).
In early series, it was an unconventional satire about American politics. However external (2016 American Presidential Election) and internal changes (David Mandel becoming the new showrunner) caused the show to adjust its perspective in later series. The show developed an uncanny ability to tap into the current political/social climate and (to borrow Law & Order’s tagline) do ripped from the headlines plots, along with pastiches of contemporary political figures. No character on Veep reflected this change more than Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons). Initially Jonah was the White House liaison to Vice President Meyer’s office, but eventually became a Congressman and finally Selina’s Veep. Jonah’s character arc had shades of #MeTwo, various conspiracy theories, and a brush with the alt-right.
Throughout its existence, Veep received numerous awards and recognitions. The show won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series three consecutive years: 2015, 2016, and 2017. Julia Louis-Dreyfus cemented her legacy as an American Queen of Comedy dominating the Emmy’s Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category for 6 straight years: 2012 – 2017. Veep helped debunked the American television myth known as the ‘Seinfield Curse’, at least when it comes to Louis-Dreyfus. Tony Hale also won multiple Emmys for his work on Veep in the Outstanding Support Actor in a Comedy Series. In addition to the acting categories, Veep took home awards for production design, casting, and cinematography. Veep’s award-winning legacy and memorable characters easily earned the show its place amongst HBO’s pantheon of successful series. Written by Mo Walker.
36) Catastrophe (2015, Channel 4) Television has historically been a medium based on character and vibe. As interesting as a story can be, you have to want to hang out with your favourite characters every week, to check in on them, and be in their world.
Perhaps no show was more enjoyable to hang out in during the 2010s than Channel 4’s Catastrophe, created by and starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, a show that simply followed their tumultuous marriage. Nothing ever went as planned for Sharon and Rob, from the unplanned pregnancy that kickstarted their relationship to financial problems to family tragedy.
But the series embodied the idea that “life happens when you’re busy making other plans,” throwing catastrophic obstacle after obstacle at Rob and Horgan and watching them deal with them together as best they could. Delaney and Horgan were among the most believable and entertaining on-screen marriages, toggling between scathing insults and heartfelt reconciliation in ways that only familiar couples can. Watching them was like watching pillow talk; to be a fly on the wall in their most intimate moments of vulnerability where they could be themselves.
Catastrophe consistently delivered killer laugh out loud moments in nearly every genre of comedy. Rob and Sharon exchanged witty (and sometimes hilariously unwitty) barbs in the heat of arguments: “There’s a lot of … Brexit, you know? Your new president?”
Ultimately, that comedy in the face of (pardon the wording here) catastrophe made the show an engine of optimism. Yes, things will crash and burn constantly because that’s what life is. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find humour, love, and understanding underneath it all. Written by Jackson (Skip Intro)
35) Last Tango in Halifax (2012, BBC1) Family dramas are so few and far between these days, which is why Last Tango In Halifax was a breath of fresh air when it arrived on screens back in 2012. The heart-warming drama — penned by TV titan Sally Wainwright— loosely based on Wainwright’s mother’s story the centres around school sweethearts Celia (Anne Reid) and Alan (Derek Jacobi) who — after several decades — find each other on social media courtesy of their families, and ultimately fall in love.
Though at its heart it was a drama about two people finding each other late in life it was also about how their happiness affects their families. Celia’s daughter Caroline immediately clashes with Alan’s daughter Gillian and their conflict and eventual reconciliation is one of the best elements of the series with Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire proving the perfect match for one another.
At the centre, Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi are utterly believable as Alan and Cecilia and like all of Wainwright’s shows it exudes warmth and humanity. Nicola Schindler, whose production company Red made the series remember Sally planting the seeds of what would become the series.
While we were working on another project Sally told us the story of her mother’s new marriage with a man she had met at school and hadn’t seen for many years. It was such a good story and clearly had potential for a great drama. She wanted to find a way to dramatise a love that had lasted over many years and many disappointments. She crafted two brilliantly different families with fictional versions of her Mum and late Step-Dad and the drama became about more than the older couple. The casting was so important with Last Tango and the central four of Anne Reid, Derek Jacobi, Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker are amongst the strongest ensemble I have ever worked with. Nicola Schindler – Executive Producer.
With plenty of conflict, wonderful characters — and some of the greatest dialogue ever to grace our screens — Last Tango remains a stark reminder that — in order to entertain — a series doesn’t need a huge budget or adult content, but a strong script — helmed by an exceptional cast — can often do the job. Written by Stephen Patterson.
34) Peaky Blinders (2013, BBC2/BBC1) It may be a show that has all the trappings of a gangster drama, Peaky Blinders isn’t really about gangland violence but about the struggle to the top of the food chain of the Shelby family and the attempted redemption of one Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy).
Series creator Steven Knight has crafted a sophisticated and moving family saga that skillfully mixes low violence with high ideals. Tommy Shelby is not an evil man but he does evil things; that’s one of the central messages of the show, that Tommy may do terrible things but it isn’t because he is terrible but rather because he doesn’t know any other way to improve the lives of himself and his family. A central component of Tommy’s character is a desire to be legitimate, to not rely on being an “old fashioned back street razor gang” as Michael Gray (Finn Cole) so aptly put it in the most recent series finale. He doesn’t, unlike his brothers Arthur (Paul Anderson), John (Joe Cole) and Finn (Harry Kirton) enjoy being a Peaky Blinder – he is because he has to be so that he can change his circumstances.
The first two series focus on the Shelby’s attempts to grab power in opposition to both Billy Kimber (Charlie Creed-Miles) and to Sam Neil’s magnificently malevolent Major Campbell, in which Shelby is ultimately successful.
The first two series present an interesting inverted dichotomy; whilst it seems that Shelby and Campbell are opposites because one is a criminal and the other is a police officer, yet they are also opposites because Shelby is ultimately a good man who does bad things because he has to whereas Campbell is a bad man who often does bad things because he wants to. This gives the relationship between the two a heightened resonance for the audience. Across its full run of five series, whether Shelby faces Italian mobsters, Russian Oligarchs or British fascists it is his determination to once and for all quit his life of crime and yet still get sucked back in to it and it is this tension between what Tommy wants to do and what he is forced to do that ultimately drives the series and makes it so compelling. Peaky Blinders deserves to be here because it is a characterful masterclass in writing and characterisation that is unrivalled on British television. Written by Will-Barber Taylor
33) Making a Murderer (2015, Netflix) The true-crime genre became a genre all of its own in the latter half of the decade. These true-life stories were so absorbing, so twisted, heartbreaking and bizarre that they often made scripted drama feel old hat and obsolete.
Netflix’s story of the life and incarceration of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey launched quietly over Christmas in 2014 but quickly caught fire as one of the best series the streaming service has ever produced.
The story of an ordinary man who is seen as an oddball in his tightknit community, Steven Avery is wrongfully committed of murder and the ‘mistake’ was picked up Avery was freed. The documentary has access to Steven, his devoted family and the courtroom material. As Avery attempts to get reparations from the county that has wronged him, another murder occurs. This murder happens to be of a woman who happened to meet with Avery at his home hours before her death. Again, Avery is implicated and again he pleads his innocence, but this time, the police have an ace up their sleeve in Steven’s ‘slow’ nephew Brendan who is cruelly coerced into implicating not only his uncle in the murder but putting himself behind bars.
It’s a story that is as frustrating as it is heartbreaking and so compulsive that’s impossible to just watch one episode. It led to campaigns trying to get the pair freed and is the reason why true-life crime documentaries are so highly regarded.
32) My Mad Fat Diary (2013, E4) When I first sat down to watch a preview copy of My Mad Fat Diary at the beginning of 2013, I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly wasn’t the target audience for this E4 drama about the trials and tribulations of a sixteen-year-old struggling with her mental health. But, by the end of episode one, I was hooked and deeply moved by the adventures of Sharon Rooney’s Rae Earl over the drama’s three series. Based on the real Rae’s experiences of tackling her adolescence alongside her mental issues in the mid-1990s, this drama combined the realism of her memoirs with some brilliant performances and assured direction.
At the centre of the drama was a fantastic performance from Rooney, who in my opinion should be a bigger star than she is now. Rooney’s turn made Rae a wholly sympathetic character who had to deal with the regular problems of a teenager whilst also initially trying to hide her history of self-harm. Rae’s connection with a group of misfits, alongside her childhood friend Chloe, played a pre-fame Jodie Comer, allowed her to grow even though the problems of her past still remained. The drama also perfectly dealt with Rae’s mental health struggles as every new step prevented her with a challenge whether that be starting college in series two or pondering university in series three.
Alongside Rooney, there were also assured performances from Comer; whose character Chloe had her own issues to deal with, and Dan Cohen as Rae’s closeted friend Archie. Whilst the young cast were the core of the drama’s success, Claire Rushbrook as Rae’s mother and Ian Hart as her therapist provided excellent support. Rushbrook gave a standout turn and shared fantastic chemistry with Rooney which contributed to the poignancy of Rae’s relationship with her mother.
Despite dealing with some quite heavy issues, Tom Bidwell’s writing always balanced the tone very well as Rae’s narration of her diary provided some fantastically funny moments. As a child of the nineties, the setting of the show also made me feel quite nostalgic for the time period and the music choices throughout the series were almost always spot-on.
We reached out to the inspiration behind the series, the real Rae Earl, to get her take on the series. MFD was one of those rare times in life where everything aligns & magic happens. Look at the magnificent acting alumni from the show – BAFTAS, EMMYS – their careers continue to grow and grow. The crew also were all lovely and beyond talented.
It’s was quite simply a group of superb people it was great to go down the pub with. And in working life that’s always my aim.
For me, I think what will always stay with me was the audience reaction. It was deeply affecting to me personally. People were very kind to tell me how much they’d got from the show and how much they’d identified with it. Only yesterday someone tweeted me to say if they’d had MMFD when they were younger they might not have had such a wretched time growing up. I think it helped to bring some hugely important issues to the fore as well as making people laugh – that’s a fantastic feeling & a wonderful thing to be a part of. Rae Earl – Her diaries were the basis of the series.
Ultimately, My Mad Fat Diary was a programme that shone a light on a talented young cast and dealt with some important issues in a different way and that’s why I believe it sits amongst the decade’s best TV. Written by Matt Donnelly.
31) Fargo (2014, FX/Channel 4) Nobody wanted a TV remake of the Coen Brothers’ classic. Even if they had, traditionally television takes on films are very rarely a success. This makes Noah Hawley’s series even more remarkable. The anthology series which borrows the themes, setting and quirky atmosphere of the 1996 film is consistently one of the most innovative and exciting TV dramas of the decade. Take the first series which saw the unlikely pairing of Martin Freeman’s nervy put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard and Billy Bob Thorton’s ruthless and shadowy assassin Lorne Malvo. They meet accidentally while Nygaard waits to be treated for a broken nose. Their meeting triggers off a sequence of events that has repercussions for more than just the two men.
It’s a series that doesn’t shy from bloody and gruesome violence but it’s mixed with a uniquely dark humour that ripples across the script at every turn. Fargo is a show that can never be second-guessed. The storytelling is fun and unpredictable. A stellar cast is lined up the fourth instalment which will arrive in 2020. I can’t wait and have no idea what to expect.
30) Fleabag (2016, BBC Three) Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy about a woman navigating life in London and dealing with the sudden death of her best friend arrived on BBC Three in 2016 with little fanfare. This initial series was met with acclaim, but it wasn’t until series 2 appeared three years later that it truly became a cultural phenomenon.
The protagonist, known to us simply as Fleabag, is endearingly witty, messy and complicated. She regularly breaks the fourth wall and delivers asides to camera, letting us know her most intimate thoughts and turning us into a surrogate best friend in the absence of her own. In addition to writing the sharp and at times emotionally devastating dialogue, Waller-Bridge gives a fantastic central performance, and there’s an equally strong supporting cast including Sian Clifford as Fleabag’s uptight sister and Olivia Colman as their passive-aggressive stepmother.
Many thought that the first series was perfect as a standalone story and so there was no need for any more. However, as soon as series 2 emerged, with a painfully awkward family dinner and a ‘hot priest’ played by Andrew Scott, it exceeded expectations and arguably went on to surpass what had come before, ultimately winning multiple Emmys and prompting a sell-out West End run of the one-woman show that started it all. Written by Sophie Davies.
29) Gogglebox (2013, Channel 4) Gogglebox is a programme like nothing else. It’s really hard to explain how popular and culturally vital this show is. Yes, it is an hour of watching people on TV sitting in their own front rooms watching TV. On paper, it doesn’t make any sense at all and is easy to dismiss as nonsense. But those snobs (I used to be one) are missing out in a big way. It’s an insightful, passionate and emotional critique of the week’s biggest TV shows, news stories and cultural events.
The families are adorable, frequently (sometimes accidentally) hilarious, warm and funny, and they go some way to making you feel better about the human race. The families chosen are from all cultures, backgrounds, and from all over the country. They make you feel less silly to loudly cheer on a lizard in a David Attenborough documentary in your own home, to jump a foot in the air watching a horror movie, or to say goodnight to the weather presenter; everyone does it. In a decade where we’ve never been so divided, it’s heart-warming to see how much we as a nation have in common behind closed doors. It’s hard to pick out a favourite family, as cleverly every group add something special to the whole.
Such is the connection we feel with these with armchair critics, that when something makes them cry you find yourself welling up alongside them. The best example of this came when the show was in its infancy. The families were shown the final episode of Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire in which a young boy overcomes his stutter when his teacher plays music to him. If you’ve seen it you’ll know it’s an incredibly moving piece of television. Just thinking about the Goggleboxers choking up as the boy reads aloud to his peers for the first time still brings to my lump to my throat. The series serves as a reminder of the importance of television and the impact it can have on our lives.
Mary and Marina, old Bristolian ladies and great friends deserve a special mention as do the Moffatt family (daughter Scarlet just one of the Goggleboxers to go on to have a career in TV), country-folk Giles and Mary (I still cannot believe their house is that big), the much-missed Leon and June from Liverpool, and the gentlemen of the Siddiqui family in Derby. The series is proof of the indispensable role of TV in the fabric of people’s lives, and how for information and entertainment we still all gather in front of it despite the pull of our individual screens. Written by Sarah Kennedy.
28) Barry (2018, HBO) This HBO comedy-drama about a marine turned hitman, who falls into the acting scene while tracking a target in LA, still feels very much as if it’s under most people’s radar, but for those who have discovered the show, it’s a gripping, fiercely original must-watch.
Barry puts a compelling spin on the rather familiar story of a troubled man trying to escape his past, with its titular character living an unusual double life as both a cold-blooded assassin and a (pretty terrible) aspiring actor. It also achieves a good balance of drama and comedy, with most of the laughs coming from Barry’s amateur acting class and eccentric gangster NoHo Hank, played by scene-stealing Anthony Carrigan. It’s all anchored by a masterfully nuanced performance from Bill Hader, who has been awarded the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for both seasons so far.
Some were concerned when a second season of Barry was commissioned because season 1 had ended in such a powerful way, but there was really nothing to worry about. Season 2 went darker than before as we got to learn more about Barry’s history and watched him become incredibly desperate to leave killing behind, only to keep getting pulled back in, and it also gave more depth to supporting characters such as Barry’s self-obsessed acting coach and girlfriend, played by Henry Winkler and Sarah Goldberg. It may be a half-hour comedy but it can be as brutal, emotional and difficult to watch as any of the decade’s boxset dramas. Written by Sophie Davies.
27) 24 Hours in A&E (2011, Channel 4) In 2011, Channel 4 faced a bit of a crisis. The channel had lost Big Brother. It was a show that was synonymous with their lineup and when it ended the channel found itself with hours and hours to fill with brand new content. 24 Hours in A&E was the first of these, and it also felt the start of a whole new genre of television: fixed-rig documentaries. The series, based on the comings and goings of the A&E department of King’s Cross Hospital in London and subsequently St. George’s in London.
On the face of it, the show isn’t an original idea. There have always been medical documentaries on television but, this series feels far more human, emotional and roar and this has a lot to do with the fixed-rig way of filming. Using technology used on Big Brother, the cameras are tucked away on the wards and the crew are tucked away in trucks meaning that they don’t interfere with what is happening on the wards. The result is an honest account life in a busy A&E department.
The show captures the hard work being done within the NHS and doesn’t shy away from the realities of what may come through the door. Yes, it can be difficult to watch, but at its core, it’s an incredibly heartwarming show that feels quintessentially British offering a true representation of modern-day Britain. Like Big Brother before it, the show has become a cornerstone of Channel 4’s primetime schedule and I watch it because I know that I’m going to laugh and cry many times throughout the course of an episode.
26) The End of the F***ING World (2017, Channel 4/Netflix) Meet James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden). A pair of teenage misfits who only meet because James believes himself to be a psychopath and that Alyssa would be “fun to kill.” The pair talk in short concise sentences but, through clever use of the ‘inner monologue,’ we hear their true thoughts and feelings.
They don’t realise it initially but James and Alyssa have a lot in common. Alyssa doesn’t fit in at home with her mum Gwen (Christine Bottomley) and her new babies and James feels suffocated by his father (Steve Oram). They soon realise that they need one another and over time James stops fantasising about how Alyssa will meet her end and finds himself falling in love with her quirks.
For reasons I’ve yet to fathom out when it launched on Channel 4 in late 2017 the channel only aired the first episode and put the others online on all4. A clear attempt to grab the pesky binge-watching youth. The jury is out as to whether that strategy paid off, but it wasn’t until the series hit worldwide on Netflix that people started to give it the rave reviews it was deserving of from the start.
The first series sees James and Alyssa escape their home lives after James inadvertently punches his well-meaning father on the nose. The pair embark on an unplanned adventure in James’ Dad’s car (until it blows up) and as they grow closer it’s impossible not to fall under their spell too.
The scripts from Charlie Covell are razor sharp. These are teens who speak like teens, who behave like teens and have a relationship which always feels organic and genuine. When James and Alyssa break into a house in episode 3 they find themselves in a situation that will shape the rest of the series. I shan’t spoil it for you here because I believe it’s a show best enjoyed without knowing anything about how their journey pans out.
Suffice to say by the end of the first series I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in the company of these two ‘outcasts’ and in awe of a show that took me on such an emotional journey. I didn’t feel I needed a second series. The first was perfect. The story reached its natural end and I felt completely satisfied. However, its success on Netflix meant the obligatory second series was ordered. As much I enjoyed being in their world, I was worried that a second series would dilute what I loved about the first. The story, which had ended with the end of Charles S. Forsman’s graphic novel which the series was based on. This second series, like Big Little Lies before it, would have to continue a story that had run out of source material.
It’s fair to say I started 2019’s follow-up series with a great deal of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Cleverly, the series starts without James or Alyssa and instead introduces a character we’ve never met before. Bonnie (Naomi Ackie) is another damaged soul who has a murderous connection to our central couple. Did we need a second series? The answer is almost certainly no. Did I love the second series? YES! It was cleverly plotted, heartbreaking and edge of your seat exciting.
With style to rival, any other show on the list, incredibly strong lead performances and one of the best soundtracks of the decade, The End of the F***ing World is a very special piece of television. One that will endure long into the next decade.
25) This Is England ’86, ’88, ’90 (2010/2011/2015, Channel 4) TV adaptations or continuations of films are generally considered to be a bad idea, so I met the announcement of a small-screen spin-off of Shane Meadows’s 2006 movie This is England with some trepidation. However, I needn’t have been worried as This is England ’86; set four years after the events of the movie, was a completely joyous experience. The opening episode of this four-parter brilliantly reintroduced us to all the characters we loved in an aborted wedding between Joseph Gilgun’s Woody and Vicky McClure’s Lol. The comic elements of this first episode soon subsided into something much darker in the third instalment which saw Lol’s father Mick (Johnny Harries) brutally rape her friend Trev. From this moment, everything changed for these characters and Mick’s death loomed large over the subsequent This is England miniseries set in 1988 and 1990.
We spoke to series producer Nickie Sault about working on the series. This is England not only made my career, it made me who I am as a person. I’ve been lucky enough to work on the Film and all the TV Series and I can honestly say that that feeling of coming home and working with family, will probably never happen again (until the next This Is England!)
The brilliance of Meadows’s writing was the believability of the characters and the chemistry of the central gang, which was improved by the fantastic bond that the ensemble seemed to share. Meadows also expertly combined some memorable comic moments with some truly shocking scenes which stick with me years later. Alongside the shocking rape of Trev, Lol’s suicide attempt in the 1988 set-series and her sister Kelly’s downfall in the 1990 conclusion were both expertly told. Meadows also demonstrated bravery to extend scenes longer than regular TV drama would do, something that I feel influenced other writers throughout the decade. This was best demonstrated by a dinner scene in the third episode of This is England ’90 which revealed many of the long-kept secrets of both the prior series and the movie.
1st Assistant Director Nickie Sault told us more about how that emotive dinner scene was made. We did that scene in its entirety in just two takes… we had 7 cameras so we could cover the entire scene in one take… we did the first one and Shane thought he had everything he needed but we should do another one “just in case we got anything different” In the end the scene was pretty much all the first take…
There’s always been a blueprint, to begin with, a starting off point, then Shane & the cast take it in whatever direction feels the most honest and truthful in the moment…
It’s why we have to shoot in sequence because you’re never quite sure where you will be going next
The dinner table scene was written but how close it was to the original script I have no idea. It’s used to present the key moments but the cast don’t use it past that point… when Kelly picks up the glass and throws it at the wall (I was a little sick in my mouth because) it was a real glass, nobody knew she was going to do it… had we known it would have been a sugar glass!
Nickie Sault – 1st Assistant Director
The legacy of the drama can also be seen via the success of its stars since the start of the decade with Vicky McClure’s career rightfully being on the rise since her BAFTA-winning turn in This is England ’86. Joe Gilgun and Chanel Creswell also became familiar faces throughout the decade, with the latter also becoming a BAFTA-winner for her heartbreaking performance in This is England ’90. There are so many superlatives that I can use to describe the series but I feel that Meadows’ use of realism and believable characters make this anthology a worthy inclusion to this list and one that people should seek out if they haven’t already experienced the agony and the ecstasy of the world of Lol, Woody and the rest of the gang. Written by Matt Donnelly.
24) Unbelievable (2019, Netflix) It’s hard to pin down exactly what a ‘Netflix Orginal’ is. They’re normally brash, confident and pegged as ‘the next big thing. They’re often starry and lavished with budgets that make the traditional broadcasters envious. By contrast, Unbelievable which starred Toni Colette, Merrit Weaver and Katylin Deaver launched quietly to become of the best dramas the streaming giant has ever produced.
It tells the heartbreaking true story of Marie Adler who is dismissed by everyone around when she tells conflicting stories about the night she was raped by a masked attacker who breaks into her apartment, ties her hands, rapes her and leaves. Visibly shook Marie is dismissed by the police who find holes in her story and also by her foster family, who know that Marie is a young girl who has always craved attention.
Once the news breaks of her rape and the narrative that she lied about her attack breaks in local media her world is turned further upside down with her housing and work-life is put at risk. Meanwhile, several years later, Detective Karen Duvall (played by the brilliantly understated Merrit Weaver) responds to a rape call in Colorado. Duvall is the polar opposite of the police who ignored Marie’s concerns. She’s quiet, she’s attentive and she’s determined that her victim will get justice.
Joining forces with an initially reluctant Detective Grace Rasmussen (the equally brilliant Toni Colette) the pair find links to other rapes across the country. The victims report being tied, gagged, raped and that the attacker talks to them. He also has a distinctive birthmark on his leg. What follows is an engrossing, thought-provoking and satisfying hunt for a rapist by a team of colleagues determined to bring the culprit to justice.
The hunt for the rapist is cleverly juxtaposed with Marie’s story who is struggling alone, completely unaware that other women have been raped and that Duvall and Rasmussen are working on the case. Frustratingly, the two detectives are also unaware of Marie’s case as the police closed her case when they decided she wasn’t telling the truth.
Other Netflix shows have had a bigger global impact but I’d argue this is Netflix drama at its best. Thought-provoking, maddening and full of believable and heartbreaking performances. The fact that the story is true makes the whole thing even more compelling. At the time of writing Unbelievable isn’t just one of the best shows of the decade, it’s the best drama Netflix has ever produced.
23) The Virtues (2019, Channel 4) It’s no coincidence that there are two shows from Shane Meadows on this list. What is remarkable is that he has only made two TV shows and they’re both so good they had to make the list.
In lots of ways The Virtues shares a lot of DNA with This is England. The scripts from Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne can have you crying one second and belly laughing the next. The performances are so raw and human you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary.
Stephen Graham gives what might be his best performance as Joseph – a happy go lucky but ultimately broken and fragile man who’s live spirals out of control when his ex-wife and son move to Australia. The scene where Joseph reassures his son they’ll speak every day over Skype and that he’ll make lots of friends down under happens moments into the first episode. We knew nothing about these characters, but I’ve now watched the episode and that scene in particular multiple times and never fails to make me cry. It’s just one of many tender moments sprinkled across the four episodes where your heart breaks for Joseph. He’s a lost soul struggling through life and haunted by ghosts from his troubled past.
In search of a new family, Joseph heads to Ireland to reconnect with his sister Anna (Helen Behan) and crashlands into her busy family life with her husband, three children and sister-in-law Dinah (Niamh Algar) all squeezed under one noisy roof.
Producer Nickie Sault says, Producing The Virtues for Shane has been life-changing for me, and I knew it was going to be at the time. To be at the conception of something so personal to him was truly an honour and a privilege. Our aim right from the very start was to make a drama that we were proud of, that Shane was proud of, and then hope everyone else loved it too. The Virtues is absolutely completely Shane and Jack’s baby and I like to think I was a f***ing good step mum! Nickie Sault – Producer.
Joseph and Dinah are very similar, both emotionally broken and desperate to get their lives back on track. Both with abuse in their backgrounds and both fighting demons they’re scared to confront. The Virtues is a difficult but tremendously rewarding watch that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the series.
23) Educating…. (2011, Channel 4) “Your School days, love them or loathe them, you never forget them.” This was the tagline for Channel 4’s documentary series that went behind the scenes to capture life in an ordinary British Secondary School. Using the aforementioned fixed rig style of filming the series began with Educating Essex in 2011, Educating Yorkshire in 2013, Educating The East End in 2014 Educating Cardiff and Greater Manchester finishing the run.
Instantly relatable and endlessly funny and upsetting the series placed a spotlight on brilliant educators and students struggling with pressures we didn’t have when we were at school. Although each series was worth a watch, it was 2013’s Educating Yorkshire that really showcased the show at its most moving.
Set in the failing Thornhill Community Academy it was run by Headteacher Mr Mitchell and his staff who had a shared belief in getting the best out of the pupils and ridding the school was its poor reputation within the community.
The staff and pupils were lovely and the series had a great deal of warmth about it. Its defining moment comes when we were introduced to Musharaf, a student with a debilitating stutter. The episode saw English teacher Mr Burton helping to prepare Musharaf for an oral exam. His stutter made this impossible. Drawing on inspiration from The King’s Speech, Mr Burton decides to have his student listen to music that will play through headphones as he reads the text. Initially, the music is too loud and offputting but after finding the right volume, Musharaf’s stammer begins to subside.
It’s a moment that stuns both student and teacher and its one of the most moving TV moments of the decade. By the time we saw Musharaf reading aloud to the entire school and thanking the staff and pupils for their support, I was a mess. I’m finding a lot of the shows on the list have moved me to tears. That’s a testament to the power of television.
21) Detectorists (2014, BBC4) In a decade where cynicism grew exponentially, MacKenzie Crook offered an obscure form of light relief. Tucked away on BBC4 and offering a comforting hug to those who discovered it in the ditches of the TV schedules, Detectorists was never really about metal detecting – it was about friendship. Hapless though Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) were, the important thing is they were nice.We willed them to be better with women. We hoped they would find their pot of gold.
Through stunning shots of the English countryside, Detectorists brought a warm glow even if the weather conditions were drizzly. Lance and Andy nattering about nonsense was the heart of the show of course but no show is complete without a nemesis and in the ridiculous form of the Antiquisearchers’ (or Simon & Garfunkel to be more precise) they definitely didn’t meet their match. So much comic gold was mined when the pairs squared up against each other.
Let’s also not forget the oddball characters that made up the Danebury Metal Detecting Club and their awkward, mostly pointless meetings. It all added to a small world with a big heart. This should go down as an all-time classic comedy, one that gave our flawed antiheroes the ending they deserved. Written by Michael Lee.
So there you have it numbers 50-30 of my Top 50 shows of the Decade. Do you agree? How many have you seen?
Thank you to all of my team who have written as part of this list: Deborah Shrewsbury, Jackson, Matt Donnelly, Maurice Walker, Michael Lee, Sophie Davies, Sarah Hughes, Sarah Kennedy, Stephen Patterson, & Will Barber-Taylor & the logo and artwork design from eastendersweek
Numbers 20 – 10 can be found Here