Do you remember when it used to be a rarity to see a superhero show on TV? Or an actual sci-fi show on SYFY? Times have changed in the last ten years, and now every streaming service wants its own Game of Thrones. You may have also noticed that each of the major streaming services are now launched with their own genre shows, like The Mandalorian on Disney+.
It’s definitely a new world, but there’s never been a better time for fans of comic book inspired shows, fantasy, or sci-fi. This past decade had an embarrassment of riches. And it’s only going to get bigger and better in the next ten years.
For one of our final posts of 2019, the Superhero Hype team has put together a list of our top 10 shows of the decade. These were the series that set the tone for everything around them and raised the bar for genre as we know it. Of course, some of them aren’t quite as good as they used to be. But we wouldn’t be in this new golden age of television without them.
Almost a decade after it went off the air, Stargate Universe is all but forgotten by viewers outside the fanbase. But we remember it as one of the boldest sci-fi dramas of the decade, even though the second and final season was the only one that fell within 2010. That’s because Stargate Universe downplayed the campiness of the Stargate franchise and found its human drama. It also ran with plotlines like alternate timelines and didn’t simply reboot the show from week-to-week. That branching timeline created some big problems for the crew of the Destiny for the rest of the series and led to some dazzling stories.
The second season finale was an ambiguous ending for the show. But perhaps someday, we’ll see the Destiny again.
Long before Disney had a streaming service of its own, Marvel was content to join forces with Netflix for a few TV shows that had a much harder edge than anything else in the MCU. The Jessica Jones series went even further than the comic by exploring the ramifications that Kilgrave’s abuse had on Jessica. Casting Krysten Ritter as Jessica was a coup, but ex-Doctor Who star David Tennant was a revelation as Kilgrave.
The second season wasn’t quite as strong as the first, but the third season solidified Jessica’s legacy by sending her up against her adoptive sister, Trish (Rachael Taylor). It also gave us some closure to this part of the MCU.
Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty may be an animated comedy series, but it’s also one of the sharpest sci-fi shows of the last ten years. Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and their collaborators frequently come up with wild ideas and simply use them as a bridge to the next joke. But their imaginative take on the material has also led to a few poignant moments, like Morty’s plea to his sister, Summer, after outing himself as an alternate version of her Morty.
Rick and Morty has also had a pretty outsized cultural impact, as seen by the Szechuan sauce craze created by the third season premiere. This is a wildly entertaining show, and still frequently hilarious. Here’s hoping that won’t change in the next ten years.
Few Netflix shows have exploded like Stranger Things. The first season arrived with little fanfare in 2016 and quickly became a phenomenon. Along with star making turns by the young stars, including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, and Gaten Matarazzo; Stranger Things also revitalized the careers of Winona Ryder and David Harbour. The Duffer Brothers borrowed liberally from the best of the ‘80s genre films, but in a way that felt fresh and exciting.
Stranger Things doesn’t seem like it’s destined for a long run, but each subsequent season has become an event unto itself. Now, who wants to sing a few lines from The NeverEnding Story with us?
6. The Expanse
Every now and then, the ex-Sci-Fi Channel puts out a few instant classics, like Farscape and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. The Expanse was the most recent example…so of course SYFY cancelled it after three seasons. But those three seasons presented a richly realized vision of the future based upon the novels by James S. A. Corey (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). This wasn’t just another space show. It was something special.
Fortunately, Amazon rescued The Expanse from oblivion and renewed it through the fifth season. The fourth season debuted earlier this month, and it’s still one of the most amazing shows out there.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Walking Dead may be a shadow of its former self, but the early seasons of this show were gamechanging. Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic was one of the few non-superhero comic book inspired shows to become a breakout hit. The first few years also stayed largely faithful to the comic, while adding a few surprises along the way.
After ten seasons, The Walking Dead has largely lost its way and most of the original stars are gone. But that can’t diminish the impact it once had.
Marvel had five solo series on Netflix, but Daredevil was by far the best. It’s the show that Arrow could only dream of becoming, and that’s because Daredevil was allowed to be Daredevil. There wasn’t excessive MCU style humor, and the showrunners were able to explore both sides of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox): blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night. It also helps that the action sequences were phenomenal. The hallway fight in the second episode is still a thing of beauty to behold.
Ex-Walking Dead actor Jon Bernthal had an arresting turn in season 2 as Frank Castle/The Punisher. But it was Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk who elevated the first and third seasons. Fisk was a complex adversary and a worthy foe for Murdock. Three seasons just wasn’t enough for this show. It definitely wouldn’t fit in at Disney+, but surely there has to be a place for Daredevil in the future. This cast and these characters are too good to be sidelined forever.
This is the only show to debut in 2019 to make this list, but Watchmen has earned its place here. In only nine episodes, Damon Lindelof and his collaborators not only managed to live up to the original comic book, they also re-contextualized it while telling a thrilling story of their own. The reveal of Hooded Justice’s true identity was one of the best episodes of television we’ve seen in years. Of course, the other surprises also helped make Watchmen into can’t miss television.
Even if there’s never another season of Watchmen, these nine episodes will stand as a masterpiece.
HBO has been pretty open about its search for the next Game of Thrones. But the premium cable channel may have found it in Westworld. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy updated Michael Crichton’s Westworld for the modern era, and created one of the most intricate onscreen mysteries of the decade.
Solving Westworld’s puzzles was part of the fun of watching it. But it also had fantastic turns by Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright that made secondary characters like Maeve and Bernard overshadow stars like Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden). Ed Harris’ Man in Black was also one of the great villains of recent memory. The third season will premiere in 2020, and Westworld has a bright future ahead of it.
Very few viewers appear to be happy with the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. It was admittedly, not the show’s finest hour. But that can’t negate the fact that Game of Thrones defined the 2010s like no other show on television. It legitimized fantasy on TV by taking the Emmy Award for Best Drama multiple times. Until then, the Emmys largely ignored genre shows in the primary awards.
There were so many breathtaking moments from Game of Thrones’ run that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Ned’s fate in the first season, the Red Wedding in season 3, the Mountain and the Viper’s duel in season 4, and the Battle of the Bastards in season 6. We could go on and on. Game of Thrones was television on an epic scale that had never previously been attempted. And it may never reach these heights again.
Game of Thrones may not have nailed its conclusion, but it was the best TV show of the decade. Its place in television history is secure.
What are your picks for the top 10 TV shows of the decade? Let us know in the comment section below!