Our Favorite Character-Driven Shows of the Decade

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With these shows, it's all about the characters. They drive every aspect of the show.

Please remember that with have almost two dozen favorites lists that we couldn't showcase every show on every list, so we parsed them out a bit to make it more fun.

And these lists are not in any particular order. They're in the order the entries were received by TV Fanatic staff, so don't read into them!

To qualify, a show that began in another decade had to be airing during the decade, run a larger number of seasons from 2010 through 2019 if it started before 2010 or run the entire decade. Here we go!

Character Driven

Euphoria - HBO (2019-present)

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Euphoria breaks down the glamor of high school and humanizes the characters by showing raw sneak peeks into the background themes that have shaped their psyches.

Following Zendaya’s character through her drug addiction recovery left us unsure of so many things.

Instead of focusing on a clear storyline like most TV shows we looked forward to which characters we were going to learn about and their mysterious connections with one another.

Claws - TNT (2017-present)

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A dream cast that includes Niecy Nash, Carrie Preston, and Judy Reyes adds fuel to the Claws fire, sparking ridiculous plot points that are somehow delivered believably, with love and a shit-ton of humor.

The show vacillates between silly and thrilling, and the characters are all eccentric with ties that bind them to each other even after the most difficult challenges.

When they come together, they are unstoppable in the faces of violence and aggression.

Getting On - HBO (2013-2015)

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The American version of Getting On starred Niecy Nash, Laurie Metcalf, and Alex Borstein.

Unfortunately, it only lasted two short seasons – absolutely mindboggling!

With such a cast, I don’t think any other explanation for why it was one of the decade’s best character-driven shows is necessary.

But all who saw it would likely agree that there was no better mix of slapstick humor and gut-wrenching emotions than this one-of-a-kind offering.

Queen of the South - USA (2016-present)

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You could watch Queen of the South because it’s a riveting narco crime drama with plenty of action and the expected amount of violence, but then you’re missing out.

What makes the series so compelling is the growth of its characters. Teresa has gone from a low-level drug smuggler’s girlfriend to the head of an empire! The journey hasn’t been quick, easy, or simple but that’s what makes it all the more unforgettable.

Then there’s Pote, the soldier whose job it once was to kill Teresa and has now become her loyal right-hand man, confidante, and best friend.

And let’s not forget Kelly Anne, the abused wife of a high-powered attorney who has both lost and regained Teresa’s trust.

How these characters have changed, how they interact with one another, and wondering where they will go next is what makes this one of the best character-driven shows on TV.

The Good Wife - CBS (2009-2016)

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Michelle King and Robert King have become known for their ability to deliver intriguing plots that play out around their well-realized characters.

The Good Wife's initial story about a woman standing tall and taking back some agency in her life after the very public dalliances and crimes of her husband propelled the narrative into numerous avenues about women, wealth, love, marriage, law, and society.

Our lives and our thoughts were perfectly reflected on The Good Wife which never presented its topics in black and white but always shades of Grey.

As the lead, Juliana Marguliese's Alica Florrick was as flawed and made as many questionable decisions as her husband.

The series also introduced Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, a character brilliantly political but open to conversation in ways we could all learn from.

Men of a Certain Age - TNT (2009-2011)

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Women’s issues take a front seat when it comes to dramas, and that especially pertains to shows about friends.

Men of a Certain Age, though, explored the long friendship between three middle-aged men and seeing that men can lean on their friends as heavily as women were refreshing.

Tales of dating, marriage, and divorce are often told through the eyes of women, and getting insightful stories about the other side of that equation was eye-opening.

Issues of success in business and growing older were also hot topics that were made better by the three talented stars: Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula.

Orange Is the New Black - Netflix (2013-2019)

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Sure, Orange Is the New Black was a prison story, but it was more about the relationships between the inmates, the prison staff, and their friends and family outside of prison life that make the wheels turn.

The most compelling episodes offered insight into how each inmate found themselves in their predicament.

There but for the grace of God go I and all of that.

The acting was superb across the board, and the series never wavered from offering a lot of comedy bolstered by the reality of prison life and a healthy dose of drama.

Dear White People - Netflix (2017-current)

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Dear White People isn’t just another show centered around the lives of young adults/teens in university.

The series explores their mindset as they experience social issues on campus and how it impacts their lives/relationships on a daily basis. With each episode focused on the point-of-view from one of the main characters, we get a deeper understanding of they feel/think/view the world.

Their relationships change, and ultimately it subtly tweaks how the story is told.

And since Dear White People features an amazing group of well-written and complex characters, there are so many layers to explore as the characters develop through the different volumes.

Animal Kingdom - TNT (2016- Present)

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Based on the 2010 Australian film of the same title, this cable drama about a family of criminals is one of the most fascinating character studies on television.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the heists, car chases, shootouts, and action. The allure of the crime life leads to thrilling, edge-of-your-seat type of action. However, the characters are at the heart of the series. The Cody family is not comprised of good people.

They’re all flawed in their own way, and at the head of it was matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody.

From a mentally ill Pope, who is one of the most fascinating characters on TV, to the young, brilliant and conniving J who the audience follows this life through, the characters live in that dark gray area, complex and arresting in their portrayal. Each of the Codys is in a near-constant battle for control of the family empire or simply over their own lives.

Their illegal activities have neverending effects on them, straining their relationships with lovers, friends, and each other.

Sense8 - Netflix (2015-2018)

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Sense8 was a masterpiece with a unique, mind-bending concept.

At the heart of the series was near superhuman connection between eight individuals from all over the globe who formed an inexplicable, physiological, psychic connection with the others who made up their “cluster” of Homo sensorium, the technical name for these superior beings referred to as sensates.

The series globe trotted around the world to focus on the diverse group of sensates who comprised a cluster. Each of them came from different walks of life dealing with their own sociocultural issues and experiences while navigating this new bond they had with seven other people from all over the world.

The group could not be more diverse from transgender American hacktivist to closeted Mexican gay action star, to a German criminal, to an American cop -- a religious Indian scientist, to a Kenyan bus driver-turned-politician, and an Icelandic DJ.

Through their experiences, the series portrayed identity, LGBTQ issues, culture, language, sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and so much more. And it was all interwoven organically throughout.

The series was profound -- a universal experience largely due to its compelling characters. It’s one of the best character-driven series the decade provided us with, and the only shame is that it didn’t last longer.

Bojack Horseman - Netflix (2014-present)

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Bojack Horseman is a deep and profound drama that doesn’t shy away from the complex nature of its characters.

Sure, it’s a cartoon, and it pokes fun at the Hollywood lifestyle in this new reality. However, the core desires and insecurities that the characters face are explored in depth.

Bojack is very flawed person with many years of pain that led him to drinking, womanizing, and self-sabotage. The series explores his many layers and how he came to be this way.

In addition, Bojack Horseman discusses the insecurities and wants of the other characters, and how their relationships with each other are impacted under the harsh light of Hollywood.

What is YOUR favorite character-driven series of the decade?

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