The 100 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time

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From the early days of television to the modern era of streaming services, cable channels, and good old terrestrial, the small screen offers us what movies largely cannot – ongoing, serialised storytelling, allowing showrunners and writers the opportunity to dig into characters across several years. The evidence is all there that we’re living in a golden age of TV, stacked with gripping character-driven dramas, big-budget fantasy and sci-fi series with movie-level production values, and small idiosyncratic shows from diverse creators that have cultivated considerable fanbases. There’s a whole world of TV out there – and, according to you, these are the very best.

We asked you to vote for your top 10 scripted TV shows (no reality telly here) of all time – stacking up your personal favourites, perennial re-watches, all-time greats and more. You responded in droves, and we tallied up the results into a Top 100 list bursting with incredible series you’re bound to get hooked on. From iconic British sitcoms to epic American sagas, inventive animations and daring anthologies, these are the shows worth getting lost in, that have proved instrumental in evolving a storytelling form that continues to offer deeper and more complex narratives. Read the full list in the gallery below, and get watching.

Credit: HBO

100) Rome

2005-2007
Before Game Of Thrones came along to conquer the market on the politics, battles, boobs and bloodshed, Rome was delivering a story that chronicled both street-level folk and the highborn in the waning days of the Roman Empire. Kevin McKidd’s Lucius Vorenus was the ostensible star here, but Ray Stevenson frequently walked away with scenes as the funnier Titus Pullo. And let’s not forget the sheer audacity of James Purefoy’s Mark Anthony. How many TV series can claim John Milius among its creators? Just this one. We checked.

99) Farscape

1999-2003
Empire’s Editor-In-Chief Terri White might insist on calling this one “Fire Escape” on the Pilot TV podcast, but that doesn’t diminish its power. A defiantly different series from the likes of Star Trek and other sci-fi shows, Farscape borrows a little from all of them and then goes its own way. The series’ central idea strands human astronaut John Crichton in a distant part of the universe, where he links up with an intriguing group of aliens and is hunted by a merciless military race. Jim Henson’s Muppet team bring several of its creatures to life, and it channels humour and weirdness to create something memorable. A frustrating cliffhanger cancellation was mitigated by TV movies, and there is constant talk of a new version.

Credit: HBO

98) Big Little Lies

2017-present
Big Little Lies was always going to be something of an event, with a cast boasting Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz and Laura Dern. Its first season proved to be a great, twisty murder mystery based on Liane Moriarty’s book, relocating the action from Australia to California’s insular community of Monterey. The opening episode sets up that community tensions are leading to the murder of a mystery victim – but the brilliantly soapy drama between its leading women is so involving that its easy to forget mid-season that violence is on the horizon. The show proved so successful that a second season came about with added Meryl Streep. Now that is a power move.

Credit: ITV

97) Broadchurch

2013-2017
Before he became Doctor Who‘s latest showrunner, Chris Chibnall gave us this emotional crime series stacked with top-tier performances. David Tennant’s reclusive Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman’s no-bullshit Ellie Miller are the Dorset detectives tasked, in the first series, with finding the murderer of local boy Danny Latimer – and Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan put in heart-wrenching turns as the kid’s grieving parents. If Series Two misses the mark in morphing into an occasionally unconvincing courtroom drama, Broadchurch‘s third and final run gets things back on track with a sensitively-handled rape case. Its mysteries are smart and pacy – but it’s the brilliant bickering between Hardy and Miller that make the show so entertaining.

Credit: BBC

96) Life On Mars

2006-2007
A high concept police series that never let its idea overwhelm its characterisation, Mars sends a ’00s policeman, John Simm’s DCI Sam Tyler, back in time to the 1970s – an era better known for rough justice than the touchy-feely community policing he’s used to. Philip Glenister chews the scenery as Gene Hunt, a man who would have fit right in on The Professionals or The Sweeney. The clash of modern vs. classic remained a compelling tension through its run, while viewers were kept guessing as Sam tried to figure out exactly why he’d ended up thrown out of time.

Credit: BBC

95) I’m Alan Partridge

1997-2002
When Norwich city council announced that they were to pedestrianise their city centre, thousands took to Twitter to express mock displeasure, protesting in unison that “traders need access to Dixons”, to the bafflement of councillors. That’s the power of I’m Alan Partridge, which in two series became part of the cultural lexicon, providing an endless well of absurd quotes to repeat in any given scenario. ‘Partridge-esque’ is now a clearly-defined adjective. Petty, bitter, entirely lacking in self-awareness, the ultimate little Englander, Steve Coogan’s Partridge is one of the most exceptional and keenly-observed comedy characters ever conceived; this sitcom remains his greatest manifestation. It’s a TV show which has been described as, and I quote, “lovely stuff”. Not my words – the word of Shakin’ Stevens.

Credit: NBC

94) Quantum Leap

1989-1993
High concept sci-fi got a human face in Scott Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett, who theorised that one could time travel within their own lifetime. But his experiment doesn’t quite go as planned, as forces beyond his control “leap” him into the bodies of people through the past, where Sam ends up helping them solve dilemmas. Beckett is a hero you root for, helped no end by Bakula’s charismatic, chameleonic performance, while Dean Stockwell livened episodes up as cocky, sleazy pal (and hologram) Al. Quantum Leap might be prime late ’80s, early ’90s entertainment, but it had more relatable soul than its contemporaries. And let’s not forget that tear-jerking final scene.

93) The Bridge

2011-2018
The title refers to the Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, with the show focusing on a détente between the two police forces. Like The Killing, its success came from the characters as much as the crime plots – front and centre are the leather-trewed, autistic-spectrum Swedish detective Saga Norén and her alternately amused and anguished Danish counterpart Martin Rohde: both outstanding performances from, respectively, Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia. The latter’s absence was keenly felt in the later series.

Credit: NBC

92) Community

2009-2015
Ostensibly following a friendship group of (mostly) mature students in a community college, Community‘s premise is a blank canvas that allows its host of disparate characters – from Donald Glover’s ebullient Troy, to Chevy Chase’s grouchy Piers, and Joel McHale’s smarmy Jeff – to be pitched into genre-literate flights of fancy. Classic installments of Dan Harmon’s pre-Rick And Morty sitcom involve college-wide paintball matches breaking out with lashings of John Woo slow-mo, a social media app creating a dystopian stratified society among the students, and a dinnertime dice-roll sparking six alternate timelines – all indicative of the show’s dizzying invention and obsession over pop culture. With a host of generally likeable characters sometimes doing dislikeable things, Community is a strange brew – and it suffered when Harmon was fired before Season 4, henceforth referred to as the ‘gas leak year’ when he returned for Seasons 5 and 6. Fans, meanwhile, are still waiting on that movie.

Credit: BBC

91) Monty Python’s Flying Circus

1969-1974
Forty-five episodes of bite-sized genius showcases the Pythons at their riffiest, daftest, most out-there best. A bold blueprint for British sketch comedies for years to come, its deliberately outsized Britishness is embroidered by Terry Gilliam’s surrealist animations – a little like Dali once did for Luis Buñuel, only with more giant feet and mutant chickens. The gang take turns to poke fun at the nations’ bureaucrats, toffs, gameshow hosts and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (among others), and its upside worldview reaches its logical conclusion when the village idiot turns out to be the smartest character in the show.

Credit: CBS

90) The Good Wife

2009-2016
Robert and Michelle King’s legal drama follows Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), who put her flourishing legal career on hold to support her husband’s (Chris Noth) political ambitions, as she returns to the fray after a devastating cheating scandal. She soon works her way up the ranks at a prestigious firm, all the while dealing with her own life and choices. The series get its title from Margulies’ character, but the highlights are often found elsewhere, like Christine Baranski’s spiky senior partner Diane Lockhart, the idiosyncratic characters who populate the Chicago legal world, and a commitment to thoughtfully tackling topical issues. The spirit of the show (with the added ability for its characters to swear) lives on in spin-off The Good Fight.

89) Gilmore Girls

2000-2007, 2016
The sublime pleasure of Gilmore Girls lies in its witty, fast-paced dialogue and the heart-warming (occasionally fractious) mother-daughter relationship between Lorelei (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel). The cozy town of Stars Hollow is the setting for a show which delights in oddball characters and light dramatic tension, as Rory grows up and Lorelei starts to think about settling down. Its stacked cast includes a pre-fame Melissa McCarthy, Kelly Bishop as Lorelei’s imposing mother Emily, and a small but memorable role for Sean ‘performance capture and on-set creator of Rocket Racoon’ Gunn. The show’s return in a set of seasonal Netflix instalments couldn’t quite capture the same magic – but it was a high bar to cross.

Credit: NBC

88) Homicide: Life On The Street

1993-1999
People use the word ‘gritty’ in relation to film and TV drama all the time, but as a TV cop drama, Homicide: Life On The Street was the real deal. An avowed attempt by creator David Simon to get into the business of day-to-day procedural police work, as opposed to the glossier cop-show version audiences were used to, it ran for seven seasons in the 1990s, and remains incredibly influential. Testament to its quality is the ridiculous guest cast it attracted: Vincent D’Onofrio, Robin Williams, Paul Giamatti, Jake Gyllenhaal and J.K. Simmons were among those who temporarily joined the outstanding regulars.

Credit: Netflix

87) Narcos

2015-2017
Since supplanted by Narcos: Mexico, Netflix’s historical crime drama focuses on the exploits of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, as well as the other drug kingpins who plagued the country through the years. Narcos has a lot to recommend it – not least, it’s able to show more sides of Escobar’s story than most of the movies that have been made about him, as well as the stories of the agents looking to take him down. Wagner Moura brings layers to Escobar, while Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook make for an effective tag team on the lawful side of history. The story is gripping, and while it naturally has to invent some events, it feels largely authentic.

Credit: ABC

86) NYPD Blue

1993-2005
Most famous for pushing the boundaries of what was allowed on American network TV, NYPD Blue is better remembered for the characters it created rather than the controversies. Creators Stephen Bochco and David Milch brought indelible people to the screen, as Dennis Franz’ complicated, cranky Andy Sipowicz grumbled his way through day-to-day detective police work. David Caruso pulled the ripcord and left after Season One (he would regret it), but the show went from strength to strength, Franz finding his most solid partnership with Jimmy Smits’ Detective Bobby Simone. Many police series of the modern era owe thanks to the Blue team, and it’s still missed.

Credit: CBS

85) How I Met Your Mother

2005-2014
Leaving aside for a moment that devastatingly divisive (read: disappointing) ending, How I Met Your Mother updated the classic hang-out sitcom for a new generation. Amidst flashbacks, narrative trickery, unreliable narrators and quick cut-away jokes, HIMYM (pronounced him-yim) weaved the story of how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) met the woman he’d marry. Along the way, he spends his time going down romantic cul-de-sacs, while best friends Lily (Alyson Hannigan, in her best role since Buffy) and Marshall (Jason Segel) marry, pick-up artist Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, enjoying a career renaissance) plots, and on-again-off-again tough nut Canadian Robin (Cobie Smulders) looks for her own path.The journey was great. The destination… Look, we’re still leaving it aside.

Credit: NBC/Fox

84) Brooklyn Nine-Nine

2013-present
Created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, who honed their craft on shows such as The Office and Parks And Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues those series’ mix of friendly, warm comedy delivered by talented ensembles. Set in the titular New York police department precinct, it ostensibly follows goofy but dedication detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), but has long since expanded out to properly explore his colleagues – including a scene-stealing Terry Crews as Terry Jeffords, and Andre Braugher who generates some of the biggest laughs trading on his Homicide: Life On The Street past as the gruff Captain Holt. Able to straddle silly gags and deeper treatments of certain issues (such as racial profiling), Nine-Nine has flourished through the years. It’s also grown into something utterly satisfying (title of your sex tape).

Credit: FX

83) Justified

2010-2015
Raylan Givens is a relatively minor character in the works of Elmore Leonard, appearing in short story Fire In The Hole. But in the hands of Speed‘s Graham Yost, Justified became one of the better adaptations of the crime writer’s twisty, talky style. With Timothy Olyphant as the epitome of laconic justice, it’s the story of an old-school, gun-slinging Deputy U.S. Marshal whose uncompromising methods see him reassigned from Miami to his home of Harlan County, Kentucky, where he’s forced to cross paths with his career criminal father (Raymond Barry), his old mining buddy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and countless other colourful criminal types. Goggins in particular is a standout, while Margo Martindale makes for a memorable antagonist in Season Two.

Credit: NBC

The Good Place

Firing right out of the gates on all cylinders, the first season of The Good Place declared it as one of the smartest, most unpredictable comedies of recent years – even before its forking incredible twist came into play. Sitcom god Michael Schur’s afterlife comedy focuses on Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop as she finds herself sent to the titular Good Place after her untimely death – except, it’s all a mix-up and she’s an imposter who lived a largely selfish life, forced to be on her best behaviour in order not to get caught. Like all of Schur’s comedies it’s bolstered by a loveable ensemble – special shout-outs to Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden as neighbourhood architect Michael and not-a-girl Janet, respectively – but it’s more plot-driven (and philosophy-heavy) than most sitcoms, with regular twist endings and a sprawling Lost-esque mythology. Watch it, benches!

UK:
Stream on Netflix

US:

Stream on Hulu

Credit: BBC

81) The Thick Of It

2005-2012
Political satire used to be a mere wry quip here, a raised eyebrow there (the iconic Yes Minister aside). Then The Thick Of It stormed in and told everybody, “Fuckity bye.” With Peter Capaldi’s fire-breathing fixer Malcolm Tucker at its centre, Armando Iannucci’s foul-mouthed comedy remains one of the sharpest, fastest-witted comedies ever, skewering Britain’s political class via a tornado of creative cursing. Bizarrely, and to the general bemusement of its creators and fans, life has unwisely decided to imitate art – Michael Gove announced plans to have children design apps mere days after the “Silicon Playgrounds” episode, while George Osborne’s 2012 budget was widely described as an “omnishambles”.

Credit: BBC/Dave

80) Red Dwarf

1988-1999, 2009-present
The UK has often tackled sci-fi on the small screen, but the sci-fi comedy is a much rarer beast. Red Dwarf at its prime was one of our greatest examples: the budget may not have been intergalactic, but the characters pinged off each other and the vast majority of the jokes landed. Dave Lister (Craig Charles) is the last man left alive on the eponymous mining vessel, with just an uptight hologram (Chris Barrie’s Rimmer, an all-time great comedy loser snob), an evolved cat-man (Danny John-Jules’ ebullient, vain Cat), a nervy android (Robert Lewellyn’s Kryten) and the ship’s less-than able computer Holly (Norman Lovett) for company. The show expanded beyond its initial concept and enjoys a revival run on Dave, but those first three seasons remain the glory days.

Credit: HBO

79) Sex And The City

1998-2004
Thanks to the passage of time and two cack-handed movie spin-offs, Sex And The City has come to be seen by many as a silly show about shoes and cocktails. But beneath the layers of Prada hid a series that was smartly written and incredibly brave, even if it did totter across the screen on a pair of immaculately fitted Jimmy Choos. It’s easy to forget now how groundbreaking the adventures of four sexually liberated (okay, three, plus Charlotte) Manhattan thirtysomethings were not just for women on TV, but for the treatment of sex on the box. The entire vibrator industry owes Carrie and Co an enormous debt.

Credit: Channel 4

78) Peep Show

2003-2015
The comedy of cringe was rarely more keenly detailed than in this series, which inflated awkwardness to new heights. Created by Andrew O’Connor, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Peep Show has the novel concept of being entirely shot from the point of view of lead idiots Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb). Their lives, lusts and absolute howlers of social mistakes are all documented: Mark’s the uptight bumbler who thinks he’s holding on to moral views, whereas Jez can rarely seem to let go of his youthful days despite the fact he’s only around 10% cooler than his roommate. The writing stays incredibly strong across all nine series, bolstered by great supporting work from Olivia Colman, Patterson Joseph, Matt King and more.

Credit: ITV

77) Cracker

1993-1996, 2006
In Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, Robbie Coltrane concocted one of television’s most memorable antiheroes. The gambling, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking, overweight psychologist may have incorporated almost every vice known to man, but viewers delighted in the ease with which he mercilessly beat lesser men to an intellectual pulp. Jimmy McGovern’s tautly-written drama was never concerned with the whodunit aspect (the perpetrator was generally revealed in the first scenes) but rather built up to the moment Fitz got the suspect in an interview room. Assaulting them with cutting insight and outright provocation, the portly profiler bent them to his will and put the squeeze on until they finally cracked. One of the finest dramas Britain has produced.

Credit: Showtime

76) Dexter

2006-2013
Forget that terrible final season and the whole lumberjack thing – for the majority of its run, Dexter was one of the sharpest shows on TV. Michael C. Hall brings a cool detachment and smirking pitch-black humour in the title role as the blood spatter analyst who harbours a burning desire to kill – a murderous impulse that he channels into bumping off the bad guys the police are unable to touch. At its best, the show bubbles with will-they-won’t-they-catch-him tension as Dexter’s own colleagues pore over his crime scenes – and its fourth season, with John Lithgow’s terrifying ‘Trinity Killer’ is perhaps its peak.

Credit: Netflix

BoJack Horseman

An animated comedy satirising Hollywood with a Will Arnett-voiced washed-up horse actor as its protagonist sounds like it should be a light, silly laugh-fest – which makes BoJack Horseman‘s deep vein of sadness all the more surprising. BoJack himself is a has-been, entirely aware of his ever-diminishing status and the ego-driven, alcohol-fuelled self-destructive choices he makes. Given a nurturing platform on Netflix, the show has cultivated an audience who has embraced its bruised heart – which isn’t to say it’s not funny too. Stacked with animal puns to balance out the darkness, it’s a singularly unique brew sure to go down as a definitive animated series for its complexity of emotion.

UK & US:

Stream on Netflix

Credit: SyFy/Amazon

The Expanse

Hundreds of years in the future, humans have colonized the solar system. The U.N. controls Earth. Mars is an independent military power. The planets rely on the resources of the Asteroid Belt, where air and water are more precious than gold. For decades, tensions have been rising between these three places. Earth, Mars and the Belt are now on the brink of war. And all it will take is a single spark… Adapting the work of novelist James SA Corey (actually Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), The Expanse has become one of the best science fiction shows on TV. Blending smart, humanistic science fiction with relatable human characters (and, as the series has expanded, a growing alien presence), it’s grown a considerable following, which surely will have helped it find a new show at Amazon after being cancelled by the US SyFy network. Sometimes, good things _do_ happen to good shows.

UK & US:

Stream on Amazon Prime Video

Credit: NBC

73) Cheers

1982-1993
“Sometimes you want to go,” runs the iconic theme tune, “where everybody knows your name.” And given the ratings of this massive smash success, one of the most famous Stateside sitcoms of all time, it seems that near-everybody did know the characters who frequented Cheers‘ Boston bar. You’ll absolutely know the names of its cast members too – the show making household names of Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, Kelsey Grammer, John Ratzenberger, Woody Harrelson, Rhea Perlman, Shelley Long and George Wendt. Don’t let the largely one-room setting fool you – Cheers is a masterpiece of construction, with finely-tooled gags , well-sketched characters, and familiar rhythms delivered with clear panache. There’s a reason it ran for more than 10 years and spawned the just-as-successful Frasier.

Credit: The WB

72) Angel

1999-2004
As Buffy left its high school setting behind, David Boreanaz’s Angel span off in a more mature direction too – the soul-burdened vampire heading off to the demon-ridden streets of L.A. to seek some kind of redemption. Initially exploring a noir vibe before moving into more colourful and lively storytelling, Angel is a show that constantly shifts identity – even its ensemble cast varies from season to season. In its strongest run, Season 3 (arguably superior to Buffy‘s concurrent Season 6), it got the formula just right – a bold and dramatic story arc, the perfect combination of side-characters, and a wrenching climax. Oh, and Season 5 has James Marsden’s Spike and an episode where Angel is turned into a puppet. Just don’t mention how badly it handled Charisma Carpenter’s exit.

Credit: Fox

71) Fringe

2008-2013
It has nothing to do with the John Hughes movie, but JJ Abrams’ Lost follow-up could be retitled Weird Science: the series. Fringe features some of the prolific writer/producer’s hallmarks – posing all kinds of scientific mysteries ahoy, and setting a cast of unusual characters to investigate them. Co-created by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Fringe sees Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), his estranged dad Walter Bishop (John Noble), and FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) work together to figure out strange happenings and odd tech. A wider parallel universe story creeps in early on, which sometimes clashes with the case-of-the-week format, but it works thanks to the fine work of the leads.

Credit: Comedy Central

70) South Park

1997-present
Though its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone keep saying they’re about ready to wrap it up so they can focus on other things, South Park survives – and thrives. What started as a goofy, weird, rude animation about four friends – Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny – living in a small Colorado town has long since evolved into a platform for talking about current events in a knowing, clever, funny fashion, firing jabs at all sides and never pulling its punches. With its on-the-fly, written-the-week-of-release style, South Park aims for big targets and still manages to generate controversy and chatter.

Credit: NBC

69) Scrubs

2001-2010
Drawing on experiences from his real-life doctor friend, Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence’s sitcom is a funny, frantic look at medical training that doesn’t skimp on the tougher moments of dealing with patients, illness and death. The show is anchored by Zach Braff’s John ‘JD’ Dorian, given to flights of fantasy all while he and his fellow fledgling medics – Donald Faison’s Chris Turk and Sarah Chalke’s nervy, talented Elliot Reed – brave the pressure of their chosen profession and the wrath of perennially grumpy mentor Dr. Cox. Through its several years on the air, Scrubs mixed the madcap with solid character work, and a cast of funny supporting characters helped flesh out its world.

Credit: CBS

68) Northern Exposure

1990-1995
What would you do if you had just graduated from medical school, only to learn to your surprise/horror that the terms of your scholarship contract mean you’re required to set up your practice in a remote, quirky Alaskan town? That’s the situation faced by Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), who despite his early protestations, finds that he enjoys life in Cicely more than he’s willing to admit. There’s a real charm to Northern Exposure, helped by some carefully calibrated performances that anchor its oddball characters, and the writing is full of unusual poetry.

Credit: HBO

67) Boardwalk Empire

2010-2014
Combining the talents of Terence Winter, who spent part of his career working on The Sopranos, and slightly-well-known filmmaker Martin Scorsese (who launched the show by directing the pilot and acting as an executive producer going forward), Boardwalk Empire ranks highly in the HBO-crime-series stakes. Spinning the clock back to the Prohibition era, the series explores the tough politics and criminal activity of 1920s Atlantic City. The nominal focus is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who makes deals with gangsters even as the Federal government starts to close in. It’s full of the usual HBO staples – blood, boobs and bad language – but all used judiciously.

Credit: HBO

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Part of the genius of Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it’s impossible to tell where the real Larry David ends and the fictional David begins. After all, this is a man who used to go out on stage for stand-up shows, peer at the audience and then walk off if he didn’t like the look of them. Every episode draws him into ass-puckeringly awkward scrapes with waiters, doctors, salesmen and other celebrities, from Ben Stiller to Martin Scorsese. The combination of David’s lack of social skills with the right-on political correctness of LA’s denizens makes for edgy, hilarious viewing.

UK:
Stream on Sky
US:
Stream on HBO

Credit: Adult Swim

65) Rick And Morty

2013-present
Within just three short seasons, Rick & Morty has become an instant internet favourite – a wildly surreal, sometimes deeply inappropriate animated comedy that takes science-fiction cliches and follows them to their largely horrifying conclusions. Its titular duo consists of a gruff-voiced alcoholic grandad and his overly sweet and naive grandson, playing out a twisted version of Back To The Future‘s Marty McFly-Doc relationship, as they embark on ‘adventures’ riffing on Mad Max, infinite alternate universes, The Purge – and, in one particularly famous episode, sentient pickles. Dark, weird, unique, and sometimes emotionally perceptive – don’t let its more annoying fans put you off.

Credit: Channel 4

64) Father Ted

1995-1998
The story of three priests stuck on the world’s least-appealing parish (Craggy Island, off the coast of Ireland) doesn’t sound like it would be the most compelling source of comedy. And yet Father Ted really, really works. Dermot Morgan’s Father Ted Crilly, punished for stealing (the money was “resting” in his account, honest), lives with supreme idiot Dougal (Ardal O’Hanlon) and drunken nuisance Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly), each episode cooking up some new madness for the trio to become embroiled in – with highlights including Ted leading a pack of terrified priests through a lingerie section as if they’re in a war film, and a recreation of Speed on a milk float.

Credit: Netflix

63) Mindhunter

2017-present
David Fincher has brought compelling serial killer stories to life on the big screen, so it makes sense that he’d be involved with this series, which frames real-life cases and the FBI’s slowly-gestating understanding of psychology in dark tones and moody lighting. Yet creator Joe Penhall’s show doesn’t fall victim to the usual tropes of seeing the killers hunt and slaughter their victims – the crime scene photos/recreations are largely in the background as Mindhunter focuses on FBI agents Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany), along with psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) talking to convicted killers in order to understand, track and catch current offenders. It has a lot on its mind, but it’s never, ever boring.

Credit: Hulu

62) The Handmaid’s Tale

2017-present
Margaret Atwood’s chilling vision of a less-than-united States ruled by a cruel, regressive theocracy becomes more and more prophetic as time marches on. And though The Handmaid’s Tale sometimes suffers from being unremittingly bleak, some light and hope has started to show through the cracks. Even with the gloomy, dystopian outlook, there is plenty to recommend it: Elisabeth Moss’ award-winning performance as June/Offred for one. Sparking real-life protest gear and any number of think-pieces, Tale‘s big ideas are standing the test of time – and the show marks a stellar example of how to take a novel’s key concept and run with it, the series weaving its own world from the threads established by the original writer.

Credit: Channel 4/Netflix

61) Black Mirror

2011-present
There’s a reason why “it’s all a bit Black Mirror” has become a widely-used reference point in recent years – Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ dark sci-fi anthology series taps into very human fears about our relationship with technology and the spiralling paths humanity could be heading down. A series of standalone episodes often set in worryingly plausible possible futures, the storytelling largely leans towards the bleak, shot through with Brooker’s sardonic sense of humour. From its Channel 4 days to its current home on Netflix, the series has consistently drawn big name talent – from Daniel Kaluuya and Jon Hamm, to Bryce Dallas Howard, Anthony Mackie and Andrew Scott – a testament to the filmic quality and cultural cache the series has attracted.

Credit: HBO

60) True Detective

2014-present
HBO doesn’t exactly ‘do’ police procedurals – but the closest it’s come is this anthology crime series, spinning murky tales from the dark heart of America with all-star casts. Each season has had a different flavour, but elements recur: world-weary cops, unsolved cases, multiple timelines unspooling different eras of the case. The first season, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson tracking down the ‘Yellow King’, is widely regarded as its best – an important milestone in ‘Golden Age TV’ for attracting such star names, and a key text in the McConaissance. There’s less love for the Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch-starring Season 2, but the show got back on track with 2019’s Season 3, boasting an incredible turn from Mahershala Ali.

Credit: NBC

59) Hill Street Blues

1981-1987
Launched to low ratings and audience confusion, Hill Street Blues seemed destined for a short life. But it endured, and rightly became known as one of the most audacious series on TV, effectively re-inventing the cop drama. It eschewed much of the hard-nosed cop cliches (but used them well when embracing them) and presented a serialised mixture of drama and comedy, featuring a diverse cast of three-dimensional characters at a run-down police precinct. It scored 98 – count ’em – Emmy nominations across its run, and won eight in the first season alone, while also becoming a template for the sort of ambitious TV drama that was to follow.

Credit: CBS

58) The Twilight Zone

1959-1964
Such is the impact of Rod Serling’s series, which gathered some of the best speculative writers and stories of the time, that it keeps coming back in different forms, and its impact is felt through popular culture to this day. Aiming to explore universal concepts while creeping us out or making us think (or both), Zone merged big ideas with popular ideals and proved that smart storytelling could work on television. Once seen, rarely forgotten; especially with that unnerving theme and Serling’s iconic introductions. The most recent iteration is overseen by Get Out‘s Jordan Peele.

Credit: BBC

57) The Office (UK)

2001-2003
The joy of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original series is its total lack of joy: in 14 episodes, it deftly depicts the wretched reality of dreary office life – one of muted greys, PowerPoint training sessions, and an all-pervading hopelessness, led by a deluded boss who thinks he’s everyone’s mate (“basically just a chilled-out entertainer”). Sometimes, there’s nothing like a bit of old-fashioned British pessimism, but that isn’t the whole story, either – with real emotion in the highs and lows of the relationship between Tim (Martin Freeman, in an early star-making role) and Dawn (Lucy Davis), and plenty of fun with the rest of the weirdos who populate the Wernham Hogg office.

Credit: Fox

56) House

2004-2012
For people more used to seeing Hugh Laurie as the bumbling Bertie Wooster or swapping witty quips with Stephen Fry, House was something of a culture shock. Yet Laurie was the perfect person to bring the grumpy genius doctor to life. Diagnosing the cases that appear to confound others, he’s a difficult character in the Sherlock mould, battling his own demons even as he fights the worst, most confusing medical issues in his patients. Keeping to his personal credo that “everybody lies”, he drives his staff to the heights professionally even as he castigates them personally. Bringing a little extra spice to the medical procedural genre, House established a solid spin on a well-used template.

Credit: BBC

55) Line Of Duty

2012-present
America might have brought us shows such as NYPD Blue and The Wire, but Britain remains the world’s top exporter of police series. And Line Of Duty is just the latest example, the acronym-stuffed look at the efforts of a team of corruption-battling cops and the moles they just can’t seem to squash. Jed Mercurio (who also whipped up Bodyguard) has Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar as the driven central trio of officers who must navigate twisty cases as they root-out wrongdoers from within and without. It’ll keep you guessing as to who’s really manipulating events behind the scenes, while the dialogue crackles in extended interrogation sequences, and the show looks as good as anything from across the pond.

Credit: HBO

54) Westworld

2016-present
Confusing? Absolutely, but in the best way. With its ultra-non-linear storytelling from the perspective of it unreliable androids, Westworld is ambitious, baffling, and totally thrilling. Expanding on the robo-theme-park-gone-wrong premise of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s series deals in weighty themes like the existence of consciousness, the experience of time, and the morality of predestination – with all the astonishing production values and incredible performances (Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright in particular) you expect from HBO. It’s not quite the new Game Of Thrones, but when its storytelling coalesces and its twists are unveiled, it’s hard not to be swept along by its smarts.

Credit: ITV

53) Prime Suspect

1991-1992, 1993-1996, 2003-2006
For all of her award-winning film work and long history of theatre experience, it is for Jane Tennison that many know and cherish Helen Mirren. Created by Lynda La Plante, the story of a no-nonsense detective chief inspector battling her way through a male-dominated police force turned the usual law enforcement clichés on their head. Mirren is always watchable as Tennison, deeply ambitious and fiercely able, who nevertheless has to justify herself at every turn. Later series saw her promoted, even as the challenges continued, but the series remained as great as ever. Unafraid to probe into dark places, Prime Suspect has such a standing impact that it has generated both a prequel and a short-lived attempt to remake it for the States.

Credit: HBO

52) Oz

1997-2003
Long before Orange Is The New Black blended humour and pain behind bars, _Oz_ took a much darker look at prison life, set in the Oswald State Correctional Facility. Bleak but brilliant, it gathers a group of characters from different walks of life and then subjects them to terrifying traumas on a weekly basis. If anyone you know shudders when they see the perfectly charming (and not at all psychopathic) J.K. Simmons in other roles, _Oz_ is to blame. It comes highly recommended, but a word of advice if you go bingeing: have something lighthearted and fun to watch in between seasons. Trust us.

Credit: FX

51) Fargo

2014-present
A prime example of not judging ideas before you see them realised, alarm bells rang when it was announced that someone was going to make a TV series based on the Coen brothers’ crime classic. But showrunner Noah Hawley was incredibly smart, using the movie’s faux true crime trappings and small-town setting while weaving his own story into them. Throw in an anthology format that changes the game every season, and a cast that’s already boasted the likes of Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Billy Bob Thornton, Bob Odenkirk, Jesse Plemons, Ewan McGregor (as twins, no less), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Fargo‘s small-screen incarnation absolutely stands on its own.

Credit: BBC

50) Only Fools And Horses

1981-2003
The later Christmas specials may have tested our good will, but for most of its run, Only Fools And Horses was a sitcom that earned its status as a perennial national treasure. Del Boy and Rodney Trotter’s doomed attempts to become millionaires kept the nation smiling for over 20 years and, thanks to constant repeats, they still manage to raise a giggle today. No matter how many times you watch the best bits (the chandelier scene, the yuppie bar fall, the Batman & Robin run), they never fail to raise a laugh.

Credit: Channel 4

Spaced

Taking in comic book shops, rave culture, and video games, Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg channelled their own pop-cultural obsessions and witty observations to spin gold out of a classic sitcom set-up. Kicking the careers of the three creators (and co-star Nick Frost) into high gear, Spaced is uproarious but also heartfelt, never forgetting to make the characters into people you care about while riffing on different genres. And the fact that only 14 episodes exist adds to the reason we all like it so much – it never overstayed its welcome. Without Spaced, there is no Cornetto Trilogy, so how about that for a slice of fried gold?

UK:
Stream on All 4
Buy now on Amazon
US:
Stream on Hulu
Buy now on Amazon

Credit: Fox/Netflix

48) Arrested Development

2003-2019
Now, the story of a groundbreaking sitcom that very nearly died a quiet, ignominious death at the hands of an indifferent network, before it was saved by an internet streaming site. When it first arrived in 2003, Arrested Development was so fiendishly clever, so densely plotted, so shrewdly ironic, that Fox barely knew what to do with it. Despite Fox’s best efforts to bury the show in strange timeslots, the Bluth family earned a feverishly loyal cult audience, one that eventually conferred upon it a Netflix rebirth. The brain-melting ambition of Season 4 may have been a noble failure for some, and Season 5 didn’t necessarily correct that, but its initial run remains one of the most innovative comedies ever produced.

Credit: NBC

Friday Night Lights

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose. As memorable mantras for a TV show go, this is up there. Peter Berg’s knowing adaptation of the H. G. Bissinger book and the 2004 movie he drew from it, broadened the scope of the world and wrangled memorable characters that live and breathe. Its young players are realistically flawed, and the team doesn’t always win – which just makes it that much more watchable. Plus, in coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and wife Tami (Connie Britton), we got one of the best married couples on TV, human people dealing with their lives but always leading with love. And most importantly, especially for those of us in the UK, you don’t need to worship at the church of the gridiron to appreciate it.

UK:
Buy to stream on Amazon
Buy now on Amazon
US:
Stream on Hulu

46) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

1993-1999
The perfect show for binge-watching before the concept existed. In its earliest days, this spin-off to Star Trek: The Next Generation felt like the storytelling was going to be by-the-numbers Trek, only on a space station. Flash-forward a couple of seasons, and this is the show that broke the Star Trek mould, filled with flesh-and-blood human beings (even if they were aliens), character arcs that frequently stretched over the course of seasons, groundbreaking storytelling and complex characters. Some complained early on that this station-bound show didn’t go anywhere – but really, this was the Trek that truly went where none had gone before.

Credit: FX

45) The Americans

2013-2018
The Cold War feels that much chillier in this inventive series, which follows the lives of two Russian sleeper agents who are very much awake in 1980s Washington. Complicated, passionate and thrown together by Mother Russia, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are fascinating creations: driven by patriotism but torn by the pull of their adopted home and the American family they raised as a cover. They’re conflicted killers, murdering people when the mission demands it – and the show doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of their nature, finding inventive ways to dispatch innocent and not-so-innocent victims. Elsewhere, the show provides some top-drawer needle drops and provides great roles for the likes of Margo Martindale and Frank Langella. Sometimes vicious, often touching, always excellent.

Credit: BBC

44) Fleabag

2016-2019
Phoebe Waller-Bridge scored a pack of Emmys for her second run of Fleabag episodes, and rightly so. Having turned an insightful, frank and frequently filthy one-woman show into a TV series that allowed her to explore the emotional waters to a much greater degree. Writing and starring, Waller-Bridge brought to life a young woman trying to reconcile her worldview and actions with the impact it has on those around her. The show will make you giggle, but Waller-Bridge doesn’t shy away from going dark when need be. Stellar turns from Olivia Colman and Sian Clifford have anchored the show through both seasons, while Andrew Scott was a highlight of the second, playing the character that will forever be known by fans as Hot Priest.

Credit: BBC

43) Fawlty Towers

1975-1979
One of British TV’s greatest ever sitcoms, the central question of Fawlty Towers – why the world’s least hospitable man would go into hospitality in the first place – remains tantalisingly unanswered across 12 kipper-serving, Siberian hamster-hunting, German-baiting episodes. A straight zero on TripAdvisor, the very layout of Fawlty Towers itself offers comedy gold as Basil (John Cleese), his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), waitress Polly (Connie Booth) and poor, benighted Manuel (Andrew Sachs) manoeuvre themselves (and the odd corpse) around its dowdy interior without ruining anyone’s stay. Basil, needless to say, fails. Often and hilariously.

Credit: Netflix

42) Stranger Things

2016-present
The nostalgia dial is squarely set on the 1980s in the Duffer Brothers’ hit Netflix show. Stranger Things channels the era perfectly, mixing up a horror and sci-fi blend that hits you right in the Spielberg and Stephen King sweet-spot, depicting a seemingly quiet Indiana town that suddenly becomes a hotbed of terror as scientific tinkering unleashes an otherworldly dimension lurking beneath the surface (or sharing a parallel space). The show boasts a revolving door of period-appropriate faces (Winona Ryder! Matthew Modine! Sean Astin! Cary Elwes!) and a top turn from David Harbour, but its the D&D-playing kids who really make the show – from Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown, to Joe Keery. An incredibly bingeable homage.

Credit: NBC

41) The Office (US)

2005-2013
American attempts to translate British sitcoms rarely work all that well – for every Sanford And Son (which transported Steptoe And Son across the pond) there are the best-forgotten Transatlantic takes on Spaced, Coupling and The IT Crowd. Here, though, Greg Daniels overcame an initial stumble to make something compelling in its own way. Steve Carell’s star-making turn as Michael Scott is just the tip of the casting iceberg, though it’s noticeable that the show was never quite the same after he left for big screen pastures. The seemingly mundane lives of a group of corporate drones at a paper company make for entirely watchable, laugh-out-loud TV, and rather than just create a carbon copy of the British series, this Office fully embraced its American setting, using the different mores of US offices to power its comedy and characters, and offering a slightly sweeter outlook than the UK version. Excruciating embarrassment never felt so good.

Credit: NBC

40) Hannibal

2013-2015
Bryan Fuller is acknowledged as the Quirk King of TV, and while many of his shows have burned brightly but briefly, his style was perfectly suited to the world of Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen played a slinky, stylish version of the eponymous serial killer with no time for the rude and selfish, and Hugh Dancy brought haunted passion to Will Graham, in a show that played out over three seasons before the plug was pulled. Fuller and his co-creators at least got to indulge in beautiful, traumatic crime scene creations, superb gourmet cannibalism and a hero who was more complicated than most, all served up in the most baroque fashion. We’d have liked more, of course, but we’re grateful for what we got.

Credit: BBC

39) Killing Eve

2018-present
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has long since proved she’s more than just the writer and star of Fleabag. Killing Eve cemented that idea, as she adapted Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novels into this funny, dark story of a low-ranked MI5 analyst (Sandra Oh’s titular Eve) who becomes more than a little obsessed with a psychopathic assassin (Jodie Comer’s Villanelle). And then Villanelle becomes just as obsessed with Eve, bringing a whole new angle to the cat-and-mouse spy game. Fiona Shaw steals scenes, and the rest of the cast make it work. Spy series are ten-a-penny, but they’ve rarely been better – or funnier, or more unexpected – than this.

Credit: Fox

Firefly

After the twin successes of Buffy and Angel, Joss Whedon headed to space for this wonderful and deeply-missed mix of Western tropes, Chinese swearing, big damn heroes, and a future dystopia. Set in a time when mankind has explored a new frontier as Earth’s resources ran out, Firefly follows a group of rebels and mercenaries who work under the radar of an all-encompassing government formed after a brutal civil war. Whedon recruited an ensemble cast that gelled perfectly, led by Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk and Summer Glau. They banter, they struggle, they fend off the space-maddened Reavers, and they make us care along the way. The ratings may have been low, but the show will not be forgotten.

UK:

Stream on Amazon
Buy now on Amazon

US:

Stream on Hulu

Credit: FX

37) It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

2005-present
For a show about such utterly reprehensible people, Always Sunny has connected with a huge fan base. Following in the tradition of shows such as Seinfeld, the dodgy dealings of Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney) Dee (Kaitlin Olsen), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Frank (Danny DeVito, who joined in the second season after US network FX demanded a name to boost the show’s ratings) make for excellent comedy value. They may not (usually) be people we can root for, but it’s fun to see them scheme, squabble and, more often than not, fail in their attempts to break out of their regular lives. Musicals, mayhem and no little misbehavior have become a winning combo.

Credit: CBS

36) Star Trek

1966-1969
From tiny acorns, a gigantic franchise was born – and you don’t spin all those movies, follow-up series and reboots out of nothing. But for all its limited budget, ‘Shacting’, and occasionally silly aliens, the Trek universe would be nothing without the parent show. Gene Roddenberry and his team cannily brought together big ideas and intergalactic vistas, then injected a healthy, adventurous spirit into the proceedings. It’s pulpy, it’s fascinating, and it’s at least partly responsible for the mobile phone you’re probably reading this on.

Credit: FX

35) Sons Of Anarchy

2008-2014
Kurt Sutter, a veteran of The Shield, brought a similar attention to detail and gritty plotting to this story of a motorcycle gang that cruise the small Californian town of Charming. The Shakespearean tale of a son (Charlie Hunnam’s Jax Teller) dealing with the legacy of his dead father, conflicting with his surrogate father-figure (Ron Perlman’s Clay Morrow), and facing the moral struggles of outlaw life, Sons Of Anarchy sees crime, ambition and violence all bleeding together. Under Sutter’s guidance, the show steered through leadership challenges, rival gang attacks and trouble from corrupt (and crusading) cops, telling a compelling, often brutal tale that pulls no punches. Jax’s story may have felt like the foot came off the throttle slightly as the show neared its end, but it kept up the pace and has since spawned a spin-off show in Mayans MC.

Credit: NBC

34) Frasier

1993-2004
Frasier mastered the tricky combination of mostly using smarts (and the odd pratfall) to get its laughs. Cleverly transposing Kelsey Grammer’s beloved Cheers stalwart to his hometown of Seattle and shifting the broader format of the original show to suit the unique quirks of its new characters, the most successful spin-off of all time is wordy and wise and not averse to indulging in the odd moment of high farce. Like the quality comedy theatre it aspired to emulate, Frasier’s appeal continues to endure.

Credit: HBO

33) Six Feet Under

2001-2005
With dark, surreal comedy and stark, blunt truths about life and death, it’s little wonder that Six Feet Under flowed from the same pen that gave us the equally incredible American Beauty. Alan Ball’s HBO series about a dysfunctional Pasadena family that runs an independent funeral home is a wonderful meditation on family, love and grief. Headed up by Peter Krause as prodigal elder son Nate Fisher and featuring Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose and Rachel Griffiths, the cast, like every facet of this compelling production, oozes class, gifted with sharp writing and a finale that offers one of the most emotional wrap-ups in telly history.

Credit: CBS

32) M*A*S*H

1972-1983
This series, based on Robert Altman’s 1970 film, managed to last over three times as long as the Korean War it used as its backdrop. MASH was a searing exploration of how the doctors and nurses of the 4077th (a mobile army surgical hospital, hence the title) used humour to get through the atrocities they were faced with on a daily basis. A sterling cast headed by Alan Alda kept the show riveting (and hilarious) throughout its 11-year run, while its commentary on war continued to the very end, when, in the final episode, the unit’s news reporter discusses the growing conflict in Vietnam.

Credit: NBC

31) ER

1994-2009
It ran until there wasn’t a single member of the original cast left (at least, until the spectacular reunion finale) but _ER_ amazingly showed little sign of decline throughout its 15-year run. Based on a film script by Michael Crichton, the series evolved into a weekly slice of emergency medicine at Chicago’s county hospital, one that was separated from inferior imitators by smart scripts, great characters and a willingness to shock – from Dr. Greene’s bathroom attack, to Lucy and Carter facing a schizophrenic knife-wielder. The list of cameos, both in front and behind the camera, is as long as your arm, boasting such names as Quentin Tarantino, Kirsten Dunst and Ewan McGregor.

Credit: BBC

30) Blackadder

1983-1989
For a show that began expensive and extravagant, and only survived less-than-thrilling ratings when its creators (including Ben Elton and Richard Curtis) agreed to turn it into a lower budget studio-bound sitcom, Blackadder quickly entered the national consciousness for its well-constructed gags and some consummate acting from the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInnerny and a revolving-door troupe of guests. For all its formulaic nature, the show was consistently sharp and funny – and even, with its fourth series, Blackadder Goes Forth, showed off a beating heart, full of surprising compassion.

Credit: FX

29) The Shield

2002-2008
When the very first episode off a show sees the lead character shoot a fellow cop in the face to cover up his own corruption, you know you’re not watching a run-of-the-mill police procedural. A brutal look at life behind the badge, Shawn Ryan’s down-and-dirty drama basks in its protagonist’s cavalier approach to right and wrong, and a reliance on street justice over the letter of the law. It’s to Michael Chiklis’ eternal credit that, despite acts of murder, torture, theft, drug distribution and other transgressions too numerous to list, Detective Vic Mackey remains a sympathetic and highly charismatic character – you just wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

Credit: AMC

28) The Walking Dead

2010-present
There have been zombies before – lord knows, there have been zombies – but The Walking Dead gave the post-apocalyptic concept time to carry on, and on, and on, exploring the ramifications of a total societal breakdown. Set in an increasingly savage, undead-plagued world, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his not-particularly-merry band of survivors find themselves grappling not only with the flesh-eaters – sorry, ‘walkers’ – but also the living. It’s as much a show about survivalism and ethics as it is about gore and cool make-up – and it’s done with characters we truly care about. While the series’ astonishing viewing figures have dropped in recent seasons, it’s still offering shocks and major reinventions for loyal viewers, expanding the story in the wake of Lincoln leaving to watch how humanity tries to rebuild the civilization that was lost. Critics can fire all the slings and arrows they like at the show, but there’s a reason it became a monster hit that was more about humans than monsters.

Credit: AMC

27) Better Call Saul

2015-present
There’s a reason Breaking Bad is renowned as one of the all-time greats, so for Vince Gilligan and his fellow writers to attempt a spin-off – a prequel, no less, with all of its own challenges and comparisons – took some bravery. Thankfully, they picked the perfect character to follow in Bob Odenkirk’s Slippin’ Jimmy McGill, AKA the man who will be Saul. Odenkirk, who had largely popped up as comic relief on the main show, here gets to demonstrate real depth and feeling as a con man sliding to a whole new level, dragging down friends and family as he goes. It’s a tribute to all involved that it works so well, with fellow cast members Rhea Seehorn (as Kim, who loves Jimmy despite his obvious faults and is a better lawyer than he could ever hope to be) and Michael McKean (as Chuck, his troubled, cunning brother) bringing real soul to the show.

Credit: NBC

26) 30 Rock

2006-2013
Tina Fey’s NBC-set showcase of sharp-writing, pitch-perfect performances, and slogan-bearing trucker hats remains one of the best sitcoms to hit the airwaves, Fey given free reign to indulge in all the craziness she and her team could conjure up. Jane Krakowski cranks it up as fame-obsessed Jenna, going toe-to-toe with Tracy Morgan’s madcap manchild actor Tracy Jordan, while Jack McBrayer steals scenes as wacky NBC Page Kenneth. But it’s Jack Donaghy who rules the show – the NBC head honcho is the role Alec Baldwin was born to play. Fey herself is the frazzled heart of the series as comedy writer Liz Lemon, trying to keep the madness from spiralling out of control on her SNL-alike sketch show TGS. And there’s a lot of madness.

Credit: BBC

25) Sherlock

2010-present
Like Dracula (which, fittingly, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss moved on to), Sherlock Holmes is one of those evergreen characters that is endlessly reinvented, either with a period-appropriate take or adapted for the present day of whoever tackles him. The creative duo plumped for the latter, bringing the great grouse detective bang up to date with texting, sexual innuendo, bromance and gusto. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have long since entered the canon of great Sherlocks and Watsons, and their every move is charted by a massive, enthusiastic fan base. A BBC classic, Moffat and Gatiss’ take on the great detective is both witty and wonderful.

Credit: Sky

24) Chernobyl

2019
The story of one of the worst real-life disasters in history might not sound like the most entertaining miniseries, but Craig Mazin and his team delivered something emotionally affecting that packs a real punch. Unafraid to show the true impact of the reactor’s meltdown, Chernobyl explores the tragedy’s effect on the people in the area, those called in to help and the political squabbling over who’s to blame and how to deal with the fallout (literally, in this case). A fine cast boasting the talents of Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Adam Nagatis and Sam Troughton give what could have been a dry history lesson a very human set of faces, and the miniseries was justly rewarded at the Emmys for its trouble.

Credit: NBC

23) Parks And Recreation

2009-2015
First conceived as a spin-off of the US Office, Parks & Rec initially struggled to shuffle out from the shadow of its bigger brother. But while the first season wobbled, the second soared and sustained that quality all the way to its emotional finale. Retaining The Office‘s ‘workplace mockumentary’ format, it ribbed the pernickety pedantry of small-town politics from the perspective of always-optimistic bureaucrat Leslie Knope, played with sheer brilliance by Amy Poehler. As with The Office, its ensemble is faultless – most notable being grumpy libertarian Nick Offerman’s alpha male Ron Swanson (choice quote: “I need five courses for dinner, and each of them will be steak”).

Credit: Fox

22) 24

2001-2015
At its best, there was nothing like _24_ – insane levels of adrenaline, finely calibrated political intrigue and twists that hit you in the face like a two-fisted punch from Tony Almeida. In its day _24_ was as cinematic as TV got, with no expense spared to depict Jack Bauer’s intense battles against cunning terrorists and the odd occasional rogue President. Even when _24_ was rubbish – and sadly the final Live Another Day miniseries wasn’t great – it was still loveable. Despite being the worst plot device in history, it’s hard not to have a soft spot for the cougar that menaced Kim Bauer back in Season 2.

Credit: NBC

21) Seinfeld

1990-1998
It began as a summer replacement series, but Seinfeld – based on the comedy of, and starring – Jerry Seinfeld, was given the one thing that few shows get these days: time for an audience to find it. Patience on the network’s part paid off as Seinfeld, the show about nothing, became an unprecedented juggernaut. The audience fell in love with its four self-centred pals whose self-involvement draws them together, turning Jerry, Elaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards) into household names. Not to mention uch supporting characters as Newman, Puddy, Babu Bhatt, George’s parents, Frank and Estelle; Uncle Leo and, of course, the Soup Nazi. As a reflection of society, the image is not a pretty one, but it is a classic.

Credit: Fox

20) The X-Files

1993-2002 / 2016-2018
In its ’90s heyday, Chris Carter’s series was the perfect stew of conspiracy theories, romantic drama, monster-of-the-week shocker, and just the right leavening of humour when called for. Unsolved mysteries never go out of fashion, and The X-Files was ready to explore them all. Stand-alone monsters mingled with large mythology arcs, and the emotional stakes raised as the dangers deepened and we met more of the people in Mulder and Scully’s lives. Even as spooky, rain-soaked forests gave way to a brighter palette after the series moved to LA, the stories stayed strong. At the core of it all, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson deserve a place in the pantheon of TV partnerships – proven by the fact that the show suffered when Duchovny stepped away. Still, when The X-Files worked, it really worked.

Credit: BBC

19) Peaky Blinders

2013-present
With dialogue as sharp as the razor blades sewn into the crime family’s flatcaps, it’s perhaps not all that surprising that Steven Knight’s drama has gone from strength to strength. With Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby as its anchor, Peaky Blinders has explored the struggles, triumphs and terror of the Shelby family as they cut a swathe through Birmingham and beyond in the early part of the 20th century. Peaky has prospered and evolved through the years, attracting ever bigger names (Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody) but never sacrificing the narrative on the altar of star wattage. Sticking close to history to power its storylines, Blinders continues to be one of the best sagas on TV.

Credit: HBO

18) Band Of Brothers

2001
When Tom Hanks develops a TV miniseries and has Steven Spielberg as one of his key collaborators, you know you’re in for a treat. So it was with Band Of Brothers, which Hanks and Erik Jendresen drew from Stephen E. Ambrose non-fiction tome. The fictionalised account of “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division’s training and dangerous missions in World War II provide the backdrop for affecting drama and nail-biting action. Saving Private Ryan was the template, but Brothers allowed Hanks and the rest to dig even deeper into the soldiers’ lives and the risky situations they entered. At the time, it was the most expensive miniseries put on screen, but every penny is up there.

Credit: CBS

17) Star Trek: The Next Generation

1987-1994
Following one of the most famous science fiction series in TV history is, to put it mildly, no easy task. Yet despite some early stumbles (pilot Encounter At Farpoint is all exposition and less-than-subtle moral lessons, while the first two seasons see clunkers outweighing memorable episodes), The Next Generation grew into itself – fittingly, just as the crew’s uniforms began to look comfortable. Big new enemies emerged, the cast found its rhythm, and Patrick Stewart in particular shone as Jean-Luc Picard, a fantastic captain who carved his own niche and avoided being a Kirk clone. The Trek universe grew bigger and richer with TNG, paving the way for further spin-offs that would only deepen an already rich mythology.

Credit: HBO

16) The Leftovers

2014-2017
As one of the key players (and co-creator) of Lost, whatever Damon Lindelof did next was going to be closely watched. His adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel – co-written with him – for HBO takes place three years after two percent of the global population vanished for reasons that remain unexplained. The world is still trying to cope with the scale of the tragedy and the emotional ramifications, with cults springing up and madness slowly descending. Performances from Justin Theroux and particularly Carrie Coon are our guides through this changed, traumatised landscape – but in Lindelof and Perrotta’s hands, it isn’t a total misery fest, the story shot through with black humour.

Credit: HBO

15) Deadwood

2004-2006, 2019
The rootinest, tootinest, sweariest show that ever dared raise its head on television? That’ll be Deadwood. Set in the lawless Dakota Territory town when the disenfranchised of the world descended on the Black Hills to find their fortune, David Milch’s masterpiece presents its frontier townspeople as disparate souls with morals muddier than the main thoroughfare. Happily throwing traditional notions of good and evil out the saloon window, the show constantly shifted audience loyalties, presenting a world where every act, noble or not, has repercussions. And in Ian McShane’s foul-mouthed barman, Al Swearengen, we got one of television’s most complex and interesting characters.

Credit: Syfy

14) Battlestar Galactica

2003-2009
As Hollywood continues to indulge in self-consumption through a never-ending supply of reimaginings and reboots, Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica demonstrates what happens when it’s done right. Created in the shadow of 9/11, this updated take on the 1978-79 series (great concept, poor follow-through) brought relevancy, riveting character arcs and a newfound grit to television science fiction as what’s left of humanity fights for survival against the cybernetic Cylons as they seek the supposed lost colony, Earth.

Credit: AMC

13) Mad Men

2007-2015
For the unconverted, Matthew Weiner’s show is just a lot of people in suits aggressively smoking at each other. But for fans of the multi-Emmy and Golden Globe-winning AMC drama, there’s magic in even the slower moments as Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his advertising kin negotiate first the perils and pitfalls of Madison Avenue, then a fast-changing America, often while sloshed on whisky. A show of great moments (the lawnmower, the death of Lane, Betty’s shotgun, the LSD), it made an early bid for greatness and maintained it across seven seasons. There aren’t many shows you can say that about.

Credit: ABC/Showtime

12) Twin Peaks

1990-2017
Who killed Laura Palmer? That was the question on everyone’s lips during 1990 as David Lynch’s bizarre small town mystery unfolded on our screens. A demon called Bob, a little man who talked backward, and minor pie fetish were just some of the features on display here. But despite a healthy dose of surrealism everything fell into place – until the network encouraged them to wrap up the Palmer mystery in the first half of Season 2, and it was forced to pose new questions like, ‘Who is Windom Earle and what in God’s name is going on?’ If it started to fizzle from there, the original run still went out on a killer finale. Then, 25 years later, as promised it happened again. A revival series, directed entirely by Lynch, brought back plenty of the original cast for an even darker, even more elliptically weird trip into the uncanny – proving Twin Peaks is still as confounding as it ever was.

Credit: Fox

11) The Simpsons

1989-present
Any show that runs for 30-plus seasons is bound to come in for some stick about not living up to former glory. But be honest: what could compete with The Simpsons at its height (around Seasons 4-8, according to most people, though there’s still gold to be found after that point)? Still, the continuing misadventures of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the multitudes surrounding them still find plenty of scope for laughs, commentary and pop culture nonsense. It’s already in the telly hall of fame, and continues to bring out great episodes at a higher ratio than some of its long-running brethren (looking at you, Family Guy).

Credit: BBC

10) Doctor Who

1963-1989 / 2005-present
Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and the others who brought the world’s most famous time-traveller into existence knew what they were doing when they turned the need to replace the lead into one of the canniest ways to reboot and refresh the show. And so Doctor Who has kept going – albeit with a 16-year blip – for more than 50 years. Evolving from the days of cardboard sets and plastic monsters (which, let’s be honest, were a big part of the show’s charm) to the much more polished, but still incredibly fun version of today, generations have grown up watching the series, delighting at the idiosyncratic main character and running scared from the various creatures the Doctor outwits. It’s a series that prioritises brains over brawn, shoots you off to the far corners of the universe, and is still not finished reinventing itself. What’s not to love?

Credit: ABC

9) Lost

2004-2010
Few TV shows gripped viewers’ imaginations quite like this hybrid of Swiss Family Robinson and Twin Peaks. A byzantine central mystery intertwined with character-centric subplots (expertly embellished through the use of flashbacks, flashforwards and eventually flash sideways) kept audiences captivated and spread the focus across the entire ensemble cast. But aside from the host of colourful characters – from earnest Jack to cocky Sawyer, cunning Juliet to bug-eyed Ben – it was the ever-deepening mysteries that kept us coming back: what did the numbers mean? What was the black smoke? Who were The Others? And just what the heck were the “rules” anyway?

Credit: The WB/UPN

8) Buffy The Vampire Slayer

1997-2003
Imagine, for a moment, a world where the only version of Buffy was the movie. Terrifying, isn’t it? Fortunately, Joss Whedon reclaimed his knowing, meta stab at horror movies with the TV incarnation, casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as the cheerleader-turned-chosen-one supernatural slayer and launching a thousand memorable lines of dialogue. Buffy excelled because it ran real-world struggles through the medium of fantasy and horror, giving us great villains, romantic entanglements that felt painfully honest, and a Scooby gang we’d all hang out with. Plus: monsters.

Credit: Netflix

7) The OA

2016-2019
Commissioned by Netflix from talented indie filmmakers Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij in an attempt to prove streaming services could branch out in unexpected directions, this complex, twisty tale of parallel dimensions, kidnapped test subjects and a calculating Jason Isaacs burned brightly, acquiring a devoted following along the way – a fan base that was devastated to learn of its untimely cancellation with a giant cliffhanger left unresolved. Not all shows deserve to be brought back to life, but The OA certainly does – with Marling anchoring the series as the haunted, powerful Prairie, it melded the weird with the wonderful and it would have been fascinating to see where it was going to go. Hey, Netflix, how about you #savetheOA?

Credit: NBC

The West Wing

For a long time a walk-on part in The West Wing was the pinnacle to which all jobbing TV actors aspired. Smart and funny, Aaron Sorkin’s political drama showcased the writer’s gift for rapid-fire dialogue and layered, politically resonant storylines, proving that television could be funny and insightful all at the same time. The series took a temporary downturn after Sorkin’s departure at the end of Season 4, but rallied soon after with a number of surprising changes to both character roles and format. It all came to a natural close at the end of President Bartlet’s second term in office, but The West Wing remained one of the most intelligent shows on television throughout its run and a comforting image of what a more benevolent White House could look like.

UK:
Buy now on Amazon
Buy to stream on Amazon
US:
Stream on Netflix

Credit: NBC

5) Friends

1994-2004
How is it that a certain digital TV channel can show this quintessential ’90s sitcom on a virtual loop and it doesn’t get old? Or that Netflix can have a juggernaut hit with it, decades after its original airing? It’s because Friends, at its best, is as perfect a sitcom as you will find. In its earliest days, the adventures of six beautiful New York-dwelling pals who apparently earned money by drinking coffee featured writing much sharper than the cuddly exterior suggested. Even when the quality dipped a little mid-run, the ensemble remained perfectly matched and the best comedy collective on TV.

Credit: HBO

The Wire

David Simon famously once said that he intended The Wire as “lean-in” television, a show that you couldn’t watch while folding clothes or dusting the mantlepiece. His Baltimore-set series demanded your attention, its slow-burn storytelling never less than totally compelling. Simon crafted a series that skips the usual procedural tropes, looking instead at the linked worlds of cops and criminals in a way that highlights the humanity clouded by labels. High stakes, big emotions and even a scene conducted almost entirely with the use of the F-word are all part of the reasons why this show became one of the greatest. Later seasons expanded the focus to other areas – politics, the school system, and newspapers, to name a few – but the laser accuracy remained the same. The ensemble cast (the likes of Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan among them) never put a foot wrong. If you’ve somehow never got round to watching it, lean in – you won’t regret it.

UK:
Stream on Sky

Buy now on Amazon

US:

Stream on HBO

Credit: HBO

The Sopranos

Those who tuned into the first episode of The Sopranos in 1999 found not a documentary about opera singers but a dark, offbeat drama about a New Jersey gangster with a fixation on the ducks who visit his swimming pool. As the first season wore on, viewers became hooked on creator David Chase’s uncompromising vision of an old-school criminal organisation beset by all the stresses and tensions of the modern day. It’s not hard to figure out why: Chase and his writers locked in on what made Tony and co. work. James Gandolfini delivered a career-best performance as our way into the show, while the family and “family” around him anchored stories that poked below the gangster surface to what made these people truly tick. A fusion of sharp, unpredictable writing and powerhouse acting means The Sopranos‘ classic status endures.

UK:
Stream on Sky
Buy now on Amazon
US:
Stream on HBO

Credit: HBO

2) Game Of Thrones

2011-2019
TV – and the lesser restrictions/bigger budget allowed by HBO – really was the only place Thrones would have worked outside of George R.R. Martin’s books. And even then it was a juggling act given the sedate pace of the author’s output. And yet despite the challenges of striking out on its own narrative, featuring significant changes from the printed page, much of what people enjoyed about Martin’s mixture of fantasy and grimy medieval politics remains firmly intact. Thrones at its best was almost untouchable: huge effects sequences, battles with real stakes and, powering it all, characters that you cared about, whether they were talking about morality or shoving it aside to light up an entire sept full of enemies. With a cast led by the likes of Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Thrones is full to the brim of all the death, betrayal, laughter and dragons that you might wish for. The climax may have divided opinion, but it’s hard to imagine what will fill the void now that the show’s over.

Credit: AMC

Breaking Bad

“It doesn’t get really good until Season 2,” people said. “Stick with it.” The first season was not without its moments, and it laid key groundwork for Bryan Cranston’s Walter White to later descend from family man to soul-shucked demon, but the second season was when Vince Gilligan’s astonishing, gripping, often plain harrowing show really took off. There followed murders, plane crashes, betrayals, ferocious set pieces, indelible dialogue (“I am the one who knocks!”) and meth – enormous quantities of meth. A fall like this in a character takes time to chronicle, and the Breaking Bad team stepped up to that, meticulously crafting each turn and shooting the show as though it were a cinematic offering. From claustrophobic crawlspaces to wide desert vistas, the show never looked less than amazing. And it wasn’t just Cranston’s show, either: Aaron Paul blossomed as Jesse Pinkman (originally intended to die early, he became an integral element), while the rest of the cast brought real life to the characters. At the beginning of the bingeing era, here was some Class A, seriously addictive television.

UK & US:

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61 thoughts on “The 100 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time”

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