A Top Ten TV List for the Decade

The World Of Good Television

The following is not a definitive list or an official “Mockingbird list” — it’s just my list. Responses are welcome below!


  • Must be a scripted TV series (no reality shows or documentaries, etc.)
  • Series must have “begun” in 2010 or later (hence why you don’t see Breaking Bad)

Shows with much love here at Mockingbird that I haven’t seen enough of to include:

Honorable Mentions:

  • This Is Us: (NBC) If I’m moved to tears in literally every episode, it can’t be all shameless manipulation, can it?
  • Game of Thrones: (HBO) My sweet wife read all the books, and did not love them (only time she liked the TV show better!) … then she explained to me what was going on in all of the TV seasons. Thank God for her, because I never would have made it through without her guidance. I am glad I did. The “Battle of the Bastards” episode still has the greatest “battlefield action” scene ever on TV.
  • After Life: (Netflix) Ricky Gervais claims to be an atheist, but he has written a show grounded in low anthropology and rooted in love and hope. We only have one season; it’s a good season.
  • Ray Donovan: (Showtime) Long-running show about a man who is paid handsomely to fix the problems of the rich and famous. He’s great at it, but not so great at fixing his own family.
  • Poldark: (PBS) Period show about a British soldier who comes back from the Revolutionary War to his privileged life in Scotland but marries his housemaid. A great “couples show.” It’s Outlander without the time travel.
  • Downton Abbey: (PBS) “Upstairs/Downstairs 2.0.” It’s a tad soapy, but its characters are endearing and its stories give us numerous redemptive moments.
  • Back To Life: (Showtime) This year’s Barry. It’s about a woman released from prison after 18 years (manslaughter charge) who must find her way in the community that won’t let her forget she’s guilty. It’s a dark comedy version of Rectify.
  • The Mandalorian: (Disney+) This would be high up in my top 10 if it weren’t so new.  It’s my favorite TV show this year and it’s production level and immersion into the Star Wars universe (as a “space western,” mind you) makes it absolutely a must-see…and don’t get me started on Baby Yoda.
  • The Handmaids Tale: (Hulu) It’s number 11 for me. The subject matter makes it a bit inaccessible (understandably) for many of my family and friends — but it’s dystopian perfection. No TV show has done a better job of making a clear distinction between a false gospel and the true Gospel. There are many moments of brilliance here.

Top 10

10. The Crown: (Netflix) It does a brilliant high-wire act from season to season, changing and adding actors as the 20th century decades go by in Buckingham Palace. The writing and performances in every episode poignantly drive home the reality that we have never fully considered — these people are “real” people. – Dina Espenshied [I haven’t seen it, but I asked Dina to submit her favorite one that would not be in my top 10…she watches more TV than I do…if that’s possible!…and she agrees on the next 9.]

9. Better Call Saul: (FX) Here’s your Breaking Bad fix. It’s the BB prequel with a softer vibe and a deeper dive into two of BB’s most beloved characters, Mike Ehrmentraut and Saul Goodman. In season 3, our favorite villain, Gus Fring, gets a fully realized origin story. Michael McKeon is brilliant as Saul Goodman’s older brother. The two create a modern prodigal son story for the ages.

8. Louie: (FX) Many critics have excluded Louie from their lists because of C.K.’s offscreen sexual harassment and abuse. That’s valid, because watching C.K.’s autobiographical show through the lens of what we now know about his personal life does add an “icky” feeling (in retrospect) to several episodes. Still, it is (IMO) a show that combined dark humor and heartfelt drama like nothing before it. It perhaps even gave a blueprint to great dark comedies/dramas like Fleabag, Barry, Better Things, Baskets, etc.

7. Barry: (HBO) Bill Hader plays a hit man for hire who wants to leave that life behind and become an actor.  Henry Winkler won an Emmy last year as Barry’s acting coach. In every episode, Barry moves seamlessly (scene to scene) from gut-busting humor to heartbreaking drama to high-stakes tension. Seasons 1 and 2 both ended with great cliffhangers, making a Barry season premier high on our “most anticipated” lists.

6. Hell On Wheels: (AMC) The six seasons take us through the post-Civil-War beginning and completion of the “cross the USA” building of the Union-Pacific Railroad. This decade was not a great one for westerns on TV, but Hell On Wheels fills that gap with grace and style. There are many moving moments throughout the series, and it also offers some of the most despicable, loathsome villains in the decade. Also, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is arguably the best, most rootable protagonist/hero in any show on this list.

5. Fargo: (FX) Its 3 seasons are all self-contained with new characters and new stories. All 3 are must-see. Most who love the movie Fargo (which the series is based on) like the series even better. It’s atmospheric, funny, tension-filled and constantly surprising. Standouts include Billy Bob Thornton as the villain in season 1, and Ewan McGregor who plays two troubled brothers in season 3. Fargo season 1 also contains my favorite TV scene of the decade.

4. Rectify: (Sundance) Not many have seen it because it was on the Sundance channel, so find it on Netflix and treat yourself. New DNA evidence leads to a full pardon for 19 year death row inmate Daniel Holden who was arrested at age 18 for rape and murder. Rectify does a deep-dive into Daniel and all of his family members (each of whom have given away parts of themselves for the past 19 years trying to fight for Daniel’s innocence). It’s an emotional, moving series that earns its tears and triumphs, and it is filled with Gospel moments. One character, Daniel’s step brother “Teddy,” goes through one of the most beautiful transformations that we’ve seen in a TV series. Here’s a brief profile of the character Daniel.

3. The Americans(FX) I’ve never been a big “spy show” fan, but man is this the exception. Phillip and Elizabeth are Russian spies living in Washington, DC, in the “Cold War” early 1980s. They have been “sleeper agents” for 14 years, pretending to be married, having kids and starting a business in DC so that they can establish a deep cover identity before getting their first assignment from the Kremlin. Meanwhile, their very American daughter becomes a Christian and joins the 8th-grade youth group.  The family conversations around that storyline alone are worth your time investment. It’s the most riveting drama of this decade. The Americans also features the best soundtrack (70s/80s classics) of the decade.

2. Crashing: (HBO) It’s the semi-autobiographical journey of Pete Holmes, as he migrates from being a divorced, aspiring youth pastor who endeavors to make a go as a stand-up comedian in the cutthroat NYC comedy circuit. Stay for episode 2 of season 1, in which the song “Flood” by Jars of Clay features prominently on a road trip from NYC to Buffalo. It’s just one of many fantastic moments on this show. There are numerous great cameos (Ray Romano, Sara Silverman, Bill Burr, Amy Schumer, etc.). Holmes is beyond charming and hilarious. HBO pulled the plug after 3 seasons but gave us one of the better series finales this decade.

1. Better Things: (FX) This one will sneak up on you. It was must-see for me because writer and main character Pam Adlon wrote and acted on Louie — so I definitely wanted to check it out. It’s a sheer delight. Adlon (Sam) is playing herself — a single mom/struggling actress raising 3 daughters in LA. It’s This Is Us if it were a comedy and if it were not overwrought with manipulative moments to induce tears. Better Things is better than Stranger Things (sorry!). No show gives its characters (likable or not) a more grace-infused nobility. It’s beautiful, intelligent, and should be seen.

Sam and family give her daughter a HS graduation present:


One response to “A Top Ten TV List for the Decade”

  1. gsquirrel says:

    Rectify is amazing.

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