The list continues….
20. Atlanta (2016-present)
No Black television creator has embraced the sheer freedom that Peak TV provides them more than Donald Glover. This is the TV equivalent of Moonlight – a masterwork that truly forces you to rethink how Black people can tell stories. I don’t know that the show is coherent or even compelling at the pure story level – I mostly find Earn to be kind of half-formed (perhaps by design) for instance – but the filmmaking and the ambition is striking and revolutionary.
19. Survivor’s Remorse (2014-2017)
One of the great pleasures of the decade was the sheer diversity of worlds that we got to see Black people explore on television. Sure, we’ve seen Black athletes. But we hadn’t seen a story that explores how that world affects a Black athlete’s family. And how that family’s past in the hood doesn’t stop affecting you just because you got rich. Survivor’s Remorse – aptly titled – did all of this, making generational, economic,and racial trauma funny, poignant, and compelling.
18. Giants (2017-present)
With only two seasons under it’s belt, Giants is hands down the best webseries I’ve ever seen. The production value alone is astonishing for what I imagine is a relatively low budget. The show itself – about three Black millennials struggling to get their lives together – is amazingly clear-eyed about how hard it can be in your late 20s to know what the next step in life is. There’s really nothing quite like it out there and that makes it special. That it’s outstanding in every way from the writing, acting and directing makes it required viewing. I will be interested to see if there will be more seasons, but even if there aren’t what James Bland and his team created here should be applauded.
17. The Carmichael Show (2015-2017)
A throwback to the Norman Lear shows of the 1970s, The Carmichael Show pulled back the curtain on the kinds of conversations that happen in Black homes. It was uncompromising and frequently downright hilarious. Doing a show like this is actually quite difficult because you could risk too much “but on the other hand…” But the show did a fantastic job of rooting everyone’s perspectives in character that it nearly always worked.
16. Power (2014-2020)
We’ve never had a show quite like Power. It’s pure populist entertainment for Black people. So it makes sense that Power is from a writer/producer who worked on The Good Wife. It’s the same kind of show – a deceptively complex, broadly appealing show about corrupt people who think they are more decent than they are. James St. Patrick’s unceasing commitment to believing he’s a good person drives the show in such a beautifully maddening way. But the showrunners are smart enough to know that no one on that show is worth a damn.
15. American Crime (2015-2017)
I’m still astonished that American Crime lasted three years on a major network. The show pulls no punches in its depiction of the ways injustice in America lead us to do horrible things to one another. Every season told a self-contained story that exposed America’s underbelly. But it’s the show’s masterful, flawless second season that still floors me. We talk about rape; we almost never talk about male rape. And we certainly don’t talk about it in the context of teen male sexuality. I remain convinced that Joey Pollari and Connor Jessup gave two of the finest television performances of the decade. It’s a shame the show didn’t last longer. But what we got was some of the most rewarding, challenging TV of the decade.
14. Happy Endings (2011-2013)
I was initially not super interested in this show. But when I finally dug in, I fell hard. A huge part of its appeal is that it’s about young adults who came of age in the 90s. So every reference was pretty much made for my generation. The ensemble was airtight from unsung gem Zachary Knighton (who is the center of my favorite episode, “More Like Stanksgiving”) to the sublime Eliza Coupe. I wish it had run a few more years, but there is real comfort in the fact that these crazy Chicagoans didn’t overstay their welcome.
13. The New Edition Story (2017)
As a card-carrying member of the #NE4Life movement, it was actually a bit overwhelming to experience how good The New Edition Story actually was. The filmmakers’ attention to detail was wonderful. And, most crucially, they cast it beautifully from top to bottom. Woody McClain and Tyler Marcel Williams note-perfect as Young and Adult Bobby Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston remarkable as Young Ralph Tresvant, and especially Algee Smith and Elijah Kelley bringing devastating pathos to Adult Ralph and Adult Ricky Bell. The miniseries provided information we didn’t know, lovingly recreated timeless music, and made us fall in love with NE all over again. This will go down as required viewing for all black people, much the way Roots, The Five Heartbeats, and The Jacksons: An American Dream have.
12. Black Lightning (2018-Present)
This feels like a bit of a cheat since it’s relatively new and might end up running longer in the next decade than it did in this one. But I can’t leave Black Lightning off this list because this is the best example of taking the ethos of a superhero and transporting it to television. To be sure, the story of Jefferson Pierce is made for our post-Michael Brown moment. But the show goes deeper into what it means when Black people have superpowers in a white supremacist society than the comic ever did. Led magnificently by Cress Williams and featuring a killer performance by China Anne McClain as youngest daughter Jennifer, Black Lightning debuted as the best DC comic book television adaptation ever. And if it continues at its current pace, it’ll end that way too.
11. Underground (2016-2017)
I remain eternally grateful that something like Underground was ever developed, ordered to series, and aired at all. This show, runaway slaves as heist film, provided a new way into a story that could have felt overwhelming. Instead, we were treated to the experience of marveling at the sheer ingenuity of enslaved people. We deserved so much more from this beautiful show. I remain irritated that no one bought it so we could have gotten it more. But, man, what a phenomenal piece of art to have gotten at all.