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The 50 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now

October 2017

TV Lists Amazon Prime
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Amazon Prime  TV may still be chasing Netflix when it comes to original series, but the streaming service’s hits go much deeper than just Transparent. Along with Amazon’s own offerings, including 2017 debut Sneaky Pete, 2016 breakout Fleabag and Sharon Horgan’s stalwart comedy, Catastrophe, its catalogue, unlike its competitors, also features a number of HBO series that might reasonably be considered the best TV series ever made: The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and more. The rest of Amazon Prime’s selection may not compare to the 75 Best TV Shows on Netflix or the 75 Best TV Shows on Hulu, but there are plenty of binge-worthy TV series to enjoy. (Be sure to check out our list of the 75 Best Movies on Amazon Prime, too.) Here are the 50 best TV shows on Amazon now:

50. Good Girls Revolt
Creator: Dana Calvo
Stars: Genevieve Angelson, Anna Camp, Erin Darke, Chris Diamantopoulos, Hunter Parrish, Jim Belushi, Joy Bryant, Grace Gummer
Network: Amazon


Though creator Dana Calvo’s airy, agreeable, short-lived series is, at first blush, a Mad Men-inspired portrait of working women in the era of the ERA, it’s amid the red pencil and hanging proofs of a fictional newsmagazine that Good Girls Revolt is at its sharpest. As capable, tenacious researchers Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), Jane Hollander (Anna Camp) and Cindy Reston (Erin Darke) fight discrimination at News of the Week, the series’ sense of the culture (and counterculture) remains as broad as a barn—Easy Rider, the Hell’s Angels, Buffalo Springfield—but it nonetheless illustrates, with humor and verve, the importance of reporting that pursues the unexpected angle, the hitherto unheard source. Matt Brennan

49. I Love Dick
Creators: Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins
Stars: Kathryn Hahn, Kevin Bacon, Griffin Dunne, Roberta Colindrez, India Salvor Menuez, Lily Mojekwu
Network: Amazon


“Desire isn’t lack,” writes Chris Krauss (Kathryn Hahn), the author and filmmaker whose 1997 novel is I Love Dick’s source material. “It’s excess energy. A claustrophobia inside your skin.” In Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins’ new series, which grows richer and stranger as it progresses, this notion is reflected and refracted through Hahn’s perfect sensitivities: Her performance is so perceptively physical—contorting her face in orgasm, recoiling from touch, tapping and pacing and fretting and squatting—that the series often depicts her in triptychs of still images, as if desperate to slow her down. I Love Dick’s most compelling insight, though, is that the taciturn sculptor—played by Kevin Bacon and filmed by Soloway with such indecent abandon that rolling a cigarette seems a come on, rejection a seduction, humiliation a form of foreplay—is the symptom of Chris’ upset, and not the cause. Its sublime treatment of the intersection between lust and (self-) love, culminating in the bold, brilliant “A Short History of Weird Girls,” echoes the truth of its titular declaration, in which Dick is the object and not the subject, ultimately replaceable by art. Matt Brennan

48. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino
Bryan Konietzko
Stars: Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Jessie Flower, Dee Bradley Baker, Mako, Grey DeLisle, Mark Hamill
Network: Nickelodeon 


Don’t be put off by M. Night Shayamalan’s clunky 2010 live-action adaptation. This richly animated TV series merges the wild imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, the world-building of the most epic anime stories and the humor of some of the more offbeat Cartoon Network originals. Following the exploits of the Avatar, the boy savior Aang who can control all four of the elements—fire, water, earth and wind—the series is filled with political intrigue, personal growth and unending challenges. Spirits and strange hybrid animals present dangers, but so do the people who seek power for themselves. This is one you’ll enjoy watching with your kids or on your own. Josh Jackson

47. Alpha House
Creator: Garry Trudeau
Stars: John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy, Mark Consuelos
Network: Amazon


Garry Trudeau’s second foray into televised satire turns the focus on the Republican side of the aisle. Inspired by the stories about a trio of Congressmen sharing a row house in D.C. while in session, Alpha House gently and calmly skewers political discourse, the often-egregious hypocrisy of the people in power, and our content and scandal hungry society. While the show is anchored by a great performance from John Goodman, the true strength of the show is in supporting players like the fantastic character actor Matt Malloy as the perpetually put-upon Senator Louis Laffer, and comedian Wanda Sykes as Armed Services Committee chair (and the Congressmen’s neighbor) Rosalyn DuPeche. Mark Rozeman

46. One Mississippi
Creator:   Tig Notaro  
Stars:   Tig Notaro, Noah Harpster, John Rothman, Rya Kihlstedt
Network: Amazon


Double mastectomy. Your mother dying. A life threatening infection. Not exactly hilarious stuff. But comedian Tig Notaro’s deeply personal series about returning home after her mother’s death will make you cry and laugh at the utter absurdity of life. Particularly impressive is Notaro’s performance. She’s not an actress by trade which brings a raw believability to her character. The people who inhabit Tig’s world from her emotionless stepfather to her clingy girlfriend pulse with a realism rarely seen on TV. They aren’t TV characters. They’re real people who will remind you of your own family and loved ones. One Mississippi didn’t receive the hype of Amazon’s other shows. But it deserved to and now’s your chance to rectify that. Amy Amatangelo

45. The Night Manager
Creator: Stephen Garrett
Stars: Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Coleman, Alistair Petrie
Network: AMC


John le Carre stories are usually morose or opaque as spies are seen either trapped in dark and cold worlds or dealing with the monotony that makes up most of their days (witness Gary Oldman’s slow, emotionless swim to fill the days of his “retirement” in the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). But not The Night Manager. In this miniseries, we have bona fide movie star Tom Hiddleston looking dashing in linen suits—or sometimes nothing at all—as he goes undercover in the world of yachts and fresh lobster salads to take down Hugh Laurie’s Dickie Roper, the worst man in the world—the type of person who learns of a sarin gas attack and thinks “business opportunity.”

But all the glitz and double crossing isn’t all that sells this production. Attention must also be given to the supporting cast. Tom Hollander’s Lance “Corky” Corkoran could have been your typical nefarious character who’s onto our hero, but instead he’s an addict in desperate need of Roper’s attention, which is all the more delicious. The fact that Olivia Coleman was very pregnant while shooting made the obsession that her character, agent Angela Burr, had with taking down Roper much more real and dangerous. Most impressive might be breakout star Elizabeth Debicki, who played the beautiful, if dead-eyed, Jed Marshall who knows she made a deal with the devil and doesn’t quite know how to get out of that web. Whitney Friedlander

44. Mr. Robot
Creator: Sam Esmail
Stars: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin
Network: USA


Despite the structural problems plaguing the series’ frustrating second season, Mr. Robot’s Elliot Alderson (Emmy winner Rami Malek) remains one of the most seductive characters on television. To set an hour-long drama more or less inside its own protagonist’s head is a bold gambit, and Elliot, his philosophical narration roiling beneath his placid surface, is a convincing guide through creator Sam Esmail’s tumult of hallucinations, memories, delusions and dreams. If the draw in Season One was its (rarely seen on TV) anti-capitalism, Season Two witnesses Mr. Robot emerge as a claustrophobic portrait of a young man’s psychological extremes, and that it works at all is thanks mostly to our desire to understand the cryptic, complicated, always compelling Elliot. Matt Brennan

43. The Expanse
Creator: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Stars: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Paulo Costanzo
Network: Syfy


In Syfy’s The Expanse, Mars and Earth are two superpowers racing to gain the technological upper hand, while those who live in the Asteroid Belt mine resources for the more privileged planets and become more and more prone to radicalization.

Sound familiar?

In its relationship to our own age of authoritarianism, the series offers a kind of storytelling that seems essential: It manages to paint a portrait of a divided universe without vilifying one group and raising the other to god-like status, as evidenced by the complexities of hardboiled detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) or U.N. official Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). The Expanse shows us a possible future, a future in which women can be leaders without the bat of an eye, in which racially diverse groups can unite in common cause, but it is also a warning about keeping institutions in check, about recognizing inequality wherever it might exist, in order to avoid past mistakes. In other words, it’s must-watch television for our time. Elena Zhang

42. Mr. Show with Bob and David
Creators:   Bob Odenkirk, David Cross
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross
Network: HBO 


Before alternative comedy was a recognized thing, there was Mr. Show with Bob and David, a genius sketch comedy show that had a criminally short run on HBO from 1995 to 1998. Each episode was loosely based around a central theme and laboriously structured, with sketches leading directly into each other, and sometimes even wrapping around each other like Russian nesting dolls of comedy. Although celebrated for its absurd point of view, Mr. Show didn’t shy away from the real world, often tearing into the inequalities of society and the increasing domination of corporate America. Not every bit landed, but the show still had a shockingly high batting average over its four seasons, and very little of it feels dated today. Garrett Martin

41. Boardwalk Empire
Creator: Terence Winter
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon 
Network: HBO 


Easily dismissed as just a Sopranos clone set in the 1920s, Boardwalk Empire wisely took many of the best elements of its predecessor and expanded its scope. It’s this wide-ranging spotlight, drifting from the highest levels of political office down to lowly bootleggers and prostitutes, that makes the show something special, offering up morality plays that hold the lives of millions at stake while putting an actual face on those being affected. The show’s political commentary is apt without seeming preachy, while characters maintained the balance between being archetypal ciphers and real people. Boardwalk Empire isn’t as energetic as other dramas but its meticulous slow-burn has a depth and beauty to it that’s rarely been matched on the little screen. And it only improved over time as it became less concerned with the minutiae of New Jersey politics in favor of featuring a much more compelling national landscape. As a result, both its characters and its stories became grander, more operatic and expressionistic. By its third season, Boardwalk Empire found its voice, finally living up to the promise of its Scorsese-directed premiere. Sean Gandert

40. Red Oaks
Creators: Joe Gangemi, Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer, Jennifer Grey, Gage Golightly, Paul Reiser, Richard Kind
Network: Amazon


Red Oaks arrived with a hell of a pedigree. It’s produced by Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green, Green directed the pilot, and it’s created and written by long-time Soderbergh associates Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs. (Jacobs also directed Magic Mike XXL.) Other episodes are directed by people like Amy Heckerling and Hal Hartley. Set in a country club in New Jersey in the mid-’80s, the show openly evokes movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Caddyshack and The Flamingo Kid, and with a consortium of creators who understand both comedy and drama behind it, it falls into the same realm of bittersweet nostalgia as beloved comedies like The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks. Garrett Martin

39. Sneaky Pete
Creators: Bryan Cranston  
Stars:Giovanni Ribisi, Marin Ireland, Shane McRae, Peter Gerety, Margo Martindale
Network: Amazon


In Sneaky Pete, Giovanni Ribisi plays Marius, a conman who, in a moment of tragicomic brilliance, fakes a bank robbery (albeit with a real gun and by scaring the bank customers) in order to avoid being killed by his pursuers. When he’s released from prison three years later, after listening to his cellmate Pete’s non-stop stories of his long-lost family, Marius assumes Pete’s identity. The result is a series whose humor is based on the interplay between truth and fiction, what is real and what is fantasy, and the gradual understanding of what constitutes “family”: Sneaky Pete’s revelations are unlikely to earn commendation from the Family Research Council, but for those of us who understand that families comprise people who love each in whatever structure works for them, it’s the ultimate show about family. Lorraine Berry

38. Glee
Creators: Ryan Murphy  
Stars: Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith
Network: Fox


Ryan Murphy  isn’t exactly known for creating reality based shows. So no you didn’t go to a high school where the glee club could put together multiple Broadway level productions complete with costumes, special effects and elaborate sets each week. But Murphy understood teens. Glee spoke to the football jock and popular girl who always felt like they were pretending. It spoke to the gay teen who wished he could sing “Single Ladies” on the football field and the overachiever who would settle for nothing less than a Tony winning career. You didn’t have a teacher like Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) because she would have been fired. But you definitely had a teacher who terrorized students the way she did. And if you were lucky you had a teacher who believed in you the way Mr. Schuester(Matthew Morrison) believed in his students. The series could be maddening (you could create a whole show with the characters Glee forgot about) and the plot twists were often ridiculous, but when Glee soared you never wanted to stop believin’. Amy Amatangelo

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


Frasier is arguably the best spin-off in television history. Kelsey Grammer played the character for 20 years, and made Dr. Crane the longest-running live-action character on TV. Grammer won four Lead Actor Emmy awards for his portrayal. In total, the series won 37 Emmy Awards during its run. Though it was about a psychiatrist, the heart of Frasier was Dr. Crane’s relationships with his father and brother. Like Cheers, it also produced one of the longest “will they, won’t they” relationships with Niles and Daphne. Of course, they will. Adam Vitcavage

36. Orphan Black
Creators: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Network: BBC America 


Having one actor play several characters in a single show is nothing new. But that doesn’t take away from what Tatiana Maslany accomplished in the first season of BBC America’s Orphan Black. Maslany plays a host of clones on a sci-fi show that’s not just for sci-fi fans. Her main character, Sarah Manning, is a young British mother living in Canada. A small-time con artist, she’s trying and failing to get her life together when she sees her doppelgänger commit suicide by stepping in front of a train. After stealing the woman’s purse and identity, Sarah the con artist becomes Beth the cop, scrambling to fool her partner and discovering more women who look just like her. Each one she comes across—the uptight suburban mom, the gay hipster scientist, the Ukrainian religious fanatic—feels like such a different character that it’s easy to forget that the same actress is behind them all. And though there are elements of sci-fi—human cloning and the Neolutionists who believe in scientifically improving themselves (one character has a tail)—most of the characters aren’t the type who would even watch sci-fi. The show is as much about identity and motherhood as it is the consequences of technology. But none of it would work without the humanity Maslany brings to each of the clones she portrays in the show. Josh Jackson

35. Mozart In the Jungle
Creators: Paul Weitz, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman 
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Lola Kirke, Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell
Network: Amazon


Based on the salacious memoir by noted oboist Blair Tindall about the down-and-dirty world of the New York classical music scene, Mozart in the Jungle plays like a rock-and-roll tell-all where the players are equipped with violins and woodwinds instead of guitars and drums. Acting as Tindall’s stand-in is Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) an ambitious, if reserved oboist who finds herself thrust into the high-stakes, cutthroat world of a major New York symphony orchestra in the months before its season-opening performance. Kirke’s charming and grounded character provides a nice anchor when paired with the show’s more outlandish performances, which includes turns from Saffron Burrows, Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell. The series’ true star, however, is Gael Garcia Bernal as the ensemble’s eccentric and flamboyant new conductor who struggles to reconcile his experimental tendencies with the symphony’s more rigid, conservative structure. While it may lack the emotional depth and complexity of a Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle is the kind of fun and vibrant experience that one would have no trouble binging in a day or two. Mark Rozeman

34. American Horror Story
Creator: Ryan Murphy  
Stars:Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Lily Rabe
Network: FX


Even fervent fans of Ryan Murphy’s high-camp horror anthology American Horror Story would have a tough time defending its Freak Show, Hotel and Roanoke seasons. But the first three story arcs—Murder House, Asylum and Coven—pushed the bounds of scary storytelling on television and helped kick off a small-screen horror renaissance when AHS first debuted around Halloween 2011. AHS’ evolution since its genuinely terrifying first season, starring Connie Britton, mirrors just about every major horror film franchise: a shockingly strong start followed by unexpected space shenanigans, complicated continuity callbacks, distracting guest stars, openly humorous installments and the departure of key players (most notably Jessica Lange, Murphy’s muse for the second, third and fourth seasons after her breakout supporting turn in the first). This murderous medley of elements clutters the show, but can’t suppress the glee that a horror hound feels seeing so many well-known genre tropes recycled and repurposed by Murphy and his rotating cast of players, from the chameleonic Sarah Paulson to Misery’s Kathy Bates. American Horror Story may be a big, bloody mess, but it’s clearly in love with the genre in its title. Steve Foxe

33. Patriot
Creator: Steve Conrad
Stars: Michael Dorman, Terry O’Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Chernus, Kathleen Munroe, Aliette Opheim
Network: Amazon


What if 007 dealt with his PTSD and the moral ambiguities of being a spy by revealing his deepest inner turmoil (and state secrets) at open-mic nights in Amsterdam? What if Q had trouble requisitioning his apartment with a single chair? And M sent him to work at a piping firm in the Midwest with an extra digit in his social security number? What if the American version of a Bond film replaced the car chases, femme fatales and slick gadgets with the dark humor of the Coen brothers, mixing deep ennui with side-splitting moments of levity? That’s Patriot in a nutshell. The stakes are high—keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of an Iranian extremist leader—but everything depends on our hero, John Tavner, (Michael Dormer) first navigating the mid-level corporate world of industrial piping. Josh Jackson

32. 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

31. Oz
Creator: Tom Fontana
Stars: Kirk Acevedo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Christopher Meloni, George Morfogen, Rita Moreno, Harold Perrineau, J. K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Eamonn Walker, Dean Winters
Network: HBO 


Certainly a “water cooler show” if there ever was one, Oz made waves with its violence and sexual content early on and its equally deep and disturbing storytelling once people got over the fact that it was set in a maximum security prison. It’s probably safe to say that there’s an entire subset of former viewers out there who think of every prison and prison caricature in terms of what they saw on Oz, from the racial gangs to the unpredictable violence and stress of daily living. A truly ensemble cast was one of the selling points for the large and ambitious HBO series, which showed that an adult-content drama could still turn great ratings. The fact that it was on a premium network was essential, allowing a much deeper (and more realistic) depiction of the horrors of incarceration in the United States. Jim Vorel

30. Eastbound & Down
Creators: Ben T. Best, Jody Hill, Danny R. McBride
Stars: Danny McBride, Katy Mixon
Network: HBO 


I feel like a lot of people dismiss Eastbound & Down as vulgar shock comedy, a TV version of the fratty comedies that proliferated over a decade ago after the success of the Farrelly brothers and American Pie. Jody Hill and Danny McBride’s vision is far deeper and pointed than that, though, parodying not just sports or Southern culture but the type of unhealthy masculinity that underpins so much of American culture. It has more in common with the best work of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, but it’s darker and edgier than Stepbrothers or Talladega Nights, more violent and more truthful. It’s one of the few comedies I can think of where I was often afraid of what was about to happen, like I was watching a horror film or thriller. The first season in particular was a modern masterpiece, but the show remained on point throughout its four seasons.Garrett Martin

29. Treme
Creators:   David Simon, Eric Overmyer
Stars: Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Wendell Pierce, Jon Seda, Steve Zahn
Network: HBO 


When the show tried to tell big stories to address big problems, it could occasionally drag. But when it chose to focus intently on the ordinary events of life, the parades and shows and meals and everything else that we fill our time with, there was a wonderful glorification of the city’s people. Characters didn’t need to be doing anything particularly vital, like solving crimes or stirring up trouble, to be important. The historical bent of the show was actually a perfect match for this ordinariness, simply because political and social events are always happening in the background and making up the backdrop of our lives. The Wire was one of the best plotted shows in the history of television, but the moment David Simon tried to replicate any of this formula, Treme always seemed to stumble. But the many crowd-pleasing moments throughout the show felt earned. Sean Gandert

28. 24
Creators: Howard Gordon and Evan Katz
Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Carlos Bernard, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Dennis Haysbert, Elisha Cuthbert, James Morrison, Kim Raver
Network: Fox


It can be hard to recommend 24, the style and spirit of which, with its split screens and ticking clocks, suggest nostalgia for a moment in which the ends were seen—on TV as in government—to justify the means. Of course, this destructive moral calculus was no more convincing in November 2001, when 24 debuted, than it is now: Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow’s counterterrorism thriller may seem outdated, but prescient critics recognized from the start that its treatment of torture, among other topics, reflected a discomfiting willingness to sacrifice our values at the altar of expedience. This isn’t to suggest that 24 never manufactured superb television—I remain staunch in the belief that Jean Smart’s performance as unstable First Lady Martha Logan, in the series’ fifth season, is one of last decade’s finest, opening with camp and ripening into courage—or to deny that I, too, once found it wildly entertaining. (Ages ago, before I had my wisdom teeth removed, I rented a season’s worth of DVDs at Blockbuster and devoured them in a single, painkiller-fueled weekend. It was glorious.) It’s simply to admit that 24 niggles, and to suggest that this is why it remains worth seeing: When cultural historians reflect on America in the first years of the 21st century, 24, in particular the damaged patriotism of Kiefer Sutherland’s unforgettable Jack Bauer, will likely be a primary source. Matt Brennan

27. Girls
Creator:   Lena Dunham  
Stars: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky
Network: HBO 


I believe Lena Dunham is one of the foremost badasses of our artistic culture, and as far as that goes, I’m already very much on the record. The one thing I really love about Girls is that it refuses to conform to identity politics. There are times when Dunham can be a wonderful spokesperson for female power, and there are times when she pisses off the feminists. There are times when she seems like the best liberal around, and others when liberals want to burn her at the stakes and aren’t afraid to write endless think pieces on the topic. This is not because Dunham is trying to aggravate anybody, but because she tells her story so honestly, and so relentlessly, that anyone who wants her to conform to a prevailing ideology will inevitably be disappointed;she’s too fluid to be molded into an emblem. Girls is absolutely refreshing and absolutely bold, and Dunham has become so powerful and popular that she doesn’t need to pull any punches. The stories of Hannah and Shoshana and Marnie and Jessa exist to reflect something real, and something instinctual, and it originates with a brilliant artist who, we can only hope, will stay unrepentant until the angry mob finally runs her off with their sharpened pitchforks. Shane Ryan

26. Justified
Creator: Graham Yost
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins
Network: FX


Award-worthy guest stars (Margo Martindale, Mykelti Williamson, and Neal McDonough) were the rule not the exception on this show. Combine that with the best ensemble on television (anchored by Timothy Olyphant, Walter Goggins and Joelle Carter), firecracker writing from show-runner Graham Yost with a dependable stable of wordsmiths, and the feature-film quality direction and cinematography from Francis Kenny, Michael Dinner and others, and what do you get? An instant classic that improbably translates Elmore Leonard’s twisted humor, Western deconstruction and damaged psyches into hour-long gems episode after episode. Jack McKinney

25. Downton Abbey
Creator: Julian Fellowes
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes, Rob James-Collier, Rose Leslie, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera
Network: PBS


Downton Abbey is never short on drama and general strife. The ensemble series is extraordinarily well-acted (as evidenced by Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter and Brendan Coyle all receiving Emmy nominations), and there’s perhaps no easier way to describe the second season’s plot twists than fucking nuts, a term we strongly feel the saucy Dowager Countess would approve of. Amnesia? Yup. Temporary paralysis? Got it. Murder conviction? Oh, big-time. In less capable hands, these stories would’ve likely flown off the rails and veered into the completely ridiculous, but the talented cast of Downton Abbey handle it with aplomb. As the seasons progressed, many more tragedies would befall the Crawley family, making for some of most compelling television in recent memory. Bonnie Stiernberg

24. 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 at least while I was 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

23. Flight of the Conchords
Creators: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Stars: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, Kristen Schaal, Arj Barker
Network: HBO 


When I hear the words “musical comedy,” I tend to think of old Broadway standards like My Fair Lady or Singin’ in the Rain. No offense to those shows, but I’m very glad that Flight of the Conchords was a musical comedy of a very different kind. Starring Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the show is the story of an awful two-man band from New Zealand who have an incompetent manager (the wonderful Rhys Darby as Murray Hewitt) and literally one fan (the hilarious, obsessive Kristen Schaal) as they try to make it big in New York. Despite their repeated failures, there’s something both sincere and casual about their approach, which stands in stark contrast to the tense, cynical neuroses you might expect. Each episode is punctuated by two or three songs which range from “very good” to “classic” hits If You’re Into it and Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymoceros are two terrific examples of the latter. This is a show that you sink into, and that sweeps you along in its own relaxed rhythms, dispensing the sort of calm, surprising laughs that feels almost therapeutic. Shane Ryan

22. Doctor Who
Creators: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Stars: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith 
Network: BBC


Originally launched in 1963, The Doctor returned to the TV screen in 2005, traveling through time and space in the TARDIS, an antiquated and surprisingly spacious blue police box. The special effects may have gotten marginally better, but the camp has stayed the same. With Russell T. Davies at the helm and David Tennant playing the 10th doctor, the show was never better. Soon, there’ll be a new Doctor—Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play the role—to continue, and evolve, the tradition. Josh Jackson

21. Bored To Death
Creator: Jonathan Ames
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, Ted Danson, Heather Burns
Network: HBO 


Those of us who watched Season One and immediately fell in love with the ridiculous, weed-laden, NYC misadventures of Brooklyn writer/part-time faux detective Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) and his pals Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and George Christopher (Ted Danson) felt like we were a part of something special;something off the grid, but better than practically anything on TV. This was especially true for writers, because we really love movies and shows about writers. So when Jonathan stared at the words on his computer screen—the beginning of his second novel—and announced to Ray “I’m at a good stopping place,” we knew what that meant, and we were delighted to be in on the secret. Creator Jonathan Ames, no doubt, drew from his own personal experiences as a novelist and comic memoir writer (those Super Ray drawings are that much more meaningful now) to create a world where a struggling artist has to get a little (or a lot) creative if he’s going to make things happen in his life. With some brilliant performances from Danson, Galifianakis and Heather Burns (and some great appearances from Patton Oswalt, Jenny Slate, Oliver Platt and countless others) Bored to Death gave us an unforgettable, though brief, TV adventure. Shannon M. Houston

20. Catastrophe
Creators:   Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan
Stars: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan
Network: Amazon


What if you got pregnant from a one night stand? What if you lived in London and the father of your future child live in Boston? It would probably be a catastrophe. The result for Catastrophe, however, is an absolutely charming series about two people (played by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) trying to make the best of a tough situation. The comedy finds humor in the achingly honest portrayal of life, marriage and parenting. I laughed out loud when Rob says to Sharon, “Frankie wants to show you the poop that he just did. Before you say ‘no,’ it’s pretty amazing.” When I had my first child, I couldn’t get over how much time I spent talking to my husband about poop (honestly it’s the truth about parenting that no one tells you.) Needless to say, this show gets me. And even if it doesn’t get you in the same way, I guarantee you it will make you laugh. It’s simultaneously hilarious and grounded. How often does that happen? Amy Amatangelo

19. Fleabag
Creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Stars: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Jenny Rainsford, Bill Paterson, Olivia Coleman, Brett Gelman, Hugh Skinner
Network: Amazon


TV and cinema have proffered plenty of variations on the theme of whip-smart women struggling with emotional crises while also making questionable romantic and sexual decisions. But almost none have had the raw wit and impressive depth of the BBC-born, Amazon Prime-fostered Fleabag. Writer/performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge is heartbreaking and hilarious in the role of a silver-tongued Londoner still reeling from the deaths of her mother and her best friend but stifling any negative emotions through her endless barrage of witty rejoinders and bad behavior.

Over these half-dozen half-hours, the titular Fleabag finds her steely exterior roughly chipped away as her relationships start to crumble around her, revealing just how lonely she really is. Fleabag strikes every note with poise and self-possession, never getting too maudlin or too clownish and trusting in an incredibly strong cast (particularly Bill Paterson and Olivia Colman as her withering father and evil stepmother, and Sian Clifford as her tightly-wound sister) to maintain that equilibrium. The steady hand at the wheel is Waller-Bridge herself, in a dazzling, nuanced dual performance as the writer and star of each episode, resulting in gaspingly hilarious, achingly human television. Robert Ham

18. Sex and the City
Creator: Darren Star
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon
Network: HBO 


Okay, bad news first: Darren Star’s Sex and the City was not a perfect show. Most of us who watched could not relate to the very specific demographic of women who were showcased. And, for a series whose beating heart was NYC, the show did not do well in its presentation of gay characters or characters of color (whenever they showed up). Hell, even the main character was problematic and difficult to root for at times, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the not-so-eloquent writer who was better at choosing a pair of Manolo Blahniks than making decisions in her love life (Team Aiden). This was an infuriating show to experience sometimes, and that’s partly why we loved it. It remains a phenomenon, and as cliché as it may sound, it opened the door for more complex narratives about women and sex, and it did so unapologetically thanks in large part to Kim Cattrall’s role as Samantha Jones. And if Samantha was too much for you, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) offered up their own unique perspectives, giving the foursome an original, entertaining, and important balance of personalities and feminist (or anti-feminist) outlooks. So when we talk about the impact of HBO, Sex and the City has to be a big part of the discussion. Whatever class issues, or race issues, or gender and sexuality issues Sex and the City might have swept under the rug (or addressed in a problematic way), it still functioned as a loud, oft-obscene call for agency among the marginalized. And it did all of this with some of the funniest dialogue and sex talk we’d ever heard. “My man has funky tasting spunk!” will go down in history as one of the most horrifying, incredible TV moments of all time, and that’s just the tip (ahem) of the legendary SaTC iceberg. Shannon M. Houston

17. The Good Wife
Creator: Robert King, Michelle King
Stars: Julianna Margulies, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi, Graham Phillips, Makenzie Vega, Josh Charles 
Network: CBS


Are network dramas supposed to be this good? Julianna Margulies stars as the title character Alicia Florrick. In a storyline ripped from many, many headlines, the series begins with Alicia’s public humiliation. Her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), the District Attorney of Chicago, has been caught cheating with a prostitute. The scandal thrusts Alicia back into the workforce and she goes to work for her (very sexy) old law school friend Will Gardner (Josh Charles). But Alicia is not your typical “stand by your man” woman and The Good Wife is not your typical show. The brilliance of the series is that it deftly blends multiple and equally engaging storylines. Each episode is an exciting combination of political intrigue, inner-office jockeying, family strife, sizzling romance and intriguing legal cases. The series features a fantastic array of guest stars and creates a beguiling and believable world where familiar characters weave in and out of Alicia’s life just like they would in real life. You’ll be fascinated by Archie Panjabi’s mysterious Kalinda Sharma. Delight in Zach Grenier’s mischievous David Lee. Marvel at Christine Baranski’s splendid Diane Lockhart. And witness the transformative performance Alan Cummings gives as the cunning Eli Gold. But the real reason to stick with the series is to partake in the show’s later seasons. Many shows start to fade as they age, but The Good Wife , for the most part, finished strong. Amy Amatangelo

16. Veep
Creator: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons, Sufe Bradshaw
Network: HBO 


Veep satirizes the political world by distilling it down to what the public likes to watch most: the screw-ups. From foot-in-mouth moments to mis-sent documents to squeaky shoes, everything Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) does is scrutinized, turned into an offense, and spit back at her through the distorted prism of Twitter and never-ending public opinion polling. They never specify Meyer’s political party, and it’s no surprise that its fans span the political spectrum. Because the main thing Veep stays true to is shining a light on the people more desperate to be near power than to make any real social impact. Dreyfus may be the funniest person on TV right now. She’ll truly commit to a bit, and she has a habit of taking them beyond surface level cute into the truly disastrous and unflattering. Selina Meyer doesn’t walk into glass doors, she shatters them and stands in a pile of glass with bleeding cuts all over her face. She takes bad advice, wears terrible hats, gets a Dustin Hoffman haircut, and can’t go abroad without committing terrible international faux pas. And Selina is at her best as a character when she’s at her most terrible,full of ego, more concerned with being liked than passing legislation, and blaming her staff for her mistakes. Selina’s bag man Gary (Tony Hale) is a glorious sad sack, and Dan Egan (Reid Scott) is so coldly ambitious his every misstep feels like a victory. But for every unknowingly selfish thing each person says, Veep’s ace-in-the-hole is Anna Chlumsky’s Amy, whose Olympic-level reaction faces land everyone else’s jokes. And the smaller recurring roles offer cameos from some of America’s best improvisers. Through and through, it’s a comedy nerd’s dream team. Erica Lies

15. Louie
Creator:   Louis C.K.  
Stars:   Louis C.K.  
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 became 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

14. Pride and Prejudice
Creator: Simon Langton
Stars: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Julia Sawalha
Networks: BBC, A&E


Riders make their way through a 16mm-colored countryside, Colin Firth makes his way into a lake, and Austen makes her way onto TV in what remains the definitive adaptation of Austen’s work for the screen (the breathtaking opening three minutes of Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation aside). The music bounces from scene to scene with curlicue youthfulness. The acting prods the lines around it with sly good cheer. Though it all, the spirit of the adaptation by Andrew Davies can be found in his describing it so: “Let’s have Elizabeth on a hillside seeing these two tasty blokes galloping along, and something about them makes her skip down the hill.” And, for the implicit back and forth that inspires (let alone what follows), we follow, too. Evan Fleischer

13. Transparent
Creator: Jill Soloway
Stars: Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass
Network: Amazon


There’s so much that could have gone wrong with Transparent. For one, an out-of-context image of Jeffrey Tambor in a dress is bound to attract some smirks. What’s more, on initial glance, the show’s content (marital discord, adultery, unplanned pregnancy) reads like a writers’ room whiteboard on a network soap. As creator Jill Soloway demonstrates, however, sometimes it’s all in the execution. Indeed, what’s immediately striking about the show, is how disarmingly intimate it all feels. In telling the story of an elderly parent’s decision to finally reveal her transgender lifestyle to her children, Soloway does not take any shortcuts in depicting the subsequent shockwaves the decision causes. In the process, she endows each character and plot development with the proper dramatic weight, without ever sacrificing a sense of levity. Maintaining such a tone is a proverbial tightrope act, and Soloway and her creative team somehow manage to keep their balance throughout each of the season’s ten episodes, without breaking a sweat. Hear that? That’s the sound of Amazon Studios throwing down the gauntlet in the online TV revolution. Mark Rozeman

12. Hannibal
Creator:   Bryan Fuller  
Stars:   Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Hugh Dancy
Network: NBC


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again;Hannibal airing on a broadcast network was nothing short of a minor miracle. After a stellar inaugural year, Bryan Fuller and company dared to up the stakes for their second go-around, taking major creative risks in the process. These risks came in the form of (among other things) sealing the protagonist in jail for a third of the run, killing off a major character, and ending the season with what I can only describe as the visual equivalent of a mic drop. Even in its weaker moments, the show always offered something memorable, whether it be an impressive visual, or an intense dialogue exchange. And while some viewers no doubt came to Hannibal purely for its inventive, if highly gruesome imagery (there’s certainly that in spades), chances are they ended up staying for the compelling writing, hypnotic performances, and luscious, evocative cinematography. Mark Rozeman

11. Roseanne
Creator: Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner
Stars:Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Michael Fishman, Lecy Goranson and Johnny Galecki
Original Network: ABC


Premiering near the tail end of the ’80s, Roseanne presented a monumental shift in the depiction of the American family. Like Married…with Children, which had debuted a year-and-a-half beforehand, it was a show with real bite, as evidenced by star Roseanne Barr’s stand-up material. Unlike the Fox program, however, the stories of Roseanne and Dan Conner (Roseanne Barr and John Goodman) and their rambunctious kids were almost always rooted in heart. In a landscape filled with pretty people and their petty problems, Roseanne chose to tackle the realities of a blue-collar family struggling to get by. Besides highlighting a side of America not seen since the heyday of Norman Lear, the show also used its primetime platform to discuss controversial issues of birth control, drug abuse and homosexuality. And though the show’s much maligned final season did not sit well with most audiences, one cannot deny that Roseanne was, like its titular character, bold and uncompromising. Now almost three decades after its premiere, with the world is economic and political upheaval, ABC is rebooting the show. Catch up before it returns but, pro tip, you can skip the final season. Seems like ABC (smartly) plans to act like it never happened. Mark Rozeman and Amy Amatangelo

10. Deadwood
Creator: David Milch
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Jim Beaver, Brad Dourif, Paula Malcomson, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, Keith Carradine
Network: HBO 


Sure, Deadwood does a fine job within the revisionist Western sub-genre’s traditional trappings, but ultimately it’s less concerned with its setting and historical accuracy (though it has plenty to spare) than it is about accurately portraying humans. Why do societies and allegiances form, why are close friends betrayed, and why does humanity’s best seem to always just barely edge out its worst? These are the real concerns that make Deadwood a masterpiece. David Milch created a sprawling, fastidiously detailed world in which to stage his gritty morality plays and with it has come as close as anyone to creating a novel on-screen. With assistance from some truly memorable acting by Ian McShane, Brad Dourif and Paula Malcomson, Deadwood’s sometimes over-the-top representations never veer far enough from reality for its inhabitants to become “just characters.” Sean Gandert

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Creator:   Larry David  
Stars:   Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman
Network: HBO 


Larry David  pulled off the rare successful second act in television comedy;Curb Your Enthusiasm was almost as hilarious as Seinfeld, and thanks to HBO’s more laidback production schedules, it actually lasted longer than his first sitcom, running off and on from 2000 to 2011. (It’s still not officially cancelled, although David apparently is doubtful that it’ll return.) Curb was Seinfeldian in its rhythms, with David basically playing the George Costanza version of himself as an eternally perturbed and self-defeating schlemiel who just happens to be fantastically wealthy after creating a show called Seinfeld. A lot of cringe comedy forgets to actually be funny, but that was never a problem for Curb, which remained as funny (and cringeworthy) as ever over its eight seasons. And it’s not just the increasingly uncomfortable situations or David’s masterful escalation from annoyance to rage to embarrassment that made the show work so well;David surrounded himself with a fantastic cast, from regulars like Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, JB Smoove and Susie Essman, to such recurring guest stars as Wanda Sykes, Richard Lewis, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, and Bob Einstein. Oh, and also there’s an entire season about a Seinfeld reunion, guest starring the original cast. Curb can be hard to watch at times, but it was always hilarious, and was HBO’s trademark comedy throughout the last decade. Garrett Martin

8. Six Feet Under
Creator: Alan Ball
Stars: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose
Network: HBO 


Six Feet Under is a television show that attempts to find reason and order in death, but then, in every episode, totally fails. Through the eyes of the Fisher family, proprietors and operators of a funeral home in Los Angeles, death is an inevitability stripped of all romance, and yet the series, as it follows the lives of eldest brother Nate Fisher and his loved ones, can never escape the fear at the core of even the most jaded people’s relationship with mortality. Opaquely funny, tender, heartrending and sometimes deeply uncomfortable, Six Feet Under balks, down to the marrow of its bones, at the idea that there is reason in death, and in turn, every episode begins with a functionally freak fatality, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to binge watch the series without concluding that death will find us when we least expect it, no matter what we do, or no matter how we hide. And yet, somehow Six Feet Under is never morbid, instead concerned with celebrating the lives of its ensemble however they happen to play out, sensitive to the fact that though they run a funeral home, they have as little insight into the meaning of life as anyone else navigating modernity at the turn of the century. Pretty much the polar opposite of Ball’s True Blood, Six Feet Under is—I’m not sure how else to put it—a TV show about life, all of it, and if you aren’t drenched with tears by the time it all ends, you should probably have someone check your pulse. Dom Sinacola

7. Enlightened
Creators: Mike White and Laura Dern
Stars: Laura Dern, Mike White, Luke Wilson, Diane Ladd, Sarah Burns, Timm Sharp
Network: HBO 


Much like its volatile lead heroine, HBO’s Enlightened demonstrated a disorientating oscillation between intensely emotional naval-gazing and abrasive, cringe-worthy comedy. Having found the proper balance approximately halfway through the first year, showrunner/co-star Mike White found a groove. Perhaps more so than any show on TV, Enlightened’s episodes were driven less by plot and more by character’s interior lives. With its sunny, colorful visual palate masking an undeniable undercurrent of melancholy, the show was certainly never afraid to wear its heart (painfully) on its sleeve. Led by a career-defining performance from Laura Dern as the troubled protagonist, the show also milked great work from other series regulars, including White, Luke Wilson and Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd as Amy’s own long-suffering mother. And while one can mourn the episodes and story arcs that will never be, the show’s finale gives the entire series the poignant and conclusive crescendo it deserves. Mark Rozeman

6. 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 a 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. Lynch and company have a lot to live up to with their companion series premiering this May on Showtime. Robert Ham

5. Cheers
Creators: 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


Like many long-running sitcoms, the Cheers of the 1990s was really a fundamentally different show than it was in the 1980s, less about the dating life of Ted Danson’s Sam and much more of an ensemble device, full of characters who were by this point beloved by all. The final years of Cheers were when all these characters got to shine, especially Rhea Perlman as Carla and Kelsey Grammer, who joined the cast full-time before spinning off into Frasier. The finale episode received mixed reactions at the time, but nostalgia has pushed it into favorable territory, especially given the happy endings that most characters receive. Sam decides not to get married and stays with the bar. It is, of course, his one true love. Jim Vorel

4. The Americans
Creator: Joseph Weisberg
Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor
Network: FX


Since its debut in 2013, creator Joe Weisberg’s portrait of Soviet spies posing as an American couple in the Washington, D.C. suburbs has plumbed new depths, and added new layers, with each subsequent season: Once a crafty spy game run through with frissons of marital disenchantment, The Americans has emerged as a bold and artful exploration of faith, family, and our differing definitions of “freedom.” Featuring a slew of superb supporting turns, from the likes of Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Frank Langella, Margo Martindale and Dylan Baker, the series’ impeccable fourth season—now streaming on Prime—witnesses Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (the sublime Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) confront the specter of meaninglessness itself, and The Americans elaborates the subtly forceful visual language to match. The Americans demands consideration alongside The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men as one of the best dramas to air on American television so far this century. Matt Brennan

3.The Twilight Zone
Creator: Rod Sterling
Network: CBS


From the bitter social critique of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” in Season One with its eery comparison to Cold War America to the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” about a salesman who discovers there’s something on the wing of his plane, it’s worth noting how well The Twilight Zone has aged. If you’re just going to watch one episode, we recommend “The Eye of the Beholder” from Season Two, which combines everything that makes this a cherished television series. The audience is dropped in media res as Janet Tyler lies hospitalized with gauze wrapped around her head. The camera movement and light is inventive and screens the audience from truly discerning what’s going on. The slow unwrapping of the gauze is possibly the most tense moment in the entire series, and the surprise that follows has left an indelible mark on television and audiences alike. Darren Orf

2. The Sopranos
Creator: David Chase
Stars: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler
Network: HBO 


For eight years, James Gandolfini crawled deep inside the complexities of Tony Soprano;loving father, son and husband, goodhearted friend, master of sardonic one-liners (“How do you vandalize a pool?”), troubled psych patient, serial adulterer, mob boss and brutal, remorseless killer;inspiring as much dumbfounded loathing and shuddering sympathy as any character in TV history. Murderers aren’t one-dimensional; they have feelings, aspirations, justifications, families. The Sopranos brilliantly and believably explored this dynamic, turning the crime-drama on its head and taking dysfunction to the extreme in the process. As unfathomable as their world was, the characters of this tragic, beautifully arcing modern epic were so real that they became like family to us, too. Steve LaBate

1.The Wire
Creator:   David Simon  
Stars: Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Sonja Sohn, Idris Elba, Domenick Lombardozzi, Ellis Carver, Andre Royo, Wendell Pierce, Rhonda Pearlman
Network: HBO 


Series mastermind David Simon conceived The Wire as a modern Greek tragedy, a morality play set in a drug-infested urban war zone where conventional good guys and bad guys barely exist. Everyone is conflicted and compromised. We didn’t need The Wire to remind us that “the system”—the criminal justice system, the political system, the education system—is broken. But no other cultural enterprise (and certainly no television show) has shown us precisely how the infrastructure has collapsed, forcing us to consider the impossible decisions required for repair. Amidst the rubble of a failed city, Simon created an engrossing human drama about the eternal struggle between aspiration and desperation, ambition and resignation;in other words, the fight for the American Dream. Nick Marino

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