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The 75 Best TV Shows on Netflix Right Now

October 2017

TV Lists Netflix
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Scattered among the best TV shows on Netflix are more and more of the streaming platform’s own original series. Watching TV on Netflix has gotten better and better as the service continues to add to its impressive catalog of network and cable series, not to mention the proliferation of flashy Netflix originals. In fact, the company that spent its formative years as a way to see movies has since become into the world’s primary enabler of binge-watching.

Our list of what to watch on Netflix is here to help you find the next TV series to devour, and we’ve looked through the enormous catalog (USA only, sorry) to find these recommendations. If you’ve ever wondered “what should I watch on Netflix?” You’ve come to the right place.

You can also check out the Best Movies on Netflix, the Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime and the Best TV shows on Hulu.

Here are the 75 best TV shows on Netflix:

75. American Vandal


Creators: Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault
Stars: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro
Network: Netflix 

American Vandal is the tongue-in-cheek antidote to the “true crime” craze: a “prestige docuseries” on the subject of dick-drawing, set on dismantling the form from within. After all, its understanding of the form is impeccable: With dramatic cold opens, floated theories and test cases; interviews, illustrations and re-creations; careful cliffhangers and a Jinx-style hot mic, it applies the genre’s commonplaces to absurd situations with aplomb. It’s a pungently goofy reminder that the history of “true crime” is dominated by “lowbrow” media—pulpy magazines, grocery-store paperbacks, salacious installments of Dateline or 20/20—and that its newfound sense of “prestige” is primarily a function of style. Still, American Vandal’s most surprising strength is not its satire—which is, in the end, rather low-hanging fruit—but its steady construction of a narrative backdrop more compelling than its creators realize. Call it Fast Times at Hanover High: The series’ promising, underutilized skeleton—one that might have had more prominence with a bit of pruning—is its amusing slice of schoolyard life. Matt Brennan

74. Chewing Gum


Creator: Michaela Coel
Stars: Michaela Coel, Robert Lonsdale, Danielle Walters, Tanya Franks
Network: E4 (U.K.)

In the series premiere of Chewing Gum, Tracey (Coel), raised fundamentalist and still a virgin at 24, asks her best friend to give her a makeover “like Beyoncé’” to convince her deeply religious (and just as deeply closeted) fiancé to finally have sex with her. He rejects her for being openly desirous of sex, saying she looks like if a Barbie doll “rolled around in the mud then turned into a negro.” When that fails, she falls into bed with a new, white boyfriend, Connor (Robert Lonsdale). Tracey leans into and explores a sexuality that’s weird, cartoonish, and ultimately doesn’t even involve penetrative sex—Chewing Gum is instead preoccupied with the awkwardness and anxieties of sex, ignoring whether it’s unflattering and uninterested in whether or not it’s empowering. It’s about honest sexual expression and the joy of learning not to care when you can’t meet a lofty standard, and there’s real pleasure in discovering Tracey’s sexual absurdity. Season Two comes to the streaming service April 4. Sidney Fussell

73. Sense8


Creators: The Wachowskis, J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Tuppence Middleton, Brian J. Smith, Doona Bae, Aml Ameen, Max Riemelt, Tina Desai, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Jamie Clayton, Freema Agyeman, Terrence Mann, Anupam Kher, Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah
Network: Netflix 

There is no bigger WTF TV show in the world right now than Sense8. This globe-trotting and glitzy sci-fi series, created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski (co-directors of The Matrix trilogy) and former Babylon 5 showrunner J. Michael Straczynski, drops us into a world where eight strangers in different parts of the planet are somehow psychically and emotionally linked. Through the first season’s 12 episodes—and the recent Christmas special follow this assortment of confused and beautiful people as they try to understand this connection, use their newfound abilities to help one another, and engage in not one but two blissfully queer orgies. As wacky and over-the-top as Sense8 can often get, the series remains important as it deals with issues of sexuality and gender identity through the work of trans actress Jamie Clayton and performers Miguel Silvestre and Alfonso Herrera’s portrayal of a gay couple in Mexico City. Robert Ham

72. A Series of Unfortunate Events


Creators: Mark Hudis, Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith
Network: Netflix 

When Netflix announced its adaptation of Daniel Handler’s beloved, quirky books, my main question was this: Is A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptable to the screen without losing the idiosyncrasies that make it so charming? Fortunately, director Barry Sonnenfeld, Neil Patrick Harris as the evil Count Olaf, and Handler himself (as screenwriter) rose to the challenge magnificently. The Series, whose first season contains eight out of a planned 26 episodes, doesn’t consistently hit the emotional heights of Netflix’s best fare, but it more than makes up for this paucity with solid acting, abundant wit and a visual aesthetic that is wholly unique in television—a hybrid of Tim Burton’s gothic glee and Wes Anderson’s diorama cinema. Book-readers will delight at the faithfulness of the adaptation, and while first-timers may take a tad longer to get their feet wet, the colorful menagerie of characters and the dogged perseverance of the Baudelaire orphans should win them over. Zach Blumenfeld

71. Marvel’s Luke Cage


Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker
Stars: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, Theo Rossi
Network: Netflix 

Marvel’s third Netflix venture isn’t perfect—the structure of its villain hierarchy needed some serious recalibration—but it is good, very good in fact, and most of all it’s ballsy. Who writes a superhero show around a naked discussion of what it means to a black American in 2016? Luke Cage is obviously a Marvel product, but it’s also the product of its creator, Cheo Hodari Coker, and its cast, including Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, and Erik LaRay Harvey (plus appearances by Frankie Faison, Ron Cephas Jones and, of course, Method Man): The series has more flexibility in addressing its subject matter thanks to its platform, but it’s hard to imagine that it’d speak as loudly or as boldly even on Netflix without Coker driving the narrative forward. Even though he stumbles during the show’s midsection, his errors don’t add up to more than an inconvenience: Luke Cage blends its source material with a wide range of influences, from jazz to rap to horrors ripped straight from the headlines, and churns out a yarn that’s as powerful as it is irresistibly poppy. Andy Crump

70. Grey’s Anatomy


Creator:   Shonda Rhimes  
Stars: Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh, Kevin McKidd, Jessica Capshaw, Jesse Williams, Sarah Drew, Katherine Heigl, Isiah Washington, Justin Chambers, Chandra Wilson, James Pickens Jr.
Network: ABC

Now that Shonda Rhimes and her Shondaland are such a force in the TV world, it’s hard to imagine there was a time before her landmark dramas were a staple in our viewing schedules. Premiering as a mid-season replacement way back in March 2005, Grey’s, now in its thirteenth season, first appeared to be nothing more than an ER wannabe. But Rhimes perfected the art of a well-told soap opera, seamlessly weaving personal strife, romantic hookups (never have supply closets seen so much action) and complex medical cases. She broke ground with a multi-racial cast, same sex couples, and one of TV’s first bi-sexual characters. The series has survived multiple cast changes, the behind-the-scenes drama the often eclipsed the on-screen shenanigans and fickle fans who threatened to quit the show when McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) died. We take shows like Grey’s for granted, but when you are still successful after 13 seasons, you are doing something magical. So, relive the show from its nascent early days or discover it for the first time. Grey’s is my ultimate comfort-food TV, and I bet it will become yours too. Amy Amatangelo

69. Jane the Virgin


Creator: Jennie Snyder Urman
Stars: Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Yeal Grobglas, Jaime Camil, Andrea Navedo, Ivonne Coll, Anthony Mendez
Network: The CW

A virgin perfectionist with a heart of gold shouldn’t be this watchable. However, add a pinch of the ol’ impregnated-by-artificial-insemination storyline, mixed in with the possible threat of a grandmother’s deportation, all while the protagonist is trying to rock both a writing career and motherhood, and you’ve got one of the most fascinating TV characters of the year. What’s great about Jane is that she handles everything with an impressive sensibility, and you can’t help but fall for her optimistic outlook on life. If there’s a will, there’s a way and Jane takes the cards she’s dealt in life, and never forgets or forsakes the deep goodness Abuela instilled within her. We watched as this character celebrated life’s big moments with everything from dance-offs to earnest weeping, without any embarrassment for her vulnerability—but don’t get on her bad side. The second season of Jane the Virgin has treated us to an even more protective Jane who will swiftly go to battle for the people she loves. Iris A. Barreto

68. Call the Midwife


Creator: Heidi Thomas
Stars:Vanessa Redgrave, Bryony Hannah, Helen George, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Laura Main, Judy Parfiti
Network: BBC

“Midwifery is the very stuff of life,” proves this incredibly moving, often provocative series, based on the memoirs of British nurse Jennifer Worth. Set in 1950s London—read: pre-choice, not pro-choice—Call the Midwife focuses on the nurses and nuns who work at a convent in the East End. Vanessa Redgrave narrates the experiences of Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), a privileged young woman who must quickly adapt to life in an impoverished district, where medical resources are precious and newborns are plentiful. Predictably meticulous in period detail, the ensemble drama brims with joy and compassion while maintaining a bracingly unromantic grip on pregnancy and parenthood. Disease, labor complications and tragedies like miscarriage, stillbirth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are common—along with domestic violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy—yet the show warms as many hearts as it breaks. Call it feminist, call it what you will, Call the Midwife is brave television. Amanda Schurr

67. The Good Place


Creator: Michael Schur
Stars: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper
Network: NBC

Some of the best sitcoms in history are about bad people. M.A.S.H., Seinfeld, Arrested Development: It’d be hard to argue that the majority of their characters aren’t self-involved, intolerant or downright assholes. It’s far, far too early to enter The Good Place into any such pantheon, but it’s relevant in pinning down why the latest comedy from Michael Schur (The Office, Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) feels simultaneously so cozy and so adventurous. Fitting into a middle ground of sensibilities between occupational comedies like NewsRadio and the sly navel-gazing of Dead Like Me, The Good Place is the rare show that’s completely upfront about its main character’s flaws, creating a moral playground that tests Eleanor’s worst impulses at every turn. Played by Kristen Bell at her most unbridled, she’s a vain, impish character—the type of person who’ll swipe someone’s coffee without a second thought, then wonder why the universe is plotting against her. She’s a perfect straight woman in an afterlife surrounded by only the purest of heart, but the show doesn’t hold it against her. If anything, following in the grand tradition of sitcoms, the show knows that we’re all bad people at one time or another. Michael Snydel

66. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend


Creators: Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna
Stars: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Santino Fontana, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz
Network: The CW

Don’t let the name keep you from tuning into this one—creator/star Rachel Bloom (who was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the show) addresses it before the theme song’s even over, responding to choruses of “she’s the crazy ex-girlfriend” with lines like “that’s a sexist term” and “the situation’s more nuanced than that.” And it is: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a clever musical-comedy (think Flight of the Conchords, if they leaned more heavily on musical theater) about Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who turns down a partnership at her New York firm to follow her ex-boyfriend Josh to West Covina, California and try to win him back. But it’s more complicated than that: along the way Rebecca learns to address some of the neuroses she’s been carrying around since childhood and gets sidetracked (depending on how you look at it) by a sort of Sam and Diane “will they/won’t they” thing with Josh’s friend Greg. Her “crazy” is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always presented smartly and sensitively—never what you might expect from a show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Bonnie Stiernberg

65. GLOW

Creators: Liz Flahive, Jenji Kohan and Carly Mensch
Stars: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Sunita Mani and Marc Maron
Network: Netflix 

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I did not grow up watching wrestling on Saturday mornings. But just as I didn’t have to understand football to love Friday Night Lights, I don’t need to know what an atomic drop is to adore GLOW. A nearly unrecognizable Alison Brie (credit the ‘80s hair and eyebrows for her transformation) stars as Ruth Wilder, an aspiring actress who finds her perfect role in the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. What she lacks in skill, Ruth makes up for in pluck. Her frenemy, former soap star Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), becomes her perfect foil. Marc Maron is hilarious as their world-weary producer and Sydelle Noel is a stand out as stunt woman-turned-trainer Cherry Bang. Come for the ridiculous costumes, makeup and hair. Stay for the surprisingly poignant show about female empowerment. Amy Amatangelo

64. Gilmore Girls


Creator: Amy Sherman-Palladino
Stars: Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Melissa McCarthy, Keiko Agena, Yanic Truesdale, Scott Patterson, Kelly Bishop, Edward Herrmann, Liza Weil, Jared Padalecki, Milo Ventimiglia, Sean Gunn, David Sutcliffe, Chris Eigeman, Matt Czuchry
Networks: The WB, The CW, Netflix 

Our fearless TV editor Matt Brennan recently embarked on a journey. Having never seen Gilmore Girls before, he watched all 154 episodes of the original plus the four new installments of A Year in the Life. (You can read his hilarious stream-of-consciousness here). And I have to admit I was jealous. For me, the original show is now a distant and beloved memory. Oh, the joy of discovering it for the first time! I envy all of you who will watch as Lorelai (Lauren Graham), her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) and family matriarch Emily (the incomparable Kelly Bishop) honestly portray three generations of strong women. It’s the only show you can watch with your teenage daughter and your mother and be assured you will all be equally entertained. In addition to the deft storytelling, there’s the never before or since matched rat-a-tat banter and pop-culture references that infuse all the dialogue. And the love stories! Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) are one of TV’s greatest love stories. And will you be #TeamJess, #TeamDean or #TeamLogan? Even if I didn’t love the (very) flawed A Year in the Life and kind of despised the final four words, I still was so happy to see my friends in Stars Hollow again. The show became a part of my life. And it will become a part of yours too. Amy Amatangelo

63. Riverdale


Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Stars:: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Marisol Nichols, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry
Network:: The CW

This is the way I’ve been selling Riverdale to friends who have not yet wised up and started watching it: it’s Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks, but with the characters from Archie Comics. That alone should be enough to suck them in, but if they need more convincing, I add that Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad, Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom, Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead’s creepy hot dad (who is also the head of the local gang, the Southside Serpents), and for the first third of the season, Archie is boning his music teacher, Ms. Grundy—who, unlike in the comics—where she’s an elderly white-haired lady—goes around wearing heart-eyed sunglasses and picking up teen boys. It’s ridiculous and campy in all the right ways (hey, this is a CW teen drama, after all), but there’s also a compelling murder mystery driving the plot (“Who killed Jason Blossom?” is Riverdale’s “Who killed Laura Palmer?”), with new twists and turns peppered in along the way. Bonnie Stiernberg

62. The Honourable Woman


Creator: Hugo Blick
Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Eve Best, Lindsay Duncan, Janet McTeer, Tobias Menzies, Stephen Rea
Network: BBC Two

Led by Golden Globe winner Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sharp-edged, vulnerable, thrilling performance as Nessa Stein, a businesswoman and philanthropist suddenly embroiled in a mess of family secrets and Middle Eastern intrigue, The Honourable Woman is the perfect (if bleak) binge. Its eight episodes set the lure early and reel one in by increments, until the truth bursts forth with stunning force. Strong turns from Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer don’t hurt, either. Matt Brennan

61. Documentary Now!


Creators: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Rhys Thomas
Stars: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader 
Network: IFC 

Last year, Documentary Now! was more consistently brilliant than in its fine first season, in part because the creative team—including stars Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, writers Seth Meyers and John Mulaney and directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono—regularly found legitimate pathos beneath the comedy. Instead of merely parodying famous documentaries, they used each half-hour episode to quickly sketch recognizable and believable characters, focusing on their pain and humanity as much as their humor. The Spalding Gray satire “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything,” the bleak Salesman parody “Globesman,” and the two-part Robert Evans riff “Mr. Runner-Up: My Life as an Oscar Bridesmaid” were among the best episodes of any show in 2016; all three work on multiple levels, as satire, as layered character studies, and as well-crafted faux-documentaries that could easily pass as the real thing if you didn’t know any better. Garrett Martin

60. Peaky Blinders


Creator: Steven Knight
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Iddo Goldberg
Network: BBC

Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill star in this rock ’n‘ roll gangster drama—music from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey and the White Stripes adds a modern touch to the period proceedings—set in 1919 in the West Midlands industrial city of Birmingham. Murphy is a soldier-turned-ambitious kingpin of the Shelby crime family. Neill is the equally ruthless inspector out to dismantle his organization, who enlists a lovely mole (Annabelle Wallis, also of Fleming) to aid his campaign. (Tom Hardy joins the cast in the second season.) As the steely, azure-eyed Tommy Shelby, Murphy brings his trademark quiet intensity to a multidimensional antihero, one of several thoughtful characterizations in the Shelby clan. As for the gang’s/ show’s namesake, picture razor blades sewn into the brim of its wearers’ caps and you’ll get the head-butting, eye-gouging extent of Peaky Blinders’ viciousness. Amanda Schurr

59. Frasier


Creators: David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, Moose
Network: NBC

Many classic sitcoms are paeans to blue-collar family life, but Frasier was the odd show that made cultural elites and eggheads somehow seem like lovable characters to a mass audience. Both Frasier and his brother Niles can be infuriatingly snobbish, but audiences soon found that when their petty jealousies were directed at each other, they could also be hilarious. The show soon became an off-hand representation of the idea of “smart comedy” on TV, but it was also still a sitcom full of relationship humor. Viewers waited a hell of a long time in particular for the long-teased relationship between Niles and Daphne to finally come to fruition (seven full seasons). Frasier, on the other hand, is never really lucky in love, but he was always better as a semi-depressed single, turning his probing mind on himself. Jim Vorel

58. The Killing


Creator: Veena Sud
Stars: Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman
Networks: AMC, Netflix 

Joel Kinnaman. That’s the reason you need to watch The Killing. In world-weary, recovering addict Detective Stephen Holder, Kinnaman created one of television’s most intriguing, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and hilarious characters. It’s worth it to binge watch The Killing for Kinnaman’s nuanced performance alone. Seriously. The first two seasons focus on Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder investigating the murder of teenage Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay) in rainy, murky Seattle. Michelle Forbes brings a palpable anguish to grieving mother Mitch Larsen. Billy Campbell is riveting as sketchy politician Darren Richmond. The show will keep you guessing with red herring after red herring. Holder and Linden are unlike any other cop pairing on TV. The Killing is a show whose parts (fantastic performances) were always greater than its whole (at times confusing, circuitous story telling). But the parts are terrific. The third season features a brilliant performance by Peter Sarsgaard as death row inmate Ray Seward and keep an eye out Bex Taylor-Klaus as homeless teen Bullet. Her performance was so great that I’m still waiting for her to become the next big breakout star. Joan Allen’s mysterious Colonel Margaret Rayne is at the center of the show’s fourth and final season. By now you’ve probably heard how outraged fans were when the first season finale failed to offer a satisfying conclusion. But behold the beauty of binge watching—you can just view the first two 13-episode seasons as one big 26-episode one. And viola! There’s nothing to be upset about. Amy Amatangelo

57. One Day at a Time


Creators: Gloria Calderon Kellett, Mike Royce
Star: Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Stephen Tobolowsky, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz
Network: Netflix 

I can’t remember a time I loved something the way I love the new One Day at a Time. Part of my affection stems from the fact that the show was such a discovery. It arrived January 6 of this year with almost no hype. I write about TV for a living and I barely knew it was premiering. Almost immediately I dismissed the show as yet another ill-advised remake. How wrong I was. The comedy is a pure delight. A throwback to the defining comedies of the 1970s with a modern twist, the show deftly tackles some hot-button issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, wage inequality and teenage sexuality amid real conversations about generational differences and Cuban heritage and traditions. Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) is fantastic as the recently separated veteran raising her two adolescent children with the help of her mother Lydia (living legend Rita Moreno) and her landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell). Moreno gives an amazing speech in the series 12th episode that should easily nab her an Emmy nomination this year. But above all the show is funny and grounded. Once you start watching, you won’t be able to watch this gem one day at a time. Amy Amatangelo

56. Scandal


Creator:   Shonda Rhimes  
Stars:   Kerry Washington, Guillermo Díaz, Joe Morton
Network: ABC

When so much of a show’s plot is made up of infuriatingly dramatic cliffhangers, it can be deeply satisfying to experience a series, like Scandal, on Netflix. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, have no clue what a Gladiator in a suit is, and don’t know whether you’re Team Jake or Team Fitz, there’s no time like the present. Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, a lawyer and crisis management expert who represents high-profile politicians and other clientele in Washington D.C. AKA the people running this great nation, who always seem to find themselves in the midst of a scandal. Based on real-life D.C. fixer Judy Smith (the former Bush Administration aide who has represented folks like Monica Lewinsky, Kobe Bryant, and former Senator Larry Craig), Pope is a formidable character, often as much of a scandalous megalomaniac as her clientele. Sure, Rhimes (also the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice) draws on many-a-cliche for this series—endless love triangles, characters killed off at a moment’s notice, etc. But Scandal is, simultaneously, a refreshing and forward-thinking experience, with a black woman at the head of a very bizarre Scooby gang (brought to us by Weeds actor Guillermo Díaz, along with Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, and Columbus Short), one of the first gay villains on television, and a stark quality that seeks to peel the mask off of American politics. Funny, sexy, downright frightening at times, and complete with an amazing ‘70s soundtrack for every episode, Scandal is the stuff Netflix binge-watching dreams made of. Shannon M. Houston

55. Love


Creators:   Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Paul Rust
Stars: Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust, Claudia O’Doherty
Network: Netflix 

If you’re a fan of Undeclared or Freaks and Geeks, you should make it your business to give Judd Apatow’s latest series, Love, a try. In a lot of ways, it feels like what would happen if Sam Weir and Kim Kelly wound up dating in their 30s—we meet Gus (Paul Rust), a dorky on-set tutor for the child star of a witch-themed teen drama, and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs), a radio producer struggling with her sobriety, as they’re both reeling from tough breakups and watch as they fall for each other. Like anything Apatow’s got his name on, there’s an underlying sweetness here and an incredibly strong cast (Claudia O’Doherty steals pretty much every scene she’s in as Mickey’s roommate, Bertie), and the addiction plot lends some dramatic muscle. The characters are complicated (and not always likable), but hey, so is love. Bonnie Stiernberg

54. The League


Creators: Jeff Schaffer, Jackie Marcus Schaffer
Stars: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie, Katie Aselton
Networks: FX, FXX

Don’t let all the fantasy football talk deter you if you’re not into sports. For all its NFL-star cameos and inside-baseball terminology, The League, at its heart, is really just a show about a group of friends who like to compete with and talk smack about each other. It’s basically Friends, if Ross and Chandler were allowed to call each other “shit-sippers” on primetime network TV. This semi-improvised show is wonderful, weird and features a bunch of people who are very funny but usually relegated to more bit roles in TV and movies (Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Katie Aselton, etc.). And when it comes to the show’s smack-talking bros, there’s a favorite for everyone, be it crass, sex-obsessed loose cannon Rafi or Kevin and Jenny, who despite occasionally playing the goofy-dad/smart-mom TV-cleaning-product commercial dichotomy, will remind you of all the things you liked about the good relationships you’ve been in. The shortened first season plays more like a TV miniseries and will take you less than an afternoon. It’ll be worth it. Lindsay Eanet

53. Parenthood


Creators:   Ron Howard, Jason Katims
Stars: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Savannah Paige Rae, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder, Joy Bryant, Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman, Bonnie Bedelia, Craig T. Nelson, Tyree Brown
Network: NBC

Parenthood has always been a good drama, but this season it became a great one. The NBC series is palpably real. The Bravermans are us. Each week, the show provides insight into what it’s like to be part of an extended, loving and meddling family while giving viewers the opportunity for a nice cathartic cry. Family dramas are the hardest type of one-hour programming—they must keep viewers engaged without a weekly patient to cure, crime to solve or case to litigate. That’s why a family drama frequently will turn to the television trope of giving a lead character a disease. But what Parenthood has done with the Kristina (Monica Potter) story arc this season has been profound. The series thrives when it demonstrates the minutia of life. While Kristina has been battling breast cancer, she’s also been dealing with life’s smaller moments. Life, the show subtly points out each week, doesn’t stop for cancer. So often on TV, a disease will befall a character only to be wrapped up in one or two episodes after a few requisite maudlin moments. But Kristina is living with cancer and Potter is giving the performance of her career. She evokes empathy from the viewer while never allowing the viewer to pity Kristina. Parenthood has quietly become one of the best shows on TV. Amy Amatangelo

52. A Different World


Creator:   Bill Cosby  
Stars: Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Marisa Tomei, Dawnn Lewis, Loretta Devine, Kadeem Hardison, Mary Alice, Darryl M. Bell, Sinbad, Jada Pinkett
Network: NBC

This Cosby Show spin-off had a rocky start, but after writing out Denise Huxtable and hiring Debbie Allen to oversee it before the second season, it turned into one of the most distinct sitcoms in TV history. Instead of focusing on one member of a beloved TV family in a new setting, it refocused on the setting itself, a historically black college called Hillman that was a fictional stand-in for Howard University. Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison might’ve lead the ensemble as Whitley Gilbert and Dwayne Wayne, but it was a true ensemble, with a cast that reflected the diversity of black life in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It also often dealt with social issues that The Cosby Show and other sitcoms at the time shied away from, and usually without the schmaltz you’d expect from “very special” sitcom episodes. Garrett Martin

51. The Guild


Creator: Felicia Day
Stars: Felicia Day, Vincent Caso, Sandeep Parikh, Amy Okuda, Robin Thorsen, Jeff Lewis
Networks: YouTube, Xbox Live

It’s no secret that we have a bit of a crush on Felicia Day. From her starring role in Joss Whedon’s straight-to-internet supervillain musical spectacular, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, to her more than two million followers on Twitter, she’s an Internet force to be reckoned with. She’s also a writer/co-producer/actress/etc. for a well-known and industry-defying web series called The Guild. Turns out, we might also have a crush on The Guild itself. The web series follows the sordid on- and off-line lives of a band of gaming misfits as they go from being anonymous avatars to being present in each others’ lives. The ensemble that Day and other producers scrabbled together are not only incredibly funny in their own individual rights, but they work together well—from snarky Amy Okuda as Guild dissenter Tinkerballa down to Sandeep Parikh’s obsessive, sheltered and socially-deficient gnome warlock Zaboo. Every character seems almost tailored to each actor/comedian’s strengths, which maximizes the potential for hilarity. Whitney Baker

50. Luther


Creator: Neil Cross
Stars: Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Paul McGann
Network: BBC

Idris Elba  as a sad, violent, and genius detective, tracking down the weird serial killers of London? It’s a formula that should work, and does. It was recently announced that the show is done after three series of three episodes each (though apparently there will be a feature film), and that length seems perfect. Also, Alice Morgan is one of the coolest criminals in any detective show. Shane Ryan

49. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp


Creators: Michael Showalter, David Wain
Stars: Elizabeth Banks, Lake Bell, H. Jon Benjamin, Michael Ian Black, Michael Cera, Josh Charles, Bradley Cooper, Judah Friedlander, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Hamm, Nina Hellman
Network: Netflix 

When a follow-up comes along for any project with a huge cult audience, it seems doomed to disappoint. Arrested Development’s fourth season’s breaking apart of the cast was bound to frustrate, and Anchorman 2 could never reach the surprising joy of the original. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp obviously came with a certain amount of trepidation. But instead of trying to recreate the glory of the last day of camp, as seen in the 2001 film, First Day of Camp added a considerable amount of depth to the original film and explained aspects of Camp Firewood that never needed to be understood, but make the entire history of these characters feel more whole. The Netflix series managed to redefine these characters that we fell in love with over a decade ago, all while giving us laughs and immense heart as well. Ross Bonaime

48. Portlandia


Creators: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein 
Stars: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein 
Network: IFC 

The greatest thing about Portlandia, IFC’s ode to the modern hipster, is the cavalcade of bizarro-world characters dreamed up by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and unleashed in an endless stream of free-associating sketches: Toni and Candace, the fervently feminist clerks of Women and Women First Bookstore. Daniel and Meg, the ecology-minded dumpster-divers preparing a meal for their friends from the leftovers of the neighborhood garbage. The Harajuku Girls—Japanese tourists snapping photos of “Coffee Land” in an otherwise nondescript cafe to the utter bafflement of the locals who hang there. Peter and Nance, the cooing lovebirds asking about the precise provenance of their local chicken dish (right down to the diet and plot of land) over a dinner date. And of course Bryce and Lisa, the essence of Etsy, putting “birds on things” in a local boutique while all hell breaks loose around them. It’s creatively-superior, but self-effacing. Critically acclaimed, but with the tags left on. Up-and-coming, but with a wink and a nod. This is all very Portland. Corey duBrowa

47. The Crown


Creator: Peter Morgan
Stars: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, John Lithgow, Jeremy Northam, Victoria Hamilton, Eileen Atkins
Network: Netflix 

The Royal family were allegedly concerned when creator Peter Morgan refused all offers of assistance in bringing The Crown to life. The fact that Netflix’s first costume drama manages to make someone as famously insensitive as Prince Philip appear deeply sympathetic proves the Palace needn’t have worried. That’s not to say that this fascinating portrait of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign is a piece of sycophantic fluff—it doesn’t exactly shy away from the conflicts that plagued her early years. But the first season, which centers on events from 1947 to 1955, does humanize the monarchy in a way that very few royal dramas have done before. Indeed, the reported $100 million budget has understandably garnered the most headlines, but as sumptuous as The Crown’s sets are, it’s Morgan’s meticulously researched screenplay that impresses the most. Exquisite performances from Claire Foy as the young woman thrust onto the throne in her twenties and a never-better John Lithgow as the formidable Winston Churchill also ensure that Netflix’s ambitious royal gamble well and truly pays off. Jon O’Brien

46. Black Mirror


Creator: Charlie Brooker
Network: Channel 4 (UK)

There are probably times in most of our lives when we see our technological world as more of a dystopia than a utopia. The way it curbs our freedom, diminishes our privacy, and subjects us to anonymous attacks can feel like an unforgivable violation. But the worst part is, we’re complicit—we’ve accepted the intrusion, and in some cases, or even most cases, we’ve become addicted. The ubiquity of technology is a reality that we can’t fight against, and to maintain our sanity, we have to accept it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth questioning, which is exactly what Black Mirror is all about. The title is nearly perfect, as explained by creator Charlie Brooker: “The black mirror of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” The job of this show is to reflect our society in an unflattering light, and they do it with a new cast and a new story in each episode. This is not fun watching—it’s mostly horrifying—but even if our brave new world is inescapable, the show represents a kind of protest that feels more necessary than ever. Shane Ryan

45. Mystery Science Theater 3000


Creator: Joel Hodgson
Stars: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Michael J. Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, Patrick Brantseg
Networks: KTMA, The Comedy Channel, Comedy Central, Sci Fi Channel

The funniest sci-fi show of all time (apologies to both Futurama and Red Dwarf), MST3K was as good as the movies it parodied were bad;meaning it was very, very good. The movie theater on the Satellite of Love was more ruthless than a cage of Klingons when it came to savaging B-movies. Netflix now offers 20 classic episodes from the series’ original run, as well as the revival, MST3K: The Return, which arrived in April to carry on the show’s legacy. Josh Jackson

44. The Returned (Les Revenants)


Creator: Fabrice Gobert
Stars: Anne Sonsigny, Frédéric Pierrot, Clotilde Hesme, Céline Sallette, Samir Guesmi
Networks: Canal+, SundanceTV

Based on a sublimely creepy 2004 film of the same name, Les Revenants hones its focus on one small town in France where a gaggle of formerly dead people return, alive and… mostly well. There’s no explanation for this either. Instead, the living and the undead are forced to try and figure out how to reckon with this strange turn of events, as well as the increasingly bizarre happenings that start occurring around town after the dead’s return. Creator Fabrice Gobert does the right thing with this adaptation by simultaneously narrowing its focus and expanding the ideas behind the story over the course of its two seasons. It opened up a world of possibilities but he and his writers exercised remarkable restraint while also assuring viewers that they were going to see a story unlike any they had seen before. Robert Ham

43. Damages


Creators: Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman
Stars: Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Tate Donovan, Ted Danson, Noah Bean, Zeljko Ivanek, Marcia Gay Harden
Networks: FX, DirecTV

Glenn Close created one of TV’s greatest characters in Patty Hewes, a lawyer who will do anything (legal, illegal, somewhere in between) for her clients. The series is worth watching just for Close’s nuanced, duplicitous, Emmy-winning performance. Just when you thought Patty was pure evil, she would reveal her more vulnerable side. Recent law-school graduate Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is unwittingly manipulated as part of Patty’s grand scheme. The first season follows the class action case against Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), who has bilked his employees out of their life savings. It’s become commonplace now for TV shows to play with time and the sequence of events—to start at the end and work their way backwards. But Damages pioneered this narrative device, simultaneously confusing viewers and allowing them to put together the puzzle. As the series progressed, Patty’s relationship with Ellen grew more complex and dysfunctional. For its final two seasons, the series moved to DirecTV, but now you can binge all five seasons on Netflix. Just stay away from Statue of Liberty bookends. Amy Amatangelo

42. New Girl


Creator: Elizabeth Meriwether
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone
Network: Fox

New Girl has quickly grown into one of TV’s sharpest ensemble comedies. Creator and showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether and her writing staff keep stepping up their game. While even the best network programs are susceptible to lulls in quality due to the demanding 20-plus-episode order, almost every New Girl episode plays like a spirited, comedic gem, with Meriwether and Co. expertly navigating the line between absurd silliness and heartfelt sentimentality. Not since Jim and Pam in the early seasons of The Office has there been a sitcom relationship as endearing and emotionally engaging as Deschanel’s Jess and Nick, her lovable, hard-drinking grump of a roommate (played with great gusto by the fantastic Jake Johnson). Add in memorable turns from supporting players Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone as well as the hilarious antics of Max Greenfield as breakout character Schmidt and the return of Damon Wayans as Coach, and New Girl has officially become a new standard for excellence in the sitcom community Mark Rozeman

41. Halt and Catch Fire


Creators: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Stars: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, Aleksa Palladino
Network: AMC

In the past decade, television has explored a vast array of different narratives and characters. Unfortunately, the overriding theme of this most recent Golden Age would still read something along the lines of “White Men and Their Problems.” Here is where AMC’s ratings-troubled, yet phenomenal drama Halt & Catch Fire becomes essential viewing. The show’s first season positioned Donna as a brilliant engineer, stuck in the role of under-appreciated 1980s housewife. By season’s end, she (and, by extension, Kerry Bishé’s portrayal) had emerged as one of the series’ most potent creations. Going into the second year, the Halt team wisely chose to push Donna into a more managerial position, resulting in some of 2015’s best TV moments. To be clear, Donna is a strong character not because of her technological expertise (though that’s certainly a factor), but because of how she fights to keep her dignity intact despite her life collapsing around her. She’s tangible proof that one doesn’t need a troubled antihero to make a show work; rather, you only need great writing and the proper performer to bring it to life. Mark Rozeman

40. Making a Murderer


Creators: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Network: Netflix 

After the Serial podcast captured the zeitgeist, Netflix brought viewers the true story of Steven Avery, a man wrongly convicted of a brutal assault. He sued law enforcement, and while in the middle of that suit, he became a suspect of a brand new crime. The 10-part docu-series covers 30 years in Avery’s life, and like Serial, became a phenomenon that had us all playing armchair judge and jury. Amy Amatangelo

39. Sons of Anarchy


Creator: Kurt Sutter
Stars:Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, Johnny Lewis, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman
Network: FX

Take the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype, replace the hooker with a rough-around-the-edges bike club set in the ironically named town of Charming, Calif., add a conscience and things always going wrong, and you have the basic setup for Sons of Anarchy. Kurt Sutter’s gang of motorcycle-riding brothers—and their lovingly nicknamed “old ladies”—constantly find themselves in hot water trying to do the right thing while bending the rules just a little… which turns into bending the rules a lot. Having the town chief of police in their back pocket, along with Charlie Hunnam as the conflicted vice-president of the club who is carrying on his father’s legacy doesn’t hurt, either. It would be really easy to make the show’s motorcycle club reminiscent of a gang of pirates on bikes, pillaging and plundering with a complete lack of morals, but Sutter resists that temptation and makes the gray area of right and wrong the driving force behind each episode and each decision. Patty Miranda

38. Lady Dynamite


Creators: Pam Brady, Mitch Hurwitz 
Stars: Maria Bamford, Fred Melamed, Mary Kay Place
Network: Netflix 

Generally speaking, we like our comedies and our comedians to be funny. Maria Bamford—actress, voice actress, stand-up—is funny in the strictest sense possible, but her Netflix series, Lady Dynamite, blends her humor with melancholy and hurt. Don’t worry: You’ll laugh. You will laugh! Lady Dynamite is hysterical, and it’s hysterical on a wide array of axes, incorporating everything from slapstick, to absurdism, to cringe humor into one hyperactive rush of comic goodness. But it’s also deeply human and deeply sad, the kind of comedy series where the laughs tend to catch in one’s gullet, or squeeze through gritted teeth. Sometimes you laugh so as not to wince, or just to keep yourself from shedding tears in front of your friends (or in front of your own damn self). Sad comedies are a dime a dozen in 2016, especially for Netflix junkies, but the manic qualities of Lady Dynamite’s humor, its frank approach to its themes of mental illness, and its cavalcade of comedian guest stars—whether they’re mainstream comedians, alt comedians, or mainstream-alt comedians—give the show a brio and soul all its own. Andy Crump

37. Dexter


Creator: James Manos Jr.
Stars: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, James Remar, C.S. Lee, Lauren Vélez
Network: Showtime

The character development of Dexter Morgan over eight seasons was fascinating to follow. If Season One saw us trying to come to terms with our empathy towards a serial killer, we were eventually cheering an old friend’s slow progression towards something akin to humanity. His moral code might be a world away from ours, but he often does a better job adhering to it than the rest of us. In addition to the constant edge-of-your-seat plot twists, each season gave us incredible guest stars as allies and antagonists, including Jimmy Smits, John C. Lithgow, Peter Weller, Mos Def, Edward James Olmos and Julia Stiles. Josh Jackson

36. American Crime


Creators: John Ridley
Stars: Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Richard Cabral, Lily Taylor, Elvis Nolasco
Network: ABC

I love seeing shows by a theater company and watching the same actors take on new roles with each production: You witness their range and their ability to assume new identities. American Crime is a repertory theater company brought to the small screen. And unlike American Horror Story, which is all flash and gore, American Crime is rooted in harsh realities. The first season tackled an Army veteran killed during a home invasion. Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton play his grieving parents. In the second season, they’re a headmistress and a basketball coach dealing with a sexual assault at a high school party. From these starting points the series fans out to tackle a wide array of social, racial and socio-economic issues and to show how our lives, no matter what our circumstances, are interconnected. There are never easy answers or pat resolutions. The series will haunt you and leave you thinking about it months after you’ve watched it. Amy Amatangelo

35. Better Call Saul


Creator:   Vince Gilligan  
Stars:   Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, and Jonathan Banks
Network: AMC

When Bob Odenkirk showed up towards the end of the second season of Breaking Bad, playing sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, it was a small shock to the system for anyone who has long appreciated his work as a writer and a comic actor on series like SNL and Mr. Show. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of a tragic, hilarious and epic tale that would start to take on the scope of an epic Russian novel. The two seasons of this prequel to Vince Gilligan’s meth drama has accomplished the nearly impossible, by expanding upon the source material of Breaking Bad with dynamic and sometimes heartbreaking results. And give full credit to Odenkirk (and his co-stars Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, and Jonathan Banks) for further bringing to life how shaky a person’s morality can be, especially when there’s great gobs of money involved. Robert Ham

34. Star Trek: The Next Generation


Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton
Network: Syndicated

The original series was pioneering. Deep Space Nine and Voyager had their moments. But TNG was head-and-shoulders the greatest Star Trek franchise. Jean Luc Picard. Data. Worf. The holodeck. The Borg. Gene Roddenbury must not have had a cynical bone in his body, and watching his characters explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before, I didn’t either. Josh Jackson

33. Rectify


Creator: Ray McKinnon
Stars: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford, Luke Kirby
Network: SundanceTV

Rectify has a simple enough premise: A man sent to rot on Death Row is released from prison after 19 years. Sure, the big and small screens have seen their fair share of crime dramas, but Rectify’s plot isn’t what sets it apart: It’s the rest of it. Daniel Holden, arrested for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, finds himself back in his hometown, greeted by constant life-threatening hostility. The show explores the bonds between Daniel (played to perfection by Aden Young), his family and his enemies as they struggle to deal with Daniel’s homecoming. Superbly acted, the program successfully meshes the best bits of a TV show together, managing to be at times heartbreaking and suspenseful, while also beautifully incorporating moments of effortless humor. Rectify is thought-provoking and will make you care about the future of its characters—like all the best shows do. Rachel Haas

32. Archer


Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Amber Nash
Network: FX

Archer has succeeded as a hilarious parody of both James Bond and Mad Men with the comedic sensibilities of FX’s best. After upping its own ante with Archer Vice, Archer’s sixth foray into spy hijinks (spyjinks?) surprisingly focused on Archer’s reluctant march toward adult responsibility, interrupted, of course, by run-ins with Japanese holdouts, Irish assassins, cybernetically enhanced operatives, Welsh separatists, and Lana’s parents, among many, many others. And then came Archer P.I.—sorry, the Higgis Agency. The jokes are as sharp as ever, though the animation has never been crisper, and the action has rarely been better. Most of all, the stakes have never felt so grounded. Maybe making parenthood the real heavy here is a risk, but for Adam Reed, it pays off. Paste Staff

31. The Walking Dead


Creator: Frank Darabont
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden
Network: AMC

I remember excitedly watching the Frank Darabont-directed premiere of The Walking Dead on Halloween of 2010, thinking, “This is so cool, but it’ll never be popular.” An hour-long zombie drama? No one’s going to watch that but me! Well, obviously I couldn’t have been more wrong. Flying in the face of expectations, The Walking Dead somehow became cable’s highest-rated show over the course of the last six years, even besting Sunday Night Football on occasion. Stop for a moment and consider those implications: We live in a country that has become so geeky on average, that an hour-long zombie drama can sometimes get more viewership than Sunday Night Football. That’s America in 2016. In terms of quality, the quest of the Grimes Gang to survive has been up and down, but the production values have always been impeccable. Although the story has occasionally bogged down in places or been stretched too thin, the show always seems to rebound with a moment of incredible pathos, even for iconic villains such as David Morrissey’s Governor. As the show heads into Season Seven this October, our ever-thinning group of survivors comes face to face with Negan, the greatest villain that creator Robert Kirkman ever wrote for the comics series that inspired the show. Whether you like recent seasons with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan or not, the show’s success to date has already been massive for the marketability of horror on the small screen. Jim Vorel

30. Daredevil


Creator: Drew Goddard
Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio
Network: Netflix 

Marvel and DC have both tried to leverage their movie dominance onto the small screen many times over, but for a while, the only beloved recent TV show based on a comic book came from indie publisher Image with The Walking Dead. That started to change with the first season of Daredevil. The Hell’s Kitchen of Matt Murdoch’s world is much grittier than that of his Marvel cohorts on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—no surprise since the show was created by Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods. Goddard, who’s written episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and Lost is also no stranger to the comics world, having written a few issues of the Buffy comics. The fight scenes are riveting (and often bloody), and the hero and his companions are well-developed, but was Vincent D’Onofrio complicated turn as the crime boss Wilson Fisk that elevated the show into something special. Both Fisk and Murdoch want to clean up the city, and will go to great lengths to do it. The difference between hero and villain is just a matter of ends-justify-the-means degrees. Not since Rick Grimes tangled with the Governor or Walter White went up against Gus Fring has there been a protracted battle this gripping on television. Your move, DC. Josh Jackson

29. Narcos


Creators: Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Stars: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal, Joanna Christie, Maurice Compte, Stephanie Sigman, Manolo Cardona, André Mattos, Roberto Urbina, Diego Cataõ
Network: Netflix 

One popular line of criticism has it that Narcos romanticizes the violence and degradation associated with the Colombian drug wars—and drug culture in general—and I would agree that the excellent Wagner Moura plays kingpin Pablo Escobar so engagingly that he becomes a sort of Walt White-esque antihero. And the rhythms of the documentary-style narration are fast-paced in a way that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, whipping us along at an almost breakneck speed. Nevertheless, this valid criticism misses the important point that we are watching a work of fiction based on historical figures—not a realdocumentary. And when viewed that way, Narcos was one of the most successful new shows on TV, in how it managed to flesh out some very dark characters and tell a complicated story with such urgency and clarity. This is not the hyper-realist drug fiction of Traffic or 2015’s wonderful Sicario, but as conflict entertainment goes, it succeeds wonderfully. Shane Ryan

28. The Get Down


Creator:   Baz Luhrmann, Stephen Adly Guirgis
Stars: Justice Smith, Herizen F. Guardiola, Shameik Moore, Jaden Smith, Skylan Brooks, Tremaine Brown Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jimmy Smits
Network: Netflix 

The Get Down, from Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis, bears the imprint of its creators’ extensive experience on the stage, mustering more musical zeal than the many other contemporary rock ‘n’ roll series. The story of aspiring MC Ezekiel Figuero (Justice Smith) and his love interest, disco singer Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola), The Get Down edges closer in affect to Singin’ in the Rain or West Side Story than to its brethren on TV. Whether a function of its interest in the origins of hip-hop or the spirited optimism of its protagonists, determined to escape, or transform, the South Bronx, The Get Down is buoyed by its kinetic energies, even as it strains to bring its sprawling cast and sociopolitical interests into sharper relief. Each episode is a kaleidoscope of musical influences, from disco to ’90s rap. Throughout the first few episodes, the camera combats the intermittent sluggishness of the writing, zooming, swooping, circling and retreating before cycling back to the beginning, painted all the while in bright swatches of color. The Get Down recalls the aforementioned classics not because it’s made with similar aplomb, then, but because the series’ chaotic construction nonetheless reflects the musical’s central premise: The music isn’t the setting for the story. The music is the story. Matt Brennan

27. House of Cards


Creator: Beau Willimon
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly
Network: Netflix 

It’s been called a gamble. It’s been called a revolutionary step in television. However you look at it, House of Cards is certainly something you need to witness. Whether you watch all the episodes in one sitting or spaced out over a few weeks, the show has an undeniable draw that will suck you in. The political thriller, starring the incomparable Kevin Spacey, is an adaptation of BBC’s show of the same name (also worth checking out on Netflix). It sets out to take on drama juggernauts from HBO, Showtime and AMC; succeeding in part. The most compelling aspect of the show is Spacey’s take on Frank Underwood. He’s able to carry scenes and sometimes entire episodes. The series focuses on Underwood’s ruthless rise to power alongside—and, at times, in opposition to—his icy, ambitious wife, Claire (Robin Wright). The show lies somewhere between the exceptionally boundary pushing Homeland and the intelligence of the early West Wing episodes. Adam Vitcavage

26. Futurama


Creator:   Matt Groening  
Stars: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, David Herman, Frank Welker
Network: Fox

Totally underappreciated in its original run, which just caught the tail end of the ’90s, one gets the sense that Futurama at first suffered from misplaced expectations. Knowing it was coming from Matt Groening, perhaps people expected a futuristic version of The Simpsons, but Futurama is fundamentally different in quite a few aspects. Although it was similar in its satirical lampooning of modern (or futuristic) daily life and media, it was also capable of being surprisingly—even shockingly—emotional at times. Just ask anyone who remembers the end of “Jurassic Bark” or “The Luck of the Fryrish,” among other episodes. Likewise, its self-contained continuity was unlike almost every other animated sitcom, with events unfolding in both its first and second run on TV that fundamentally affected the viewer’s perception of earlier plot points. It’s now rightly recognized as one of the best animated comedies ever. Jim Vorel

25. Louie


Creator:   Louis C.K.  
Stars:   Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon
Network: FX

When life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade. But as comedian-turned-divorced dad Louis C.K. has proven on a week-to-week basis, you don’t have to be happy about it. Louie offers a painfully real but hilarious look at Louis C.K.’s fictional, jaded version of himself and explores the humor in divorce, aging and parenthood. The show has only gotten more ambitious with each season, abandoning much of its former structure by Season Four and moving closer towards continuity and multi-episode arcs. The stories often felt like short films rather than episodes of TV show. But through all the changes, Louie retained the surrealism and dark humor that has consistently made it one of the best shows on TV. Tyler Kane

24. American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson


Creators: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Stars: Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance
Network: FX

In a year defined by a certain queasy nostalgia for the 1990s, from Fuller House to the presidential election, FX’s dramatization of the decade’s signal spectacle came closest to capturing both zeitgeists at once: the one that made “the trial of the century” and the one that revived our obsession with it. Anchored by Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson as Johnnie Cochran and Marcia Clark, American Crime Story transforms the salaciousness of a tabloid-ready saga into a potent, surprisingly restrained treatment of “identity politics” in action, in which the seeds of our own fault lines—of race, of gender, of class—were sown in the aftermath of Reagan, the Cold War, and the L.A. riots. Most impressive of all, perhaps, the series manages to wring suspense from a twenty-year-old case that already unfurled on live television, becoming that now-rare artifact of an earlier cultural moment: appointment viewing. Matt Brennan

23. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia


Creator: Rob McElhenney
Stars: Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito
Network: FX

The idea behind Sunny is simple yet brilliant—bring together the most narcissistic and cruel characters imaginable and let them wreak havoc on the world. Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie, and Frank all run Patty’s Pub together, though that endeavor never seems to keep them occupied for long. To entertain themselves, the group hatches one scheme after another. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System,” for example, is Dennis’ foolproof method for manipulating women’s emotions so that they’ll fall in love with him. To give you an idea of how it works, the strategic acronym begins with “Demonstrate value” and ends with “Separate entirely.” Riley Ubben

22. Dear White People


Creator: Justin Simien
Stars:: Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Giancarlo Esposito
Network: Netflix 

Based on creator Justin Simien’s 2014 indie, Netflix’s original series—narrated by Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Giancarlo Esposito—replicates the pungent humor of the film without ever seeming stale, or static: Its knives are sharp, and they’re pointed in every direction. Though its primary target is white privilege, in forms both egregious (blackface parties) and mundane (calls to end “divisive” politics), Dear White People, set on the campus of a fictional Ivy League university, is even funnier when it turns to the details of the black students’ personal and ideological choices, transforming the notion of the “problematic fave,” from the McRib to The Cosby Show into the engine of its entertaining, incisive comedy. Matt Brennan

21. The Fall


Creator: Allan Cubitt
Stars: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, Valene Kane, Séalinín Brennan, Colin Morgan, Bronagh Taggart, Niamh McGrady, Sarah Beattie, John Lynch
Network: BBC

Let it be known that before he was Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan proved his acting chops and charisma as a disturbingly undisturbable murderer in this superb psychological thriller. Dornan’s mild-mannered husband, father and grief counselor (!) is among the most terrifying onscreen serial killers in recent memory. Paul Spector is a stalker, as exacting and methodical as his eventual pursuer. Enter Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, a British detective superintendent called to Belfast to look into a spate of gruesome murders. As the cat-and-mouse game intensifies, Anderson’s characterization is its own triumph: analytical, uncompromising, reserved, but brazenly sexual on her own terms, entirely unfazed by the politicking and dick-swinging of her male colleagues. That we know the identity of the killer from the show’s first frames, and yet can’t take our eyes off the screen is a testament to the stealth creep with which The Fall operates. Amanda Schurr

20. Lost


Creators: J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof 
Stars: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, Michael Emerson, Terry O’Quinn, Josh Holloway, Jorge Garcia, Yunjin Kim, Daniel Dae Kim
Network: ABC

When J.J. Abrams first marooned his plane-crash survivors on a remote island, no one realized the show’s name was a double entendre: It took crowd-sourced blogs to make sense of all the hidden clues, relevant connections, time shifts and intertwined storylines, and each season has given us far more questions than answers. But there’s something refreshing about a network TV show that trusts the mental rigor of its audience instead of dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. Sometimes it’s good to be a little lost. Josh Jackson

19. Jessica Jones


Creator: Melissa Rosenberg
Stars: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, Carrie-Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, Wil Traval, Susie Abromeit
Network: Netflix 

Marvel’s first team-up with Netflix, 2015’s excellent Daredevil, took the shiny Marvel Cinematic Universe and rubbed much needed dirt on it. Jessica Jones furthers the trend with a psychological thriller that is, somehow, more brutal and dark than its Hell’s Kitchen contemporary. Unlike Daredevil, Jones not only redrew the lines for a Marvel production, but redefined what a comic book show could be. The emphasis is not on the physical, but instead the mental destruction caused by Kilgrave (the phenomenal David Tennant), a sociopath with mind-control powers. Netflix’s binge model is used to its full-effect, each episode’s conclusion begging the viewer to let the train roll on. And, like a victim of Kilgrave, its impossible not to abide. Jessica Jones keeps the viewer guessing, leaving them suspended in a state of fear and anxiety for 13 perilous, wonderful hours. Eric Walters

18. Stranger Things


Creators: The Duffer Brothers
Stars: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine
Network: Netflix 

The only question viewers tend to ask about the quality of Netflix’s Stranger Things isn’t “Is this a fantastically entertaining show?” but “Does it matter that the show is so homage-heavy?” Our take: No. Since springing into the cultural consciousness immediately with its release a month ago, Stranger Things has been hailed as a revival of old-school sci-fi, horror and ‘80s nostalgia that is far more effective and immediately gripping than most other examples of its ilk. The influences are far too deeply ingrained to individually list, although imagery evoking Amblin-era Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper films drips from nearly every frame. With a stellar cast of child actors and several different characters whose hidden secrets we desperately want to see explored, Stranger Things hits every note necessary to motivate a weekend-long Netflix binge. As questions now swirl about the direction of Season Two, following the first season’s explosive conclusion, we’re all hoping that the same group of characters will be able to re-conjure the chilling, heart-pumping magic of a perfectly constructed eight-episode series. Please, TV gods: Don’t let Stranger Things go all True Detective on us. Jim Vorel

17. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt


Creators:   Tina Fey, Robert Carlock
Stars: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Karkowski, Carol Kane, Lauren Adams, Sara Chase
Network: Netflix 

NBC has made any number of mistakes over the years, but few bigger than shelving Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock follow-up, before punting it over to Netflix. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wound up becoming one of the highlights of a great year for TV comedy. The fast-paced and flip sitcom featured breakout performances by Office vet Ellie Kemper as the titular former “mole woman” trying to make it on her own in New York, and Tituss Burgess as her flamboyant and put-upon roommate, Titus Andromedon. (NBC has recently tried to make it up to Kemper for dropping the ball on this by planting her in the guest host chair at Today—too little, too late, peacock peddlers.) Throughout the first season’s run, some writers and critics seemed dead set on finding some kind of flaw to pounce on with the show, zeroing in on how the minority characters are represented. This may be a wild generalization, but I think this was a natural reaction to one of the most overtly feminist sitcoms ever produced. Kimmy Schmidt is most certainly upsetting the natural order of your typical network sitcom. The show’s titular character is defining her life on her own terms and by her own standards. For some reason that still freaks some people out so they dismiss it or find some way to poke holes in the vehicle for that idea. That is what makes the prospect of a second season so exciting. Just as the show can go in a myriad of different directions, so too can Kimmy Schmidt. Now that she has put the awful time in the bunker to bed, she can face a new day with that infectious smile, bubbly attitude, and enthusiastic embrace of life experience. Sorry nitpickers and network executives; Kimmy Schmidt is going to make it after all. Robert Ham

16. Sherlock


Creators: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves
Network: BBC

One has only to look at the sterling track record of Steve Moffat to witness a showrunner god in the making. The guiding hand behind such English hits as Press Gang and Coupling, Moffat has gained the most attention for resuscitating Dr. Who into the Anglo-Saxon ambassador of science fiction. But Moffat and frequent collaborator Mark Gatiss transcended their best work with Sherlock, the BBC drama that hijacks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth into the present with awe-inspiring intelligence and style. Calling Sherlock a television show is a tad deceptive, though; the series has produced two seasons consisting of three 90-minute episodes each. In other words, the Sherlock team has averaged a feature film every three months since the Summer of 2010. The immaculate second season dug deeper into the psychological fault lines of Holmes, played with sterile arrogance by Benedict Cumberbatch (or as Seth Meyers noted on SNL, the only man with a name more ridiculous than Sherlock Holmes). When the audience wasn’t trying to piece together the mystery of the week, we were finding fleeting clues to the guarded humanity of London’s finest “Consulting Detective,” usually to the chagrin of long-suffering accomplice John Watson (Martin Freeman) and volatile love interest Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). Sean Edgar

15. The West Wing


Creator:   Aaron Sorkin  
Stars: Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Dulé Hill, NiCole Robinson, Melissa Fitzgerald, Rob Lowe, Joshua Malina, Stockard Channing, Kim Webster, Kris Murphy, Timothy Davis-Reed
Network: NBC

Television’s quintessential political drama began in the Clinton era, soldiered on through Bush and 9/11, and ended in the earliest days of the Age of Obama. Weirdly, the show’s political climate was more stable than reality itself. And maybe that was its appeal. The West Wing showed us government not as it was, but as it could be—a White House run by quippy, tireless, big-hearted public servants who believed in governing with decency. President Josiah Bartlet would give any of his real-life counterparts a run for their money. Nick Marino

14. Orange is the New Black


Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs
Network: Netflix 

Orange is the New Black is perfectly suited for the Netflix delivery system, if only because it would have been agonizing to wait a week for a new episode. But there’s more; the construct felt cinematic and compared to your average show, and I couldn’t help but feel that the all-at-once release plane freed the creators to make something less episodic and more free-flowing. Taylor Schilling stars as Piper Chapman, a woman living a content modern life when her past rears up suddenly to tackle her from behind; a decade earlier, she was briefly a drug mule for her lover Alex Vause (the excellent Laura Prepon), and when Vause needed to plea her sentence down, she gave up Piper. The story is based on the real-life events of Piper Kerman, whose book of the same title was the inspiration, but the truth is that the screen version is miles better. Schilling is the engine that drives the plot, and her odd combination of natural serenity mixed with the increasing anger and desperation at the late turn her life has taken strikes the perfect tone for life inside the women’s prison. Over the first few episodes, prison is treated like an almost-quirky novelty she’ll have to experience for 15 months, and the wisest choice director Jenji Kohan made (and there are many) was to heighten the stakes so that what begins as an off-kilter adventure soon takes on the serious proportions prison life demands. And as great as Schilling and Prepon are together, the supporting cast is so universally excellent that it almost beggars belief. There are too many characters who make gold with their limited screen time to mention individually, but suffice it to say that there’s enough comedy, pathos and tragedy here for a dozen shows. The fact that they fit so successfully into one makes OITNB a defining triumph for Netflix. Shane Ryan

13. Master of None


Creators:   Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
Stars: Aziz Ansari, Noél Wells, Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, Alessandra Mastronardi, Bobby Cannavale
Premiered: 2015

The long-awaited second season of Aziz Ansari’s masterful Master of None begins with an homage to Bicycle Thieves and ends with a nod to The Graduate. In between are beautifully nuanced episodes as Ansari’s Dev Shah tries to navigate his love life and his career. Even when the show goes the traditional sitcom route—the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Dev and the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi)—the dialogue and interactions are decidedly not traditional. They talk like real people not ones created in a writer’s room. “New York, I Love You,” which stepped away from the main characters to showcase the vibrant diversity of the city and “Thanksgiving,” which chronicled Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming out to her family, are easily the season highlights. The show is fun to watch, emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. Unlike anything else on television, Master of None is not only one of the best shows of Netflix, but one of the most important in a long, long time. Eric Walters and Amy Amatangelo

12. BoJack Horseman


Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins 
Network: Netflix 

BoJack Horseman is one of the most underrated comedies ever made, and it almost pains me that it doesn’t earn more praise. Right from the title sequence, which documents BoJack’s sad decline from network sitcom star to drunken has-been—set to the beautiful theme song written by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney—this is one of the most thoughtful comedies ever made. Which doesn’t mean it’s not hilarious, of course. Will Arnett is the perfect voice for BoJack, and Paul F. Tompkins, who is in my mind the funniest man on planet Earth, could not be better suited to the child-like Mr. Peanut Butter. This is a show that isn’t above a visual gag or vicious banter or a wonderfully cheap laugh, but it also looks some very hard realities of life straight in the eye. There are times when you will hate BoJack—this is not a straight redemption story, and the minute you think he’s on the upswing, he will do something absolutely horrible to let you down. (There’s a special irony in the fact that a horse is one of the most human characters on TV, and the unblinking examination of his character makes “Escape from L.A.” one of the best episodes of TV this year.) So why isn’t it loved beyond a strong cult following? Maybe it’s the anthropomorphism that keeps people away, or maybe it’s the animation, but I implore you: Look beyond those elements, settle into the story, and let yourself be amazed by a comedy that straddles the line between hilarious and sad like no other on television. Shane Ryan

11. The Civil War


Creators: Ken Burns, Ric Burns, Geoffrey C. Ward
Stars:: Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman, Garrison Keilor, George Plimpton, Studs Terkel
Network: PBS

First aired in the fall of 1990, Ken Burns’ pioneering docuseries attracted a now-unthinkable 40 million viewers over the course of five nights, and re-established the Civil War as the central hinge of American history. This alone is no mean feat; add in the series’ profound aesthetic influence, from the pans and zooms that enliven its archival images (now known as “the Ken Burns effect”) to the use of well-known actors to give voice to the era’s letters and diaries, and The Civil War emerges as one of the most important works of nonfiction ever to air on American television. One might critique its interpretation of events, in particular Burns’ decision to paper over the sabotage of Radical Reconstruction in favor of the more optimistic narrative of reunification, but the elegiac note on which it concludes never fails to bring tears to my eyes. “History is not ‘was,’ it’s ‘is,’” the historian Barbara J. Fields remarks, as a piano taps out its lonesome rendition of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” “The Civil War is, in the present as well as in the past.” Matt Brennan

10. The Twilight Zone


Creator: Rod Serling
Stars: Rod Serling
Network: CBS

It is, in the estimation of any sane person, one of the greatest science fiction series of all time without a doubt, with its myriad episodes about technology, aliens, space travel, etc. But The Twilight Zone also plumbed the depths of the human psyche, madness and damnation with great regularity, in the same spirit as creator Rod Serling’s later series, Night Gallery. Ultimately, The Twilight Zone is indispensable to both sci-fi and horror. Its moralistic playlets so often have the tone of dark, Grimm Brothers fables for the rocket age of the ‘50s and ‘60s, urban legends that have left an indelible mark on the macabre side of our pop culture consciousness. What else can one call an episode such as “Living Doll,” wherein a confounded, asshole Telly Savalas is threatened, stalked and ultimately killed by his abused daughter’s vindictive doll, Talky Tina? Or “The Invaders,” about a lonely woman in a farmhouse who is menaced by invaders from outer space in an episode almost entirely without dialog? Taken on its own, a piece of television such as “The Invaders” almost shares more in common with “old dark house” horror films or the slashers that would arrive 20 years later than an entry in a sci-fi anthology. Jim Vorel

9. Twin Peaks


Creators:   David Lynch, Mark Frost
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen, Eric Da Re, Sherilyn Fenn
Network: ABC

At its heart, Twin Peaks was a detective story, with Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachan), a stalwart, by-the-book FBI agent, descending upon the small logging town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a young woman. But since this was a TV series conceived using the weird and wonderful visions of David Lynch, it wound up being so much more. Like its nearest antecedent, Blue Velvet, it explores the weirdness that lies beneath the surface of Anytown, U.S.A., including a lot of soap opera-like psychosexual drama and assorted oddball characters like The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) and agoraphobic Harold Smith (Lenny Von Dohlen). The horror of the show came in with the supernatural underpinnings of this storyline, with the killer of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) potentially being an otherworldly force that goes by the name of Bob. Through Lynch’s lens and through the guise of actor Frank Silva, that spirit haunted every last scene in the show, no matter how outlandish and far-reaching it got. With the help of Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score and the atmosphere created by the set designers, you spent the entirety of the two seasons waiting for something terrible to happen to everyone on screen. And it only made those moments—when things did go sour—feel that much worse. Though Twin Peaks: The Return, which debuted on Showtime in May, is not yet available on Netflix, its wild surrealism and resistance to narrative confirm the visionary nature of Lynch’s original. Robert Ham

8. The Office (U.K., U.S.)


Creators:   Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant; U.S. version developed by Greg Daniels
Stars: U.K.: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis, Oliver Chris, Patrick Baladi, Stacey Roca, Ralph Ineson, Stirling Gallacher; U.S.: Steve Carell 
John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, B. J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Brian Baumgartner, Angela Kinsey, Ed Helms, Creed Bratton, Phyllis Smith, Leslie David Baker, Kate Flannery, Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein
Networks: BBC, NBC

Ricky Gervais’ immortal Britcom deserves full marks for establishing this comedy franchise that killed the laugh track and introduced us to a hilarious bunch of paper-pushing mopes. Defying expectations that it would pale in comparison, NBC’s Office became an institution unto itself. At its best, the American version was just as awkward as its predecessor, while showing a lot more heart than the gang could muster in sooty old England. Nick Marino

7. Fawlty Towers


Creators: John Cleese and Connie Booth
Stars: John Cleese, Connie Booth, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs
Network: BBC Two

Though its run lasted only 12 episodes—over the course of two seasons, four years apart—the BBC’s uproarious sitcom about life at an English seaside hotel in the 1970s needed no more than that to establish its place in the pantheon of TV comedies. Starring the peerless John Cleese as rude hotelier and frustrated social climber Basil Fawlty and Prunella Scales as his acid-tongued wife, Sybil, Fawlty Towers memorably skewered marriage, manners and the British class system, but one needn’t speak the language—see Andrews Sachs’ befuddled Spanish waiter, Manuel—to see the humor. Its incomparable slapstick and farcical situations are so brilliantly executed they’re never lost in translation. Matt Brennan

6. Cheers


Creator: James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles
Stars: Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman, Nicholas Colasanto, John Ratzenberger, Woody Harrelson, Kelsey Grammer, George Wendt
Network: NBC

It was more than a bar where everybody knows your name. It was a lifestyle. Cheers rarely left the confines of the bar, but was able to weave slapstick comedy, romance and drama into the 11 seasons it was on the air. It started as the worst-rated series (74 out of 74) but climbed its way to the top 10 during the third season. Two casting changes couldn’t even slow it down. The ensemble cast all won awards in acting, as well as the show winning four Outstanding Comedy Series awards. Unlike many sitcoms that touch on serious social issues, the show never felt like an after-school special. Everything was done with sophisticated humor. Adam Vitcavage

5. Arrested Development


Creator:   Mitch Hurwitz  
Stars: Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter, Alia Shawkat, Ron Howard
Networks: Fox, Netflix 

Mitch Hurwitz’ sitcom about a “wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together” packed a whole lot of awesome into three short seasons. How much awesome? Well, there was the chicken dance, for starters. And Franklin’s “It’s Not Easy Being White.” There was Ron Howard’s spot-on narration, and Tobias Funke’s Blue Man ambitions. There was Mrs. Featherbottom and Charlize Theron as Rita, Michael Bluth’s mentally challenged love interest. Not since Seinfeld has a comic storyline been so perfectly constructed, with every loose thread tying so perfectly into the next act. Arrested Development took self-referencing postmodernism to an absurdist extreme, jumping shark after shark, but that was the point. They even brought on the original shark-jumper—Henry Winkler—as the family lawyer. And when he was replaced, naturally, it was by Scott Baio. Each of the Bluth family members was among the best characters on television, and Jason Bateman played a brilliant straight man to them all. And after years of rumors, the show returned to Netflix for a fourth season—different in both construction and tone, but nevertheless, a gift to fans who had to say goodbye to the Bluths all too soon. Josh Jackson

4. Parks and Recreation


Creators: Greg Daniels, Michael Schur
Stars: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones
Network: NBC

Parks and Recreation started its run as a fairly typical mirror of The Office, but in its third season, the student became the master. As it’s fleshed out with oddballs and unusual city quirks, Pawnee has become the greatest television town since Springfield. The show flourished this year with some of the most unique and interesting characters in comedy today. With one of the greatest writing staffs of any show, Parks and Recreation is only got better with time. Ross Bonaime

3. Freaks and Geeks


Creator:   Paul Feig  
Stars: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty
Network: NBC

We’ve had more than a decade to come to terms with Freaks and Geeks’ untimely cancellation, and while the axe’s blow still smarts, in some ways the series’ scant 18 episodes have proved an ideal offering. Like a musty old yearbook, the short run preserved one gloriously specific time in the lives of McKinley High’s do-gooders and reprobates, and now we remember the trials and tribulations of Lindsay and Sam Weir, Daniel Desario, Bill Haverchuck and the whole gang like those of so many long-lost high-school friends of our own. Despite the intervening years (and starring roles in raunchier Judd Apatow fare), we remember the characters precisely as they were then, in 1980—sweetly fraught, awkward, hilarious and unsullied by the harsh realities of post-graduate life (or trite plot-lines, forced love triangles or sweeps-week shenanigans). Rachael Maddux

2. Breaking Bad


Creator:   Vince Gilligan  
Stars:   Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, RJ Mitte, Giancarlo Esposito
Network: AMC

One of the things that made Breaking Bad one of the all-time greats was that the writers did a phenomenal job introducing complex themes, plot lines and ideas, and then weaving them all together for an extremely satisfying conclusion. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the show asks the audience to hold on until the end to see where it’s all going. In that way it’s reminiscent of The Wire, a show that didn’t hammer its audience over the head constantly with flashy moments, but asked for patience as all the plot threads slowly untangled. And with Breaking Bad’s narrower focus, the stakes and emotional ties we have with the story and characters can be much higher. Brent Koepp

1. Mad Men


Creator: Matthew Weiner
Stars: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Robert Morse, John Slattery
Network: AMC

Look, you don’t need us to tell you that Mad Men is one of the greatest TV dramas of all time; you have the entire Internet for that, and frankly, that’s time you could be spending watching more Mad Men. But with his tale of 1960s (and eventually, early ‘70s) ad men and women and the American Dream, Matthew Weiner has done something truly extraordinary: proven that there’s drama in everyday life. Unlike pretty much every other TV drama, this one doesn’t deal with cops, doctors or lawyers; there are no mafia dons or drug lords going down in a hail of bullets. It’s just a bunch of people working together in an office, trying to push forward and navigate one of the most compelling decades in American history. Sure, it’s glamorous and brilliantly written, and the fact that Elisabeth Moss never won an Emmy for it is criminal, but ultimately, it’s oddly relatable, and that’s what great TV is supposed to do—show us ourselves. Bonnie Stiernberg

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