Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Decade in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of the 2010s as we look toward the future. Today, we count down the most culturally significant genre television shows that first aired between 2010 and 2019.
Over the past 10 years, we've seen an army of White Walkers bring winter to Westeros, watched a bunch of Wild West robots gain sentience and rebel against their makers, and seen monsters escape from the Upside Down to ravage 1980s Indiana. We've also seen a Crystal Gem wedding, a digital afterlife that literally makes "heaven a place on Earth," and we've boldly gone where no one has gone before.
These are the 12 most important genre shows of the decade. While most of them would probably appear on a list of the 12 best shows of the decade, this list is acknowledging the impact these dozen shows have had on genre entertainment as a whole — and in many cases, on society.
Adventure Time (2010)
Perhaps the best thing about Adventure Time — a show that followed Finn (the last human alive) and Jake (a shape-changing dog) as they explored a post-apocalyptic magical world largely inhabited by living candy — was how much it respected its audience. Pendelton Ward's creation should put to rest any claims that cartoons are just for kids because Adventure Time was all-ages in the best way.
With an imaginative setup and a confidently complex backstory, you never knew what you were going to get, but Adventure Time trusted that viewers would follow along, whether humming a song about bacon pancakes, learning about the Ooo's backstory, or crying during "Simon and Marcy."
The Walking Dead (2010)
The Walking Dead is still going strong almost a full decade after it first shambled onto screens. AMC's zombie-filled horror-drama was the 2010s first big genre success, and it's proved that it has staying power even after almost all of the original cast has either 1) been eaten by zombies or 2) departed for a spin-off.
Game of Thrones (2011)
Okay, yes, the finale was bad. The last couple of seasons, as a whole, weren't great. But there was nothing else like Game of Thrones on TV all decade — nor was there anything like it in previous decades, and it's doubtful that there will be anything truly like it again.
For 10 weeks a year (or fewer when it came to the last two seasons), Game of Thrones was a fantasy epic that eclipsed most movies in terms of scope, scale, and quality. There's a good chance most viewers knew more about the intricacies of Westeros politics than they did about their own governments.
At its best, Game of Thrones was a fully engrossing world, and it's no surprise that every network is in a desperate race to create "the next Game of Thrones." Good luck.
Black Mirror (2011)
Black Mirror premiered closer to the release of the original iPhone (2007) than it did to today. Technology — and society's increasingly warped relationship with it — has progressed in ways that make some of the more outlandish and disturbing Black Mirror scenarios seem inevitable, if they're not here already.
It's a Twilight Zone for the modern era, but at least "San Junipero" had kind of a feel-good ending.
The bright spots of Wonder Woman and whatever Suicide Squad was aside, DC's attempts at a cinematic shared universe has largely been a disappointment compared to the MCU. But, on TV, Arrow kicked off a vibrant, fun world of superheroes consisting mainly of DC's second-stringers.
Green Arrow welcomed The Flash, Supergirl, Batwoman, the Legends of Tomorrow, and more onto the small screen, and for superhero fans who want a full plate of superheroics where a hero from one franchise will regularly pop over to another to say hello, the Arrowverse might just top the MCU.
Steven Universe (2013)
Steven Universe might have been the purest show on TV all decade. Former Adventure Time writer Rebecca Sugar went on to create a series that championed diversity in all forms, promoted positivity, and explored the highs and lows of all sorts of complicated emotions with grace and nuance. Also, it had an epic plot with killer laughs and incredible songs.
Was Steven Universe the best show of the 2010s? Maybe. Did it celebrate the best of humanity? Absolutely.
Sure, there are still a lot of problems in both the entertainment world and the real world. And, yeah, Netflix did cancel Sense8 too soon, even considering the series finale movie. But it's hard to imagine Sense8 happening in any other decade. The Wachowskis, along with J. Michael Straczynski, created a globe-spanning sci-fi tale that explored gender, identity, sexuality, and other vital topics in bold, yet totally overdue ways.
More than anything, though, the series explored the importance of connecting with people vastly different from oneself — and proved that we all have far more in common than we think.
Stranger Things (2016)
It's getting harder and harder to find a consensus show — the series that everyone is talking about. Game of Thrones probably was the last one, but Netflix's retro horror romp Stranger Things was a surprising contender — especially since it was a totally original series rather than a reboot or an adaptation.
Well, mostly original. Stranger Things was obviously inspired by the works of Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Steven Spielberg in the '80s (and Dungeons & Dragons) but it's those homages and sense of nostalgia that made Stranger Things resonate even with viewers who weren't around in the Duffer Brothers' formative years.
Westworld is full of itself and overly complicated for the sake of being overly complicated. But, that — along with some truly compelling performances, incredible imagery, and Ramin Djawadi's score — is what made it such a hit.
If Game of Thrones and "L + R = J" got viewers engaging with fan theories, Westworld turned them into full-on detectives. For better or worse, Westworld shaped the way we watch and talk about genre TV, in that everything is a puzzle to be solved. Everything could be an Easter egg, and every Easter egg could be a clue. The maze, man...
Star Trek: Discovery (2017)
Star Trek: Discovery proved that there were still plenty of stories to be told in the Star Trek universe without having to open up a new timeline where the Kelvin got trashed.
CBS All Access' flagship series introduced a new generation of cadets and captains to a new generation of fans, all while keeping the series roots as a progressive, representative showcase of humanity's potential in the stars.
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)
Hulu's take on Margaret Atwood's seminal dystopian novel was the first streaming show to take home the Emmys' top prize, Outstanding Drama Series. More than that, The Handmaid's Tale premiered at exactly the right time when it seemed like everything was going wrong.
The repressive brutality of Gilead and Elisabeth Moss' steely-eyed resistance resonated with viewers in a vital way, even if later seasons would prove that The Handmaid's Tale has a definite white feminism blindspot. Still, hard not to recognize its importance when red-cloaked handmaids lurk around the president.
The Mandalorian (2019)
Picking The Mandalorian, which premiered so late in the decade and won't have even finished its first season on Disney+ by the time this article gets published, feels like a little bit of a cheat. Yet it undeniably belongs on this list because it's the inevitable culmination of a trend in the 2010s and it might well be the foundation of TV in the 2020s.
The Mandalorian, more than any show, represents the true blurring of the line between TV and movies. Marvel tried it before, sort of, first with ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then the Netflix shows, but those weren't made with the full support of the movie division (and in the Netflix shows' case, weren't wholly owned by Disney). Certainly, nothing that happened in the shows every really mattered when it came to big-screen adventures.
The Mandalorian is the first of several Star Wars or Marvel shows Disney+ will make in the coming years, and they look to be expensive, star-studded, and important in ways that are going to change genre TV — and genre movies.
Also, Baby Yoda (Yoda Baby!) is really cute.