There are many obvious selections for TV’s best of the decade, not least of all “Breaking Bad.” But, as we look back over 10 years of great shows, let’s not forget the ones that slipped through the cracks, the ones that haven’t quite gotten their due. To twist what Glenn Close said in “Fatal Attraction,” they should not be ignored, man.
Here’s a list of the 10 most underrated shows of the decade — many of which were also under-seen — with a second 10 for good measure.
1. “Nurse Jackie” (2009-15)
I’ve been reading all the Top 10 lists of the decade this month, and it pains me not to see this show all over them. OK, some of the comic relief didn’t quite work. But otherwise, this Showtime series is one of the most uncompromising TV stories I’ve ever seen. Edie Falco’s Jackie is just a straight-up pill addict, and even her content family life in Brooklyn can’t stop her journey of self-destruction. Falco was unforgettable, and so was Merritt Wever as the nurse who went from being Jackie’s mentee to being her caretaker. The past 20 years have focused on TV’s male anti-heroes, which makes this anti-heroine even more precious.
2. “Rectify” (2013-16)
Few viewers talked about this drama — but those who did talked about it with reverence. A reaction to the busy editing of most of TV, “Rectify” unfolds at a deliberative pace — mimicking the consciousness of its lead character, Daniel, who was on Death Row for 19 years. Played with lost stares by Aden Young, Daniel has just been set free — but not exonerated — by DNA evidence, and he faces wary locals. “Rectify,” on Sundance, isn’t a whodunit about the crimes that put Daniel in prison, freeing it up to ask questions about redemption.
3. “Getting On” (2013-15)
This HBO remake of a British sitcom didn’t catch on, alas. Perhaps that was because the rigors of old age and hospital bureaucracy are not generally considered comedic targets. But it brilliantly sent up the geriatric ward of a struggling hospital with dry, “The Office”-like humor. The cast was aces, led by Alex Borstein, Laurie Metcalf, and Niecy Nash, and I still laugh out loud when I watch.
4. “High Maintenance” (2016- )
I’m afraid this HBO show has been pigeonholed as “the pot comedy,” but it’s so much more. It’s a collection of short stories about the people of New York, the multitudes that once inspired Walt Whitman. In the show’s narrative design, the random characters are linked only through the same dealer — show co-creator Ben Sinclair’s “the guy” — and each story has depth and, sometimes, a little O. Henry-like twist.
5. “Man Seeking Woman” (2015-17)
It could have been just another single-in-New-York comedy. Instead, it was a surrealistic tour de force, a string of metaphors that our young hero, Jay Baruchel’s Josh, lived inside. Probably, it was too strange for large audiences, but it was just experimental enough for me. Creator Simon Rich turned this FXX search for love into a hallucinatory and yet narratively tight adventure.
6. “The Knick” (2014-15)
It always surprises me when someone hasn’t heard of this show, made by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen. Perhaps the fact that the 1900-set hospital drama about race, class, and health care ran on Cinemax kept it from wider embrace; perhaps it was too bloody as Owen’s drug-addicted surgeon worked in the primitive operating theaters of the time.
7. “Enlightened” (2011-13)
It lasted only two seasons, which is too bad. ”Enlightened” serves up pure Laura Dern, as her Amy Jellicoe has a breakdown, then returns from a New Age retreat ready to change the world. She is newly idealistic, but everyone finds her annoying. She works for a corporation that definitely doesn’t want to hear her truths. Written by co-star Mike White, it’s about the will to change in a world where people prefer stasis.
8. “Please Like Me” (2013-16)
Sadly, few found this one, which aired in the States on the defunct Pivot. Australian comic Josh Thomas created and starred in the affectionate comedy that is the tonal opposite of friendship sitcoms such as “Friends.” Thomas’s Josh is the central character in a group of pals, all of whom are looking for love. They’re eccentric, but quietly so, without catchphrases. Josh’s mother is bipolar, which adds gentle drama.
9. “Downward Dog” (2017)
I still feel irritated by what ABC did to this sweet single-camera comedy, sneaking it into its lineup, then quickly canceling it. It’s about the tightly woven lives of a dog named Martin and his owner, Allison Tolman’s Nan. If you know dogs, you’ll find jokes directed at you; if you don’t, you’ll still enjoy the story of a woman breaking off with her slacker boyfriend. Martin speaks directly to us — which actually works, as he lapses into narcissism and philosophy.
10. “Show Me a Hero” (2015)
WHY? Why are David Simon’s shows under-recognized? They don’t seem to rouse viewers, despite, or perhaps due to, their powerful documentary-like take on social, economic, and political realities. This six-parter took a dry topic — about white resistance to public housing in 1980s Yonkers, N.Y. — and transformed it into a compelling drama about a man (Oscar Isaac) who’s torn apart by political dysfunction.
THE SECOND TEN
“Documentary Now” (2015- ) These IFC parodies are expertly done comic tributes.
“Angie Tribeca” (2016-18) A TBS crime spoof that borrowed from “Get Smart” and “Airplane!”
“Good Behavior” (2016-17) Michelle Dockery came a long way from Downton to brilliantly play a con artist on TNT.
“Difficult People” (2015-17) A spiky Hulu comedy about a pair of misanthropes.
“Mr Inbetween” (2018- ) FX’s tale of a hit man with a heart has no right to be so affecting.
“Lady Dynamite” (2016-17) A Netflix treat from comic Maria Bamford about mental illness.
“The Bisexual” (2018) A Hulu comedy on the social fallout when a lesbian comes out as bisexual.
“Corporate” (2018- ) This cheeky Comedy Central series takes company politics to nihilistic levels.
“Howards End” (2018) Few look to Starz for classic adaptations, such as this rich four-parter by Kenneth Lonergan.
“Lodge 49” (2018-19) Fans are still reeling from AMC’s cancellation of this optimistic tale of a down-and-out surfer.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.