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Ten years!  That’s ten years reviewing TV series in the decade that streaming services began to dominate TV viewing– and binge-watching was born as Netflix began releasing entire seasons at once in 2013.  How do you pick the best series?  As with yesterday’s list of movie recommendations, our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too.  What makes a great TV series?  Great writing—great storytelling.  Also we looked to difficulty level and technology innovation—TV productions tend to get a fraction of the budget of big-screen features, so what they do with their time and money is critical, and some television series in the past decade were all-out feats.  The third factor we looked to is re-watchability—we’ll be watching the best series for years to come.  The big difference between ranking movies and TV is the change between seasons, that force that inevitably causes most shows to decline with each season.  So consistency is a factor.  Finally, as with movies the most important factor is the fun—why would you devote so many hours of your valuable time if you’re not going to have a great time?

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One more thing: Ten years is a long time so we narrowed the series we’re including to those recommendations that fall primarily within the ten-year window.  We covered several fantastic, re-watchable series that cemented their status in reruns or syndication, many beginning before borg began publishing and finishing in the years after, including Burn Notice, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Leverage, House, MD, In Plain Sight, and three landmarks among the best pop culture-packed series of all time, Chuck, Psych, and Community.  We were disappointed that some of the best series were canceled and left to only a single season, otherwise they may have gone on to fare better against our top recommendations, shows like Jason Isaacs’ psychological police procedural Awake, Sarah Shahi’s all-for-fun Fairly Legal, Lauren Cohan’s action/spy series Whiskey Cavalier, the Doctor Who spin-off Class, the adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ popular noir novel series Quarry, the slick animated series Tron: Uprising, and the cyborg future-world Almost Human starring Karl Urban, to name a few.

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So here are the Top 40 series we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021.  These are our favorites.  How should you use lists like this?  If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these shows.  If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new series to take a look at.  Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1.  As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre series.  Title links are to one of our previous borg reviews.

Let’s get started!

40.  RIVERDALE (2017-).  This series had two challenges: balance the handling of characters that audiences have read in comics for nearly 80 years against a modern CW target audience.  An imprint called Archie Horror–a darker twist on the classic–was just the thing to use as a basis for a stellar first season with characters we already thought we knew.

Counterpart Season 2 2019

39.   COUNTERPART (2018-2019).  The first season of this science fiction tale of espionage and a parallel Earth was simply outstanding.  J.K. Simmons was almost scary in his ability to inhabit the shoes of a weak low-level agent in one world and a violent force in the other.  Only one actor balanced the dual role even better this past decade.

38.  PRIVATE EYES (2016-).  Audiences loved mysteries like Castle and Bones for a reason.  Viewers can step in any night and not need to keep up on a season-long plot, and when the leads have chemistry, it’s fun for them and us.  One of two shows on our list whose magic is in part due to the great producer/director Shawn Piller, this Canadian series was a bit of a sleeper, but its blend of comedy and mystery tropes ensured we’ll be re-watching it for years.

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37.  HUMANS (2015-2018).  One of the top science fiction series of the decade, and also the best look at life as a borg in the future.  Introducing new actors who would move onto even bigger roles later, this AMC series was a smart reflection of the political and cultural world today, with all three seasons filled with intrigue and new cyborgs.

36.  ARROW (2012-2020).  The series was successful at finally finding a niche to adapt the stories of DC Comics, 20 years after they last got it right with the original The Flash.  Better than DC at the movies, the first season set the groundwork for a TV empire and ultimately a cross-over of the Justice League.

35.  STAR TREK DISCOVERY (2017-).  The series relit the 40-year franchise where it all began–on TV.  The best of the subplots featured a story leaning heavily on the Mirror Universe of its past incarnations, but it really gained steam in season two with the return of the Enterprise crew before Kirk & Co.

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34.  CONTINUUM (2012-2015).  In 2077 Kiera Cameron is transported back to the present with a group of terrorists and she must prevent them from changing her future to something which very well could be better for everyone.  A twisty story with a great lead heroine, this was a new angle that made for fun science fiction TV before the barrage of the decade’s sci-fi shows really arrived.

33.  THE WATCH (2021).  Translating fantasy to television has been slow over the decades, but with this series Terry Pratchett’s densely populated world of classic fantasy characters and tropes was boisterous and emotional and fun.  The result was one of the most imaginative series of the decade.

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32.  KINGDOM (2019-).  This South Korean historical fantasy drama became the ultimate zombie tale and one of the best mash-ups of the decade.  Huge sets, great costumes, superb acting and innovative writing told a familiar story of kings, loyalty, and betrayal while providing a cinematic setting viewers could easily get swept up in and think medicine could create another kind of Frankensteinian monster.

31.  RESIDENT ALIEN (2021-).  One of nine series adapting comic books on our list, the show put heart into its source material and built a town full of people anyone could care about.  It’s the sci-fi invasion meets fish-out-of-water Sad Sack we’ve seen before in ideas like Coneheads, with a great alien thanks to top prosthetics and a cozy and quirky Northern Exposure-type of town.

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30.  STAR WARS REBELS (2014-2018).  The first best Star Wars TV series was also our most consistently rated top series of the decade.  Best when it depicted the villainous Empire and its props, costumes, and ships, the score and story was a new opportunity to bring together all the parts of the expanded and core Star Wars stories into short but excellent weekly surprises.

29.  SHETLAND (2013-).  The long-running Scottish-noir police procedural showcased a cold and desolate part of the world viewers may never have otherwise seen.  Its mysteries and sleuthing always compelling, it was the lead core of characters and their change over the series that became the most fun to keep coming back for, and one of the UK’s best series.

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28.  WU ASSASSINS (2019-).  Did you hear the one about the food truck chef who was possessed by the noble spirit of 1,000 monks?  A fantastic mash-up of world mythology led by one of the world’s greatest martial artists, Indonesian actor Iko Uwais, the series was full of action and fantasy fun, all unpredictable and unexpected.

27.  THE HOUR (2011-2013).  The sexy, stylish, and smart historical drama took a look inside the history of television itself, with incredible recreations of the 1950s.  Complete with some of England’s finest actors, the show was the first fabulous retro fix of the decade for anyone wanting to time travel into the past.

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26.  ALICE IN BORDERLAND (2020-).  Thrilling and fun, the strange trip to Japan and into the unknown was equal parts dystopian survival tale and a gamer’s dream (or worst nightmare).  Presenting puzzles the audience could play along with, the show also presented high stakes and emotion, not afraid to kill off major characters in each installment.  But is it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or a bit of it all?

25.  LOST GIRL (2011-2017).  It shepherded series featuring strong-willed women like Wynonna Earp, Orphan Black, and Killjoys.  One of the big journeys into mythology and folklore, this sexy Canadian urban fantasy actually made us actually cheer on a succubus thanks to Anna Silk.  Wall to wall supernatural tropes were the stuff a core team of beloved characters waded through in each new trial, providing something unique leading the rise of fantasy TV.

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24.  THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (2015-2019).  If you’re going to adapt Philip K. Dick’s most acclaimed work, this is exactly how to do it.  Part historical re-creation, part fantasy, the series is the best attempt at alternate history sci-fi created yet for the big or small screen.  Traveling between alternate realities was a bonus.

23.  MR. SELFRIDGE (2013-2016).  Who says costume dramas need to be stuffy?  As relevant to today as any series, the story of a department store founder showed why good companies–and good ideas–succeed.  Jeremy Piven re-created a layered P.T. Barnum-type, with great side characters journeying through all sorts of economic changes like the impact of war on regular people.

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22.  WYNONNA EARP (2016-2021).  Sometimes angry, sometimes pregnant, always brazen, this descendant of a real world Western icon gave viewers a new take on the supernatural.  And we didn’t use the adjective “badass” more than we did this past decade than talking about the show’s tough, mouthy, determined heroine.  A blend of excellent worldbuilding, sci-fi, and paranormal elements, winning characters, and humor.

21. LONGMIRE (2012-2017).  The best Western TV series since Gunsmoke.  With something for everyone, we met the classic put-upon sheriff, pushed ahead by a modern-world deputy, and a best friend saloon owner with his own problems.  Throwing away “cowboys and Indians” tropes of the past, the series faced modern Native American issues and wrestled with the clash between cultures and changing times.

Lodge 49 crew

20.  LODGE 49 (2018-2019).  An ancient fraternal order, a crumbling local economy, alchemy, and young people stuck in a rut.  Outrageous circumstances and laugh-out-loud comedy.  Is this a fantasy story or is it about something else?  Does it matter?  With top acting talent in its lead twin characters and an arsenal of big names in its supporting cast, the series provided the most satisfying wind-up of plot threads of any show.  The most disappointing cancelation of all.

19.  STARGIRL (2020-).  DC’s best superhero series since the original 1990s The Flash, it pulled characters from across decades of source material and delivered a tightly written origin story.  Never getting bogged down in CW’s other storylines, and never letting viewers down, it adapted comic book stories keeping all the fun and without changing the heart–why we love them–delivering 13 perfect episodes of comics in TV form.

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18.  STRANGER THINGS (2016-).  The best of all things retro delivered in a new way.  The Netflix series took the world by storm, delivering bits of those favorite components of our recent past via a slate of fun, average, neighborhood kids.  Mixing heroes and villains, D&D, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and the supernatural, it was the ultimate mash-up, complete with a Stephen King and John Carpenter vibe.

17.  CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (2018-2020).  The production probably had the greatest challenge of them all–blending a classic character and embedded fanbase with the fans of updated comics, audiences willing to face darker tales, while considering the thoughts, desires, and needs of a modern teenaged girl.  It took risks and delivered a series like no other with a strong lead and wild supernatural ride.

16.  SWAMP THING (2019).  Striking the right balance, taking a second-tier property and recreating the level of creepy found in 1960s-1980s comics, the show created something that felt like what the original visionary artists put on the comics pages.  If you agree that Bill Bixby on The Incredible Hulk is still the best comics on TV has ever been, then you also might agree this is the next best thing.

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15.  THE ORVILLE (2017-).  Sometimes if you give fans what they want it works.  The magic for the series came from mixing behind the scenes the creators from the best-loved sci-fi series of the past, Bruce Broughton’s exciting soundtrack, the best alien make-up the U.S. has yet produced for TV (challenging Doctor Who for #1), and Seth MacFarlane’s love for the genre.  The laughs and parody bits were secondary to the heart that brought it all together.

14.  LUKE CAGE (2016-2018).  The winner of top superhero series of the decade goes to Netflix’s best Marvel show, a world that carved itself out of the comics while retaining all that made fans in the 1970s first take note of this unique Power Man.  Moody, stylish, and populated with the best secondary cast of any Marvel (or DC) show, it could stand by itself as dramas go, while blending escapism, an urban neighborhood’s history, and Stan Lee’s brand of origin story.

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13.  ORPHAN BLACK (2013-2017).  The best performances of the decade came from one person: Tatiana Maslany as every main character in this twisted sci-fi series.  The show reached perfection in its visual effects thanks in part to an equally hard working acting double.  The blend of hysterically funny characters and circumstances was the right balance against a dark plot of clones and the quest for power.

12.  THE MANDALORIAN (2019-).  A run of Season 2 episodes resulted in what could be called our third favorite Star Wars movie.  A truly Western backbone, the ultimate adorable sidekick, and a weekly serving of nuanced throwbacks was the recipe for its success.  Jon Favreau ushered in a new way to film movies and TV, so TV could finally look and feel just like going to the movies.

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11.  ALTERED CARBON (2018-2020).  The decade’s best sci-fi series mixed futurism, cyborgs, and tech noir.  From the expansive worldbuilding to holographic helper Poe, it became one of TV’s best sci-fi creations, with a large slate of kick-ass women characters.  In more than half a century of sci-fi, you’ll not find such a powerful blend of sci-fi spectacle in one show.

10.  ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (2021-).  You don’t need spectacle and millions of dollars in sets to have a superb TV story.  The second adaptation of James Herriot’s novels introduced an endearing blend of characters, tapping some of the UK’s greatest acting talent young and old, and a medical genre series as compelling and satisfying as a series about a bustling, modern-day emergency room.

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9.  THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020).  The best TV show ever created about gamers and gaming.  A perfect season of television, a singular performance by its talented lead actress, and the most style ever crammed into one show.  Each episode was better than the last and the entire series played like one great, long movie, taking TV audiences by storm.

8.  HAVEN (2010-2015).  As with The Dead Zone before it, when Shawn Piller and Stephen King come together, something epic is the result.  Airing in reruns several times, the series is already a TV classic, a supernatural journey with a trio of stars, its strength was expanding well beyond King’s quirky novel.

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7.  FOREVER (2014-2015).  “Robbed” was the only word to describe the cancelation after only one season of this Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza, and Judd Hirsch supernatural police procedural.  Smartly blending De La Garza’s savvy cop with a doctor who could never die and his son played by a much older Hirsch was simply dynamite writing.  With a cold-blooded villain the series was only getting started, but it made a huge impact.

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6.  ZEN (2011).  Three episodic stories that were really three movies, all combining to make one of the best James Bond productions you’ll ever watch.  Not really Bond, but the international locale was Italy, the “Bond girl” was actual Bond girl Caterina Murino, and Rufus Sewell didn’t hide his British-ness in one of the best turns as a Bond type we’ve ever seen.  Stylish, classy, elegant, and even funny–brilliantly so–this was the best UK production of the decade.

5.  GRIMM (2011-2017).   A freight train of fun, the supernatural series reinvented itself each season to become one of TV’s best series.  Blending world mythology, creatures, artifacts, haunts and horrors, the series delivered.  Whether you were after the classic X-Files monster of the week or an engaging season-long or series-long mystery, the series proved Hollywood can write a series where each new season is every bit as good as the first.

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4.  iZOMBIE (2015-2019).  If your favorite genre series include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, then iZombie rounds out the trio of TV love.  A fun answer to the dramatic Walking Dead, Rob Thomas made sure each episode was another opportunity for star Rose McIver to showcase her acting talents, playing a different role thanks to her brain eating switcheroos, but her cop partner played by Malcolm Goodwin was reaction king supreme.  Exciting, fun, and it even predicted what a world in a pandemic would look like.

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3.  THE LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES (2017).  Adapting Jin Yong’s 1950s wuxia novels, tales of martial arts and chivalry, the Chinese series unveiled snippets of folklore that sparked franchises like Star Wars with its high-energy action and historical look at China’s past in the time of Genghis Khan.  The acting was superb, the story and tropes simply perfect.  The costumes and locations were the best of TV, if you can track down a way to catch the series.

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2.  VIKINGS (2013-2021).  Little compares to Michael Hirst’s rich and exciting travel into the mythology and history of Norway and northern England with his action-filled survey of the family of Ragnar Lothbrok and Lagertha at the peak of Viking culture and power.  Incredible recreations of costumes, ships, props, and locations were only secondary to a finely crafted script, pulling in armies from afar and clashes with Russia and France and more.  All with a rewarding, satisfying conclusion.

The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance Netflix library

1. THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE (2019). Nothing captured wonder like the puppet-filled trip back to the origins of the world and creations of Jim Henson.  Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, with even the inevitable conclusion was revealed like magic.  All carried out via costumes, props, and sets a studio would need for a normal production, in addition to a force of actors and voice artists bringing so much to life.  A perfect series in every way, and well worthy of our #1 spot.

We hope you find something you haven’t watched from the past two days–actually past decade–of recommendations.  Come back for more recommendations this weekend on the best genre entertainment in books and comics!

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg