It’s coming to the end of a decade (although an editor here aptly pointed out that technically the 2010s don’t end until January 1, 2021). Still! It’s about that time to rank the best TV shows of the decade.
The small screen really came back with a vengeance these past 10 years, bringing with it cliffhanging storylines, bingeworthy arcs and Black excellence in front of the camera and behind.
From Scandal’s history-making premiere, marking the first time a network television show starred a Black woman in nearly 40 years, to Pose, which broke ground as the most transgender actors ever cast on a series, this decade paved the way for some amazing storytelling. And the viewers are thankful for it.
Here is ESSENCE’s very definitive list of the best TV shows of the last decade. (And by the way, these are in no particular order.)
Aaron McGruder's hilarious animated series, The Boondocks, premiered in 2005, but clips of the series still live on today...because it's just that damn good. The series centered on Grandad, played by the late John Witherspoon, and two brothers, Huey and Riley, eventually both voiced by Oscar winner Regina King, as they lived in an all-White neighborhood. The comic strip adaptation tackled race, classism, and even R. Kelly (before the recent onslaught of headlines and eventual charges).
If Mara Brock Akil's name is behind it, we know it's gonna be good. So when The Game, a spinoff of her series Girlfriends, premiered on The CW in 2006, fans were excited. It followed "Girl" Melanie as she and her then-boyfriend Derwin moved to San Diego so he could play football. The ensemble cast, which included Wendy Raquel Robinson, Hosea Chanchez and Coby Bell, kept us laughing. The series was such gold it made fans beg for a reboot, which we eventually got on BET in 2011.
When Shonda Rhimes' second hit for ABC, Scandal, premiered in 2012, it made history as the first time a Black woman had a lead role in a network television show in nearly 40 years. The series, which saw Kerry Washington as a political fixer, not only created the term "Olivia Pope," which is now synonymous with fixing just about anything, but also gave audiences the beloved Washington lip quiver. (If you've watched the series, you know what we're talking about.)
Being Mary Jane
Another Mara Brock Akil-created series makes the list as Being Mary Jane was so good (especially in its first two seasons), we salivated by the television when it debuted in 2014. The series starred Gabrielle Union as a TV news anchor whose love life should've been on the evening news. Not only did it make millions of women buy post-its to write and post inspirational quotes around their home too, it also introduced us to tons of hotties, including Cutty Buddy, played by former NFL football star Thomas Q. Jones.
It's the not the longest-running medical drama series for no reason— it's been on the air for 15 seasons, (and it's already renewed through season 17).Grey's Anatomy, which centers on a fictional Seattle hospital, isn't slowing down. Although super woke actress Ellen Pompeo leads the cast, the Shonda Rhimes-created series also introduced such a diverse cast, including James Pickens Jr., Chandra Wilson, Isaiah Washington and Jesse Williams.
Orange Is The New Black
When Orange Is The New Black premiered back in 2013, it received worthy praise because of its diverse casting: a Netflix series that starred Black women, Hispanic women, White women and even Asian women. Talk about inclusion! Not only that, the story line of the TV adaptation of Piper Kerman's memoir that detailed her year inside a women's federal prison after being indicted for money-laundering was nothing like we've seen before.
The Have and The Have Nots
Of course a Tyler Perry Production had to make the list and The Have and The Have Nots was a TP stand out when it premiered in 2013. The OWN series that centered on the dysfunctional Cryer family was typical of the director and studio owner with its drama on top of drama on top of more drama.
When Black-ish premiered in 2014, the Kenya Barris-led ABC comedy introduced a new Black family to television; one we hadn't seen since the Huxtables. The Johnson clan wasn't "scratching" nor "surviving." In fact, Anthony Anderson's Dre Johnson was an affulent Black dad, grappling with the fact that his four (now-five) rich kids were growing up in a world he didn't quite understand. From getting head nods from other Black people in a White working environment, to dealing with postpartum depression, Black-ish has always represented for the culture,
When Empire premiered in 2015, it had everyone talking. Lee Daniels created the Lyon family, who ran a record label but the most noise they made was outside of the studio. Starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, the latter made waves for her portrayal as the sassy, leopard-print loving character, Cookie. The series also introduced audiences to Bryshere Y. Gray, Grace Byers and Jussie Smollett.
Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar was a series to talk about from the very first season in 2016. Not only was it beautifully shot, it's also a series that amplifies the lenses of female directors. For seasons, every single episode has been directed by a woman, challenging Hollywood's notion that they just can't find women directors for that coveted chair. The series also introduced us to chocolate heartthrob, Kofi Siriboe.
The Carmichael Show
The Carmichael Show is one of those shows that was so good, we really only appreciated it when it abruptly went off the air in 2017 after three seasons because creator Jerrod Carmichael and NBC couldn't come to an agreement. The series, also executive produced by the comedian, tackled topics like healthy eating, veterans and guns—but from a super Black perspective. The show nailed it because it'd always show three sides to every argument and make us laugh in the process.
Game of Thrones
I tried to avoid this hit HBO series for the longest time, but even I couldn't avoid the highly addictive series, Game of Thrones, which premiered in 2011. Although this series isn't super Black because of its casting (there weren't many people of color in Westeros), Black Twitter still gravitated toward its storylines and even created a special hashtag, #DemThrones, for all of the fictional fun with dragons, war and empire building.
Oh, Power! You give us so much joy and grief at the same time. The highly-addictive Starz series, created and executive produced by 50 Cent and Courtney A. Kemp, centers on a fictional drug-lord turned nightclub owner who just can't escape the crime life. Starring Omari Hardwick, who left Being Mary Jane to star in his own show, the series became the cable network's No. 1 series, and only trailed Game of Thrones for the highest rated series on cable overall. We stan!
This Is Us
NBC's This Is Us not only brought up Black love TV goals, but also tear-inducing storylines centered on the Pearson family and their three children—across time, no less. The series brought Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson into our homes, and we're all better for it. (And can we talk about how real Watson's Beth always rocked hairstyles that reminded us of our own momma?! And she was quick to wear a scarf in the house. We feel seen.)
Issa Rae made waves with her hit HBO series Insecure, which follows four friends, living and loving in Los Angeles. From the vibes of Mara Brock Akil's Girlfriends in the 90s, Insecure brought us cultural conversations such as ghosting, Lyft baes and Black people at Coachella. We were here for it.
Atlanta is different. It's nothing like anything you've seen on FX, let alone TV. The episode summaries? Different. The plot lines? Different. Even the casting is different! Thank you Atlanta for bringing Kat Williams back to our TV screens. The series, which premiered in 2016, earned instant praise for creator and writer, Donald Glover.
Creator Ryan Murphy made history when he cast the most transgender actors in a TV series ever for FX's Pose. The 1980s-set dramedy centers on the New York City ballroom scene and the inner workings, dramas and successes of the Houses, or voguing crews. The series also introduced many to the hilarious Billy Porter, who's earned multiple nominations for his role as ball emcee, Pray Tell.