Although the 2010s ended just seven months ago, we're already revisiting the decade and the best it had to offer as part of TV Guide's TV Throwback, a weeklong celebration featuring some of the best television of the past 50 years. The decade started off ridiculously strong, with arguably the best seasons of both Mad Menand Breaking Bad, as well as the debuts of Person of Interest andScandal, but it closed it out with impressive showings from programs like Atlanta and Jane the Virgin, two series with strong points of view that tell stories about the Black and Latinx experiences in America.
There was more TV in the 2010s than any one person could watch, and so much of it was worth watching that we'll be revisiting the prolific decade for years to come. But for now, we're starting with the following list of standouts, all of which are available to stream.
To read more about the TV of the 2010s, find out what makes The Expanse the best sci-fi show you're not watching, why Underground remains essential viewing, and what makes Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries some of the best TV of the decade.
AMC was king of the early 2010s when the network boasted not one, not two, but three premier series, the fanciest of which was Mad Men. The celebrated drama, set in the 1960s, was brimming with snazzy vintage fashions, crisp dialogue, creative incorporations of historical moments, and pointed commentary that exposed the toxic masculinity, sexism, and racism of the era (the show recently decided to include a title card for an episode featuring a character in blackface rather than pull it because it is meant to expose the injustices of the day). At the center of it all was one truly fascinating hero— er, antihero. When we first met Don Draper (Jon Hamm), he was enmeshed in his own artifice, but slowly, methodically, that veil unraveled over the course of the show's seven seasons. Don was the centerpiece of Mad Men, of course, but there were other characters with divine arcs, too, including Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), who evolved from a mousey secretary into a self-possessed ad executive who'd conquered many detractors; Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), who fought for bodily agency and demanded influence in a patriarchal industry; and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), who learned the hard way that his smarmy entitlement wouldn't win him anything worth having. To top it all off, Mad Men ended with a final scene that was both bewildering and fully satisfying to its faithful audience. –Amanda Bell
Watch it on: Netflix
No other show in TV history built upon itself as well as Breaking Bad. Every episode, from the brilliant pilot to the unforgettable finale, laid another brick on Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) road to hell, as he cooked the purest crystal meth of anyone in the Southwest and transformed himself from a mild-mannered high school science teacher into a murderous drug kingpin, alongside his sensitive surrogate son Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, who won three Emmys for his soulful performance). The crime thriller hurtled forward with unstoppable momentum and created scenes of heart-stopping tension and stunning, devastating violence. You'll always remember where you were when Todd (Jesse Plemons) shot that kid. The precision of Breaking Bad's plotting is matched only by its prequel, Better Call Saul. –Liam Mathews
Community often sat in the shadow of more talked-about comedies The Office and Parks and Recreation — the three shows frequently appeared in the same comedy block on NBC, which is insane to think about — but there's a case to be made that Community was the best of the bunch, if not the best sitcom of the entire decade (I'll say it!). Dan Harmon's series about a Breakfast Club-style study group at a community college redefined what we thought a broadcast sitcom could be with its wild themed episodes that were never just stunts; they became integral to the show's DNA. From pillow forts, puppets, and a My Dinner With Andre spoof (how that got OK'd for broadcast television still baffles me), Community shot for the stars and always hit its target, while also serving its eccentric characters with genuine arcs (Troy and Abed's friendship remains as true as anything TV has done). But the show was too far ahead of its time in some respects and ratings were never good, bringing about the dark years (Season 4, a move to Yahoo!). Messiness with Chevy Chase and Harmon, as well as some off-point humor that led to an episode being pulled from streaming services, made more headlines than the show itself. However, those first three seasons were near-perfection, and with the show's recent addition to Netflix, people are starting to realize that now. –Tim Surette
The most comforting show of the past decade, capable of making even the grumpiest Ron Swanson-type (Nick Offerman) giggle, NBC's Parks and Recreation follows the goings-on at the parks department of Pawnee, Indiana. Led by the ebullient Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the show advertised a kinder, happier existence achievable through competence, optimism, and hard work. And in addition to being sweet and good-natured, it has some of the funniest jokes you'll see anywhere ("Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here, and it says you could have network connectivity problems"). –Liam Mathews
The Good Wife was the rare broadcast drama in the 2010s that was not only prestigious, but cool. A legal procedural with character-driven serialized storylines, the CBS show had cross-generational appeal. Julianna Margulies starred as Alicia Florrick, the wife of Cook County State's Attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) who decides to return to her law career after her husband goes to jail amid a corruption and prostitution scandal. At Alicia's new law firm, she works closely with an old college flame (Josh Charles), develops a complicated mentorship with the firm's sole female partner (Christine Baranski), has a juicy rivalry with another ambitious associate (Matt Czuchry), and builds a unique friendship with the firm's inscrutable investigator (Archie Panjabi). And that's just the basic premise of the first season; where The Good Wife goes from there is often thrilling, occasionally heartbreaking, consistently stylish, and sometimes very, very strange — which sounds perfectly in line with all of creators Robert and Michelle King's best works. –Sadie Gennis
Watch it on: Hulu
Justified came about at a time when prestige television was overcrowded with hits. Mad Men was in its fourth season, Breaking Bad was in its amazing third season, Lost was winding down. There just wasn't enough space on DVRs for Justified in the pre-streaming era of Peak TV. But Graham Yost's modern-day Western should have been hoisted up with all of those (particularly its even-numbered seasons). Timothy Olyphant didn't just play U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, he was Raylan, a quick-witted, independent law enforcer who took no guff and gave lots of it. Adapted from a short story by the eloquent Elmore Leonard, it was as if Leonard wrote every single syllable of dialogue, making it one of TV's most quotable series ever and filling all six seasons with memorable characters — including the silver-tongued Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) — even if they were only on screen for a few minutes. That was the ultimate draw of Justified; it took place in a fully realized universe where the bad guys were just as charming as the good guys, and the sweet smell of Kentucky mash and putrid fumes of illegal moonshine wafted from the TV screen. –Tim Surette
Watch it on: Netflix
Person of Interest joined CBS's schedule during the network's era of staid complacency — it was the height of acronyms and multi-camera comedies — so you're forgiven if you thought the series was just another uninventive procedural. But Jonathan Nolan's prescient drama about an advanced artificial intelligence that could predict crimes before they happened tackled the topic much better than his splashy HBO series Westworld tried to years later, and featured two of the best pairings on TV of the decade: the nerdy and nervous recluse Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and the silent but suave brute John Reese (Jim Caviezel), who dispatched crooks with the help of technological precognition, and Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Amy Acker), who ushered in a surprisingly sweet LGBTQ storyline in the macho show. Person of Interest was incredibly funny and cared about its characters, all while intelligently exploring the moral quandaries of advancements in technology and how they're best — and worst — used. –Tim Surette
Watch it on: Hulu
Created by, written by, and starring Mindy Kaling as a hopeless romantic OBGYN looking for her happily ever after, The Mindy Project was like little else on TV when it debuted. A swoon-worthy rom-com that indulged itself on familiar tropes and, yes, sometimes featured too many white boyfriends, the series offered insightful commentary on race, womanhood, workplace dynamics, and single motherhood. The sitcom balanced it all, tackling important topics with a sharp sense of humor and wild antics that sometimes made the series feel like a sketch show. But the special way The Mindy Project blended humor and heart is most evident in the impressive way they were able to turn Danny Castellano's (Chris Messina) choreographed Aaliyah dance routine into one of the greatest romantic gestures in TV history. –Kaitlin Thomas
Watch it on: Hulu
When Scandal was at its peak, nothing could touch it. Shonda Rhimes' drama about D.C. fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) started out as a crisis-of-the-week drama, but in its second season, the series popped off into an addictive, outlandish soap about power and the lengths people would go to secure it. As the show went on, the twists got bigger while the relationships got more complicated, and as a result, Olivia and her team of Gladiators had to make tough choices (and often a lot of mistakes) while on their quest to wear the white hats. While the fandom spent a lot of time debating whether Olivia should end up with the president, Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), or the B613 agent, Jake (Scott Foley), the romances were never really what made Scandal great. Scandal stood out as a dark, cynical examination of the U.S. government that took big risks that didn't always land, but always kept you talking. –Sadie Gennis
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
Right off the page, The Americans had one of the greatest drama premises ever: A pair of Russian spies (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) masqueraded as regular Americans in Virginia during the height of the Cold War, raising children who were none the wiser and befriending a neighbor who just so happened to work for the CIA. That's a hell of a pitch, but the show escalated to greatness with its writing and understanding that while the spy games were intense and fun — the '80s setting took boring technology out of the equation — it was the dynamic within the family unit that was the showcase of the series. Husband vs. wife, parents vs. children, and every permutation therein layered the drama right up until its perfect, brilliant series finale. Other shows were more popular, but few were better in the crowded era of Peak TV. –Tim Surette
Watch it on: Netflix
It's still difficult to believe Hannibal aired on broadcast television. For three seasons, Bryan Fuller's boundary-pushing take on Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), the cannibalistic psychiatrist of Thomas Harris' novels, gutted viewers emotionally even as the character gutted others physically. The macabre series tore open viewers' hearts as it dissected the complicated relationship between Hannibal and empathic FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), two men who understood each other in ways no one else could. And as the striking piece of art embraced its queerness in a way we hoped it would but cynically never believed it could, we were reminded of what's possible when art is given space to grow and thrive. –Kaitlin Thomas
Watch it on: Netflix
The least-known series on this list may also be its best. No exaggeration! With prestige dramas peaking and the streaming wars upending the industry in a gold rush of entertainment, the fact that you may not have heard of Rectify perfectly exemplifies the abundance of quality television available in the decade. Tucked away in the corner of your cable guide on the little-known Sundance TV, the spiritual drama followed Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who was released from prison after DNA evidence exonerated him in the murder of a girl 20 years earlier, and returned to his small hometown in Georgia. The story of a man readjusting to life after decades in prison, as well as the prying neighbors who still believed he committed the crime, made for riveting, consuming, and gorgeous television. But it was Daniel's quiet times with his family — sometimes Daniel would just stare silently, and it was amazing — that made it a masterclass in mood and character relationships. It didn't matter if Daniel did it or didn't do it, what was more important was how the whole universe seemed to revolve around him and his recovery. –Tim Surette
Watch it on: Netflix
Jane the Virgin was many things over the course of its acclaimed five-season run — melodramatic, heartwarming, incredibly funny — but the telenovela about a Catholic virgin who was accidentally artificially inseminated was never, ever boring. Anchored by a powerful, star-making performance by Gina Rodriguez and with thoughtful, sometimes heart-wrenching stories focused on the three Latina women of the Villanueva family, the CW series was a constant rollercoaster of emotion that changed our expectations of what prestige TV could be. As Jane grew as a young woman, she overcame unexpected obstacles on her way to achieving her dreams, and along the way, the show told important stories about the Latinx community while skillfully tackling everything from immigration to motherhood to religion. A blend of multiple genres that never lost sight of its heroine's wants and desires, Jane the Virgin took risk after risk and somehow managed to make it look easy. –Kaitlin Thomas
Watch it on: Hulu
Donald Glover's dark comedy takes the creator-star comedy paradigm and makes it into something that could have come from only him, but without the autobiographical aspects usually found in this type of auteur-driven show. Glover plays Earn, a desperately broke, bad decision-prone young man trying to manage his rapper cousin, Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), to stardom. But that doesn't really describe the unpredictable tone of the show, which can veer from pure goofiness to acidic satire to devastating drama to hair-raising horror to full-on Lynchian weirdness. You have to watch Atlanta to understand what it's really about. Glover once said he wants white people who watch the show to "really experience racism, to really feel what it's like to be Black in America." Glover makes it feel surreal and terrifying, like you can't believe it's really happening, and happening to you. It's one of the most effective pieces of art in any discipline of the century so far. –Liam Mathews
Good lord, the pressure that was on Damon Lindelof when he announced he was working on a new iteration of Watchmen. Fans of the original cherished comic — including the comic's writer Alan Moore — bristled at the thought of it being remade. No matter how good The Leftovers was, Lindelof's TV track record was still tainted by how Lost ended. Yet Watchmen made believers out of just about everyone, because Lindelof pulled off one of the best one-season wonders of the decade when he brought Watchmen into the present and infused it with the all-too-timely history of cops and systemic racism. Watchmen was where many Americans learned about the Tulsa race massacre and Black Wall Street. Watchmen made Dr. Manhattan Black. Watchmen reiterated that white supremacy isn't just an ugly scar that would fade away, but that it was built into the system itself. There probably won't be a second season of Watchmen, by Lindelof's choice, but one could argue that the story is continuing in real life. –Tim Surette
Looking for more shows to stream? Check out TV Guide's TV Throwback, recommending the best shows to rewatch — or to discover for the first time — from 1970 through the present day.