This is part of our Decade Rewind. Keep up as we look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of the 2010s.
Is there a greater undertaking than listing the 50 best episodes of the past decade? Probably, yes. But this one is up there. There has never been more TV than in the past ten years, nor has there ever been as much good TV, which makes this a job of much more than just sifting through to find the winners.
But we certainly tried.
This is far from an exhaustive list. How could it be? It’s only 50 items long. But it is a democratic list, representing what the FSR team feels has spoken to us the most over the past decade. The top ten will not, hopefully, come as a surprise. A few others might.
But even if your favorite isn’t on here (and honestly, would it even be a pop culture list on the Internet if it didn’t leave out the one thing you care about?) you can rest assured that each of these episodes means something to the person writing about it, that it stood out for what it said and how it said it, and that it epitomized, in some way, the best of the best ten years of television to date. And really, what more could you ask for?
Here it is. From 2010 to 2019, from 50 all the way down to 1, the best episodes of the past decade.
50. “Terror Under the Blood Moon” – Gendy Tartakovsky’s Primal
Gendy Tartakovsky’s Primal is as if Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy comic books grew up, entered a rated R prehistoric hell, and freed themselves of their overly explanatory word balloons. Two creatures lose everything to the vicious nature around them and build a friendship from their sorrow. The fourth chapter of the series finally sees the two hunters riding comfortably together, fending off raptor attacks, and making nice with the weaker creatures they stumble across. Unfortunately, from above, a new form of death swoops in to challenge their dominance. The nightmare they encounter is everything fantasy freaks like myself dreamed they would see in the wake of The Lord of the Rings‘ mainstream popularity. You’ve got your Tolkien, but now it’s time for the heavy metal dweebs to have their lunatic tales of gore. The side of your older brother’s van was never this rad. (Brad Gullickson)
49. “Judgment Night” – Riverdale
The penultimate episode of Riverdale’s second season is all drama and chaos. There’s warfare between gangs and Veronica and Betty discover some startling secrets about their fathers, both of whom are men who operate on the fringes of the law. Elsewhere, Cheryl hunts a serial killer with her bow and arrow set and cements herself as a bonafide badass. This is essentially the Riverdale equivalent of The Dark Knight Rises, as it revolves around a battle between good and evil that threatens to engulf the town’s soul. Riverdale is at its best when it’s at its most preposterous, but it takes real geniuses to make this nonsense so emotionally compelling. (Kieran Fisher)
48. “Not What He Seems” – Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls is a fantastic show for hidden mystery. If you want to read about how well it buried its secrets with all the cards on the table and no spoilers held back, then follow this link to a long rambling session hosted by yours truly. If you just want to hang around here without spoilers, then trust me when I say that “Not What He Seems” is the one in which everything changes. After 30 episodes of fun paranormal adventures and the odd hint here or there to something more sinister, the show takes a hard left and reveals the answer to its greatest mystery, one you may not even have been aware was a mystery at all. It’s dark and moving and unbelievably satisfying, a whole confluence of events coming to a head all at once with a final countdown and an answer to a simple, heartfelt question. And the final scene, a single gently moving image over the end credits, is one of the more simple and emotive and surprising things this decade of television had to offer. (Liz Baessler)
47. “The Box” – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show about an ensemble, which may make the inclusion of “The Box” a sliiiightly controversial one, as it’s a bottle episode – set in the precinct’s interrogation room – that essentially only features two core cast members (Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher) and one helluva guest star in Sterling K. Brown. But what it lacks in the remaining ensemble it makes up for in the repartee between Samberg’s Jake Peralta and Braugher’s Raymond Holt. It’s not that “The Box” isn’t indicative of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a whole – it still goes all-in on weird gags and rapid-fire pop culture jokes – but by distilling the ensemble to just two, they can focus in on the ostensible leads’ chemistry and why it still works so well six years in. The show is now much more interested in its humor coming from the reliance between Holt and Peralta, rather than them butting heads like in earlier seasons. It’s experimental episodes like “The Box” that display why Brooklyn Nine-Nine has only gotten better with age. Not only has it become unafraid to tackle headier topics like the fluctuation of modern masculinity in the last decade as well as systemic racism within law enforcement, but it also finds glee in breaking from the formulaic norms of “Must See TV.” Like other Schur-fire hits, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has progressed our view of the modern-day sitcom, and with an eighth season already greenlit, it looks to continue to do so in the coming decade. (Jacob Trussell)
46. “No Mercy,” Cobra Kai
People are sleeping on Cobra Kai. Sure, the series racks up millions of views on YouTube but the show doesn’t really feature in the widespread conversation, and that’s a shame. This episode is one of many reasons why the Karate Kid sequel series deserves more attention. In the Season 2 finale, we witness a full-scale riot in the hallways of the local high school that ends in a tragedy. I won’t spoil what happens for those unacquainted viewers, but it’s rife with entertaining action, jaw-dropping drama, and cliffhanging suspense. Many will dismiss Cobra Kai as a trip down memory lane, but this episode is proof that it’s one of the most exciting shows of the now. (Kieran Fisher)
45. “Requiem” – Banshee
Concluding a hit-or-miss final season, “Requiem” said goodbye to viewers on a high note with a memorable episode that lived up to the quality established in the first three installments. The finale had everything that made Banshee such a special show: quality action, emotional moments, and an abundance of affection for its characters. Of course, the best thing about final episodes is seeing characters we’ve grown to know ride off into the sunset. After giving us some carnage in the first half of the episode, “Requiem” turns into a more somber affair and gives its cast of characters their chance to shine. For a show that became a cult hit because of its violence, it was nice to see it end on an optimistic note. (Kieran Fisher)
44. “God, I’m Tired” – Killing Eve
It’s the moment everyone had been waiting for, an unabashedly queer reunion of fired MI6 agent Eve Polastri and her serial killer crush Villanelle. Champagne and stabbing make for pitch-perfect punctuation to TV’s most dysfunctional romance. Phoebe Waller-Bridge created two of the wittiest shows of the twenty-first century, but it’s episodes like “God, I’m Tired” that are able to fully showcase the range and honesty of her writing. The full first season of Killing Eve builds to this moment, and it ends in such a brilliant bang. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer’s chemistry makes the final scene all the more engrossing, hinting at the potential for their characters’ relationship in future seasons without obscuring the inherent danger in their attraction to one another. It’s the most unselfconscious the show had felt thus far, from its title to its performances to its final moments, finding new ways to improve and surprise in an already astonishing season of television. (Cyrus Cohen)
43. “Human Flesh” – Bob’s Burgers
Animated series Bob’s Burgers burst into the world of television with its premiere episode titled, “Human Flesh.” Right off the bat, the episode introduced the endearing and bizarre Belcher family, who run a burger joint in an East Coast beach town. Bob, Linda, Tina, Eugene, and Louise are all eccentric in their own way, yet still work as an unconventional unit. In “Human Flesh,” Bob’s Burgers was re-re-re-opened after a series of failures. But now it’s summer, which means tons of customers, right? Not when health inspectors think your burgers contain human flesh! Numerous hijinks, which are typical of Bob’s Burgers, lead the antagonist Hugo the health inspector to quickly slap the restaurant with a violation. It’s what happens when your neighbor is a crematorium. “Human Flesh” sets the tone for a series full of larger-than-life characters, a loving family, and a man who just wants to make burgers. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
42. “Man on the Land” – Transparent
“Man on the Land” is more than a basic critique of TERFs. It’s a delicately illustrated parallel between two attacks on trans-femininity that occurred roughly seventy years apart. Following three of the Pfeffermans as they attend the Idyllwild Wimmin’s Music Festival, Transparent takes aim at the disturbing amount of transphobia common in certain feminist spaces. Trans exclusionary feminism felt like a necessary subject for the show to address, and Jill Soloway stepped up to the plate and handled it beautifully. Gaby Hoffmann, Emily Robinson, and Hari Nef’s work at the end of this episode is so powerful and helps connect the entire season’s narrative arc as well as the Pfefferman family tree. It’s a sad but satisfying penultimate episode, capping off a strong season with this careful rumination on generational trauma and gendered violence. (Cyrus Cohen)
41. “Josh Is Irrelevant” – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Season three of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend starts with Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) hitting rock bottom. We’ve witnessed her struggle with love, friendships, and mental health over the course of the series, but after getting left at the altar by Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) at the end of season two, her coping methods only become more self-destructive until they reach a sobering breaking point. And then comes “Josh Is Irrelevant,” a quieter episode which signals a turning point for both Rebecca and for the series itself. Here, Rebecca learns that she’s been misdiagnosed over the years and that many of her struggles can be traced to the fact that she’s never been properly treated for a more fitting diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder.
“Josh is Irrelevant” is the moment that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had been building to ever since we saw Rebecca first take issue with the word “crazy,” because as she was right to point out from the start, her situation has always been more nuanced than that. As both a performer and a co-writer with Aline Brosh McKenna and Ilana Peña, Bloom strikes just the right balance between the seriousness of her character’s recovery and the show’s otherwise effervescent brand of musical comedy. The sincere and self-aware power ballad “A Diagnosis” incorporates lyrics about anxiety and insomnia with a penis joke in nearly the same breath and somehow, in true Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fashion, it all works beautifully. By centering Rebecca’s story with sensitivity and by including some equally nuanced supporting performances from Gabrielle Ruiz and Scott Michael Foster, “Josh Is Irrelevant” cements itself as a series best, ushering in a new wave of outstanding character growth that only deepens in subsequent episodes. It’s the first step on a long road towards healing, and oftentimes, it’s that first step that’s both the most difficult, and the most important. (Christina Smith)