TV shows that defined the decade

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There are a lot of different ways you can define a decade, and the we are doing it by picking our favorite TV shows.

A long-running TV show can last through many of life’s biggest milestones, becoming a defining feature for a significant period of life. Heck, even a short-running TV show can do the same, if you rewatch it enough!

As we come to the end of the 2010-2019 decade, everyone’s reflecting on how they’ve changed and grown, and the things they’ll look back on when they think about the last 10 years.

Over the last decade some of our staff have graduated, moved across the country, began new jobs and careers, and started families. Our favorite TV shows have been with us through all of it. The TV shows we’ve picked will be a big part of what we remember about 2010-2019.

Our favorite TV shows of the 2010-2019 decade

‘Breaking Bad’ – 2008-2013

I don’t re-watch television shows (Who has time when there are so many new ones popping up every day?), but Breaking Bad is an exception. Never have I ever been so moved by a drama.

Though it didn’t premiere this decade, Breaking Bad found its audience in the early 2010s — thanks largely to people discovering the early seasons on Netflix — and wow’d us with its plot twists, colorful characters (“Better Call Saul!”), vicious villains, and stunning Albuquerque-set cinematography.

At the risk of parroting a cliche: Breaking Bad gets exponentially better as it goes on. Critically, the Bryan Cranston-led drama about a whimpy science teacher who turns to cooking meth after he’s diagnosed with cancer is regarded as one of the best shows in TV history, and I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve never been so enthralled and moved by a show, and that’s why whenever I start another re-watch, I can’t stop binging. A testament to the actors and those behind the scenes, the show has had two pretty satisfying spinoffs in the years since Breaking Bad wrapped up: El Camino, a movie following Jesse in the post Breaking Bad world, and the TV spinoff Better Call Saul, which will return for season 5 next year.

‘The Expanse’- 2015-Present

In addition to being one of the best shows of the decade, The Expanse ranks as one of the decade’s most slept-on and criminally underrated shows as well.

Which means I have spent a lot of time aggressively recommending the show to fellow fans of genre television. Because The Expanse — now in its fourth season — is a rather dense and complex bit of sci-fi, I tend to describe it (depending on who my audience is) as either a more mature The 100 or Game of Thrones in space.

This is intended to simply be a hook to get people interested, of course, as both those signifiers are vast oversimplifications which also undersell the high quality of the show. If I’m being honest, The Expanse is what The 100 wanted to be in terms of the way it approached conflict and character complexity, and what Game of Thrones thought it was in terms of immersive world building and political storytelling.

The Expanse, to put it simply and without putting down lesser shows, is science fiction storytelling at its very best. It tells the story of human history and human nature on a grand, space operatic scale, set in the far future when humanity has colonized the Solar System. The show starts small in season one, flipping back and forth between the ragtag crew of Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex — the lone survivors of a mysterious attack — and the world-weary Joe Miller, a police detective on one of the poor Belt stations.

From there, The Expanse expands its worldbuilding and its scope, slowly immersing us in the vastly differing cultures of the downtrodden, impoverished Belters, the militaristic Martians and the privileged Earthers, while also exploring — and eventually unraveling — the tense and tenuous Cold War-like peace between the three different groups.

The Expanse boasts an incredibly diverse cast as a matter of fact and not as a flashy gimmick, is grounded and gritty without succumbing to nihilism, thoughtful without being prone to navel gazing and surprising and unexpected without relying on shock-value violence or the grotesque.

It’s a dense and complicated show that requires your full attention, while also being infinitely rewatchable because of its fantastic (and often fun) writing, insanely talented actors and charismatic cast of characters. I somehow defied all time and physics by watching the first two and a half seasons (roughly 30, one-hour episodes) in a single three-day weekend, and though I tried my hardest to savor the newly released fourth season, I only made it two days.

The Expanse is unique (for me, at least) in that not only is it my favorite show of the decade, it’s also one of the best shows of the decade, period. It’s a show that’s captured my imagination and my heart as well as set up camp in my brain and impressed me, season after season.

The only downside to The Expanse at this point is the fact that I’ll have to wait another year or so to see the fifth season. That’s a great problem to have.

‘Star Wars Rebels’ – 2014-2018

Star Wars Rebels showed up at a time where I was feeling rather ambivalent about Star Wars and it was the first show to kick off the new Star Wars canon and the partnership with Disney. But there was something about this little show… the trailers hooked me right away. The shorts they released in the lead-up, the art, the characters, it intrigued me.

My intrigue turned into a full-blown passion for the characters and the way it told a story that was unlike any Star Wars story I’d seen. This was a group of people we’d never seen before. In places we’ve never been and every bit of it was like diving into new Star Wars over and over.

What Star Wars Rebels grew into is my favorite Star Wars story. It’s what brought me back into being fully in love with Star Wars again and, while it may not be Peak TV, it moves me more and touches my heart more than anything else this decade.

‘The Vampire Diaries’ – 2009-2017

Admittedly, I was dubious of The Vampire Diaries when it first premiered. It came hot on the heels of the Twilight phenomenon, so I thought it might just be a network’s attempt to capitalize on the craze that was the vampire love story. It didn’t help that Stefan and Elena even looked like Edward and Bella.

Despite my skepticism, The Vampire Diaries won me over episode by episode, and season by season. The characters were dynamic, funny, and honest in a way that I wasn’t used to seeing. The mythology was deep enough to be intriguing, but not so complicated as to be convoluted. The soundtrack was stunning, the romance was all-consuming, and most importantly, the story was endlessly compelling.

The Vampire Diaries had heart like I’d never experienced in media before. To this day, it makes me feel more than anything I’ve seen before or since. Each new episode brought tears, joy, laughter and excitement.

Going back and rewatching the show is greeting all of those emotions like old friends and feeling them just as deeply. Now, I can put on basically any episode of the series and pretty much guarantee that I’ll be in tears by the end of it. The show has gotten me through some of life’s biggest hurdles by being a reliable source of comfort and catharsis.

When Nina Dobrev left the show, which would mean the eventual loss of Elena Gilbert, I felt enough that I needed to write it down. That was the start of what has now been years of writing about vampires and my other pop culture obsessions. Also, I’m still in awe of how TVD so adeptly handled her departure. Truly epic.

When I think of the 2010-2019 decade, I’ll remember The Vampire Diaries as a big part of what made it great, and I’ll definitely be bringing the show into the next decade(s) with me!

‘The Following’ – 2013-2015

I’m a TV junkie. I watch a little bit of everything and have found myself enchanted by popular dramas, reality competition shows, well-made procedurals, and kitschy teen shows in equal measure. So when a show comes on the air that sounds like nothing I’ve really seen before, I sort of consider it a challenge. The sheer idea of The Following seemed like it was designed to test my limits, and with an accomplished man like Kevin Williamson running the show, I just knew I was in for a crazy adventure.

And test them it did. I joke with fellow Hypable writer Karen Rought all the time about how that show managed to make me feel bad for (fictional) serial killers, a feat that only the best showrunners, writers, and cast in the business could be capable of doing. It crossed the line time and time again, showing just how deeply a cult can cut into a person’s psyche. How penetrating emotional and psychological wounds can fester into madness and psychopathy if given the perfectly wrong surroundings and influences.

I considered all of my options when deciding which show I wanted to write about as my favorite of the decade. I have so many that I’ve loved, but ultimately I decided that, through it all, there is one show and one show alone for which I would absolutely and completely relish a revival. If I got the opportunity to return to the ever-evolving, contentious relationship of Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll, I would do it in a heartbeat. A racing, edge-of-my-seat, what-could-possibly-come-next kind of heartbeat that could only be elicited by a master of suspense like Kevin Williamson.

‘Pretty Little Liars’ – 2010-2017

Alison DiLaurentis on 'Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists'

Pretty Little Liars will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s one of the shows that made me realize my love for writing and for television, and put me on the path toward becoming a writer. From the first moment I watched Aria, Hanna, Emily, and Spencer learn of the infamous “A”, there was no turning back.

I spent countless hours theorizing about the many mysteries, interacting with fellow fans online, and reeling from various reveals, twists, and the many murders in Rosewood. Just as Pretty Little Liars changed the way we watch television (and helped begin the era of social media live-tweeting, trending, and using that information to justify renewal/cancellation), it changed me. I will be forever grateful that I was able to partake in this rare experience and for how it influenced me.

While the show certainly had more than a few issues over the years, I never wanted to stop watching (and I’ve watched again, and again, and again countless times since 2010). The show never lost my interest. There will never be anything like Pretty Little Liars on television again. The mysteries, the fans, our adoration for the story we were being told and the cast that played our favorite characters, all of it was a once in a lifetime thing.

Sadly, I was so hopeful for the era of my favorite television show to live on with Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Regardless, there will never come a day when I do not look back on this show or watch without fondness.

‘The Americans’ – 2013-2018

The Americans did not have a bad season. I would even argue that during its entire six season run on FX, the Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell led series did not have a single bad episode. Debuting right on the heels of the Breaking Bad series finale and two years ahead of the Mad Men series finale, The Americans had a lot of competition on cable.

Though it was always a critic darling, the series never garnered a huge amount of mainstream attention until late in its run with a few Emmy nominations that broke out of the Guest Actress category and took home a writing and a lead actor Emmy for its final season.

For me, The Americans was must-see TV from its debut. The narrative kicks off in 1981, telling the story of a married couple living in Washington, DC with two kids and a small travel business. At its core, that is what the story is about. A marriage. Parenting. But it is also about Soviet spies who are playing those parts and running operations while also living across the street from (and becoming friends with) an FBI agent.

It’s about missions that comprise their safety, endanger the national security of the United States, and ruin countless people’s lives all because they were kind to these two seemingly normal people. It is also, in part, about a mail robot.

The Americans provided some imagery with a suitcase that I will never get over, wigs and disguises that will never be topped, and set the bar as one of the best and most complicated family dramas on television.

At its best moments the show delivers the emotional impact of freight train, mostly thanks to Matthew Rhys’ Phillip, who begins to question if his belief in a country he has not seen in two decades is greater than his belief in what is happening in front of him. And as he begins to question his resolve, the series examines what happens when the heart starts playing a role in deciding what is right and what is wrong for several characters.

It is there, where the lines start to blur between what is a cover and what is reality, that The Americans shines brightest. And luckily for viewers, that happened over the course of six incredible seasons. I’ve never been more stressed watching a show, employing a strict no phone no Twitter no distraction rule for the usual 65-minute run time. Though I’m hopeful that I’ll have this experience again, it’s hard to imagine anything coming close to the bar set by creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.

‘Teen Wolf’ – 2011-2017

No other show has made such an impact on me as Teen Wolf. When I first discovered it in 2011 (season premiere, baby!), I had no idea it would completely change my life. I met several of my best friends, started a podcast, traveled to California for the first time, and even got my first tattoo. This show still affects my life in various ways years after the series finale aired in 2017.

If you’ve followed my writing at all, you’ll know what this show means to me and how much I love it. When I look back on the last decade, no other series shines as brightly as Teen Wolf. I still think about the characters, quote their lines, and reminisce what it was like during the show’s heyday.

Part of the reason why it resonated so much was because Teen Wolf was genuine and heartfelt. It took a concept that could’ve been silly and gave it heart. The characters, the actors, the writers, and everyone who worked on this show all contributed to something that touched the lives of so many people. Nothing will ever tarnish those memories for me. I don’t think anything could.

I know a lot of other people feel this way, too. The majority of the decade was filled with watch parties and conventions, fandom merch and Twitter friends. Those six seasons simultaneously feel like they aired a lifetime ago and just last week. It’s hard to describe the hole this show has left behind because it also feels so present.

I’m not sure I’ll ever love a show like I loved Teen Wolf, but I think that’s okay. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I think I lived it to the fullest. I know I’ll love other shows in different ways, but when I think back on the last decade, I can definitively say this series changed my life for the better. I am as much a part of it as it is a part of me.

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