Monday, January 6, 2020

Gems of a Decade


Top Five TV Shows of the Decade


In a time of endless reboots, spanking new productions, and innovative offerings from streaming services, looking back at TV gems of the last decade seems redundant. That’s chiefly because with unprecedented freedom in storytelling, a plethora of daily releases now glut the small screen. But, like every artistic endeavor, there are surefire standouts. And the last decade was no exception. For the more discerning viewer, some TV shows, in fact, are like great literature, they stay with you long after you finished watching them. In that regard, the 2010s packed quite a punch—powerful scripts, excellent cinematography, and outstanding performances. Here are my top five picks:

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison

Homeland 

An addictive, politically charged spy masterpiece 
[released on October 2, 2011]

Rarely has an espionage-themed Psychological thriller, bolstered by superb performances elicit a character study as compelling as this. Claire Danes, as Carrie Mathison, a self-destructive CIA agent with an uncanny ability to perceive what her peers can’t, brought her A-game to this critically acclaimed television drama. Bipolar, volatile, and unpredictable, she is both a despised figure and an important resource in the agency, none of which prevents her from fearlessly risking everything whenever a new challenge surfaces. 
Claire Danes & Mandy Patinkin
From the moment she sees through the veneer of decency of Nicholas Brody, a veteran U.S. Marine Sergeant rescued after eight years of captivity in an al-Qaeda jail and celebrated as a war hero, it’s clear that the die is cast. With subplots and mini-dramas introduced with creative subtlety, this show, steeped in current realities and imbued with a frightening web of intrigue is at once enthralling and thought-provoking. And has remained, season after season, an edge-of-your-seat sensation.


Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in action
The Americans
A supreme spy thriller with evocative period touches 
[released on Jan. 30, 2013]

If ever a TV show can be described as a spy thriller of the highest order, this is it. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, a real-life married couple elevate the art of camouflage to creative perfection with ease, playing two KGB spies, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who pose as an American married couple living in the 1980s Washington D.C. Utterly believable, even likable, the multifaceted duo, presented on the show as heroes who are also villains compel viewers to confront one of TV’s deepest dilemmas—rooting for the baddie. A
The duo as Philip & Elizabeth Jennings
heart-pounding action drama, the show has a snappy premise and the ingenuity of its underlying theme
Philip and Elizabeth as parents juggling their extraordinary mission with the ordinary reality of family life—is simply riveting. It makes for great television and realistic storytelling which tries and succeeds to not present any side as completely heroic or villainous. Also, the strong chemistry between the leads shines through the screen to a gleaming finish. It’s painful to see, though that in the end, stripped of all the disguises and forced to be themselves, they don’t know where to begin, and though they stand together, they seem oddly apart, looking back on a city that, to them is both home and foreign.   

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
House of Cards
A lush, acidic exploration of power in Washington 
[released on February 1, 2013]

If what the producers wanted was a political drama with plenty of shock value to force audiences to sit up and pay attention, that in fact, is what they got. A fictional foray into the world of political power struggles, this show, with its robust acting performances and engaging plots, is not only a breath of fresh air, it might also have redefined the genre. In this engrossing spectacle, Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a Majority Whip cozened out of his dream job of Secretary of State and poised for revenge, gives his ‘all’ to the role and soars. Playing Claire Underwood, his wife, accomplice, and rival, Robin Wright soars along with him. Their gaping cynicism strikes a familiar chord in the audience considering current political realities in the country and against the backdrop of the ongoing real-life controversies in the White House. The sham duo, peeling away the layers of their political madness one step at a time and with delicate cruelty, know of every secret in politics and are hell-bent on betraying them all to attain the presidency. The show is an unusual take on politics. Not only are the performances pristine, but the production is also gorgeous, original, and boasts first-rate talents.
Kevin Spacey & Robin Wright
In the final season, sadly, Frank Underwood, one of the most legendary characters ever portrayed on a TV show is absent, and it’s a struggle for Claire alone to ride the unicycle and maintain the equilibrium. That’s because in past seasons, the Frank  & Claire counterpoise balanced the intricacies of the show. But now, it’s Claire’s turn, and with her commanding presence, Robin Wright makes it count.

Elisabeth Moss as Offred
Handmaid’s Tale
A haunting & vivid depiction of a dystopian world 
[released on April 26, 2017]

Few TV shows have raised the bar for what the small screen can accomplish even in the middle of its golden era quite like this one. An engrossing adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same title, the story is as significant today as it was during the era of Puritanism from which it drew its inspiration, and is difficult to watch but impossible to ignore. It details a
Joseph Fiennes & Yvonne Strahovski as 
Fred Waterford & Serena Joy
dystopian vision of the near future in which the United States becomes a fundamental theocracy based on the Bible and the few women whose fertility has not been compromised by environmental pollution are forced into sexual servitude for the purpose of childbearing. It is both chilling and terrific, and because of the current realities in the world, also timely; it would be understandable if its audience views it as 
cautionary. Elisabeth Moss as Offred, a fertile maiden assigned to Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy looms large on the screen in a blood-red robe and a white cap that partially conceals her face, putting her acting prowess on display in every scene. 
Offred with other handmaids

The show, firmly anchored in her outstanding central performance, often takes the audience on a sadistic ride through her life in touching flashbacks as she, like all the other maidens, awaits her turn to be inseminated. A fictional tale steeped in realistic possibilities, the show is as brilliant as it is terrifying.

Matt Smith, Claire Foy, Vanessa Kirby
The Crown
A lavish reenactment of powerful historical affairs
 [released on November 4, 2016]

In this romanticized history of British royalty, a 25-year-old Princess, crowned Queen Elizabeth II is catapulted to global prominence. And, just like William Shakespeare said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” she faces the daunting task of leading the world’s most renowned monarchy and forging a relationship with the domineering Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Not only was the first season of the show worthy of its grand subject, but in a way, it also felt like the TV equivalent of a long drive through the English countryside. 

Olivia Coleman as Queen in Season 2
In season two, though Olivia Coleman replaced Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, the show remained a top-notch production with impeccable craftmanship, lavish cinematography, and sterling performances. Buttressed by verifiable historical facts and some of the century's most powerful events that still resonate today, The Crown ticks all the boxes of a royal classic. 


Honorable Mentions 


Jon Hamm & Christina Hendricks in Mad Men
The following gems should, because of their grandness make the cut, and although some of their seasons rolled into the 2010s, they can only make the honorable mentions lists because their original release pre-dated the decade in consideration.

Mad Menreleased on July 19, 2007, was a fantastic show that felt like a photo spread of the early 1960s advertising world. Moving with a leisurely pace, its sly, subversive approach to the workplace muffled the undercurrent of disaffection by constantly radiating wit and class.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad

Breaking Badreleased on January 20, 2008, was a darkly gripping crime thriller about a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who thought his life couldn't get any worse when he was diagnosed with cancer. With imagery that was often gruesome, it was a stimulating and unpredictable masterpiece with a strong sympathetic lead, superb writing and fabulous performances that made the TV audience craved for more.
   
Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife
The Good Wifereleased on September 22, 2009, was a savvy legal drama with a delightfully powerful mix of family drama and political intrigue. With a deft piece of legal work that put all its parts in excellent working condition, the show grew into an addictive masterpiece featuring majestic dialogue, intriguing surprises, and enjoyable performances, from the lawyers to the judges and to the family members.
It's no surprise that some of these shows generated equally powerful spin-offs, like Better Call Saul, a pre-sequel of Breaking Bad, and The Good Fight, an off-shoot of The Good Wife