It’s very hard to write a piece on the best television of the last decade as I’ve watched hundreds, nay, thousands of hours of TV. From reality shows, to quiz shows, scripted dramas, current affairs, sports, true crime and even maybe some Kids TV. Thinking back through the last decade I’m bound to have missed loads and probably why this list is a bit top heavy with shows from the last few years.
What makes the list? Anything and everything really. As long as it debuted between 2010 and 2019. Oh and I have had to watch it. So you can reply to this with “what about so and so” as much as you want . If I haven’t seen it then I cannot rate it.
Let’s start with what isn’t on the list. Some shows have been great but have had major mid series quality drops so have to miss the boat. The big one there is THE WALKING DEAD. At times it’s been amazing but most of the time it just plods along taking up valuable TV watching hours. There have been some quality British dramas that didn’t quite make my list.
Among them are:-
THREE GIRLS – A harrowing three part drama based on the Rochdale grooming gang scandal
LITTLE BOY BLUE – Based on the real life murder of Rhys Jones in Liverpool back in 2007. Starring the amazing Stephen Graham of which you’ll see a lot more of later
CILLA – A fantastic biopic of Liverpool’s most famous daughter played by Sheridan Smith
In all honesty I could have made a list up with shows featuring both Graham and Smith and it would be full of quality. I’ll see a show advertised and if either of them are in it I’ll watch it. Both steal every scene they’re in. He’s so good I’d watch Graham cross the road.
Before I crack on with the list here’s some shows that never made it because they’re over-hyped or rubbish but loved by the masses.
This list could go on for ever but I’ve kept it to just 3 shows. It would have been 4 but MIRANDA missed out by 52 days!
MRS BROWNS BOYS
I couldn’t get on with any of them. MRS BROWNS BOYS is just not funny. Well I suppose it was for the first couple of episodes then it wore thin. Very thin.
LUTHER was dubbed as the greatest cop show of the decade. In fact it was very dull. People want Idris Elba as the next James Bond. I suppose it’s only fair a one dimensional very poor actor gets the chance. A woeful show and a woeful actor.
Then we have PEAKY BLINDERS. I gave this 3 series. Again I found it dull. Same old shit week in week out. Even the inclusion of Tom Hardy couldn’t save it. Rumours abound that Stephen Graham has signed up for series 6. That’s one show of his I’ll not bother with……..
Right then, on to my TOP 15 TV shows of the past decade. A mixture of US and UK shows with an Australian one thrown into the mix. 12 dramas, 1 reality show (stick with me as it’s a good one) and 2 documentaries. Not a proper comedy in sight.
15) No Offence
One that seems to have slipped under the radar. From the creator of Shameless this drama debuted in 2015 and focused on the coppers working out of the fictional Friday Street police station in Manchester. If you can imagine the aforementioned Shameless crossed with The Bill then you wouldn’t be far off.
Series 1 featured the hunt for a serial killer, Series 2 focused on human trafficking, child exploitation and FGM whilst Series 3 featured the extremism of right wing politics.
Leading this squad of sex craved, drug and alcohol fueled coppers is no nonsense Viv Deering. She’s rude, un-PC, she will bully and browbeat anyone to get what she wants/needs. However, her unapologetic and in-your-face approach to everyone, regardless of who they are, is refreshing. She gets the job done. Despite her hard exterior she’s got a heart of gold and her loyalty to her team is beyond reproach which more often than not sees her team jump through hoops for her in return.
Deering has made her way into my top ten TV coppers of all time (that list will be for another day). Unfortunately Channel 4 decided 3 series was enough and pulled the plug. Probably to make way for more Love Island types of shite.
14) Shameless (US)
It’s not often a US remake is better than the original but for me the Chicago Gallagher’s piss all over the Manchester Gallagher’s (not literally). Once you get past the first 6 episodes which are carbon copies of the British version then you’re in for a treat. I think what gives this version the edge is the character longevity.
Series 10 has just finished and there hasn’t been hat many cast changes. The characters have been given more time to develop and less “filler” characters have been written in.
All the old favourites are there:- Fiona, lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl, Liam, Kev and Veronica and of course the most selfish irresponsible bastard, but somewhat loveable, Frank.
So if you’re looking for something to binge then get on this. You wont be disappointed.
13) Making a Murderer
True crime seems to be the latest bandwagon. This is reality TV in it’s rarest form. Before December 2015 no-one had really heard of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, then a well know TV streaming service dropped (Oh how I hate that term) this on us.
Having been a true crime fan since the very early 80’s when the Yorkshire Ripper and Dennis Nielsen where stalwarts of the BBC news I tend to watch rather a lot of it. From the well known Ted Bundy stuff to this 10 parter about a rather simple man from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.
I wont give too much away just in case there’s some of you out there who hasn’t watched. All I’ll say is the police in Manitowoc County need a serious hard look at themselves.
The biggest miscarriage of justice of all time.
Back to some fantastic British drama. Starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhasker as police officers running a cold case department in a London police station. Unlike many police shows which are crash, bang, wallop Unforgotten takes a more thoughtful slow burning pace and is so much better for it.
To date there have been three series with a fourth imminent. No need for big twists that sometimes insult the viewers intelligence as we are presented with a list of possibles and Walker and Bhasker unravel the mystery for us.
Unforgotten proves if the writing and acting is top notch then you don’t need high octane to sell a show.
11) When They See Us
A drama which explores the lives and families of five male suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the rape and assault of a woman in Central Park, New York City. The scary thing about this drama is it’s based on FACT. Watch it and get angry.
10) The Virtues
From the pen of Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne comes a semi-autobiographical drama with a heavy theme of revenge and redemption. Stephen Graham plays Joseph who is a recovering alcoholic whose already fragile state of mind is tested even further as his son is about to emigrate to Australia. Joseph decides to travel back to the south of Ireland to reunite with Anna, the sister he last saw as a child.
Integrating himself with the local community all is going well until he meets Craigy which leads to painful and repressed memories resurfacing.
Like a few others on this list UNBELIEVABLE is based on a true story. And that is what makes this tale even more heart-breaking. A dramatisation of the 2008–2011 Washington and Colorado serial rape cases, Unbelievable follows “Marie”, a teenager who was charged with lying about having been raped, and the two detectives who followed a twisting path to arrive at the truth.
8) The Keepers
Another from the TRUE CRIME genre. What starts off as unlinked police enquiries into the disappearance of Sister Cathy Cesnick and office worker Joyce Malecki turns into a full blown investigation into their murders and then sexual misconduct within the Catholic church. At times harrowing this documentary will leave you shaking your head both in disbelief and anger.
A fictitious drama with it’s originals based heavily on real life. MINDHUNTER traces the early days of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit (think real life Criminal Minds). With the fictitious lead characters profiling known serial killers such as Charles Manson, Ed Kempner, Richard Speck and David Berkowitz. This should have been a massive hit but unfortunately the streaming service that produces it have cancelled citing poor audience reception.
Weird as I bloody loved it!
Another remake makes my list. Well you call it a remake but I’m going with a re-imagining. For those of a similar age to me may remember coming home from the pub in the late 80’s and watching the shaky sets and even shakier acting from one of Australia’s greatest exports: Prisoner: Cell Block H (we had to add the Cell Block H bit so people didn’t confuse this with the Patrick McGoohan 1960’s sci-fi drama The Prisoner)
Fast forward near on 30 years and the powers that be decided to bring the tales of ladies behind bars bang up to date. And what a job they have done. Vastly underrated drama possibly due to the links with it’s murky past and the fact the C5 in the UK have buried it and show it on one of their more obscure digital channels. I do believe it’s also shown on a well know streaming service. If you’ve yet to watch then jump on it. You will not be disappointed.
Currently ranked as joint equal number one drama on IMDB (with Band of Brothers and Breaking Bad). This is the dramatisation of the worst nuclear disaster of all time. According to the official synopsis, Chernobyl tells “the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history and tells of the brave men and women who sacrificed to save Europe from unimaginable disaster.”
It was masterful television. We all knew what was going to happen but we were still transfixed as the drama unfolded. Weirdest bit though was seeing Trevor from Eastenders’s knob!
4) This is Us
Everyone has a family. And every family has a story. THIS IS US chronicles the Pearson family across the decades: from Jack and Rebecca as young parents in the 1980s to their adult kids Kevin, Kate and Randall searching for love and fulfilment in the present day.
This grounded, life-affirming drama reveals how the tiniest events in our lives impact who we become and how the connections we share with each other can transcend time, distance and even death.
The action follows the BIG THREE from birth, through childhood, teenage years into young adults and then onto current day as they approach their 40th birthdays and beyond.
I have laughed and I have cried. Boy have I cried. Cried until my heads. Again an American drama that hasn’t travelled too well. C4 stopped showing it as the audience “didn’t get it” – Well I certainly do!
3) Whitehouse & Mortimer: Gone Fishing
Probably the most surprising show on the list. What actually is it? A fishing show I hear you cry. Well technically it is a fishing show but the fishing is really just a sub plot. It’s a buddy program. A travelogue. Two mates just mucking about who just happen to do a bit of fishing.
Comedians Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer have both had well documented heart issues. Paul suggested Bob goes with him to do a spot of fishing to help with recuperation. Someone at the beeb got wind and thought it would make a great TV show. That someone was right.
In each episode they catch a key species of fish, with Whitehouse using his extensive knowledge of fishing to guide Mortimer – while Mortimer hunts out places to stay and create heart-healthy menus throughout their travels.
If you want 30 minutes of pure escapism then put this on. No scripts, no special effects or multi million pound budgets. Just 2 mates, a few fishing rods and plenty of laughs.
This is what reality TV should be about.
2) Line of Duty
Initially this gem was tucked away on BBC2 sandwiched between Top Gear and repeats of Sgt. Bilko. After a couple of seasons (god I hate typing seasons. It should be SERIES!!!) word got out about it’s brilliance and the Beeb started promoting it as a top show which included it’s inevitable move to BBC1.
The three main stars being former Scottish professional footballer, Martin Compston along with the hugely underrated (before Line of Duty), Adrian Dunbar and one of the UK’s greatest talents, Vicky McClure.
The supporting cast is somewhat of an acting Who’s Who with appearances by:- Neil Morrissey, Lenny James, Gina McKee, Craig Parkinson, Jambo from Hollyoaks, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Thandie Newton, Jason Watkins and Stephen Graham with rumours abound that for series 6 they’ve got Kelly McDonald from Trainspotting fame on board as the “villain”.
With the inception of catch-up and streaming services we all watch TV at different speeds but LOD is a rarity that the majority of us watched as it was aired. We all shared the tension and plot twists as it happened so we didn’t have to avoid Twitter.
I have a feeling we’ll be talking about Line of Duty as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s that good.
1) This Is England
The origins of this series was the 2007 feature film of the same name. Three years later it spun off into the greatest British TV drama of the decade. Featuring a relatively unknown cast who have nearly all gone on to bigger things:- Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Thomas Turgoose, Chanel Cresswell and that man again, Stephen Graham.
The series was just as bleak as the film as we watched the main protagonists duck and dive their way through the 80’s and into the 90’s. Plenty of dark humour mixed with some quite touching moments had you laughing and crying in equal measure.
There’s rape, murder, violence (lots of violence) and thankfully plenty of belly laughs. As well as the drama there’s a big helping of nostalgia:- Coal not dole. World Cup 86. Loadsamoney. The Belgrano. Famine in Ethiopia. Roland Rat. The Housemartins. Margaret Thatcher. From the music to the fashion to the programmes playing on their TVs, if you were there, it’s impossible not to feel moved by the memories jogged.
’86 was set around that summer’s FIFA World Cup, ’88 was set at Christmas and ’90 was set over the full year depicted by each episode as either Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
I recently re-watched this and it was just as good, if not better, the second time around.
In the final instalment there’s a scene in Lol and Woody’s house with family and friends sat round the table “enjoying” Sunday lunch. As a scene it is up there as the greatest piece of television of all time (I may have to do a list!). Lol and Woody have to tell the gang about Combo’s imminent release from jail and the truth about the death of Lol and Kelly’s dad. AMAZING acting all round.
In May 2019, while promoting The Virtues with Stephen Graham, Shane Meadows (writer & director) talked of a final film “set at the millennium” and which would be titled This Is England ’00 if it were to come to fruition. Although Meadows has not yet written a script for the film, he described the story as “an absolute banger”.
So there you have it. My top 15 TV shows of the last decade.
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