unbelievable

Top 10 favourite TV shows of the decade

Continuing on from my favourite films of the decade, here’s my favourite (not necessarily best) TV shows! Alphabetically, of course, and illustrated with gifs.

Adventure Time

Honestly Adventure Time is a masterpiece. A surrealist masterpiece, an animation masterpiece, a masterpiece of children’s television… call it whatever you want but “masterpiece” needs to be in there somewhere. It was weird, touching, occasionally terrifying, and never lost sight of what it wanted to do…for nine years. I’m sad that it’s (mostly) over but so, so glad it happened.

Brooklyn 99

Come 2013 I was suddenly seeing this show everywhere. I knew the names of all the characters before I ever sat down to watch it, and most of the best jokes. That didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest. Brooklyn 99 is so, so good in just about every way. It’s funny, it’s smart, it has people in it who you just don’t see as main characters, like Captain Holt. The fact that Fox *spits* cancelled it and then it was almost immediately picked up by NBC just goes to show how much of a impact it had.

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife has only been going since 2012 but it feels like it’s been so much longer. (That’s a good thing.) This is a pro-NHS, pro-feminism, pro-LGBT show that goes out prime-time on the BBC and I’m so grateful it exists. It never shies away from the rough parts of history, but instead pulls them out into the light to remind us of our responsibilities. It angers me no end that critics sometimes dismiss this show as frivolous nostalgia for the past, because there is nothing nostalgic about this show. It DESPERATELY wants you to know how horrible it was being a woman even within living memory. It’s a sucker punch to the gut with occasional upbeat ’50s music and some neat dresses.

Final Space

All the praise to Netflix, because if it hadn’t existed and advertised this show on its front page I would never have discovered it. And I love it. This is an adult cartoon done right, i.e. using animation to tell a story of vast scope instead of using it to tell fart jokes. (Though there are probably a couple of those, even if I don’t remember them.) It’s like… how can I even describe this show… the ambition of Star Wars meets the themes of Guardians of the Galaxy meets the zest of Futurama. AND it has a adorable squishy space pet/planet-destroyer! This show not having a much bigger fanbase is such a dang injustice.

Gravity Falls

I’d heard of Gravity Falls, and heard nothing but good things, but I didn’t actually see it until several years after it came out. And I’m SO CROSS because the show was set up as a big mad mystery to be solved, and it would have been great to be able to trade theories and decode the end messages along with everyone else. But as it stands… I got a fantastic experience anyway. I knew all the major twists, but I’d never really met the characters properly. So now I love them all, especially Soos. And I also love the show’s central theme, which is that growing up is hard as hell and you need a good support system.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale has always been one of my favourite books and this adaptation was more than I could ever have dreamed of. It took characters I already knew and built them backstories and new futures. It cast unbelievably talented actors for even the smaller roles. And my god the visuals, the punch-you-in-the-face visuals. The red-and-white Handmaid uniforms are seen at political protests a lot now, and they should be. This show demonstrates how unforgivably close we always are to losing everything we hold dear.

His Dark Materials

I read all of the His Dark Materials series as a kid and I remember liking them, especially the third book. This TV adaptation brought all of that crashing back and then some. I have some qualms (it’s obvious that the budget couldn’t stretch to one visible daemon for every human, for example) but my gosh, what an absolutely beautiful job they’ve done with everything else. And the acting is wonderful, although Ruth Wilson is the standout the child actors are like… clearly the best in the business, holy hell. I can’t WAIT for the next couple of seasons.

The Last Man On Earth

The Last Man on Earth massively lit up my life… for the few years it was on. My god, Fox had no idea what they had on their hands. After the dodgy first season it suddenly turned into this amazing, beautiful, touching tale about life after the end of the world. Characters underwent development! They got married! They had kids! And then all of a sudden… end of show. Right after a cliffhanger ending, a major one. Sigh. I’ll always miss LMOE but I’m grateful I was around at the same time it was.

Superstore

I’d wanted to watch Superstore for ages but I only finally got to see it when it came on British TV. And even then I managed to catch only the season one finale before anything else. But it hooked me instantly and I quickly went back to the beginning to see what I missed and then forward again to season two. By the season two finale I had utterly fallen in love with it. It’s hilarious but it pulls no punches about how inhumanly terrible the American retail systems are – how inhumanly terrible a lot of systems are, in fact. Also, Mark McKinney’s “Muppet voice” for Glenn is possibly the best comedy voice that has ever been created, EVER.

Unbelievable

This show. Rarely have I seen anything so bleak and depressing and yet so triumphant at the end. Marie, who is very VERY closely based on a real person, goes through an amount of trauma and distress which would destroy most people (and very nearly destroys her) but she gets to walk away vindicated, thank god. The intervention of two female detectives saves not only her but a multitude of other women. It seems to me to be so rare that such a terrible story has a happy or just ending, so thank god this show arrived with its pointed message: when it comes to rape cases, we need to be better. So, so much better than we currently are. Please watch it.

Honourable mentions: The Good Place, Steven Universe, the Moffat and Chibnall eras of Doctor Who (not eligible because the show itself started last decade…), Broadchurch, Orange is the New Black, and probably a few more that I forgot, sorry.

Please watch Netflix’s “Unbelievable.”

Unbelievable feels like it could be a sister show to Chernobyl, the horrifying masterpiece which dropped earlier this year. On the surface of things they don’t seem terribly alike (no-one dies a horrible lingering death in Unbelievable, more’s the pity when it comes to the rapist at the center of the story) but both are essentially about how miscommunication, ignorance, and plain old human stupidity can lead to tragedy.

And like Chernobyl, Unbelievable is based on a true story. I’m gonna go ahead and reveal now that Unbelievable ends happily, or as happily as it could do under the circumstances. The girl whose testimony kicks off the story, Marie Adler, she’s alive and well right now, settled down with children of her own. I didn’t know that going into this show, and was terribly relieved to find out.

In the show Marie Adler is played by Kaitlyn Denver, an actress who looks like a cross between Shailene Woodley and Ellen Page and is just as talented as they are. She’s amazing. Everything Marie feels, Denver makes sure the audience feels it too. By the third episode of Unbelievable, as the clock ticked closer to 2am for me, my heart was pounding every time she appeared on screen. I was so desperate for her to get the justice she deserved.

Every episode brought a new horror, you see, a dull depressing kind of horror. Marie’s violently raped by a home intruder. She goes to the police. They decide they don’t believe her. They gaslight her – a vulnerable teenager who’s been abused before – into saying she lied. They charge her with filing a false report. They then send her court date to the wrong address. Honest to god, around that point I was about to hurl things at the screen. Even Marie’s lawyer, who considers her just one more case in his heavy workload, seems bewildered at how she’s been treated. This is not quite the same incompetence that led innocent men to be consumed from the inside out with radioactive poison in Russia, but it’s pretty damn close.

While Marie is suffering from a very different and much more invisible poisoning, a pair of detectives start investigating a string of home invasion rapes. These are Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall, who are also based on real people, and are played here by Toni Collette and Merrit Weaver. They disappeared into their characters so completely I didn’t even recognise either of them at first.

I literally cannot recommend this show enough. I was a nervous wreck by the time the wheels of justice finally started turning, waiting for more horrible things to happen that thankfully never came. Finally, the male officer who accused Marie of lying learns that he was wrong, in a scene so satisfying it’ll be seared onto my eyeballs forever:

Oh, Collette’s face there. Disappointed, exasperated, sad and disgusted all at once.

I can’t think of an aspect of this show which wasn’t perfectly done. For an exmaple of how much thought was put into it – the actress who plays Marie’s therapist is Brooke Smith, aka the victim in The Silence of the Lambs. Because of that, the therapy scene has an extra tinge to it I don’t think it would have had otherwise. Not least because this show is a big middle finger to movies like the aforementioned: Unbelievable is a show about violence towards women, but very little violence towards women is actually shown.

So far, Unbelievable has 97% on RottenTomatoes – that’s actually a higher score than Chernobyl (very deservedly) got. But I hope this show likewise gets embedded deep in the public consciousness. Its message is so, so important.