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Critic Emily Nussbaum Weighs In On Best TV Shows Of The Decade

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. This decade is almost over, and we've been asking artists and writers what they loved about it. Emily Nussbaum, a TV critic for The New Yorker, started telling us about two TV shows, but then two became 10 and 10 became 20, and it turns out there was just a lot of good TV this decade. Here's Emily.

EMILY NUSSBAUM: Initially, I thought I could do it and I could pick two, even though I have a famous hatred of lists. But I thought, OK, I'll pick "Jane The Virgin" and "The Leftovers" because they're both amazing shows in very different ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JANE THE VIRGIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You're pregnant.

GINA RODRIGUEZ: (As Jane Villanueva) But I've never had sex.

ANDREA NAVEDO: (As Xiomara Villanueva) You are Immaculata (ph).

RODRIGUEZ: (As Jane Villanueva) What? No, Mom...

NUSSBAUM: "Jane The Virgin" is a deliberately formulaic show in this kind of joyous, warm, embracing celebration of storytelling.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JANE THE VIRGIN")

ANTHONY MENDEZ: (As Narrator) I know. Straight out of a telenovela, right?

NUSSBAUM: I've written a lot about how I like the bright colors and all of that kind of thing. It's a great, great show that I always felt was a little overlooked and treated as a guilty pleasure but is really brilliantly made.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LEFTOVERS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's time again for the world to mourn the departed.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Disappearance of 2% of the world's population.

NUSSBAUM: And then "The Leftovers" is kind of exemplary of this grand, experimental breakthroughs in cable storytelling that pushes past all of the old formulas and mixes humor and philosophy and sort of shocks you and throws you off but is also very emotional. So I thought that those would be sort of two good poles. And then I realized that I was leaving out "Enlightened."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ENLIGHTENED")

LAURA DERN: (As Amy Jellicoe) I'm speaking with my true voice now. I put all this energy into my healing; that same amount of energy, I now have to work.

NUSSBAUM: Which is probably the best show (laughter), like, of the last decade - this amazing, somewhat overlooked HBO show, this kind of humane cringe comedy with this brilliant central performance. And I really feel like it has all these deep, political things to say. And then I started talking about this online, and I realized I was leaving out a million other shows, and suddenly, my answers were making no sense. So it was, like, somebody mentioned "Fleabag," and I was like, "Fleabag" wasn't even on my list, and "Fleabag" is clearly this brilliant show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FLEABAG")

FIONA SHAW: (As Counselor) So why do you think your father suggested you come for counseling?

PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE: (As Fleabag) I think because my mother died and he can't talk about it, and my sister and I didn't speak for a year because she thinks I tried to sleep with her husband, and because I spent most of my adult life using sex to deflect from the screaming void inside my empty heart. I'm good at this.

NUSSBAUM: You can't make a top 10 list (laughter) because when you about 3,000 million things, you haven't seen them all, so your judgment is askew anyway. So in a really good way, you can just give up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISOBEL WALLER-BRIDGE'S "FLEABAG")

KING: That was TV critic Emily Nussbaum talking about her favorite shows of the decade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISOBEL WALLER-BRIDGE'S "FLEABAG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.