Our Favorite TV Shows of the 2010s: Rotten Tomatoes' Staff Picks!

The Rotten Tomatoes content team chooses its favorite TV series of the decade, including that HBO dragon fest and a nightmare anthology series that tapped into our techno fears.

by | December 31, 2019 | Comments

We already know what the Tomatometer has determined to be the best movies and best TV of the decade. And fans have been pretty vocal on their picks for the best of the 2010s, too: see their TV picks and movie picks. But what does the RT staff think were some of the best films and series of the last 10 years? We asked a number of staffers on our content team to pick one – yes, just one! – movie and TV show from the 2010s as their favorite. It didn’t necessarily need to be the best-reviewed (though all just happen to be Fresh) or the award-winningest, just the single thing they loved the most. Below, in the TV picks, you’ll find the biggest and most dragon-stuffed series of the 2010s alongside some quieter achievers and a number of decade-defining animated series.

If you had to pick just one favorite TV series from the 2010s, what would it be? Let us know in the comments. 

The Americans 96%

There’s a reason why every single season of FX’s spy drama, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian saboteurs living as the heads of an all-American family in the 1980s, is Certified Fresh. The Americans is one of the most intricately crafted, thrilling, and stealthily moving dramas of the Peak TV era. Mixing engaging missions-of-the-week with complex seasons-spanning storylines, and punctuating it all with real-life Cold War events and concerns, Joseph Weisberg’s show was smart as f—k, but never forgot that it was family more than geopolitics that really drove the story. And while real-life couple Russell and Rhys are both superb as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the side characters are what take The Americans to the next level. Whose heart didn’t break for Nina (Annet Mahendru) and then again for Martha (Alison Wright)? And who didn’t feel for Stan (Noah Emmerich), so clueless in love and, frankly, as an FBI agent-slash-neighbor. And then there was Paige (Holly Taylor), the Jennings’ daughter, whose dance with her parents’ work and loyalties formed the spine of the last few seasons and ultimately gave us one of the most devastating finales I’ve seen. I’ll never listen to U2 the same way again. – Joel Meares, Editor-in-Chief

Game of Thrones 89%

HBO’s epic fantasy series delighted fans through seven seasons, even though its eighth and final season seemed like what my father, an enthusiastic fan of both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series and the show, called “a Reader’s Digest version” of a Game of Thrones season. The storytelling rush through season 8 resulted in it receiving the lowest score of the series at 58% on the Tomatometer. After seven seasons of relatively languid pacing, what was six episodes in the final season should have been at least eight or else split into two seasons of six each – yes, there seemed to be that much story left to viewers’ imaginations. The cast and creatives can whinge all they like over the season’s critical reception, but it was fans who spoke out most vociferously in their disappointment – for instance, with a 31% audience score on 13,000-plus user ratings on the season 8 page on Rotten Tomatoes. One lackluster season, however, does not wipe away seven years of excellence. The show overall is a singular achievement and deserves accolades for the many hours of entertainment it provided to a worldwide audience. – Debbie Day, Sr. TV Editor

Rick and Morty 94%

There’s a classic Simpsons joke where a flustered marketer must reckon that the kids in the room want the impossible: “So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show… that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?” But what seemed impossible in 1997 seems downright likely in our brave new chaotic world 20 years later. Case in point: Rick & Morty, featuring the time-twisting, dimension-hopping, reality-bending adventures of an alcoholic mad genius and his wimpy grandson as they create, and solve, problems in the universe…while making sure to throw in meaningful family dynamics and dysfunction and surprising emotional turns. – Alex Vo, Editor

True Detective 78%

For a few feverish weeks in 2014, it seemed like I was spending every waking hour hurtling down the rabbit holes of online speculation that sprouted up during True Detective‘s first season. Every character, every stray bit of dialogue, every screenshot with a striking visual detail offered clues to the identity of the Yellow King, the mysterious figure that detectives Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) kept hearing about during the course of their investigation. Was it a person? An idea? The supernatural embodiment of unimaginable evil? Of course, the solution turned out to be (somewhat) more mundane, but True Detective‘s air of profound unease and just plain weirdness cast a spell that resonated long after the final episode. (We’re not going to discuss the second season, though that scene with the guy in the bird mask wielding a shotgun was pretty rad.) Season 3 had much the same structure as the first, but its mood was quieter and more elegiac; as Detective Wayne Hays, Mahershala Ali delivered one of the greatest young-guy-playing-an-old-guy performances of all time. Alone in his house, suffering from dementia, and haunted by his past, Hays embodied one of the series’ underlying themes: the past can haunt us more than any killer. – Tim Ryan, Review Curation Manager

Fleabag 100%

From her “name” to her direct-to-camera fourth-wall breaks, to her self-love – with Obama’s speeches serving as the soundtrack – Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag re-invented the complicated TV heroine. Unlike my favorite complicated heroine from the previous decade, Meredith Grey, Bridge’s Fleabag was not just unapologetically dysfunctional – she also never compromised that spirit in her quest to find a happy ending. She became a new hilarious avatar for thirty-something millennials navigating betrayals, blended-family strife, and poor dating choices. From its inception as a one-woman show to the eventual series, Bridge’s disarming writing and performance never let us judge her lead character too harshly… despite some truly horrific choices. With just a sly look at the camera, she invites us in on the joke, making us, the audience, a plot point and her partner in crime. You’re compelled to watch episode after episode of the adventures of your new trainwreck best friend, because it’s your story too. – Jacqueline Coley, Editor

Adventure Time 100%

My little brother showed me Adventure Time. Though our age gap is wide, our love of all things silly and absurd has kept us close while driving our mom a little insane. It was 2010, he was seven years old, and he was so excited to show me Adventure Time. While I was skeptical of his other TV faves (Chowder being his most-watched show up to that point), he was right; with its absurd sense of humor, idiosyncratic dialogue, and bold style, Adventure Time was right up my alley. The show follows best friends Jake the dog and Finn the Human as they traverse the Land of OOO, a fantastical realm full of mad ice kings, vampires, elephants who bake pies, party bears, and rainbow unicorns. The show brought word play to dazzling visual life, and on top of it all featured some truly amazing earworms. Every time I make pancakes I still hum “Making Bacon Pancakes.” What makes Adventure Time my favorite show of the decade is how, much like the bond between siblings, the show grew stronger over its eight-year run. What began as another strange cartoon grew into a nuanced portrait of what it means to grow up, hitting just the right notes of sweet and sad amid all the silliness. It expanded beyond Finn and Jake’s perspectives to build and impressive cast of characters, including the rebellious Marceline the vampire queen, Princess Bubblegum, Ice King, Tree Trunks, Beemo, Princess Rainicorn, and of course, everyone’s favorite evil genius, Gunter the penguin. Season 3’s “Thank You” is a masterclass in emotional silence, told through animated snow and fire. It’s magnificent, a melancholy reminder that it’s always best to be kind. My brother and I both cried the first time we watched it, and it was the first time I remember thinking that this show, beyond simply being entertaining and a good way to connect with my brother, was really, truly special. – Haña Lucero-Colin, Review Curation Manager

Black Mirror 84%

As a child of the 1980s, I was a big fan of that decade’s iteration of The Twilight Zone, and was deeply stricken by some of its dark and nightmarish episodes such as “A Little Peace and Quiet,” “Dreams for Sale,” and “To See the Invisible Man.” It was fantasy, sure, but it was also disturbingly close to everyday life. And it wasn’t until Black Mirror came out that I experienced those feelings again. Charlie Brooker‘s anthology series takes our wildest dreams of a high-tech tomorrow and corrupts them into a reflection of our flawed humanity. The lesson to be learned is that it’s not our technological advances that will be our doom, but ourselves. That idea isn’t new, but the engaging storytelling, relevant social commentary, and convincing setting make most Black Mirror episodes a fascinating ride, one that is often too close to reality for comfort. If you’re new to the series, we have a full list of Black Mirror episodes ranked by Tomatometer, and it doesn’t matter in which order you watch them. I personally recommend season 1’s “The Entire History of You,” season 3’s “Nosedive,” and season 4’s “USS Callister.” – Julio De Oliveira, Director of Production 

Catastrophe 98%

Catastrophe is a show that is much like life for me – way too short, full of humor, heartbreak, and loads of self-loathing and not always good people, but overall a bluntly beautiful and never predictable ride. The four-season series was created, written, and stars the hilarious Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, and revolves around a relationship in reverse that starts out with an unexpected pregnancy, and ends with ambiguous love. Not every episode is always as funny or poignant as the last, but the comfy characters, played by fantastic actors including Ashley Jensen, Mark Bonnar, and the late, great Carrie Fisher, combined with the continuously brilliant writing feels like a lived-in (and often stained and stretched out) pair of sweatpants that I never want to take off, and are very, very sad to let go of. And you don’t have to be married or have kids to enjoy the show either. Whether you are navigating a messy house or life, the show’s honest humor and flawed characters are what make it the tender and universal. As Rob tells Sharon in the show, “A terrible thing has happened. Let’s make the best of it.” – Jennifer Jevons, Sr. Social Media Strategist

Community 88%

Community was such a breath of fresh air when it debuted, and it featured such an embarrassment of talent, that it still boggles my mind how it never found a larger audience. Thanks to series creator, executive producer, and writer Dan Harmon, who would later take the show’s anything-goes spirit to insanely creative new heights with Rick & Morty, Community managed to balance its absurdist, reference-heavy comedy with genuine pathos and profound warmth, breaking – or at least bending – every sitcom rule along the way. Want an entire episode comprised of an apocalyptic, campus-wide paintball war? You got it. How about one animated in the style of a retro video game? Sure thing. A claymation holiday episode? One that mimics Law & Order? One that circles back on itself and creates multiple timelines? Dear lord, yes. And beyond the show’s consistent inventiveness, just look at the people involved: In addition to Dan Harmon, Community benefited from the talents of MCU directors Joe and Anthony Russo, Atlanta creator and star Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino), GLOW star Alison Brie, and Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver, as well as an impressive rotating cast of guest stars that included everyone from Patton Oswalt and Betty White to John Goodman, Brie Larson, and Jack Black. It even managed to turn a Spanish-speaking, body-greasing, air vent-dwelling Ken Jeong into a sympathetic character, and that has to count for something. Sure, not everyone loves the fourth season, but Community was one of the few shows that consistently surprised me and made me laugh out loud, and it’s probably one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, let alone the 2010s. – Ryan Fujitani, Sr. Editor

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Thumbnail image: Helen Sloane, courtesy HBO; NBC; Patrick Harbron, FX

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