Part 2: 5–1
5. Parenthood (NBC)
One of the most extraordinary accomplishments of the decade — a remake of a series that had already failed. That Jason Katims’ incredible portrait of the Braverman family managed to last one season, much less a hundred episodes, speaks volumes about the state of NBC’s programming at the time and their faith in a series that was unlike any we ever saw before. A family dealing with hosts of obstacles — a child on the spectrum, a mother with cancer, children who kept slipping on the path to adulthood, the parents who never lost faith in them, and the ability to have trust and love throughout three generations — this was one of the sheer joys of the decade, not to mention the fact that this series has seventeen regular cast members and none of them — from Peter Krause and Monica Potter to the astonishing Mae Whitman — ever seemed to be underutilitzed. Only the Emmys continuing blindness to the fact that network programming can be as exceptional as cable kept it from being recognized by them, as well as the fact it had to struggle for renewal ever single year. There are rumors that they may do a reunion. As much as I’d like to see the characters again, why mess with perfection?
4. Mr. Robot (USA)
The greatest dystopian vision of the decade involved no zombie apocalypse or female repression. Instead, it took the far more daring idea that we’re living in it now, and we signed up for it. Sam Esmail’s incredible work was by far one of the most radical and daring vision that only a few have managed to ever match in TV history. From its incredible teasers to some of the most brilliant experiments in the history of the decade — opening like a USA sitcom, an episode edited as if it was all one shot, another where there was no dialogue, and a battle of wits that climaxed in the biggest revelation the series would ever do. Rami Malek justifiably became the superstar he deserved to be, and every other actor in the cast from Christian Slater to B.D Wong on down was more than up to the challenge. And yet for a series that blatantly lived in darkness, the ending came with shoots of optimism we thought possible — and proved that saving the world can be nearly as important as saving yourself. Esmail has already proven that he is no one-hit wonder with his work on Homecoming last year. I can not wait to see what dangerous visions he will take us through next.
3. The Americans (FX)
Without question, the single greatest television series of the decade was this FX series that started out as a period piece about Communist sleeper agents in Reagan-era D.C. and ended up being more relevant than even its producers could ever have imagined it being. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell gave two of the greatest performances of all time as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two agents whose commitment to doing often unspeakable things for their country led them into territory so dark that it took more and more out of them each season. Their unlikely friendship with their next door neighbor — who worked in the FBI — led to one of the most bizarre cat and mouse games that climaxed in the final episodes with one of the most powerful confrontations of all time. A series that had a longer memory that so many of the others — storylines started in Season 2 paid out in the final year — and had the good sense to let things simmer rather than boil. This series, more than any other on television, managed to realize its vision because of the support of critics — though the Emmys did eventually come around in the back half. The final episode was one the greatest and most satisfying last episodes in the history of TV — the Jennings escaped, but it cost them everything. It’ll be along time until we see a series like this one again.
2. The Good Wife/The Good Fight (CBS/CBS All Access)
Until the last troubled season, The Good Wife was the greatest single accomplishment of the 2010s. Starting out as what is becoming a dying entity — the legal drama — it became a series that was completely impossible to quantify by its end, following Alicia Florrick through the world of law and politics (office and local), and watching her try to negotiate a world that was forever chaotic. Few series — network or anywhere else — would be willing to complete change the game as frequently or brilliantly as The Good Wife did, and few series have ever had such a magnificent cast of supporting characters — from Alan Cumming and Chris Noth, to the incredible group of opposing attorneys and judges they face. (I still believe Carrie Preston’s character should’ve gotten her own spinoff.) And it was more than willing to bite the hand that fed them and the Peak TV world that it existed in.
The ending was a disappointment, but it directly linked to the extraordinary spinoff. As easy as it could’ve been to simply be ‘The Good Wife with swearing’, watching Christine Baranski and company negotiate the insanity that surrounds the world around us now just as well as its mother series handled the Obama era. It’s been willing to deal with some of the most relevant issues facing us, knows when and how to use regulars from the original series, and states that the only way to deal with the insanity of a world gone mad is handle your own. Robert and Michelle King are the greatest showrunners of the 2010s and have created an incredible universe. But even though their world is extraordinary, it’s still second fiddle to…
- Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul (AMC)
My greatest flaw as a critic was coming so late to a series that so many expected to be Weeds 2: The Methening. As anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad — and the number of viewers keeps growing every year — it was anything but that. Watching Bryan Cranston create one of the greatest characters of all time in Walter White and watching him turn from ‘Mr. Chips to Scarface’ — even though he never really was either — was one of the greatest accomplishment that you’ll see in any medium. And Cranston was just the lead with some of the greatest performances in history: from Aaron Paul’s heartbreaking work as Jesse to Dean Norris’ dogged perseverance as Hank this deserved its place in the Pantheon of a great shows. When Walter finally admitted to Skyler the true nature of its darkness, it was a great moment, though the costs were Hank’s life, Jesse’s soul, and Skyler’s dignity. The Emmys got it exactly right when they gave it sixteen awards over its remarkable five and a half years, and it deserves recognition as one of the four or five greatest series of all time.
After it all ended, you think that a prequel series about Saul Goodman, the attorney who mercifully brought come lightness into Vince Gilligan’s vision would’ve just been pleasing the fans. But Better Call Saul has gone from being one of the greatest spinoffs in history to one of the greatest shows on television in its own right. Where as Cranston was brilliant at painting a picture of a man who was letting his inner monster out, Bob Odenkirk is heartbreaking as Jimmy, a man trying to be good against a world that won’t let him — and that, in the last episode of Season 4, he has surrendered too. Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito have been so good in recreating their greatest accomplishment that they make you forget they will become victims of Heisenberg’s rise to power. With a cast including such brilliant performers as Michael Mando and Rhea Seehorn, and teasers and visuals that more than rival the ones we saw on the parent series, the Albequerque that Gilligan and company have created is a world nearly as remarkable as the Seven Kingdoms and far more harsh to live in. Even George R.R. Martin thought so.