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Stacker explores the 100 top-rated TV shows of all time. The shows with the highest IMDb score are ranked the highest, with #1 being the best TV show of all time, as rated by IMDb users, and with ties broken by the number of votes.
Long before streaming led audiences to binge-watch entire series in a single weekend, there was just plain old primetime-television-watching bliss—and fan favorites such as “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos” kept fans glued to their sofas week after week, year after year, to find out what would happen next. Some shows were so good, fans would purchase TV box sets on VHS or DVD to watch them again and again in order to relive the drama or bask in the laughs.
Now that we have a multitude of streaming services at our fingertips—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+—and can watch TV anytime, anywhere, the content has become even richer and more diverse, pleasing both fans and critics alike, with original hits like “The Mandalorian” and “Game of Thrones” and revivals of shows like “Arrested Development.”
To celebrate the history of great television, Stacker compiled this definitive list of the 100 best TV shows of all time, using data from IMDb. Shows were ranked by IMDb user ratings, with ties broken by the number of votes. For this list, a series had to have at least 50,000 votes.
Some shows of this list may seem obvious to television-lovers: “The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” or “Dragon Ball Z,” as a few examples. But you’ll encounter many other surprises that cracked the top 100, whether because they saw a limited run, attempted extremely niche genres, or were released very recently yet generated enough acclaim to appear here alongside historic staples.
Read on to see how all 100 shake out, refresh your pop-culture memory, remind yourself of an epic binge, or add to your watch list. But do so with caution—this list contains some spoilers.
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- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 2017–present
Fans of Jason Bateman in “Arrested Development” may have been surprised at first—and then likely blown away—by his dark, layered portrayal of Marty Byrde on the captivating crime thriller “Ozark.” The story sucks viewers in: A white suburban father caught up in a money-laundering operation moves his family from Chicago to Missouri not as an escape, but as a way to keep a Mexican drug cartel happy and profitable.
- Years on the air: 2015–2018
Though Netflix cancelled its sci-fi drama “Sense8” following season two, fans and critics praised its striking visuals—nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Cinematography—and LGBTQ+ thematic/character representation. Eight strangers find themselves psychically connected for unknown reasons and battle both this mystery and their hunters, the Biologic Preservation Organization, who, ever-applicably, despise the sensate breed’s differences.
- Years on the air: 2001–2010
“24” graced primetime Fox for more than 200 episodes spanning nine seasons. Not exactly critically praised, the high-stress, adrenaline-packed series did become a pop culture hit, with even non-viewers knowing the exploits of counter-terroist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and the beeping countdown.
- Years on the air: 2007–2014
The notion of the alcoholic, promiscuous writer torn and tossed between his ego, questionable father skills, and fledgling career is well-tread. But Tom Kapinos’ “Calfornication” addictively brings viewers into rock ’n’ roll-tinged Los Angeles for all of Hank Moody’s travails and self-realizations. The series ran for seven seasons and earned lead David Duchovny a Best Actor Golden Globe.
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- Years on the air: 2019–present
“The Witcher,” Netflix’s popular fantasy series, follows monster-hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) and his destiny connected to Princess Ciri (Freya Allan). Based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, the eight-episode first season satisfied fans of dark fantasy (and fans of the 2007 role-playing video game) and generated high viewership, though even Cavill’s praiseworthy performance has not overcome its mostly average critical reception (67% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Bill Lawrence’s medical drama/sitcom “Scrubs” ran for nine seasons over a decade. It follows, and is narrated by, J.D. (Zach Braff), as he navigates his hospital career and romantic life alongside best friend Turk (Donald Faison), on-again-off-again partner/friend Elliot (Sarah Chalke), and the intimidating, patronizing Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley). Largely praised by critics and fans in its earlier seasons, the often comedic and sometimes deeply emotional “Scrubs” was one of the more well-liked major-network products of the 2000s.
- Years on the air: 2011–2020
Showtime’s spy thriller “Homeland” ran for eight seasons. The Claire Danes-led show has earned near-universal praise throughout its run—particularly for its first two years (Best Drama Golden Globe for both). “Homeland” takes its audience into the highly risky, complicated world of CIA agent Carrie Mathison, her private life, covert professional operations in the Middle East, and all the consequences and undertones of 21-century counter-terrorism.
- Years on the air: 2005–2017
“Prison Break” follows one brother (Dominic Purcell) falsely sentenced to death and the brother (Wentworth Miller) who intentionally joins him in jail to hatch an escape plan. Coinciding with Fox’s 2000s success behind “24,” this five-season drama fit in with national audiences attuned to primetime heart-pumping action.
- Years on the air: 2004–2010
Even non-viewers of “Lost” could not escape the prevalent narrative and fascination of its massive fan base. The supernatural/sci-fi hit ran from the mid-2000s to 2010 for six seasons, as viewers pieced together what happened to the island survivors of a plane crash. “Lost” was nominated for hundreds of awards, won the Best Drama Emmy for its first season and Golden Globe for its second, ignited J.J. Abrams’ career, and inspired a crop of nonlinear-narrative shows.
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- Years on the air: 2005–2014
The hugely popular sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” ran for nine seasons beginning in the mid-2000s, introducing its unique narrative style and blend of humor and romance to millions. In the future, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) recounts to his children how he met their mother when he was younger and living in New York City with his friends (Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan, and Neil Patrick Harris), experiencing the typical and atypical highs and lows of twentysomethings.
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2016–present
This Showtime drama pits billionaire hedge-fund manager Bobby (Damian Lewis) opposite the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Paul Giamatti). The former is loosely based on Steven A. Cohen and the latter on Preet Bharara, as the world of New York City culture and finance is explored through insider trading, bribery, connections, affairs, and of course power.
This acclaimed anthology series from Ryan Murphy recounts the stories of famous American crimes. The first season, which was nominated for 22 Emmy Awards, tackled the O.J. Simpson case, with Cuba Gooding, Jr. taking on the role of “The Juice” himself. Critics praised his performance alongside those of his fellow cast members, including John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, and David Schwimmer. Season two, which focused on the murder of Gianni Versace, lacked the star power of the series’ initial outing, but still received favorable reviews overall. The third season, "Impeachment," will focus on the scandal between former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (who is producing the season).
- Years on the air: 2013-2018
This popular FX show, set during the Cold War, stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as two undercover KGB officers living with their children near Washington D.C. From the outset, critics praised the show’s compelling concept and thrilling storylines, and the show continued to receive rave reviews through its sixth and final season.
- Years on the air: 2013–2016
From Alan Ball, the creator of “True Blood,” came a show that was just as heavy on the sex and violence, though without the supernatural elements of his HBO hit. “Banshee” chronicles the twisty dealings of an ex-con who assumes the identity of a small town’s new sheriff. Critics were split on the show, with some finding it too lurid and preposterous to recommend, while others recommended it for precisely those qualities.
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- Years on the air: 1997–2007
This series, based on the 1994 film “Stargate,” debuted on Showtime in 1997 and then moved to the Syfy channel in 2002 to conclude its run. Its storyline follows a military team that uses an ancient archway to travel the universe and battle alien threats. The leader, Col. Jack O’Neill (portrayed by Kurt Russell in the movie), is played by “MacGyver” star Richard Dean Anderson.
- Years on the air: 2012–2014
“The Legend of Korra,” Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino’s sequel to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” follows the titular female protagonist as she navigates her complex universe which has found itself in conflict. The four-season animated series was praised for its production, writing, and, with respect to its youthful audience, thematic ambition.
- Years on the air: 2014–present
This Starz time travel drama sees a World War II nurse transported back to 18th-century Scotland, where she becomes a key player in the Jacobite rebellions. The series was adapted from a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon and developed by Ronald D. Moore, whose previous project was “Battlestar Galactica.”
- Years on the air: 2004–2011
This HBO guilty pleasure follows the career of Vincent Chase, an actor from Queens who brings a tagalong crew of friends from the old neighborhood with him for his ride to Hollywood stardom. Reviewers enjoyed Jeremy Piven’s portrayal of Vince’s slimy Hollywood agent, but criticized the shallow characters and plotlines, while audiences were happy to live vicariously in Chase’s hedonistic world. A 2015 movie that tied up some loose ends from the show garnered poor reviews and underperformed at the box office.
- Years on the air: 2011–2016
Like several shows on this list, the first season of “Person of Interest” received a mixed response from critics for its shallow character development, while later seasons seemed to remedy the issue. The story sees an ex-CIA operative and a scientist teaming up to try to prevent crimes before they occur. The show’s creator, Jonathan Nolan, is the brother of director Christopher Nolan.
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- Years on the air: 2013–present
This goofy cop show stars former “SNL” cast member Andy Samberg as a juvenile and irreverent detective who’s forced to shape up when a strict new commanding officer (Andre Braugher) takes over his precinct. Critics praised the show’s easygoing humor along with Samberg’s charming performance, and following its debut season “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” clinched Golden Globes for best series and best actor in the Musical/Comedy category. It was canceled by Fox, but NBC picked it up for several more seasons.
- Years on the air: 1999–2013
This Fox animated show from “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening follows the adventures of an interplanetary delivery outfit, parodying movies and TV shows from all corners of science fiction along the way. Although it never rose to the level of popularity of “The Simpsons,” the show received almost universal critical acclaim, with 12 Emmy nominations and six wins over the course of its run.
- Years on the air: 2008–2013
The same team behind the 2009 big-screen “Star Trek” reboot, J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci launched this Fox show about a Boston-based FBI team that explores mysteries related to the existence of parallel universes. While it didn’t quite manage to seize the zeitgeist to the degree of Abrams’s previous hit, “Lost,” the show received positive reviews that improved with each subsequent season.
- Years on the air: 2009–present
Applauded by critics for its fresh writing and eclectic characters, “Modern Family” adds second marriages, gay relationships, and large age gaps between partners into the mix to shake up the old nuclear family sitcom formula. The show has won 22 Primetime Emmy Awards and six Writers Guild of America Awards.
- Years on the air: 2005–present
Debuting on The WB (and continuing its run on The CW when the network changed names), this sci-fi/horror series follows a pair of vigilante brothers hunting down various supernatural entities. It concluded its run in 2020 and claims the network’s longest-running show and the longest-running live-action fantasy series of all time.
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- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 2007–2009
New Zealand musicians and comedy performers Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie star as fictionalized versions of themselves in “Flight of the Conchords.” Unlike in real life, the duo are struggling musicians, uprooted from New Zealand in an attempt to make it big in New York City. Kristen Schaal co-stars as the duo’s only fan, with Rhys Darby as their incompetent manager.
The Starz original “Ash vs Evil Dead” aired for three seasons and successfully tackled the ultra-specific genre of horror-comedy. Taking place decades after the “Evil Dead” trilogy, the series sees Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) re-emerge to defend humankind. Fans and critics appreciated its loyalty to the original material, its characters, and its well-executed combination of humor and action.
- Years on the air: 2010–2015
Written, directed, created, edited, and produced by comedian Louis C.K., who also starred, this show constantly subverted expectations of television as a format. The tone oscillated unpredictably between funny and serious, the visual and editing style varied wildly between episodes, and the show played fast and loose with continuity.
In 2017, amidst the #MeToo movement, five women reported they were sexually harassed by the comedian—claims that Louis C.K. promptly admitted were true, saying: “The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”
- Years on the air: 2015–present
Originally on the Syfy channel, this show based on “The Expanse” series of books is set in a universe where the solar system has been colonized. An ice hauler ship named the Canterbury is involved in an accident, sending the crew into the center of a conspiracy that threatens the uneasy peace among different planetary governments. Canceled in 2018, Amazon revived the series for an upcoming fourth season on Prime; it began streaming in late 2019.
- Years on the air: 2014–2019
Created by Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead,” “Office Space”) this HBO comedy chronicles the rise of a software startup run and staffed by geeky programmers. Critics and fans heralded the strong joke writing and a standout performance by T.J. Miller as Erlich, the world’s most obnoxious business mentor. Although difficulties on set led to Miller’s departure from the show at the end of the fourth season, the show continued to draw unanimously positive reviews all the way up to its finale; it finished its run on HBO in 2019.
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- Years on the air: 2017-2019
This HBO drama, based on the best-selling novel by Liane Moriarty of the same name, features an A-list cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern. The show is set in a wealthy coastal town in California where deception and murder lurk beneath the picture-perfect surface. Despite initially being billed as a miniseries—and winning an Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series—HBO brought it back for a second season, adding Meryl Streep to the stacked cast.
Based on the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, this acclaimed Hulu show stars Elisabeth Moss as a woman struggling for freedom in a misogynistic, alternate-reality version of America that has been taken over by religious extremists. Far more critically and commercially successful than the ill-fated 1990 feature film of the same name, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has received critical acclaim and sufficient zeitgeist traction to warrant a “Saturday Night Live” parody.
- Years on the air: 2017–2019
Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) plays a vigilante superhero whose revenge quest brings him face to face with New York’s underworld. Critics found the first season to be a slow start, but Marvel fans hungry for more content between movies were willing to jump on board.
- Years on the air: 2010–2014
This crime drama starred Steve Buscemi as an Atlantic City mob boss during the Prohibition era. While not a hit on the same level as HBO’s contemporary Mafia series “The Sopranos,” the show received positive reviews and won 20 Primetime Emmy Awards over its run, as well as a Golden Globe for Best Television Series–Drama in 2011.
- Years on the air: 2009–2015
Joel McHale plays a lawyer who’s disbarred for lying about his academic credentials and forced to attend community college in order to resume his career in this NBC favorite. He joins a study group for Spanish class that makes up the show's cast, with perfectly cast Ken Jeong playing their Spanish teacher. In addition to helping launch the career of Donald Glover, the show featured Chevy Chase in a supporting role. Chase’s public feud with the show’s writers and producers received significant media coverage toward the end of the show’s run.
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- Years on the air: 2013–2015
Based on the Thomas Harris novels “Red Dragon” and “Hannibal,” this show sees Mads Mikkelsen stepping into the role of brilliant forensic psychologist/cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (previously portrayed by Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox in movie adaptations of Harris’s novels). Hugh Dancy plays his protégé, a profiler who is unaware of his mentor’s secret double life. The show employed José Andrés, a prominent restaurateur, to serve as a consultant in order to ensure that Lecter’s culinary preparation of human flesh was realistic.
- Years on the air: 2010–2013
Steven S. DeKnight, who would later go on to develop “Daredevil” on Netflix and “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” created the Starz show based on the historical gladiator Spartacus. Initially starring Andy Whitfield as the title character, the show focuses on the slave uprising begat by Spartacus. Whitfield died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011, and Liam McIntyre replaced him in the leading role.
- Years on the air: 2015–2019
This surprise USA Network hit tells the story of a hacker named Elliot (Rami Malek) with social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, and, unbeknownst to him through most of the first season, a split personality (dissociative identity disorder). Christian Slater plays his Tyler Durden-esque alter ego with scenery-chewing aplomb.
- Years on the air: 2011–present
A hotshot Manhattan lawyer hires a talented college dropout despite his lack of a law degree, forging a secret between them. While some critics dismissed the show as inessential, others found the sharp dialogue and lead chemistry sufficient to give this show an edge in the crowded legal drama genre. Star Meghan Markle would go on to royal fame, marrying Prince Harry in May 2018.
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 2010–2018
This Cartoon Network show follows the adventures of a boy and his best friend, a talking dog who can change his size and shape at will, in a mystical and magical realm. While the premise may sound familiar, the show’s sweet but strange tone sets it apart. Creator Pendleton Ward has acknowledged influences as far-ranging as “Dungeons and Dragons,” “Beavis and Butthead,” and “Ren and Stimpy.” Another unusual aspect of the show is its approach to voice casting. While many animated shows employ adult actors for their child characters, “Adventure Time” cast an actual child actor (Jeremy Shada) to voice the character of Finn. As such, Finn’s voice deepened through the show’s run, as Shada progressed through puberty.
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This FX show saw Timothy Olyphant, who played the sheriff on HBO’s “Deadwood,” portraying Raylan Givens, a maverick U.S. marshal who returns to his hometown in Kentucky to take on the criminal element there. The character of Givens is adapted from an Elmore Leonard short story. Critics praised Olyphant’s performance and the show’s seedy worldbuilding.
- Years on the air: 2004–2006
Series creator David Milch initially tried to pitch HBO a show set during the Roman period. But when it turned out the network already had such a show in the works (“Rome”), Milch reworked the concept to a Western frontier town setting. The show features poetic, almost Shakespearean dialogue, and standout performances from Timothy Olyphant as Deadwood’s sheriff and Ian McShane as a brothel owner. Its relatively short run left fans clamoring for more, and finally, they received a long-discussed "Deadwood" movie in May 2019.
- Years on the air: 1987–1994
A 50,000-vote poll by StarTrek.com found that Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) beat out James T. Kirk as fans’ favorite “Star Trek” captain of all time. That says a lot for this series, set 99 years after the original show, whose popularity peaked with a series finale that drew a whopping 31 million viewers. This Enterprise crew also went on to star in four feature films, the first of which combined the original series and TNG casts through a time travel plot.
Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) co-created this HBO news drama alongside producer Denis Biggs. Jeff Daniels stars as a principled but unpredictable cable news anchor. Critics found the first season smug and preachy but warmed to the show over subsequent seasons.
This FX animated hit milks workplace comedy from an unlikely source: a spy agency. H. Jon Benjamin lends his distinctive voice to the main character, an arrogant and juvenile superspy, while the late Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” played his overbearing mother who also happens to run the agency. Reviews of the early seasons praised the show’s original voice and sharp jokes, though critics’ takes on the more recent season suggests creative burnout may be setting in among the writing team.
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This Netflix crime drama follows two FBI agents who essentially write the book on criminal profiling in the late 1970s by interviewing serial killers. Leads Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany have great chemistry in the leading roles, the former playing a meticulous idealist and the latter a gruff cynic. Critics praised the show for its cerebral plotting and creepy interview scenes with some of history’s most famous murderers.
A remake of a British series, this Showtime dramedy takes on the struggles of a Chicago family headed by a deadbeat patriarch (William H. Macy) whose only concerns are what his next scheme will be and where his next beer will come from. Although some critics initially thought Macy was miscast, he has racked up three Screen Actors Guild awards for his performance in the role. The show's ninth season made it the longest-running Showtime show in the network's history. Emmy Rossum, who plays Macy's eldest daughter Fiona, did not return as a regular for the 10th season, and the show concluded with its 11th and final season in 2021.
- Years on the air: 1993–2002, January 2016–February 2016, January 2018–March 2018
Mulder and Scully form the iconic duo portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, respectively, in “The X-Files.” The pair of FBI agents investigated cases involving the paranormal, with Mulder believing in the existence of aliens and Scully remaining the skeptic. The series was a pop culture phenomenon, spawning two feature films and two seasons for a revival.
The brainchild of the creator and the head writer of the U.S. version of “The Office,” this workplace comedy employed that show’s same mockumentary style to depict the workings of a quirky parks and recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana. Critics initially found the show lacking compared with its predecessor, but warmed to the charms of the ensemble cast (headed up by Amy Poehler). After a shaky start, the show found its groove and became a hit for NBC.
- Years on the air: 2007–2015
When HBO famously rejected his series pitch, creator Matthew Weiner took the show over to AMC, where it redefined the network as a viable destination for prestige television. Set in the halls of a New York advertising agency in the 1960s, the acclaimed show was praised for its period authenticity, social commentary, and strong performances. Standout actors among the cast included Jon Hamm, who played the smooth-but-tortured leading man Don Draper, and Elisabeth Moss, who played a secretary who manages to rise up the ranks in the agency despite rampant misogyny in the workforce.
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- Years on the air: 2008–2014
This FX crime drama revolved around a motorcycle gang based out of Central California. Critics appreciated the uncompromising grittiness of the show and the strength of the ensemble cast, which included Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam, and Katey Sagal. For the sake of authenticity, the producers even cast Oakland Hell’s Angel David Labrava to play one of the biker gang members, in addition to his role as a consultant for the show.
A blind lawyer fights crime by night in this Netflix adaptation of the Marvel comic. Much better received than the poorly reviewed Ben Affleck movie from a decade earlier, the success of this series was an early indicator that Marvel’s media empire could extend its bounds beyond feature films.
- Years on the air: 2006–2013
A psychopathic forensic expert takes his violent urges out on evildoers. Critics loved the novel premise, though they warned that some viewers might find the show’s gore repellant. Not too many did, apparently: The show’s finale drew 2.8 million viewers, a record for Showtime.
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 2006–2011
After adapting the non-fiction book “Friday Night Lights” into a 2004 film, filmmaker Peter Berg brought this story to the small screen. Focusing on a high school football team in a small town in Texas, the series tackled a number of contemporary American societal issues. The show also accelerated the careers of actors Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, and Michael B. Jordan.
After being firing from the BBC and the popular show “Top Gear” for disciplinary reasons, presenter Jeremy Clarkson took a similar series to Amazon Prime. Clarkson brought his “Top Gear” co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May along for a show that focuses on automobiles, with a mixture of pre-taped segments and live-audience segments. The show also came to video game consoles as an interactive experience.
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Amy Sherman-Palladino’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has garnered enough major awards to leave no doubt as to its universal acclaim (Golden Globes or Emmys for the series, directing, writing, lead actress, supporting actress, and supporting actor). Rachel Brosnahan plays Midge Maisel, New York City housewife who breaks the confines of her gender role via stand-up comedy in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
- Years on the air: 2002–2008
“The Shield” surpassed most prime-time cop shows by favoring shades of gray over clear-cut moralism. In a career-defining role, Michael Chiklis played the volatile, corrupt, and yet somehow principled leader of an elite Los Angeles detective squad. He won a Primetime Emmy for his performance after the first season.
- Years on the air: 1997–2003
HBO’s first one-hour drama, set in a maximum security prison, rewrote all the rules of television and set the table for the network’s future as the go-to destination for prestige television. While it’s a little rough around the edges by today’s standards, the show holds up as a gritty, uncompromising, character-driven look into life inside a correctional facility. J.K. Simmons gives a standout performance as an alpha-male white supremacist inmate.
This popular NBC dramedy from Dan Fogelman about three siblings struggling through adulthood is all about tugging heartstrings. Although some critics have found the proceedings too saccharine to recommend, the show has been nominated for, and has won, a number of awards.
- Years on the air: 2014–2020
In this animated Netflix series, a former sitcom star voiced by Will Arnett attempts to reignite his showbiz career. Oh, and he happens to be an anthropomorphized horse. While many reviewers found the show’s first season too short on laughs to justify its bizarre premise, subsequent seasons added surprising depth to the BoJack character and drew acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
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- Years on the air: 2000–present
“Seinfeld” creator Larry David plays a fictionalized version of himself in this heavily improvised, award-winning HBO comedy. David’s onscreen persona has a talent for generating awkward, uncomfortable, and hilarious situations that have long delighted audiences and critics alike. Offscreen, David has declared himself done with the character numerous times, sometimes taking long hiatuses between seasons, which is why it took him 17 years to make the first nine seasons of the show.
- Years on the air: 1996–2003
Possibly the most famous anime series of all time is “Dragon Ball Z,” with its equally famous protagonist Goku. A sequel to the original “Dragon Ball” anime and a continuing adaptation of the manga of the same name, “Z” portrayed Goku’s adult life as he and his companions defended the world from a host of villains and enemies. The show had two other sequel shows, as well as a remastering called “Dragon Ball Kai.”
This acclaimed Netflix historical drama explores the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The show was created by Peter Morgan and evolved out of his award-winning 2006 film “The Queen.” Season one begins when Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is only 25 and a princess, and focuses on her relationship with grizzled Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow). Starting in season three, Olivia Colman took over for Claire Foy as queen.
- Years on the air: 2001–2005
This HBO drama about a family-run funeral home featured a unique gimmick: each episode began with the arrival of a new corpse. The show’s final episode, which stared down the mortality of its characters as it fast-forwarded the full remainder of their lives, has been hailed as one of the best series finales of all time.
This Amazon Prime original imagines a world where superheroes are immoral and instruments of corporate capitalism. “Hughie” Campbell plays an everyman whose girlfriend is killed as collateral damage to a speedster superhero, who is a member of “The Seven,” the world’s most famous superhero team. Hughie then joins a group of vigilantes led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), whose goal is to take down the “Supes” through violence and uncovering their dark hidden secrets.
- Years on the air: 2018–present
Horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan both created and directed “The Haunting of Hill House.” The show is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, with the show focusing on two different time periods revolving around a family’s paranormal experiences in the Hill House. The show was succeeded with a new story called “The Haunting of Bly Manor” in 2020.
- Years on the air: 2004–2009
This Syfy Channel remake vastly improved upon the cheesy 1970s original with excellent special effects, politically astute plotlines, and a first-rate cast. Bucking the trend of youthful casting, series creator Ronald D. Moore opted for seasoned actors for his leads: Edward James Olmos as the captain of the titular starship and Mary McDonnell as the secretary of education who’s thrust into the role of president by succession laws after most of humanity is wiped out by robot-esque Cylons. With its tense plotlines, first-rate performances, and surprisingly deep themes, “Battlestar Galactica” was one of the best science fiction shows ever to hit the small screen.
- Years on the air: 2005–2007
This ambitious HBO sword-and-sandals epic followed two Roman soldiers whose onscreen lives intertwined with actual historical events. The series received positive reviews for its impressive visuals and R-rated thrills. But, like the Roman empire itself, the show’s size and scope were its downfall: HBO was forced to ax it from the schedule after its second season because of budgetary concerns.
Some of the themes of the sci-fi show “Dark” include time travel, child abduction, disappearance, nuclear power, and conspiracy. Netflix’s first German-language original series has drawn universal acclaim and proven a stout contemporary and competitor of “Stranger Things.” Its third season was the final for the brooding, mysterious, ever-twisting series that continued to build surprising connections between the families, relationships, and time—perhaps the central figure—in the fictional Winden.
This spinoff of AMC’s flagship series “Breaking Bad” takes place before and after the events of that show, focusing on the life of sleazy attorney Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. Although it had big shoes to fill, the show managed to surpass critics' expectations, while scratching an itch for “Breaking Bad” fans suffering from cancellation withdrawal. Its sixth and final season will premiere in 2022.
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- Years on the air: 1997–present
This foul-mouthed animated satire from creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone pushes the boundaries of good taste to a breaking point, making “The Simpsons” look tame by comparison. A breakout hit for Comedy Central, this show put the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, on the pop culture map and made Kenny, Kyle, Stan, and Cartman (and the series creators) household names. The show also spawned a big-screen adaptation, as well as two hit video games.
- Years on the air: 1989–present
America’s longest-running animated show was originally adapted from a series of shorts sandwiched between sketches on “The Tracey Ullman Show” in the late 1980s. The series has come a long way since then, spawning toys, comic books, albums, video games, a feature film, and even its own theme-park ride at Universal Studios. At the peak of its success, the show’s main cast members earned $400,000 per episode, though they’ve since agreed to multiple rounds of pay cuts in order to keep the show financially feasible for Fox.
Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name, “Westworld” is the hit HBO sci-fi series about the fictional, technologically advanced “Old West” amusement park hosted by androids. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden, its debut in 2016 earned the highest ratings for the network for a premiere since “True Detective,” and its first season ranked as the most-watched of any HBO original series.
- Years on the air: 2004–2012
Hugh Laurie played a physician who made up for his poor bedside manner with diagnostic skills that bordered on genius. Each episode presented a new medical mystery for him to solve, and although it strained believability, the formula made for engrossing TV. Critics raved about Laurie’s performance, which earned him back-to-back Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series–Drama in 2006 and 2007.
- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 2020
"The Queen's Gambit," based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel of the same name, centers on the character of an orphan and chess prodigy called Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Harmon is taught to play chess by a janitor at the orphanage, and by age 20 is headed to Moscow to compete against the world's best Grandmaster. But besides the pressure of training for such a title, Harmon battles demons—from drug and alcohol addiction to emotional problems—all along the way.
- Years on the air: 1999–2006
Created by Aaron Sorkin, this NBC political drama peered into the workings of a fictional White House under the leadership of a Democratic president played by Martin Sheen. Critics praised the show’s smart writing and brisk walk-and-talk pacing. In terms of viewership, "The West Wing" was especially popular among high-income audiences, making its commercial breaks desirable for advertisers.
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- Years on the air: 1999–2000
Before Judd Apatow became a household name through movies, he created this short-lived comedy-drama for NBC. Although it only ran a single season, it has developed a cult following over the years for its unflinching and heartfelt portrayal of teenage awkwardness. The show introduced several actors who would go on to become regulars in Apatow projects, including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, and James Franco.
The breakout hit of streaming platform Disney+, “The Mandalorian” is the first live-action “Star Wars” series and set in the timeline between “Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” and “Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” In creator Jon Favreau’s first season, the titular Mandalorian (aka Din Djarin, played by Pedro Pascal) navigates the outer depths of the galaxy as a bounty hunter and, of course, protects The Child (aka Baby Yoda) from capture.
- Years on the air: 1990–1991, 2017
It’s astounding that a show this strange was able to land a network TV time slot in the early 1990s. The show follows the investigation of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper into the murder of a homecoming queen in a Washington logging town. While the premise makes it sound like a run-of-the-mill primetime procedural, the delivery from creators Mark Frost and David Lynch was truly bizarre. Combining surrealism, melodrama, horror, and comedy with movie-quality visuals, “Twin Peaks” stands as one of the most original pieces of American television ever made. The show was resurrected by Showtime in 2017 for a limited-run series featuring many of the original cast members to the delight of fans everywhere.
Its main characters may work in a bar, but this show is no “Cheers.” Caustic, cynical, crass, and hilarious, “It's Always Sunny” delights in pushing the boundaries of good taste far beyond what would fly in a network show. The first season took a while to find its comedic footing, but since season two, which kicked off with Danny DeVito joining the cast, the show has received universal acclaim from critics. When it was renewed for a 15th season in 2020 it became the longest-running live-action comedy series in American history.
- Years on the air: 1989–1998
Regularly referred to as one of the best TV shows of all time by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and TV Guide, “Seinfeld’s” iconic characters, storylines, and catchphrases have become an indelible part of popular culture. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld in 1989, the show launched the careers of Seinfeld and co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander, while Michael Richards’ Kramer character became unforgettable. It won an Emmy in 1993 for “Outstanding Comedy Series,” and in 2014, Hulu acquired the streaming rights to all nine seasons of the series’ episodes for a reported $130 to $180 million.
- Years on the air: 2003–2006, 2013–2019
Debuting in 2003 and revived in 2013 by Netflix, the quirky comedy “Arrested Development” followed the dysfunctional Bluth family as they navigated life after the family patriarch was imprisoned. Starring Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Will Arnett, Portia De Rossi, and Jessica Walter, the critically acclaimed show won six Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe, though it was canceled due to low ratings on Fox in 2006. Some critics have said that “30 Rock” and “Community” were inspired by the show’s offbeat sensibility.
One of the most popular original shows on Netflix, “Narcos” was a gripping drama that followed the real-life stories of the Colombian drug trade of the late 1980s. While seasons one and two focused on the infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, season three picked up after his fall and the rise of Cali Cartel. The series has been nominated for a number of awards, and spawned a spinoff in "Narcos: Mexico."
- Years on the air: 2005–2013
Based on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s hit BBC show, the American version starred Steve Carell as the well-meaning but painfully awkward boss of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. The show turned Carell, who up until then was best known as a “Daily Show” correspondent, into a household name and led to a film career.
- Years on the air: 2013–2018
“House of Cards,” which is often referenced as the case study for Netflix and the new era of television developed based on “big data,” was an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. The acclaimed political thriller, which starred Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, suspended production after allegations of sexual assault and harassment came out against Spacey, then severed ties with the actor for good. Its final season starred Wright and dropped in 2018.
The Duffer brothers created this phenomenally successful ’80s original thriller series for Netflix in the summer of 2016. It sparked a cultural revolution that boosted sales of Eggo waffles, left fans worried about Barb, and had audiences begging for more after binge-watching sessions.
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- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Years on the air: 2012–2016
The fictional town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, is the setting of this popular Disney television show by Alex Hirsch. Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal provide the voices of twins who are dropped off at the home of their great uncle Grunkle Stan, which eventually leads to hijinks in the strange and supernatural town. The show ended after two seasons but is still beloved for its charm, animation style, and appeal to all ages.
When fans of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” were looking for a new voice of reason when he retired in 2015, John Oliver was there. Oliver, who won an Emmy for his work on “The Daily Show,” now serves as host of his own popular weekly primetime show on HBO. It has been nominated for, and has won, a number of awards.
Based on the Coen brothers film of the same name, “Fargo” is a darkly comedic anthology show about quirky characters in small towns. The award-winning series has received top marks from critics for its originality and dedication to the absurd.
- Years on the air: 1994–2004
When Joey, Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe—played by the unforgettable ensemble cast of Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, and Lisa Kudrow—got together in “Friends,” it was television magic. One of the most popular sitcoms of all time, the show earned 62 Primetime Emmy nominations, winning for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2002. It launched the TV and film careers of all of its cast members, and sparked the short-lived spinoff, “Joey.”
- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Years on the air: 1959–1964, 1985–1989, 2002–2003, 2019–present
Rod Serling’s iconic, critically acclaimed “The Twilight Zone” series took on issues of prejudice, war, government, and morality. Blending fantasy, thriller, and science fiction, many of the themes and lessons from the memorable (albeit super creepy) storylines resonate today. While the original black-and-white, Serling-led series ran from 1959 to 1964, the first reboot arrived in 1985, followed by other revivals and a film version produced by Steven Spielberg in 1983.
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- Years on the air: 1992–1995
Bruce Timm co-developed “Batman: The Animated Series,” which became the first show in a larger animated universe that ended with “Justice League Unlimited.” The show focused on Bruce Wayne, voiced by Kevin Conroy, and his exploits as the Caped Crusader. It is the source of actor Mark Hamill’s most famous voice performance as the Joker.
- Years on the air: 2002–2003
Joss Whedon’s short-lived but beloved futuristic space drama was canceled by Fox, but then became a fan favorite when it was released on DVD. The series featured an ensemble cast (led by Nathan Fillion) and won a Primetime Emmy for special effects. It also inspired comics and a role-playing game, as well as the 2005 film “Serenity.”
In this critically acclaimed anthology crime drama series, new cast ensembles take on challenging crime investigations each season. The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, was called one of the best drama series of the year, while other critics said it was one of the strongest in recent memory. Season two stars Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch; Mahershala Ali is the lead in the third season, with Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, and Ray Fisher co-starring.
- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Years on the air: 2010–present
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock Holmes in this popular series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series of the same name. Produced as a co-production of BBC and WGBH in Boston for PBS Masterpiece, the show has received praise from critics and fans alike, winning three Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Lead Actor for Cumberbatch.
- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Years on the air: 2005–2008
Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino co-created this anime-inspired American animated show, with the backstory involving the “Avatar,” a person who can “bend” and manipulate all four main elements of air, water, fire, and earth. Aang is the current Avatar, found by Water Tribe siblings Katara and Sokka 100 years after Aang froze in an iceberg, leaving the world under siege by the Fire Nation. The show was followed up by “The Legend of Korra,” a show set 70 years later about the next Avatar.
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- Years on the air: 1999–2007
The late James Gandolfini led this megahit, award-winning HBO series as Tony Soprano, an Italian-American mobster who had to balance family life with organized crime. Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler co-starred in what some critics consider one of the most groundbreaking series ever made because of its effect on the industry in elevating the art form.
Cartoon Network’s adult animated sci-fi comedy “Rick and Morty” follows the adventures of Rick Sanchez, a mad scientist, and his daughter (Sarah Chalke) and her children. It has received high marks from critics for its creativity, scientific accuracy, and general wackiness, and has a massive cult following.
- IMDb user rating: 9.3
Still cited as one of the greatest TV shows ever made, “The Wire” went off the air more than 10 years ago. The acclaimed HBO drama featured a black ensemble cast, helping to launch the careers of Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and Michael K. Williams, and took a realistic look at Baltimore and its drug scene, police department, schools, and media.
- Years on the air: 2011-2019
Based on George R.R. Martin’s beloved series of novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” this megahit HBO series essentially took on a life of its own. The Emmy Award-winning medieval fantasy epic followed the deadly adventures of two powerful families as they battled for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. It frequently challenged “The Sopranos” in viewership ratings during its first four seasons. The show inspired licensed merchandise, games, replica armor, and boosted sales of the original novels.
- IMDb user rating: 9.5
The critically acclaimed AMC series “Breaking Bad” turned Walter White into an icon and catapulted Bryan Cranston into cult status for his portrayal of the high-school-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin. Cranston won four Primetime Emmy Awards for the role. It’s considered one of the greatest TV shows of all-time, having become the most-watched cable TV show on American television, and most critically acclaimed of all time.
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