30 Innovative TV Shows That Shaped the Last Decade
With a better, more diverse TV lineup than ever before now literally available at the push of a button, it can be difficult to decide what to watch. Of course, some shows have that extra something that’s impossible to resist.
From Black Mirror’s foray into interactive storytelling to True Detective’s and Sense8’s skill at playing with structure, some entries stand out from the pack. Thanks to groundbreaking narratives and fresh perspectives, these 30 shows have come to shape the last decade of TV.
How to Get Away with Murder (2014–2020)
Produced by the prolific Shonda Rhimes, How to Get Away with Murder stars Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, a law professor who becomes entangled in a murder plot with her students. Beyond thrilling audiences with melodramatic twists and captivating performances, Murder nabs a spot on our list for its groundbreaking portrayal of a female antihero.
Featuring a multinational ensemble cast, Sense8 was a science fiction show created by The Matrix (1999) directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski back in 2015. In the world of the show, eight strangers from all over the world (later dubbed "sensates") discover they are all mentally and emotionally linked.
Making a Murderer (2015–2018)
What Serial did for true crime podcasts, Making a Murderer did for true crime documentary television. That is, it was a completely immersive way to engage with the genre. The series tells the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for the wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. He was later charged and convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2007.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–Present)
Hosted by former The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver, this late-night talk show and news satire debuted in 2015. With "free reign to criticize corporations" and no obligation to feature celebrities, Last Week Tonight has been able to carve out its own niche. "We’re not going to be a parody news show," Oliver said. "So no people pretending to be journalists."
Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
Based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones arguably became HBO’s biggest hit since The Sopranos. In an age where viewers can watch anything on-demand at any time, the show reinvigorated the "water cooler talk" culture of everyone watching the show at the same time, eager to discuss it the next day. But perhaps an even more impressive step? This massively costly series made fantasy TV mainstream, accessible, and loved.
Master of None (2015–2017)
Created by fellow Parks and Recreation alumni Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, Master of None stars Ansari as actor Dev Shah, who is trying to overcome professional and romantic obstacles. The show holds a much-coveted 100% aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics have called it "Exceptionally executed with charm, humor, and heart… a refreshingly offbeat take on a familiar premise." And it’s that fresh perspective, from writers of color and from queer writers, that makes Master of None so significant.
Vida tells the story of Emma and Lyn, Mexican-American sisters who return home to East Los Angeles after their mother (Vidalia, or Vida) dies. The sisters take over their mom’s bar, which serves as the backdrop as they explore themes of grief, family, gentrification, generational bias, and queer and Latinx identities. What makes this GLAAD Media Award-winning show so crucial is that showrunner Tanya Saracho created a show for and about Latinx folks by Latinx creators.
Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
In the ‘90s, director David Lynch collaborated with Mark Frost to create Twin Peaks, a trailblazing show that inspired so many future creators. In the show, residents of the titular town are shocked when high school beauty Laura Palmer is found murdered. Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, comes to town to solve the mystery but ends up on a surreal — sometimes darkly funny, sometimes darkly disturbing — odyssey.
American Crime Story (2016–Present)
If you hit a homerun with a musical comedy like Glee, the obvious follow-up move is to make American Horror Story, an anthology full of murder and scares. Well, if you’re Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck that’s the clear move. And the successful genre-hopping continued in 2016 when Murphy and Falchuck’s American Crime Story premiered on FX.
The Good Place (2016–Present)
Any number of shows created or produced by Michael Schur, from Parks and Recreation to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, could appear on a "Best of" list, but The Good Place earns a spot here by being the most innovative. Though it seems like your standard single-camera comedy, the show’s premise is unique.
When the Ryan Murphy produced Pose premiered on FX in 2018, Janet Mock made history as the first transgender woman of color to write and direct an episode of TV. The show focuses on the folks who participated in the trans and queer ball culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which was established by Black and Latinx performers who found themselves pushed out by the largely white New York drag scene. In this underground culture, dancers, models and performers compete for recognition with the support of their chosen families, or Houses.
Adapted from a 2012 Israeli television series, HBO’s Euphoria depicts the intersecting lives of teenagers as they navigate sexuality, gender identity, sex, drugs, grief and trauma. Unlike its coming-of-age predecessors, Euphoria is unrelenting and brutally honest. Former Disney star Zendaya plays the show’s central character, Rue Bennett, who returns home after a summer spent in rehab due to a life-threatening overdose.
Russian Doll (2019–Present)
Netflix’s Russian Doll stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a woman who gets caught in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop on her birthday. And that time loop resets every time she dies — often and quickly. This darkly funny series mimics a video game structurally: Nadia keeps "coming back to life," and as she learns more about the rules of this strange reality, she starts to piece together solutions — and reasons — for her predicament.
One Day at a Time (2017–2019, Netflix; 2020, Pop TV)
Executive produced by TV legend Norman Lear, Netflix’s One Day at a Time marks a rare instance in which a "reboot" — or reimagining — works. Based on Lear’s ‘70s sitcom of the same name, One Day at a Time tells the story of the Alvarez family.
True Detective (2014–Present)
True Detective reinvigorated HBO’s prestige drama genre — previously defined by shows like The Sopranos and The Wire — during a time when the network’s most popular shows were fantasy epic Game of Thrones and political comedy Veep. The first and third seasons capitalize on a nonlinear narrative structure, where the past and present interplay around the central investigations. This unsettling, dislocating aura, combined with the gritty David Fincher feel, set the show apart.
Black Mirror (2011–2014, Channel 4; 2016–Present, Netflix)
Charlie Brooker’s British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror initially ran in short spurts from 2011 to 2014. After finding a larger audience on Netflix, the streaming service purchased the show and developed its third and fourth seasons under its "Netflix Original" stamp. In those first Netflix outings, two episodes — season three’s "San Junipero" and season four’s "USS Callister" — won a combined total of six Emmys for the pessimistic Twilight Zone-esque series.
Dear White People (2017–Present)
Based on his film of the same name, Justin Simien’s Netflix comedy-drama series Dear White People follows several Black college students as they deal with racism and discrimination at an Ivy League school. When the trailer for the series dropped, Twitter users called it "offensive to white people" and demanded viewers boycott the show. Simien pointed out that this "backlash" reiterated the point of the series and brought more attention to the very real issues it spotlights.
This comedy-drama was created by writer Jill Soloway for Amazon’s original programming lineup and revolves around a narrative that mirrors Soloway’s personal life. In Transparent, Maura comes out as transgender to her wife and three adult children. One of those children, played by Gaby Hoffman, is based closely on Soloway, and, alongside their family, navigates spirituality and Judaism, inherited trauma and gender identity.
Atlanta was created by Donald Glover, who also writes, directs, produces and stars in the FX comedy-drama series. The show has garnered two Golden Globes as well as two Emmys, one of which helped Glover make history when he became the first Black person to receive an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series.
Eight-time Emmy-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus first found acclaim for portraying Elaine Benes in Seinfeld and then for playing the titular character in The New Adventures of Old Christine. For most performers, those roles would have been it — career-defining and full of success. But Louis-Dreyfus struck gold a third time by landing the lead role of fictional Vice President Selina Meyer on Veep, and she has won an Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy for every season so far.
In 2013, Phoebe Waller-Bridge put on a one-woman play that won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A friend had challenged her to create a sketch for a 10-minute set on a stand-up storytelling night, and that character ended up in the play. The play’s name? Fleabag. And, yes, the beloved show was then adapted from this play.
Broad City (2014–2019)
Created by real-life best friend duo Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Broad City was initially a web series, created in response to frustrating feedback Jacobson received in response to a project. After an online run between 2009 and 2011, Comedy Central turned the series into a sitcom executive produced by Amy Poehler and starring Jacobson and Glazer’s on-screen alter egos, Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler.
Orange Is the New Black (2013–2019)
A few months after Netflix’s first original series premiered, Orange Is the New Black debuted. The Peabody and Emmy Award-winning show quickly became a premier water-cooler-chat show with everyone talking about it. Although that first Netflix series, House of Cards, was equally acclaimed, Orange really put Netflix on the map. As a pop culture phenomenon, it inspired people to rethink the concept of the streaming service.
Key & Peele (2012–2015)
This Emmy Award-winning sketch comedy show was created by Mad TV-alumni Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele for Comedy Central. Roughly 2.1 million viewers tuned into the first episode, making Key & Peele Comedy Central’s most-watched pilot. But what set Key & Peele’s pre-taped sketches apart was the comedians’ aim to craft sketches that explored and commented on ethnic stereotypes and race relations, as well as popular culture.
The Walking Dead (2010–Present)
AMC’s post-apocalyptic zombie thriller The Walking Dead has lasted for nearly a decade. With several video games, spinoff shows, board games and more based on the world first created in Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels of the same name, the show truly became a pop culture phenomenon. Much like Game of Thrones, which made a dense fantasy series mainstream, The Walking Dead made horror compelling, even for those who aren’t usually fans.
The OA (2016–2019)
Created and executive produced by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, The OA has the distinction of being Netflix’s strangest original series. But its sci-fi, mystery, fantasy and reality-bending elements also make it one of the platform’s most gripping shows. Season one opens with a missing woman named Prairie (Marling) returning home after years. Seems like a standard premise, right? Think again.
Killing Eve (2018–Present)
Killing Eve seems like your typical cat-and-mouse spy story with an MI6 agent and an assassin pursuing and evading one another. But, at second glance, it’s so much more than that. The show is undoubtedly a feminist reclamation of the genre, starring Sandra Oh as the titular Eve Polastri, who must help MI6 nab the ever-glamorous and sociopathic Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer.
Fresh Off the Boat (2015–Present)
Starring Constance Wu and Randall Park, Fresh Off the Boat was inspired by chef and food personality Eddie Huang’s book of the same name. In the show, creator Nahnatchka Khan depicts a Taiwanese-American family living in the Orlando, Florida, of the ‘90s. The last show to star an Asian-American family was Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl, which debuted in 1994. More than 20 years later, Fresh Off the Boat offers a much-needed and welcome perspective.
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017–Present)
Blessed be Hulu’s first original series. Or that’s probably what the streaming platform’s execs were saying when The Handmaid’s Tale nabbed an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, marking the first time a streaming service had done so. That’s right — even though Netflix had a head start (House of Cards premiered in 2013), it never actually took home the top prize.
The Leftovers (2014–2017)
HBO’s The Leftovers was created by Lost’s Damon Lindelof and the writer of the source material, novelist Tom Perrotta. The series begins a few years after an event called the "Sudden Departure," during which 2% of the world’s population just vanished. Instead of focusing solely on the how, The Leftovers is more interested in the why. (Why was so-and-so raptured and not someone who seems better morally?)