The Decade’s Most Memorable TV Moments

American Horror Story: Coven, Banshee, Better Call Saul, Black Mirror, Catfish: The TV Show, Community, Doctor Who, Fleabag, Game of Thrones, Grantchester on Masterpiece, Grey's Anatomy, Hannibal, House of Cards, How I Met Your Mother, How to Get Away with Murder, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Jane the Virgin, Justified, Mad Men, Making a Murderer, My Crazy Ex, Orange Is the New Black, Orphan Black, Parks and Recreation, Penny Dreadful, Queer Eye, Rectify, Revenge, Ringer, Royal Pains, Schitt's Creek, Selfie, Silicon Valley, Television News, The Americans, The Expanse, The Good Place, The Leftovers, The Legend of Korra, The Night Of, The Real Housewives of New York City, The Walking Dead, Trophy Wife, True Blood, True Detective, Tuca & Bertie, Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Return, Veronica Mars

You might be tired of hearing the phrase “Peak TV,” but that is absolutely what defined the latest decade for TV audiences. From 2010-2019, TV was stacked with quality series across broadcast, cable, and streaming services. It wasn’t just the highbrow dramas that gave us exceptional, layered character development, either. Comedies made us think while we laughed out loud, and reality TV dazzled us with clashes that proved truth really is stranger than fiction. Even those shows that weren’t among the best and brightest all the way through still sometimes had moments that took our breath away.

Best TV of the Decade: The Shows, Moments, and Trends That Defined the 2010s

So to celebrate some of the decade’s most specifically outstanding moments, we looked back at everything we saw and plucked out what stood out over the last 10 years, for better and for worse, with superlative-style honors for each of them.

<p>Jon Hamm, <em>Mad Men</em> </p>

Jon Hamm, Mad Men

Most satisfying finale: Mad Men

It was hard to imagine how Mad Men could possibly conclude the story of the duplicitous Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in a satisfactory way, but lo, the show pulled it off all right. With two failed marriages, three disconnected children, increasing uncertainty with his career, and even the dreaded exposure of his true identity at hand, Don began to unravel in spectacular fashion in the final episodes, and we couldn’t help but wonder if he might meet a similarly grim fate as some of our other favorite antiheroes. Alas, Don wouldn’t be Don if he didn’t know how to monetize every emotion and experience in his life.

In the final shot of the series, he was shown hiding out at a zen retreat chanting his oms in peace before an idea popped into his head, with an audible bing sound for effect, and one of the world’s most memorable commercials of all time (Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop”) ushered in the credits. The final shot of Don doing yoga might’ve been a bit unexpected, but that real-life commercial told us well enough that not only did Don Draper bounce back from the brink, but he finally reached the pinnacle in the process of doing so. Other shows might’ve had spectacular endings — lookin’ at you in particular, Breaking Bad and The Americans — but Mad Men‘s pivot to commercial was the pitch-perfect way to close out the show. — Amanda Bell

Most infuriating finale: How I Met Your Mother

Contrary to popular belief, the most infuriating finale of the last decade did not belong to Lost or even Game of Thrones, but rather the long-running CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, which ended in 2014. After spending nine years carefully explaining why Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) relationship could never work, creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas used the show’s flexible narrative structure — the one thing that initially made it stand out from other TV comedies — to have them end up together. It was an easy way out of the narrative hole they’d dug nearly a decade before when they revealed Robin wasn’t the mother of Ted’s children, but by refusing to accept that the story they had been telling no longer fit the ending they had planned so many years before, the romantic series went out on a sour note that still lingers all these years later. — Kaitlin Thomas

Bitterest ending: The Night Of

Riz Ahmed took home the Emmy for Best Actor in a Limited Series in 2017 for The Night Of, and rightfully so. During the course of the haunting series, Ahmed captivated audiences as Nasir Khan, a man whose involvement in the murder of a young woman he’d slept with after a night of partying looked murkier and murkier the more the episodes went on. Playing with cultural assumptions about the criminal justice system, prejudice against Muslims, and substance-enhanced hookup culture, The Night Of kept viewers dangling until the very end, when Nasir — who couldn’t even remember if he’d killed the woman he slept with — turned out to be innocent. Whatever relief he and his family might’ve had about him regaining his freedom was short-lived, though, because his life was still irrevocably changed for the worse thanks to the hard reality he had to survive in Rikers. He might’ve been innocent enough in the eyes of the law, but the court of public opinion would forever condemn him. — Malcolm Venable

<p>Kit Harington, <em>Game of Thrones</em> </p>

Kit Harington, Game of Thrones

Worst-kept secret: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones boasted plenty of surprising twists throughout its run — Hodor’s sacrifice! Littlefinger’s execution! Arya saying “not today” to the Night King! — but one that was decidedly unsurprising was Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) big resurrection after being murdered by his Night’s Watch brothers in the Season 5 finale. Thanks to the show’s myriad clues and precedents (including two major character resurrections), photos of Harington on set in Belfast, and a 10-month hiatus for fans to finesse their theories, Jon Snow’s dramatic back-to-life gasp shocked exactly no one. All the showrunners’ and stars’ squirming as they tried to convince audiences he was really and truly dead was for naught. — Noelene Clark

Most intense cliffhanger: Hannibal

Hannibal surprised some fans when it embraced its queerness at the end of its three-season run on NBC when Will (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) consummated their one-of-a-kind relationship by killing a man together. “This is all I ever wanted for you, Will. For both of us,” said Hannibal before the two men tumbled over an actual cliff and into the watery abyss below. Not only did the question of their fate leave audiences clamoring for answers, but the actual use of a cliff in the final scene completely cemented the show’s series finale as the best cliffhanger of the decade. — Kaitlin Thomas

Best unsolved mystery: Banshee

For four excellent seasons, the ambitious and pulpy Cinemax series Banshee delivered thrilling action sequences and top-notch fight scenes on top of dynamic performances and moving character arcs. And because the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) — or rather, the story of the ex-con who took the late sheriff’s identity after spending 15 years in prison — was so engrossing as he attempted to straddle the line between criminal and cop, most of the show’s fans never even had time to think about what the character’s real name was. Ultimately, it didn’t even matter. Sensing that Hood’s real name was no longer significant, series co-creators Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler never revealed it, not even in the series finale, and we’ve never been happier to be left in the dark. — Kaitlin Thomas

<p>Tatiana Maslany, <em>Orphan Black</em> </p>

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Most versatile star: Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany

It’s easy to forget that Orphan Black, a thriller about a group of women who work together to unravel the mystery of their origin after they discover they are clones, doesn’t have a vast ensemble cast because it was brimming with interesting characters. That’s a credit to Tatiana Maslany, who played a whopping 13 characters on the show with breathtaking depth and specificity and still made it look effortless. — Noelene Clark

Most egregious awards snub: The Americans‘ Keri Russell

While it’s true Emmy voters finally recognized The Americans in its final season, they also only awarded one half of the acting duo that led the acclaimed Cold War-era drama and whose performances set it apart from the rest of the pack. Matthew Rhys certainly deserved the recognition he received, but the fact that his co-star Keri Russell was ignored each of the six years she spent uncovering new and complicated layers to spy mom Elizabeth Jennings is nothing short of maddening. Russell turned in the performance of a lifetime and she deserves far more than being remembered as the “most egregious awards snub of the decade” for her work. Hmph. — Kaitlin Thomas

<p>Bob Odenkirk, <em>Better Call Saul</em> </p>

Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

Best spin-off: Better Call Saul

The Hollywood recycling project was in full-swing this decade, but Better Call Saul arrived as the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. When AMC first announced its spin-off focusing on Saul Goodman, the crooked lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk on Breaking Bad, the first thought for many fans was, “Why?” The end of Breaking Bad was perfect, and the idea of revisiting that world, especially so soon after the show ended, seemed like a cheap cash grab that couldn’t possibly live up to the 99.1 percent purity standards of the original. But Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould knew exactly what story they wanted to tell and made a show that’s slow and quiet and reflective, but no less methodical than its predecessor. It’s a perfect complement to the original series and manages to stand on its own, imbuing complexity into characters we already knew and introducing new ones we’ve grown to worry about just as much. The recipe might be very different, but the taste is arguably even more refined. — Liam Mathews

Most uplifting revival: Queer Eye

So much changed in queer culture in the decade that passed since the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy went off the air in 2007. Technology has united LGBTQ people in ways previously unthinkable, public acceptance and representation has been on an uptick, and of course, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex couples to marry beginning in 2015. All that helped Queer Eye, Netflix’s revival starring Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown, and Tan France, start off with enormous goodwill; no longer were gay men speaking mostly to themselves but to pop culture audiences who had long since welcomed them as peers and friends.

But Queer Eye went a step further in making an impact with its revival and put an emphasis more on internal overhauls than cosmetic image updates. The show helped its guests rethink how they saw themselves as a whole, and in the process they have served up many a tear-jerking moment. Now in its fourth season, the show’s best trick has been to focus on connecting through the heart and show how its hosts, once outcasts because of their orientation, empower others to live their lives in full, too. — Malcolm Venable

Best nostalgia play: Stranger Things

The best part about a period piece is that it transports you to another time and place, and Stranger Things does this better than just about any show out there. From the mall and the clothes to the music and the props randomly peppered into the background, Stranger Things commits to its ’80s aesthetic so hard it’s like Netflix is directly targeting the nostalgia neurons in your brain. It has such a strong effect that even ’90s kids are getting nostalgic for an era that came and went before they were born. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun to go Easter egg-hunting for pop culture relics that are played upon through visuals, plot devices, and characters, even as the show’s story holds its own water — or, rather, goo. — Lindsay MacDonald

<p>D'Arcy Carden, <em>The Good Place</em> </p>

D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place

Best impersonation game: The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden

To prep for the outstanding The Good Place episode “Janet(s),” in which she had to nail spot-on impersonations of her co-stars, D’Arcy Carden did a lot. She studied how her co-stars moved and spoke. She recorded the table read and listened to it on repeat for weeks. During filming, she banned her co-stars from set so she could focus, and she had a mirror put in her dressing room so she could see herself in each costume before every scene and know which Janet she was playing at any given time. To say it worked is an understatement. Not only did she carry the action of an entire ensemble, but her work also marked another moment of reinvention for a series that’s consistently challenged its own parameters. — Malcolm Venable

Funniest fight: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation‘s flat-out funniest episode dramatized the first real clash between Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) by stretching it out across one raucous, boozy night at the club. “The Fight” was a sincere ode to the romance of Ann and Leslie’s friendship wrapped in a party wild enough to impress Jean Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). Thank you, Snake Juice. — Kelly Connolly

Most meme-able: American Horror Story

Over the course of its many anthology seasons, American Horror Story has given us so much: the lasting trauma from seeing what Twisty the Clown’s (John Carroll Lynch) face looks like under his mask, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) triumphantly flipping off Bloody Face (Zachary Quinto), Jessica Lange just chewing the absolute sh– out of the scenery. But perhaps AHS‘s greatest, or at least most lasting, contribution to culture can be reduced to one GIF. It comes, of course, from the unforgettable line, “Surprise, bitch. I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me.” After Emma Roberts uttered those words as Coven‘s Madison Montgomery, it became one of the biggest memes of the decade. And years in the future, once we’ve forgotten about the cannibals in Roanoke or the clowns in Cult, we’ll still be here, yelling “Surprise, bitch!” whenever the opportunity arises. — Sadie Gennis

Most satisfying take-down: Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful was at its best when the series let its leading ladies tear through the screen. Late in the second season, the Showtime drama gifted Billie Piper a theatrical monologue that doubled as a thrilling twist: In a nearly nine-minute demolition of the facade she’d spent all season building, Lily (Piper) revealed that she remembered her life as Brona and her death and reanimation courtesy of Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Watching her lay into the Creature (Rory Kinnear) for the mistreatment she’d suffered at men’s hands was tremendously satisfying. Lily’s power grab eventually went off the rails, but in that moment, her anger was a cathartic release. — Kelly Connolly

Instant fashion icon: Scandal‘s Olivia Pope

Each episode of Scandalfelt like an unmissable event, and that’s due in part to Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) iconic outfits. Every week felt like an episode of 24 set during New York Fashion Week, as Olivia handled Washington’s most salacious scandals while decked out in a luxe ensemble of neutrals and the occasional pop of color. Audiences may have come for the hair-splitting drama, but they stayed for Pope’s impeccable wardrobe. — Keisha Hatchett

<p>Thomas Jane, <em>The Expanse</em> </p>

Thomas Jane, The Expanse

Best accessory: The Expanse

The Expanse, one of TV’s best-kept secrets, introduced viewers to a vast space conspiracy set in a distant future where Earth and Mars were going to war and the human race was threatened by a mysterious alien entity. Serious stuff! But a lot of our focus was on the series’ best character, detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane), specifically his trademark hat. The hat was more than just window dressing; it was a gift from its previous owner, Miller’s friend Sematimba (Kevin Hanchard), who gave it to Joe to remind him not to repeat his mistakes after he was kicked off the police force. But really, it was of historical importance; it was the first evidence that someone besides Don Draper could wear a Fedora and make it look cool. — Tim Surette

Coolest car: Supernatural

Through all the monster hunting, exorcisms, heavenly wars, and dimension-hopping that happened on Supernatural, the one thing that’s stayed constant in Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean’s (Jensen Ackles) lives is their ride. The Impala isn’t just a hunk of parts and four wheels, she’s a member of the Winchester family as far as we (and they) are concerned. Why else would an entire episode of Supernatural be told from Baby’s perspective? The coolest car of the decade was an easy pick, and not just because Dean Winchester would have come after us with holy fire if we’d said otherwise. — Lindsay MacDonald

<p>Tiffany "New York" Pollard and Angie Bowie, <em>Celebrity Big Brother UK</em> </p>

Tiffany “New York” Pollard and Angie Bowie, Celebrity Big Brother UK

Most WTF reality moment: Celebrity Big Brother UK

Describing the chaos of the moment that Angie Bowie, David Bowie’s ex-wife, was on Celebrity Big Brother UK as the music legend died in 2016 is almost impossible for its sheer senselessness. After producers told Bowie of his passing, she went back out into the house, distraught. Her castmate, Tiffany “New York” Pollard — star of Flavor of Love and I Love New York and one of the most outrageous reality TV personalities of all time — asked her what was wrong. “David’s dead,” Bowie whispered. New York proceeded to excessively freak out, so much that Bowie — whose ex-husband had just died, remember — had to calm her down, and politely asked her not to tell anyone.

But what did New York do? Why, promptly and defiantly run off to some of the other housemates to tell them that David was dead. Only, New York’s theatrics weren’t owed to some deep-seated love of Ziggy Stardust, no. She thought fellow castmate David Gest — Liza Minelli’s ex-husband — was the dead “David” whom Bowie was talking about. After that, they all ran off to find David, who was taking a nap because he didn’t feel well, and New York became furious with Bowie for lying to her about Gest being dead. It was the most surreal case of mistaken identity ever captured on film. And here’s the cruelest kicker: David Gest really did die just three months later. It’s hard to believe such an impossible chain of events ever happened, but it did. There was even a museum exhibit devoted to it. — Liam Mathews

Most epic reality clapback: Real Housewives of New York City

A general rule when it comes to Real Housewives is that the more real the drama is, the better. The exception to this rule, though, is Aviva Drescher refuting accusations that she’s fake by removing her prosthetic leg, slamming it on the table, and screaming, “The only thing that is artificial or fake about me is THIS!” before throwing the leg at one of her co-stars. The outlandish reaction, which was preceded by Aviva showing off an X-ray of her chest to “prove” she has asthma, was completely staged. (Aviva later admitted she pulled the stunt in the hopes of securing her job.) Normally, something this contrived would come off as too sweaty to be entertaining for seasoned Housewives viewers. But thanks to the other ladies’ genuine reactions to Aviva’s outburst — and, OK, the amusement in watching Aviva tell Heather, “Why don’t you take it? I’ll crawl home” — we got a moment so deliciously dramatic that it somehow usurped Teresa Giudice‘s “prostitution whore” table flip place in the reality TV hall of fame. — Sadie Gennis

Dirtiest dialogue: Silicon Valley

In the Season 1 finale of Silicon Valley, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) was against the wall at TechCrunch Disrupt to present his idea for a new internet. Nothing had gone right, he was due to present in the morning, and time was running out. Erlich (T.J. Miller), sensing that he was close to becoming a bajillionaire, said they were going to win even if he had to personally go pleasure everyone in the audience. What followed was the most detailed mathematical breakdown of how to naughty-service 800 people in 10 minutes, and it was gloriously gross. The conversation wasn’t just the most calculated penis joke to ever make it to air, either; it also inspired Richard to rethink his plan, and they won. — Tim Surette

<p>Sam Trammell, <em>True Blood</em> </p>

Sam Trammell, True Blood

Craziest kiss: True Blood

True Blood was a major part of the vampire craze that underscored the turn of the decade, but part of what made it unique from its peers was how deliciously committed the show was to being wild. No subject — sex, drugs, violence, you name it — was too taboo, and on top of that, it embraced its utter oddness with the types of supernatural creatures that came into play. Werepanthers and witch doctors and faeries, oh my! Perhaps the strangest moment of the entire series came when Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) was dating a fellow shape-shifter named Luna (Janina Gavankar), and when she fell ill, she adopted his form. Instead of being freaked out by the sight of himself, Sam softened up, complimented her new appearance, and planted a loving kiss on Luna-Sam’s forehead. Sure, it was just a quick peck, but even in a series already riddled with batty moments, seeing this bit of PG Sam-on-Sam action was next-level weird. — Amanda Bell

Most anticipated kiss: The Vampire Diaries

While Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Elena’s (Nina Dobrev) first proper kiss felt like it was years in the making (and it was), their most anticipated kiss actually happened much later in the series, in Season 6. You know where this is going — the Delena Rain Kiss. To understand this moment, you have to go back to Season 1 of The Vampire Diaries, when Damon and Elena staged a rescue mission for Stefan (Paul Wesley) that happened to occur when it was raining. Fans latched on to that aesthetic and that couple, and then launched a campaign to have them kiss in the rain. For five years, #DelenaRainKiss frequently trended on Twitter as fans stuck by that line item on their wish list, and finally, in Season 6, showrunner Julie Plec found a way to make it happen in the show. It may have been freezing and miserable to shoot, but the fanfare that followed made it worthwhile. — Lindsay MacDonald

Best thirst soundtrack: My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s no surprise that Rachel Bloom, who went viral back in 2010 with “F–k Me Ray Bradbury,” would be the one behind TV’s horniest songs. No intimate topic was off-limits for Bloom and her fellow Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-songwriters, Adam Schlesinger and Jack Dolgen. There’s “I Gave You a UTI,” “We Tapped That Ass,” “First Penis I Saw,” and, of course, “Period Sex.” While it’s not always ideal to have “My sweet love infection caused a urinary tract infection” stuck in your head, the songs are hilarious and raunchy enough to stick with fans forever. — Tatiana Tenreyro

<p><em>The Legend of Korra</em> </p>

The Legend of Korra

Best slow-burn relationship: The Legend of Korra

When Korra, a brash and powerful warrior, and Asami, a confident and level-headed business mogul, first met in Nickelodeon’s animated series The Legend of Korra, they made up two points of a love triangle. But over the course of four seasons, the man in the middle faded out of view, and the women slowly developed their own relationship. When Korra had to grapple with the consequences of devastating trauma, Asami was the one she opened up to and leaned on. The series’ ending, which showed the women holding hands as they stepped into a new adventure, marked the beginning of their romance — a slow burn indeed. — Noelene Clark

Hottest priest: Grantchester

Fleabag‘s Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) took the television world by storm in 2019, but what many TV fans might not know is that our hearts were already stolen years ago by a different man of the cloth who also f—s: Sidney Chambers (James Norton) of Grantchester. Sidney loved jazz, downed more than his share of whiskey, had a cute dog named Dickens, and he solved murders in between his sermons. So while we will always love the Hot Priest and how he united us for a brief moment in time, we still have to give the edge to Sex Vicar, for he came first. — Kaitlin Thomas

<p>Samira Wiley, <em>Orange Is the New Black</em> </p>

Samira Wiley, Orange Is the New Black

Most horrifying death: Orange Is the New Black

There’ve been a great number of devastating TV character deaths throughout the decade, but Orange Is the New Black hit us the hardest when it killed off Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley). It wasn’t just the way she died — she was accidentally suffocated by a guard who got too aggressive with her, a not-subtle statement on the hot-button police brutality issue — but it was also the fact that she was so dang lovable. Poussey, the library-loving peacemaker who brought so much positivity to her fellow ladies of Litchfield, was a complete delight at all times, so to see her go down in such a senselessly violent fashion still stings. — Amanda Bell

Most over-hyped death(s): The Walking Dead

The summer between The Walking Dead‘s Season 6 finale and Season 7 premiere was an exhausting one. Season 6 ended with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killing someone with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat Lucille, but the person on the receiving end was not revealed at the time, fueling months of borderline unhinged speculation that we couldn’t help but be a part of. Who knows how many misdirection teasers were released ahead of the Season 7 premiere. Then, when the episode finally aired, we found out it was indeed Glenn (Steven Yeun) who became human batting practice, as it was in the comics, but not before Negan took out Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) in a sickening one-two punch of absolutely depraved brutality. That episode was inestimably hyped, and, as a result of the eye-popping grisliness of the scene, turned off a lot of Walking Dead viewers once and for all.Liam Mathews

<p><em>BoJack Horseman</em> </p>

BoJack Horseman

Best eulogy: BoJack Horseman

What do you say about a dead loved one when you’re not sure you really loved them, and you’re definitely sure they didn’t love you? That’s the question the eponymous equestrian had to dig into while memorializing his late mother in a bitterly hilarious segment from BoJack Horseman‘s fifth season. Although there’ve been many funeral scenes that were touching, funny, or set pieces for great action throughout the decade, this one was so full of sharp wit and gutting surprises that it stands apart from the rest.

In it, BoJack recounted all of the ways his mother wronged him — her selfishness and contempt for a child she didn’t want or respect loomed large and inspired some comically cruel zingers from his podium. But then he experienced a light-bulb moment and painfully parsed out the potential meaning of her last words to him. “I see you,” she’d said while he was in the hospital room. In a rambling but considerate monologue, BoJack decided those three words may have been his mother Beatrice’s effort to make up for not seeing him for so many decades. The thought that she might’ve finally recognized his worth and given him that long overdue sense of value was almost heart-swelling to behold. But then BoJack realized the real, mechanical reason she uttered those words, and it was exactly the kind of record-scratch revelation that makes the show such a treasure. — Amanda Bell

Most shocking resurrection: Jane the Virgin

Telenovelas by their very nature are supposed to keep you on your toes, but the grounded emotion of Jane the Virgin‘s storytelling really allowed Jennie Snyder Urman and her writing team to throw viewers for a loop in the Season 4 finale, when Michael (Brett Dier) came back from the dead. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) had spent years mourning him after he died in Season 3, and she was ready to officially start her life with Rafael (Justin Baldoni). However, Michael’s sudden reappearance threw everything we thought we knew into question, and what was even better was that absolutely no one saw it coming. It was simultaneously heartwarming to see such a fan-favorite character return and heartbreaking to know that his return could only mean suffering for someone else we truly loved. That kind of writing is what made Jane the Virgin a special show for all 100 of its episodes, but especially this one. — Megan Vick

<p>Justin Theroux, <em>The Leftovers</em> </p>

Justin Theroux, The Leftovers

Best karaoke moment: The Leftovers

Nothing could sum up the unexpected power of The Leftovers like Kevin Garvey’s (Justin Theroux) karaoke performance in the Season 2 finale. Kevin, trapped again in his hotel purgatory, balked at the idea that singing could get him home, but the simplicity of the challenge — not to play hero, but to make himself vulnerable — underlined the way The Leftovers looked inward. Like the show, the scene was a surreal, intimate portrait of the ache to reunite with loved ones, which has a way of making the smallest things feel like the difference between life and death. — Kelly Connolly

Best acoustic performance: Schitt’s Creek

Throughout its first few seasons, Schitt’s Creek became more than just a jaunty fish-out-of-water comedy and imbued charisma and heart into its formerly cold characters. As the financially ruined Rose family accepted, and even embraced, their more pedestrian life in the title town, they began to experience the joy of fellowship their new community had to offer. An emotional centerpiece emerged with the blossoming romance of David (Dan Levy) and his business partner Patrick (Noah Reid), which produced the show’s most unexpectedly rapturous musical moment. Although Patrick was a novice to queer love, he was the one who decided to stage an open-mic night so that he could proudly take the stage and use the power of lyrics to declare himself to David in front of their whole little world. Singing an impressive acoustic rendition of “Simply the Best,” he had both David and audiences at home reaching for the tissues. — Amanda Bell

Best soundtrack: Empire

Empire might be best known for its wild storylines, but the Fox show’s legacy will really be defined by its incredible soundtrack featuring original music. From infectious club bangers like “Drip Drop” to soulful ballads like “Conqueror,” Timbaland’s earworm tracks in the show’s early seasons helped make this exciting drama about a family of super-talented musicians not just great, but truly unforgettable. — Keisha Hatchett

<p>Kristen Bell, <em>Veronica Mars</em> </p>

Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars

Most resilient show: Veronica Mars

These days it’s almost commonplace for a show with a strong social media following to be saved from cancellation, moved to another network, or, at the very least, given a wrap-up movie so that fans can see their favorite characters’ reach satisfying endings. But long before Twitter campaigns were a thing, Veronica Mars fans had to do much more than just complain about the show’s devastating cancellation on a disappointing cliffhanger; they also had to wait six years and pony up some serious cash to crowd-fund a wrap-up movie in 2014. That dedication inspired creator creator Rob Thomas to keep right on going, too, as he went on to publish two canonical books before the series was revived once more by Hulu. The eight-episode fourth season of Veronica Mars that aired this past summer had an explosive ending — what, too soon? — that left the door open for even more of Veronica’s (Kristen Bell) adventures, so don’t count on the Neptune sleuth game to come to an end any time soon. — Megan Vick

Best flame-out: Revenge

It’s not unique for a series to have a strong first season only to completely fall apart in its sophomore outing, but it is rare for a show to do it in as spectacularly hilarious fashion as Revenge, which somehow lasted for four seasons. The ABC drama starred Emily VanCamp as a woman who assumed a fake identity in her quest to take down the family who framed her father for treason, and its first season became an instant, addictive hit. However, as the series went on, the twists only grew more ludicrous, as the writers struggled to keep the storyline going without completely ignoring the limits of believability. Remember when Victoria Grayson (Madeline Stowe) faked her own death — twice? Or when Victoria pushed a pregnant Amanda (Margarita Levieva) over a balcony? Or when Courtney Love played an assassin improbably named White Gold? If you remember half of those things, you probably watched Revenge long after it was worth it. But if you’re like us, you’ll cherish these memories for ∞. — Sadie Gennis

Best bad green screen: Ringer

There’s not much to remember about the short-lived CW series Ringer. Sarah Michelle Gellar played dual roles as twins, one of which was a rich snob and the other who was a stripper, maybe? But we will never forget a certain moment in which the two were in a boat, for some reason, because it is one of TV’s all-time laughable scenes. The scene made it seem like green-screen technology was invented just minutes before, as Gellar stood in a boat that was rocking up and down while PAs threw glasses of water in the air to simulate movement. It didn’t work; we’ve seen better special effects from a photo booth. But Ringer‘s legacy has been cemented. — Tim Surette

Most unfortunate title: Trophy Wife

There were a lot of shows that premiered this decade that bore the burden of a bad title (most of them on ABC). But unlike Cougar Town, which had the opportunity to move past the snickers (and even get in on the joke), Trophy Wife was canceled after one season. The 2013 sitcom — starring Bradley Whitford and Malin Akerman as a married couple, with Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins as Whitford’s character’s ex-wives — was one of the best new comedies of the year thanks to its strong ensemble (shout-out to breakout star Albert Tsai!), smart humor, and endless heart. It’s a shame that the show’s title, a failed attempt at irony, was so at odds with Trophy Wife‘s refusal to reduce any of its characters (particularly the female ones) to clichés. But the greatest misfortune is that the poor title likely played a massive role in the show’s struggles to find the audience it so wholly deserved. — Sadie Gennis

<p>Karen Gillan, <em>Selfie</em> </p>

Karen Gillan, Selfie

Best turnaround: Selfie

Selfie is another great example of a show that could have been great if it wasn’t for a terrible first impression. The uber-millennial title of the series and its panned pilot set up the My Fair Lady-inspired comedy starring Karen Gillan to fail from the start. However, almost immediately after the awkward pilot, the sparks between Gillan’s Eliza and John Cho‘s Henry began to fly, and broadcast’s best attempt at a romantic comedy emerged. Unfortunately, the bad reviews had already turned the public against this adorable, charming show and it ended its first run on Hulu. Now, both Gillan and Cho have moved on to bigger franchises, and Selfie remains the best turnaround of the decade, that we started to appreciate too late. — Megan Vick

Best shared universe: Rectify and Justified

Sundance’s Rectify and FX’s Justified might not have a lot in common at first glance, but as two of the best shows of the last decade, and as two smart dramas carefully examining the men and women of two small, rural communities and the expectations and assumptions that come along with such an existence, it only makes sense that they might also share a universe. While no one from Harlan ever appeared in Paulie (or vice versa), the connection between the two critically beloved shows was confirmed when, thanks to a set designer who worked on both shows, a copy of the Paulie Tribune featuring the headline “Holden Set Free” was seen in the background of a scene set in the marshal’s office on Justified. We’ve been daydreaming crossover scenarios ever since. — Kaitlin Thomas

<p>Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs<em>, Community</em> </p>

Danny Pudi and Gillian Jacobs, Community

Best D&D game: Community

A lot of you were probably expecting Stranger Things to steal this slot, but hear us out. While Dungeons & Dragons was mostly utilized as a general vibe, aka the monsters we’re familiar with from the game trespassed into the real world on Stranger Things, Community dedicated not one, but two episodes to playing sessions of D&D that revealed hidden depths to characters that we assumed had none. Not only did (formerly known as Fat) Neil, Pierce (Chevy Chase), and Professor Hickey (Jonathan Banks) all begin to untangle the roots of their problems, they only were able to ask for help because they were playing through a fictionalized version of real-life stakes. Each emerged closer to a community than before. Is that not the truest quest of all? — Krutika Mallikarjuna

Best use of nothing happening: Twin Peaks: The Return

Here it is, your moment of zen. There are dozens of moments you could point to in Twin Peaks: The Return as evidence of the revival’s singular, inscrutable genius, but we’re going with this one, which is transcendent precisely because it’s so mundane. In Part 7, a guy sweeps the floor in the Bang Bang Bar for two-and-a-half uninterrupted minutes. That’s it. He sweeps up cigarette butts while Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Green Onions” plays.

The first time we saw it, we wondered if we were really just observing two whole minutes of a guy sweeping the floor. There had to be a punchline, right? Wrong. It’s unknowable why David Lynch included this scene, or any scene, and even though there there are numerous Reddit threads about why the scene exists, speculation is just that. One working theory is that it’s there to serve as a televisual zen garden, a meditation. The man sweeps the floor. It takes some time. It requires no thought. Later, he will have to do it again. Life is just questions with no answers. — Liam Mathews

<p>Matthew McConaughey, <em>True Detective</em> </p>

Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

Best timeline play: True Detective

In True Detective Season 1, time was most definitely not a flat circle — it was more like two intertwining circles, as the show presented a single case over two timelines, one in 1995 and one in 2012. Though the season’s legacy will mostly be remembered for Matthew McConaughey‘s metaphysical babbling and the director Cary Fukunaga’s long, uncut take of a gang war, it’s the labyrinthine storytelling across two timelines that made it special … and far too difficult to successfully replicate in the seasons to follow. — Tim Surette

Best one-man show: Doctor Who

Peter Capaldi never got the appreciation he deserved for his work as the Twelfth Doctor, but he did get this stunning showcase. “Heaven Sent,” the penultimate episode of Doctor Who‘s ninth season, locked the Doctor in a custom-made prison designed to extract his secrets, forcing him to confront not only his fear of vulnerability but his grief over Clara (Jenna Coleman). Capaldi, alone for almost the entire hour, owned his spotlight. He cut to the heart of a man who would rather spend billions of years punching through a wall than let anyone else get the upper hand. — Kelly Connolly

<p>Bryce Dallas Howard, <em>Black Mirror</em> </p>

Bryce Dallas Howard, Black Mirror

Eeriest preview: Black Mirror

What makes Black Mirror so terrifyingly is how real the series feels. While some of the technology featured on the show seems distant from our world, there are plenty of episodes that feel like a warning of what’s to come. “Nosedive,” set in a world where people receive validation according to ratings and where a less-than-favorable move can turn you into a persona non grata, gave us an eerie look at how much we depend on social media for validation. Black Mirror also somewhat predicted the current state of politics with “The Waldo Moment,” in which a computerized, mean-spirited bear who actively parodied the system commanded enough of a following to run for a major office — and win. And in case the human equivalent of the bear becoming president in real life wasn’t disturbing enough, the robot dogs from “Metalhead” are now real. Good luck ever sleeping again. — Tatiana Tenreyro

Best teachable moments: Catfish

Anyone with a social media profile should thank the martyrs of Catfish for nobly letting the world learn from their mistakes. The MTV show exposed us to just how ubiquitous and dangerous catfishing can be, plus the actual methods you can use to spot a fake profile from a real one. If you knew what a reverse Google image search was before Max Joseph and Nev Schulman showed it to you, you’re probably in the CIA. — Lauren Zupkus

Most divisive true-story adaptation: Making a Murderer

For a few months in 2015, everyone with a Netflix login was also appointed a judge in the court of public opinion. Following Netflix’s release of the Making a Murderer docuseries, the nation took split stances on whether Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man charged with murder in 2007, was wrongfully convicted of a crime for the second time in his life. Making a Murderer exposed fractures in our judicial system in a decade already marked by schisms between law enforcement and the people. — Lauren Zupkus

<p><em>Tuca and Bertie</em> </p>

Tuca and Bertie

Most creative statement on misogyny: Tuca & Bertie

You know that feeling that wells up within you when you’re harassed in the workplace? That slow simmering rage that’s always there, but the guy staring at your chest in a meeting is causing it to boil over? No show more perfectly encapsulated the disgust and loathing of those moments better than Tuca & Bertie. The surrealist animated comedy popped the beleaguered Bertie (Ali Wong) in that exact situation, and Bertie’s breast popped right back out. Absolutely sick of being objectified, Lefty took all her mammary glands and slid right off of Bertie’s body to take a well needed mental health day. Bertie, left with Righty and a perfectly comical void, could only stare wistfully after her, as Lefty got to enact the fantasy she’d never get away with. Leave it to a show about a songbird and a toucan living in the big city to get closer to real-life experiences and emotions than any self-proclaimed feminist show on TV. — Krutika Mallikarjuna

Best showing of solidarity: The 2018 Golden Globes

In 2018, Hollywood was irrevocably changed by the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk. The #MeToo movement was finally getting the attention it deserved, and the biggest names in Hollywood had gotten together to start the Time’s Up organization, which focused not just on raising awareness, but on setting up a legal defense fund (which raised $15 million when it launched) for victims of harassment and sexual assault across all industries. Time’s Up made a huge splash at the 2018 Golden Globes, at which actresses stormed the red carpet in a sea of black, prompting interviewers to refocus fashion interviews on a social movement. Many of the leaders of the Time’s Up foundation, like Michelle Williams, brought activists as their dates and stepped aside during airtime to give prominent leaders like Tarana Burke (the founder of the #MeToo movement) a platform to speak. The issues women face in the industry were then highlighted during the actual telecast as well; the most powerful moment undoubtedly was Oprah‘s electrifying speech when presented with the Cecile B. DeMille award, which ended with the battlecry “Your time is up.” — Krutika Mallikarjuna

<p>Viola Davis, <em>How to Get Away with Murder</em> </p>

Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder

Best makeunder: How to Get Away with Murder

A lot of words can and should be spilled about How to Get Away with Murder, especially when it comes to its perfectly imperfect lead, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis). But one of the series’ most riveting scenes had nothing to do with its usual whodunnit event scandals. Instead, it was the simple act of Annalise taking off her wig, false eyelashes, and makeup on camera that arrived as one of its most captivating moments of all. Watching her methodically rid herself of that carefully cured courtroom armor to show the world her natural hair and face was completely arresting and important. — Amanda Bell

Most powerful voice for sexual assault survivors: Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy has never been a stranger to addressing heavy issues over the course of the series, but an episode in Season 15, “Silent All These Years,” showed us just how powerful ABC’s No. 1 show can be. The episode began with Jo (Camilla Luddington) treating a patient she suspected was sexually assaulted. As Jo urged the patient to report the assault, and the series graphically showed the steps of compiling a rape kit after an attack, the show flashed back to Jo meeting her birth mother and finding out that she was abandoned as a baby because she was a product of rape. It was a traumatic and truly moving episode. — Megan Vick

<p>Mark Feuerstein and Lisa Lapira, <em>Royal Pains</em> </p>

Mark Feuerstein and Lisa Lapira, Royal Pains

The show that gave us FOMO: Royal Pains

You might not think it’d be a routine medical procedural drama that could inspire such a wicked case of wanderlust — especially not one set in Long Island, instead of some elusive tropical paradise — but here we are. Royal Pains centered on Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), who fled a demoralizing life in the Big Apple to go perform concierge medical services for the Hamptons’ upper crust alongside his brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo). And every episode felt like a slick combination of Cribs and House M.D., inducing endless castle envy over the lush living accommodations of his clients and the fact that they were all in such good care with this inventive and compassionate man as their on-call physician. These one-percenters had a beautiful beach, palatial homes, and the best doctor on the East Coast all to themselves. With all that, it’s no wonder everyone’s dispositions were so consistently sunny on this show. — Amanda Bell

Best use of the fourth wall: Fleabag

Sorry, House of Cards. You may have done it first, but Fleabag did it better. In Season 1, Phoebe Waller-Bridge won us over with every grimace, shoulder-shimmy, and acerbic aside. And in Season 2, she broke our hearts when we realized that her relationship with us, the audience, was perhaps her most dysfunctional one. Even so, each raised eyebrow made it impossible for us to not feel something. — Noelene Clark

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