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The 75 Best TV Shows on Hulu Right Now

November 2018

TV Lists Hulu
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Hulu  has the best TV show selection of any streaming service, despite enormous efforts by Netflix and Amazon. A joint venture among Disney/ABC, FOX, NBCUniversal, and Time Warner, Hulu benefits in particular from a rich back catalogue of titles, including a terrific array of current and classic network series as well as must-sees from Britain (Peep Show, Prime Suspect) and Australia (Please Like Me). Last fall, Hulu added two aces in the hole—beloved NBC sitcoms 30 Rock (moving from Netflix) and Will & Grace, streaming in full for the first time—and continues to devote admirable attention to bringing modern classics to audiences.

Hulu’s original programming, particularly its comedy slate, is in a period of transition, with the end of The Mindy Project, the cancellation of Difficult People, and this summer’s conclusion of the underrated Casual. On the drama side, though, the picture is much rosier: In 2017, it became the first streaming service to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, for The Handmaid’s Tale, and this year has added a number of ambitious titles, including The Looming Tower, Castle Rock, and The First.

Here are the 75 best TV shows on Hulu:

75. This is Us


Creator: Dan Fogelman
Stars: Milo Ventimiglia, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore
Network: NBC

When I first watched the pilot for This is Us and got to the big reveal—Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) are the parents!—I thought, “Well, that’s clever. But now what?” The freshman drama surprised me by playing with time much the same way Lost did. While unfolding the stories of siblings Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) in the current day, the show bounces back and forth in the past as we visit key moments in their upbringing. The performances are extraordinary. Hartley brings depth and humor to his could-be-clichéd character. Brown (also so great in The People v. O.J. Simpson) is powerful screen force. Metz makes you feel her struggle and swoon over her blossoming romance. There’s no doubt this is Ventimiglia’s career-defining role. And I’ll confess right now that I completely underestimated Moore’s talents. The producers clearly delight in shocking their audience with each twisty reveal. Yes, the show does seem determined to make you ugly cry in every single episode, and some of the aging makeup needs work (I’m talking to you, Jon Huertas). But at its root, This Is Us is a touching and beautiful exploration of how our families and our childhoods shape us. Get your tissues out. Amy Amatangelo

74. Rescue Me


Creators: Denis Leary, Peter Tolan
Stars: Denis Leary, Michael Lombardi, Steven Pasquale, Daniel Sunjata, Andrea Roth, Callie Thorne, John Scurti
Network: FX

From the opening moments of the series when off-color but very funny jokes are made about the amount of sex these firemen have been able to have since 9/11, Rescue Me distinguished itself as the rare series that could easily handle the tragedy and humor that life brings. No show before or since has so eloquently portrayed the long-lasting and haunting effects the attack on the World Trade Center had on those who were the first responders. As the soul of the series, NYFD firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) is simultaneously utterly despicable and utterly lovable. You’ll root for him and you’ll want to slap him. The show had its faults—creating fully realized female characters was not its strong suit—but the raw emotion and huge laughs the show delivered on a weekly basis still linger. Amy Amatangelo

73. Roots


Creators: Mark Wolper, Will Packer
Stars: Malachi Kirby, Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anika Noni Rose
Network: HISTORY

The original Roots, which aired over eight consecutive nights on ABC in 1977, was event television, watched by nearly half of the population of the U.S. It’s a mighty legacy to live up to, let alone try to better, especially considering the glut of options available. But while it may have lacked for viewers and cultural dominance, the 2016 remake of Roots stayed true to the intent of the original: to keep this dark chapter of American history fresh in our minds. The blunt impact of this miniseries is strengthened by its modernization. New historical research is brought to bear on the story, and the depiction of the unconscionable treatment of the slaves isn’t ignored or stylized. The huge cast, including well-known names like Derek Luke, T.I. and Anna Paquin and rising stars like Malachi Kirby and Anika Noni Rose, shared the burden of this righteous task with honor, nuance, and the most raw emotion broadcast or streamed on screens in 2016. This is one for the ages. Robert Ham

72. Peep Show


Creators: Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain
Stars: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Matt King, Paterson Joseph, Neil Fitzmaurice, Olivia Colman
Network: Channel 4 (U.K.)

Although Peep Show has a similar sense of humor to other British sitcoms that came in the wake of The Office, it uses the same sort of awkward comedy for a very different purpose. The show’s title comes from the peek we’re offered into its leads’ brains, as throughout the show we’re offered running monologues of their thoughts in a way that almost no other sitcom has tried. More important than this stylistic quirk, though, is Peep Show’s preference for long arcs, continuity and running gags of the sort Arrested Development and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would envy. The show has a deep memory and an equally deep sense of morality, so its characters are never let off the hook, even if it takes a few seasons to see how their horrible actions karmically return for their undoing. Peep Show can be difficult to binge-watch, especially early on, but its short seasons make for filler-free writing, and Mitchell and Webb are so good that they lend their characters a strange likability that’s closer to the U.S. Office than the original. Sean Gandert

71. The Bold Type


Creator: Sarah Watson
Stars: Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy, Melora Hardin, Sam Page, Matt Ward, Stephen Conrad Moore, Nikohl Boosheri
Network: Freeform

When The Bold Type first premiered, I viewed it as a terrific version of the kind of show I love and exactly the type of show Freeform should be doing. But as its first season progressed, it blossomed into the kind of show everyone should love and all networks should be doing—smartly tackling a wide range of topics, including cyber bullying, gendered double standards and genetic testing. Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy), twenty-something women trying to find success at Scarlett magazine while navigating their complicated love lives and the ups and downs of friendship, speak not only to The Bold Type’s target audience, but to women of all ages. Given the current political climate and misogynistic cultural environment, we need shows that celebrate women and hear them roar more than ever. —Amy Amatangelo

70. Spaced


Creators: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Edgar Wright 
Stars: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Julia Deakin
Network: Channel 4 (U.K.)

Prior to blowing the film world out of the water with Shaun of the Dead, the creative partnership of writer/director Edgar Wright and actor/writer Simon Pegg first crystallized back in the late’90s with the British sitcom Spaced. Conceived by Pegg and co-lead Jessica Stevenson with Wright directing every entry, Spaced centers on a pair of aimless Londoners who decide to fake a relationship in order to secure a “couples only” apartment. Over the course of its 14 episode run, the series gleefully subverted the popular image of twenty-somethings leading cushy, comfortable lives with burgeoning careers (as evidenced by the likes of Friends) in favor of depicting a world filled with squalid living spaces, drug use and various artistic aspirations gone to seed. More notably, Spaced arguably served as the first post-modern sitcom in terms of how it employed specific, cinematic vocabulary as an extension of the characters’ interior lives (i.e. a horrible work experience turns into a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest parody, while a competitive game of paintball escalates into a dramatic action sequence straight out of Platoon or Saving Private Ryan). In a landscape where older, out-of-touch TV execs were frantically trying to appeal to erstwhile, younger viewers, Spaced was a show all about the less savory experiences of being a broke twenty-something; adding to its authenticity was the fact that it was being written and produced by individuals who were going through these specific experiences firsthand. Mark Rozeman

69. The IT Crowd


Creator: Graham Linehan
Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Chris Morris, Matt Berry, Noel Fielding
Network: Channel 4 (U.K.)

Stuck in a small, chaotic basement office, IT nerds Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) are always happy to help;well, Moss is, Roy is a lot happier sitting on his arse doing nothing. Head of the IT department Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson) really has no idea of what she’s doing and is convinced that typing “Google”; into Google will “break the internet.” Moss is your typical school-yard-bully victim. While he’s extremely articulate and proper in his way of speaking and dressing, he seems to have been overly coddled by his mother with whom he still lives. You might not necessarily want these guys to take a crack at fixing your computer, but you should definitely reserve them a place on your screen. Roxanne Sancto

68. Speechless


Creator: Scott Silveri
Stars: Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler, Kyla Kenedy, Cedric Yarbrough
Network: ABC

Like the show’s fiercely overprotective mother Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver), Speechless thrives because it refuses to treat JJ (Micah Fowler) as anything less than a full realized person. JJ, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, isn’t a character to be pitied. He’s a teen experiencing the joy and sorrow that comes with a first crush, learning how to navigate the high school social scene, and sparring with his parents over his independence. By giving JJ equal treatment and screen time, Speechless achieves what no other show has been able to do: JJ’s disability might be a facet of his character, but it’s not the defining one. And did I mention the show is hilarious? Speechless effortlessly avoids any cloying very special episode mentality. The always charming Driver is a force to be reckoned with and as JJ’s aide Kenneth, Cedric Yarbrough is the uproarious voice of reason in JJ’s wacky household. Fowler is terrific as are Mason Cook and Kyla Kenedy who play his siblings. We laugh with, but never at, the DiMeo family. Amy Amatangelo

67. Brooklyn Nine-Nine


Creators: Michael Schur, Dan Goor
Stars: Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Andrew Braugher, Terry Crews, Steaphanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti, Jo Lo Truglio
Network: FOX

“Consistency” might not be the most flattering virtue you can ascribe to a sitcom, but consistency is a big part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s greatness. Week in and week out, Dan Goor and Michael Shur’s half-hour cop comedy manages to hit just the right notes without losing its groove. Some episodes hit higher notes than others, and yes, in the series’ lifespan, there have in fact been a few off-key episodes intermingled with the others. But when Brooklyn Nine-Nine is good, it’s good, and it’s good with an impressive regularity. When it’s great, it’s arguably the best sitcom you’ll find on network television, thanks in part to sharp writing, but mostly to an even sharper cast. Consistency is what fuels Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s motor, but the characters are the ones steering the ship. The show is enormously diverse in terms of not only gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of comic styles: There’s career sad sack Joe Lo Truglio, the stoically hilarious Andre Braugher, king of the clowns Andy Samberg, master of badassery Stephanie Beatriz, and that only covers a little less than half the team. Since Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s debut back in 2013, each character on the show has developed and grown, and in the process we’ve come to care about all of them in equal measure. At the top of its game, Brooklyn Nine-Nine harmonizes our attachment to these people with great gags, and occasionally even sharp (if brief) action. There’s a lot the series has to offer, in other words, and that just drives home how vital its constancy really is to its success. Never underestimate well-regulated humor. Andy Crump

66. The Looming Tower


Creators: Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, Craig Zisk, Lawrence Wright
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, Bill Camp, Michael Stuhlbarg
Network: Hulu 

Disrupting the conventions of the counterterrorism drama—the narrative structure, the hard-charging hero, the constant sense of panic—The Looming Tower, based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, goes back to basics; it is, like the staff of bombastic FBI agent John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels), careful and competent, if sometimes hamstrung by circumstance. Most of all, though, it is pungently, horrifyingly alive to the roads not taken, the paths not pursued, to the cascade of decisions we might trace from first actions to future events. To treat 9/11 as an accident of history, an act of war absent context, has been, in politics as in popular culture, the most damaging consequence of the urge to commemorate it, the one that continues to propel us into the blunders of a collapsing empire, and The Looming Tower, imperfect though it may be, is a vital corrective. For all its relative sedateness, after all, the series’ most lacerating edge might be its existence: The conflict we’re in is so interminable it’s become the subject of a period piece. Matt Brennan

65. Nathan for You


Creators:   Nathan Fielder, Michael Koman
Stars: Nathan Fielder 
Network: Comedy Central

For two seasons, Nathan for You was something warped and uncomfortable;but actually, ultimately refreshing. Ideas like “Dumb Starbucks”; went viral, making it increasingly difficult for Fielder to use relative anonymity to convince his “clients”; to go along with his disturbingly effective ideas. It wasn’t totally original TV, but there did seem to be a certain sincerity under it all;Fielder doing his best to never exploit the people he helped for the benefit of a good joke, hoping that somehow, at the very least, he could drum up attention for the suffering businesses. But the third season of Nathan for You is obviously something so much more sublime: Over the course of eight episodes, Nathan has contrived a fake exercise program replete with a fake creator to dredge up free labor for a moving company, created a sound-proof box for imprisoning children while their parents have sex in hotel rooms (which he tested with a porn star orgy), and devised a way for a dive bar to allow smokers inside through turning a typical night of patrons into an experimental bit of theater;all the while transforming each client interaction into a desperate bid to make a friend. It’s even in “Nail Salon/Fun”; that Nathan finally admits he doesn’t have many friends, even though he’s actually a really fun guy to hang out with, so he concocts a plan to scientifically validate he’s an entertaining guy;which of course involves stealing the urine of his new friend and suggesting on a lark they go get blood drawn together. It’s all so much more than cringe-worthy faux-documentary pranking; in season three, Nathan for You has stumbled into the sublime, taking to task the pathetic, empty human connections at the heart of even the most basic tenets of capitalism. Dom Sinacola

64. The Good Place


Creator: Michael Schur
Stars: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, D’Arcy Carden
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

63. Scrubs


Creator: Bill Lawrence
Stars: Zach Braff, Sarah Chalke, Donald Faison, Neil Flynn, Ken Jenkins, John C. McGinley, Judy Reyes
Network: ABC, NBC

J.D. and the gang gave a completely absurd (and yet often the most realistic) look into the world of hospitals. Each episode didn’t center around some outlandish disease that everyone thought was lupus, only to find out it was something else in the last five minutes of the show. Instead Scrubs was character-driven. It was consistently overlooked by the Emmy Awards, and viewership dwindled throughout the seasons. Still, the witty writing and off-beat characters deserved more. When NBC canceled the show, ABC was confident enough to pick it up for two more (laborious, unwatchable) seasons. But in its prime, it was one of the best sitcoms on TV. Adam Vitcavage

62. Better Things


Creator: Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. 
Stars:Pamela Adlon, Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, Olivia Howard, and Celia Imrie
Original Network: FX

Co-created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K., Better Things never generated the excitement of its FX counterpart, Atlanta, but it’s no less novel for elaborating a multigenerational portrait of women in which sex and romance are not the determining factor in life’s equation. The series’ debut season, in which men largely remain on the margins, is far more interested in the testy, soused relationship Sam Fox (Adlon) maintains with her mother (Celia Imrie), with the wan roles she’s offered as a moderately successful middle-aged actress, with the ceaseless chaos of single motherhood. Indeed, as Sam raises Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood) and Duke (Olivia Edward), she emerges as the flawed “Superman” of the brilliant season finale: Half mournful and half expectant, she’s committed, despite the obstacles, to squaring the same feminist space for her three children that Better Things does for women on TV. Matt Brennan

61. 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

60. 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. Josh Jackson

59. Strangers With Candy


Creators: Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, Mitch Rouse
Stars: Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, Greg Hollimon, Deborah Rush, Larc Spies, Orlando Pabotoy, Maria Thayer, Sarah Thyre
Network: Comedy Central

Strangers with Candy’s Jerri Blank, a 46-year old crack-whore-turned-high-school-freshman, prone to layers of makeup, disturbingly sculpted hair and crocheted vests is one of television’s most revoltingly loveable anti-heroines. Jerri’s overbite, high-rise pants, and tendency toward inappropriate sexual advances require an actress in possession of excessive valor and gusto: enter the New York-born, North Carolina-raised Amy Sedaris, sister of David, baker of cupcakes and cheeseballs, and beloved comedic foil;she boasted the rubbery mug, incomparable commitment and high, squeaky voice necessary to spark Jerri Blank into hideous fruition. Amanda Petrusich

58. Scandal


Creator:   Shonda Rhimes  
Stars:   Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Guillermo Diaz, Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, Jeff Perry, Joshua Malina and Bellamy Young
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 Hulu. 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 Guillermo Díaz, Darby Stanchfield, and Katie Lowes), 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 Hulu binge-watching dreams are made of. Shannon M. Houston

57. Party Down


Creators: John Enbom, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, Paul Rudd 
Stars: Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Megan Mullally, Ryan Hansen
Network: Starz 

Party Down boasts a formula so simple and ingenious, it’s absolutely insane that no one had attempted it before. The general premise centers on a gang of aspiring LA-based actors, writers and entrepreneurs who make ends meet by working at a catering company. This being Hollywood, their assignments veer from the mundane (corporate retreats, birthday parties, weddings) to the absurd (backstage concert parties, porn awards, orgies). No matter what the setting, however, the lackadaisical crew of Party Down catering can always be counted on to ruin the occasion, frequently in ways that leave the audience crying from laughter. Taking cues from the best Judd Apatow productions, however, beneath all the crass, scatological humor and cringe-inducing scenarios lies a bittersweet story of dreams deferred and the lengths people go to, in order to find validation and acceptance. Boasting an insanely talented main cast that included Adam Scott, Ken Marino and Lizzy Caplan, the show also employed its “new week, new location” structure to recruit guest turns from the likes of J.K. Simmons, Kristen Bell, Rob Corddry, Thomas Lennon and Steve Guttenberg. In the end, despite strong critical reviews and a devoted cult following, the show’s ratings were nothing short of anemic and Starz pulled the plug after two seasons. Though both fans and critics would bemoan the show’s short existence, there’s no denying that it lived fast and left a great-looking corpse. Mark Rozeman

56. You’re the Worst


Creator: Stephen Falk
Stars: Chris Geere, Aya Cash, Desmin Borges, Kether Donohue
Network: FXX

In the midst of its second season, Stephen Falk’s acerbic sitcom announced its grand ambitions, slowly setting the line for its artful depiction of clinical depression—culminating in a pair of poetic, painfully funny episodes, “There Is Not Currently a Problem” and “LCD Soundsystem,” that were among that year’s very best. The third season only intermittently matched these heights (see the gorgeous bottle episode, “Twenty-Two,” in which Desmin Borges’ PTSD-afflicted veteran, Edgar, pulls back from the edge of despair), but You’re the Worst has, along with the likes of Lady Dynamite and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, come to define the medium’s newfound interest in the humorous nuances of mental illness. It also features, in the form of Kether Donohue, a Judy Holliday of the modern age; her Lindsay Jillian is crass, self-seeking, featherbrained, and one of the funniest characters on television. Matt Brennan

55. Casual


Creator: Zander Lehmann
Stars: Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, Tara Lynne Barr, Nyasha Hatendi, Julie Berman
Network: Hulu 

Girls, Togetherness,Love, Flaked—did we really need another indie dramedy involving white privileged folks attempting to navigate their disastrous love lives? Well, Hulu’s first foray into the overcrowded sub-genre has gradually revealed itself to be a sharper, snarkier and smarter watch than most of its fellow angsty 20/30-something counterparts. Indeed, while Casual’s first season stuck to the tried and tested formula of non-committal relationships implied by its title, its second wisely shifted its gaze to the often-neglected area of platonic friendships. Still baring all the hallmarks of executive producer Jason Reitman’s trademark cynicism, it was an about-turn which allowed the talented leading trio to expand upon their neatly-defined roles of newly-divorced shrink (Michaela Watkins), womanizing brother (Tommy Dewey) and sexually adventurous teenage daughter (Tara Lynne Barr). Yes, it’s still very much ‘rich people have problems, too,’ but Casual achieves the tricky feat of making you actually care about them. Jon O’Brien

54. Happy Endings


Creator: David Caspe
Stars: Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans, Jr., Casey Wilson
Network: ABC

File Happy Endings under the dreaded “canceled too soon” category. Happy Endings could have and should have lasted far longer than three seasons, but sometimes the TV gods are cruel. Based in Chicago, the ensemble comedy had a pretty simple premise (“a group of friends in their early 30s hang out in the city”), with the clever twist that one of them (Elisha Cuthbert’s Alex) leaves another at the altar (Zachary Knighton’s Dave) in the pilot. They try to remain friends, hence the titular happy ending, and it adds a pretty strong “will they or won’t they” element to the show, but ultimately what made Happy Endings so great was the chemistry between its six leads. Sometimes “friends hanging out” is the only situation you need for a comedy to work. Also worth noting: this show doesn’t get nearly enough props for one of the least stereotypical portrayals of a gay character on a sitcom; Adam Pally’s Max is basically no different from Peter, the character he’d go on to play on The Mindy Project. He’s a goofy frat bro who just happens to be attracted to men, and that’s just one of the ways Happy Endings managed to subvert the standard sitcom formula, while still adhering to it. Bonnie Stiernberg

53. Please Like Me


Creator: Josh Thomas
Stars: Josh Thomas, Thomas Ward, Debra Lawrance, David Roberts, Renee Lim
Network: Pivot, Hulu 

After attracting a cult following on the now-defunct Pivot network, this charming LGBT-themed Aussie export has deservedly attracted a larger audience since Hulu picked up its fourth and final season. The brainchild of stand-up Josh Thomas, Please Like Me thankfully isn’t one of those comedy dramas that forgets to bring the jokes. The refreshingly natural rapport between the likable, if unashamedly snarky, cast provides a constant source of laugh-out-loud moments, with Thomas’ knack for self-deprecation (“I look like a 50-year-old baby”) often a highlight. But it’s the authentic portrayal of mental illness— bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression are all handled in a sensitive but matter-of-fact manner rarely seen on TV— and numerous emotional sucker punches that have elevated the show into the realm of this decade’s true greats. If that hasn’t sold you, it also boasts the most infectious doo-wop theme tune since Happy Days, and an impossibly cute Cavapoo named John. Jon O’Brien

52. Dead Like Me


Creator:   Bryan Fuller  
Stars: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Laura Harris, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Cynthia Stevenson
Network: Showtime

The grim reaper is an 18-year-old directionless college drop-out named Georgia Lass whose post-life boss is a bank robber who died in the 1920s played by Mandy Patinkin. But, sadly, her on-air life was even shorter. Creator Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) has always gathered more of a cult following than a mass audience, and was forced out during his first season. But his dark, peculiar vision lingered in his delightfully twisted world, just like the reapers who populated it. Josh Jackson

51. Angel


Creators:   Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt
Stars: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker
Networks: The WB, UPN

While watching Buffy straight through for the first time, I took a break after the fourth season to watch its spin-off, Angel. I’ve loved it every bit as much as Joss Whedon’s first series, especially all the half-demon as illegal alien motifs. If Boreanaz was a little too irritatingly brooding in Buffy he’s given more depth as the lead. Joss Whedon may have moved on to big-screen blockbusters, but his TV shows found that overlap of “smart” and “entertaining” every time. Josh Jackson

50. 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

49. Rick and Morty


Creator:   Dan Harmon  
Stars: Justin Rolland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke
Network: Cartoon Network 

Anticipation for the ever-delayed third season of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s series has reached Frank Ocean’s Blonde levels, and for good reason: It’s one of the most brilliant shows on television. Unlike The Big Bang Theory, it uses its nerdiness and intelligence not as a gimmick, but as a way to open the (literal) dimensions of creative possibility, whether the ideas are original (interdimensional cable, a sentient gas cloud named Fart) or tongue-in-cheek homage (to The Purge, Inception, even its own interdimensional cable episode). But behind the innovation is a Eugene O’Neill-ian dysfunction that probes the depths of familial unhappiness, and it’s when Rick and Morty leans into this (especially in episodes like “Total Rick-all” and “The Wedding Squanchers”) that it reaches its most sublime moments. Season Two, in particular, took protagonist Rick Sanchez into a profound depression matched only by BoJack Horseman among animated series. Zach Blumenfeld

48. Broad City


Creators: Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson
Stars: Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Hannibal Buress, Arturo Castro
Network: Comedy Central

For the last few years, Comedy Central has consistently presented us with great comedy duos: Key & Peele, Kroll and Daly, and now Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Broad City gives us two unforgettable characters who are desperately trying to become the boss bitches they are in their minds. This epic friendship is instantaneously contagious, and the brilliant plots, centered on the two twenty-somethings scraping by in New York City, makes this one of the great, most promising new-ish series. Staff

47. Key & Peele


Creators:   Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Network: Comedy Central

We already miss Key & Peele. By we, I don’t mean just myself or Paste, but society as a whole. And by “miss” I don’t mean we reflect fondly upon the show, which made us laugh and exists no more, but that our culture literally feels its absence, all the more glaring in the country’s depressing racial climate. Not every sketch was political, and not every sketch was a hit, but at their best, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hilariously attacked issues few other comedians or shows would dare to touch. They used comedy to become a vital part of the national conversation, and hopefully whatever they do next will have that same power. Garrett Martin

46. Steven Universe


Creator: Rebecca Sugar
Stars: Zach Callison, Estelle, Michaela Dietz, Deedee Magno Hall, Tom Scharpling, Grace Rolek, Jennifer Paz, Shelby Rabara, Susan Egan
Network: Cartoon Network 

Steven Universe has been the best show on Cartoon Network for quite some time, but this year it made the jump to the big leagues. Like Pixar’s great films, it transcends its “target” audience of children by distilling nuanced, powerful emotions into a universally comprehensible form without losing any of its intellect.

Here’s an incomplete list of the themes the show treated in 2016: abusive love, Marxism, unmitigated bereavement, depression, self-hatred, PTSD, matricide. Such a cheerful show, right? Actually, yes: The core of Steven Universe, despite its unbelievably heavy subject material, is love—not only of every creature on Earth, good or bad, but of life itself, regardless of the terrible circumstances it hurls your way. Sure, that’s an aspirational message in what has been an astoundingly hate-filled year, but Steven is essentially the Chance the Rapper of animated television: He’ll make you believe in his infectious, hard-nosed optimism.

And that’s not to mention the show’s humor—which strikes some sneakily adult poses—or its songwriting, which is the best on television this side of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Just about the only thing Steven Universe could do better in 2017 would be to maintain a slightly more predictable schedule. Zach Blumenfeld

45. 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

44. Alias


Creator:   J.J. Abrams  
Stars:   Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, Carl Lumby, Kevin Weisman, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper
Network: ABC

It’s difficult to remember a time before J.J. Abrams was a household name, but in 2001, he built on his first TV series, Felicity, with a puzzling and thrilling spy drama, Alias. The story of Agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner at her most ferocious) and her attempt to take down a nefarious organization called SD-6 had a bit of everything: father/daughter complications, double agents, a healthy dose plot twists. (This is the same J.J. Abrams who went on to create Lost, after all.) The series became sillier the longer it went on, but at heart it was about Sydney’s complex relationship with her father, Jack (Victor Garber). On their own, the two performers are fun, but many highlights of the series’ run featured the pair together, as they faced challenges that transcended the wacky secret-agent shenanigans. Besides Garner and her array of bright wigs, Alias also featured pre-Hangover Bradley Cooper playing an inquisitive journalist and Lena Olin giving you a thousand reasons why she should play James Bond. Kristen Lopez

43. Underground


Creator: Misha Green and Joe Pokaski
Stars: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Jessica De Gouw, Alano Miller, Christopher Meloni, Amirah Vann
Network: WGN America

Before Underground, I’d like to think that I knew that TV could accomplish quite a bit. But after Underground’s first season, I know that TV can change history itself, as well as something just as powerful—language. What is a “slave”? What was a “slave,” in America? It’s not as if the WGN America series, from creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, and executive producers John Legend and Anthony Hemingway, is the first work of art to demand that we see black American “slaves” as humans, first. It’s that, in attempting to create a compelling framework, Underground is the where truly human flaws and characteristics in enslaved people—like jealousy, sexual desire, vengeance, villainy, anger, heroism, spirituality, contentment—are explored with such great depth. Green, Pokaski, and their brilliant writers dared to break away from traditional slave narrative formulas, where slave = good victim, and master = bad victimizer.

Had they stuck with such a formula, I suspect they still would have created one of the most important and compulsively watchable shows of 2016. But because they dared to break away, they created one of the most entertaining and jaw-dropping series as well—and in doing so, sent a powerful message about the difference between a slave and an enslaved person. My tongue is still getting used to saying the latter instead of the former, but my brain is already beginning to see the difference. What was an enslaved black person, in America? After Underground, I can imagine an enslaved person as a small boy, refusing a piece of candy from his half-brother and future “master” (Maceo Smedley as James). I imagine dances and yellow ribbons (Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Rosalee). I imagine blood spilled for the sake of a map to freedom, faked injuries and tattoos on top of lashings (Aldis Hodge as Noah). I imagine flames to cotton, and lost men looking for redemption—or, simply, a way out (Alano Miller as Cato). And I imagine women like Underground’s most compelling character of all, Ernestine (Amirah Vann), opening bottles in wine cellars, bathing women in tubs and praying in the dark before and after taking matters into their own hands. In addition to giving us an incredible series with heart-stopping storylines and performances, Underground gave us permission to re-imagine the past, and—perhaps most importantly—re-envision the future. Shannon M. Houston

42. The Thick of It


Creator: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Peter Capaldi, Chris Langham, Rebecca Front, Chris Addison, Joanna Scanlan, James Smith
Networks: BBC Four, BBC Two

If you’re a fan of Veep, and find yourself jonesing for some more Armando Iannucci, then The Thick of It is definitely in your wheelhouse. A hilarious take on the British political system, it could be argued that it’s an even more biting take on politics than Veep. The show may have run from 2005 until 2012, but it was a sporadic run, as there are only 24 episodes. However, those 24 episodes are excellent. If you don’t know British politics, you might not fully understand every bit, but chances are you can still understand awful, stupid people saying awful, stupid things. Malcolm Tucker, as played by Peter Capaldi, remains Iannucci’s greatest creation. And if you’ve ever wanted to see the current Doctor saying the c-word a whole bunch, then this is the show for you. Chris Morgan

41. 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

40. Black-ish


Creator: Kenya Barris
Stars: Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Jeff Meacham, Jenifer Lewis
Network: ABC

To enjoyBlack-ish is to enjoy all that the show has to offer in the name of entertainment. The sitcom about an upper class, black family is especially hilarious when the child stars (Marsai Martin and Miles Brown) are leading the plot. But when the show veers to address topics that reflect America’s race relations and systematic injustices, it shines brightest, because the writers are not afraid to be strikingly honest and come at an issue from different angles (without losing any of the writers room wit). Season Two’s “Hope,” stands apart, as the police brutality episode that examines the emotional tolls that arise as the Johnsons wait to see if a police officer will be indicted for the murder of a black child. Simultaneously conscious and comedic, it’s going to be pure joy to see what future season have in store for this series. Iris Barreto

39. Sports Night


Creator:   Aaron Sorkin  
Stars:   Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Joshua Malina, Sabrina Lloyd, Robert Guillaume
Network: ABC

As a screenwriter for films like A Few Good Men and The American President, Aaron Sorkin loved his job and was very good at it. So, naturally, when he developed his first TV series for ABC 10 years ago, he filled it with characters who loved their jobs and were very good at them. More than the rapid-fire dialogue or deft blend of comedy and drama, it’s the utter competence of the sportscasters and producers that quickly separates Sports Night from the other 30-minute laugh-tracked TV shows of the ‘90s. The bosses are smart and helpful, except when they’re meddlesome network executives. You’re held accountable for mistakes, but your co-workers always have your back. Instead of the classic reliance on miscommunication for situational comedy, the tension arises from a pressure to excel in the national spotlight, and the humor comes from genuinely funny characters. Sorkin worked hard to respect his audience’s intelligence with clever dialogue and heady subject matter. With film-worthy writing and one of the best casts ever assembled for a sitcom (Robert Guillaume shone both pre- and post-stroke and William H. Macy was a regular guest), Sports Night changed the trajectory of television. It was a half-hour comedy with better, more emotional storylines than most hour-long dramas. It was one of the first hybrids of a multi-camera and single-camera show, benefiting from the strengths of both approaches. And its echoes could be felt in some of the best shows that followed: the volleys of witty repartee between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, The Sopranos’s psychiatrist scenes, and the meta-story lines about the show’s impending cancelation in Arrested Development. Josh Jackson

38. The Handmaid’s Tale


Creator: Bruce Miller
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley
Network: Hulu 

With precise compositions and a rich sense of color, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions the intersectional, drawing the interlocking influences of gender, sexuality and status into its portrait of a puritanical dystopia not far from our own: “Blessed are the meek,” Offred (Elisabeth Moss) says in scornful voiceover, referring to the extremists’ empty dictum. “They always left out the part about inheriting the Earth.” Indeed, as she navigates Gilead’s stony euphemisms and loud silences, whether playing Scrabble with the powerful Commander Waterford (Jospeh Fiennes), flirting with his driver (Max Minghella), or (unsuccessfully) avoiding the ire of Waterford’s wife (Yvonne Strahovski), patriarchal dominion becomes the series’ unifying principle, the poison that soaks through the body politic “under His eye.” In this sense, the first great political drama of our authoritarian age is also, as with Atwood’s now three-decade-old novel, a kind of instant classic: Forever of our time. Matt Brennan

37. Homeland


Creator: Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Stars: Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend, Damian Lewis
Network: Showtime

After Homeland’s freshman season sank its hooks into viewers with an extraordinarily tense cat-and-mouse game involving a bipolar CIA analyst (Claire Danes) and a former POW (Damian Lewis), and two subsequent seasons in which the writers seemed to lose their grip on the intricacies of the plot, many wrote off Showtime’s counterterrorism drama for good. Too bad. Since then, Homeland hasn’t simply recovered; it’s been reborn, this time as a sharp, muscular reconsideration of America’s so-called “War on Terror,” alive to our own strategic flaws and moral compromises. In particular, the fourth season, available on Hulu for non-Showtime subscribers, traces the outlines of the series’ new structure—a long, slow burn to expose the nerves, followed by two remarkable episodes, “There’s Something Else Going On” and “13 Hours in Islamabad,” to suggest the true terror at hand: war without end. Matt Brennan

36. Living Single


Creator: Yvette Lee Bowser
Stars: Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, T.C. Carson, John Henton, Mel Jackson, Kim Fields
Network: FOX

In a ‘90s kind of world, I’m glad I’ve got my girls! During a decade with many successful black sitcoms, Living Single was the flyest. It remained in the top five most-watched programs by black audiences throughout its five-year run and eventually knocked Martin out the No. 1 spot. The beloved series had unforgettable style, unparalleled verbal sparring between Kyle (T.C. Carson) and Max (Erika Alexander), and a theme song by Queen Latifah that has since become iconic. Yvette Lee Bowser, a producer on A Different World, drew on experiences from her life to create Living Single, which followed six single black twentysomethings living in a brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., and figuring out their personal and professional lives. The cast’s group chemistry produced comedy perfection, introducing a special kind of humor, personality, and heart to network TV that still hasn’t been exactly replicated. Ashley Terrell

35. Newhart


Creator: Barry Kemp
Stars: Bob Newhart, Mary Frann, Jennifer Holmes, Julia Duffy, Tom Poston, Peter Scolari
Network: CBS

Bob Newhart had the best second act in sitcom history. Newhart ran for most of the 1980s, longer than The Bob Newhart Show did, and despite resting heavily on Newhart’s patented brand of deadpan exasperation, the two shows had strong enough settings and casts to stand out from each other. Newhart featured career work from Tom Poston, Julia Duffy and Peter Scolari, and its remote Vermont setting lead to the creation of three of the most memorable breakout sitcom characters of the 1980s: Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl. Newhart was a smart, confident, hilarious show, and people still talk about the ingenious twist in its final episode 26 years later. Garrett Martin

34. The Good Wife


Creators: 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 game-changing fifth season. Many shows start to fade as they age, but The Good Wife peaked late in its mostly glorious seven season run. Amy Amatangelo

33. Everybody Hates Chris


Creator:   Chris Rock, Ali LeRoi
Stars: Tyler James Williams, Terry Crews, Tichina Arnold, Tequan Richmond, Imani Hakim, Vincent Martella
NetworkS: UPN, The CW

Chris Rock  is one of the funniest comedians of all time. This is far from a controversial stance. Upon developing a period sitcom about his Brooklyn childhood for the (now defunct) UPN back in the mid-2000s, however, the question emerged of whether or not his brand of knowing, acerbic comedy could survive the transition to network TV. The answer proved to be both yes and no. From the opening seconds of its pilot, Everybody Hates Chris positions itself as an incisive, utterly confident comedic tour-de-force that is perfectly in line with Rock’s brand. And yet, in the hands of co-creator/showrunner Ali LeRoi, the show aimed to be much more than simply the comedian’s stage work reformatted into TV storylines. The result was a family sitcom that both harkened back to the Norman Lear comedies of old, while still retaining the rapid pace and tight construction of the best single-camera productions. The show was never more successful, however, than when it came to its casting, with Tyler James Williams demonstrating immense charisma and comic timing as a young Chris; meanwhile, Terry Crews and Tichina Arnold would promptly enter the pantheon of great TV couples as Chris’ larger-than-life parental units. And though low ratings and frequent schedule shifts would ultimately snuff Chris out after four seasons, it quickly sketched out its place as one of the greatest sitcoms of the new millennium. Mark Rozeman

32. Firefly


Creator:   Joss Whedon  
Stars:   Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Network: FOX

Leave it to Joss Whedon to dream up a space show without aliens. The smart writing he brought to Buffy turned the universe into one big frontier, where those who didn’t conform to authoritarian rule were forced to eke out their livings among outlying planets where the long arm of the law can’t follow. Watch the way-too-short-lived series in full before finishing with its feature length film Serenity. Josh Jackson

31. The Golden Girls


Creator: Susan Harris
Stars: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty
Network: NBC

If you were born in the 1990s, you probably missed out on this gem of a comedy. Now all seven seasons are available finally on a streaming platform. The story of four senior citizens—the sarcastic Dorothy (Bea Arthur), her take-no-prisoners mom Sophia (Estelle Getty), the flirtatious Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and the daffy Rose (Betty White)—resonates to this day because it’s an honest story about friendship and building a family out of your community. And the show was surprisingly progressive tackling topics including gay marriage, teen pregnancy and the AIDS epidemic during its seven season run. But mostly it was hilarious. Once you’ve watched, you’ll thank these four amazing women for being your friend. Amy Amatangelo

30. Community


Creator:   Dan Harmon  
Stars: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong, Jim Rash
Network: NBC, Yahoo

As a half-hour sitcom, Community didn’t merely break the fourth wall; it broke it, openly commented on the fact that it broke it, only to then build a fifth wall for the express purpose of further demolition. Yet, if deconstructing the sitcom formula was all creator Dan Harmon’s magnum opus had to offer, it would have been a fun, if superficial lark. Instead, in telling the story of a ragtag group of community college students, the show used its vast pop culture vernacular as a vessel for telling surprisingly resonant stories about outcasts attempting to find acceptance, a sense of belonging and, yes, community. Whether the Greendale study group was participating in an epic game of paintball or being confined to their study room in search of a pen, Harmon and Co. perfected the art of taking gimmicky concepts and transforming them into strong, character-driven gems. And while only time will tell if the show will ever fulfill the “movie” segment of its #sixseasonsandamovie battle cry, the strange, winding saga of Community will forever stand as the stuff of TV sitcom legends. Mark Rozeman

29. My So-Called Life


Creator: Winnie Holzman
Stars: Claire Danes, Wilson Cruz, Devon Gummersall, Jared Leto, A.J. Langer, Bess Armstrong
Network: ABC

Surprisingly mature, critically adored, and cancelled immediately, My So-Called Life was like a refutation of all the school shows that had come before it, both comedies and dramas. It seemed to have special disdain for the “very special episode” format, and instead took those social issues and wrapped them into the entire ongoing storyline. The problems faced by 15-year-old Angela Chase (Claire Danes) didn’t arise and get wrapped up at the end of the episode, they festered and spurred personal growth. The nervous hair-flip, semi-requited love and existential confusion of Angela made the world less-lonely for the sort of artsy grunge-era high school kids who would go on to rule the world—or at least work at indie magazines. We leave you with this quote that epitomizes the way the show so beautifully captured the high school age: “I’m in love. His name is Jordan Catalano. He was left back—twice. Once I almost touched his shoulder in the middle of a pop quiz. He’s always closing his eyes, like it hurts to look at things.” Josh Jackson

28. Legion


Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Amber Midthunder, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris, Jean Smart
Network: FX

We were introduced to Noah Hawley’s dark humor with Fargo, but Legion allows the writer/creator to play in a more fantastical sandbox—and thus to truly revel in a batshit crazy world. If ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us the light-hearted comic-book action and Netflix’s quartet of interwoven series showcased the grittier side of superheroes, FX’s first partnership with Marvel embraces the insanity of a lesser-known X-Men character, making you forget it has any shared DNA with those blockbuster men in super-suits. The story is as much about Dan Stevens’ character’s grasp on reality as his struggle for survival. David Heller suffers from schizophrenia, but what’s real and what’s the product of malevolent forces is often unclear, with his friend, Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), playing the imaginary devil on his shoulder. The production design, full of 1960s and 1970s psychedelia and striking color palettes; the cast, which includes Hawley’s Fargo collaborators Rachel Keller and Jean Smart; and the sharp writing all make this another win for FX. —Josh Jackson

27. 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. Riley Ubben

26. O.J.: Made in America


Creator: Ezra Edelman
Network: ESPN

While American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson certainly uses its highly dramatized portrayal of the trial of O.J. Simpson to muse on notions of celebrity, sexism in the workplace, and racial tensions in America, Ezra Edelman’s sprawling documentary O.J.: Made in America, released as both a 467-minute documentary and a five-part TV series, manages to do something even more special: take a case that’s arguably been oversaturated in the media for years and find new ways to present the issues at the heart of it. O.J.: Made in America isn’t cold and clinical, but rather ruthlessly efficient in its exorcising of the demons that led to the debacle that was the O.J. Simpson murder trial. It’s a documentary that feels remarkably, sadly poignant, as racial tensions hit yet another boiling point in America. That’s not accidental relevance though. Rather, O.J.: Made in America asserts that while these issues may be more visible than ever, they are in no way unique to our cultural moment. O.J.: Made in America is a complex, scathing examination of not just the O.J. Simpson trial, but of America’s violent past and its celebrity-crazed present. Kyle Fowle

25. South Park


Creators: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Brian Graden
Stars: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mona Marshall, Isaac Hayes, Mary Kay Bergman, April Stewart, Eliza Schneider
Network: Comedy Central

The South Park of the 1990s was quite a different show from the one it grew into over the years. In its earliest episodes, it was absolutely committed to raising as much controversy as possible, which was certainly a success in terms of media coverage alone. But the main characters were also quite a bit different. Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman were more innocent characters back then, truly childlike in many ways, less mature and grizzled from the insane experiences of living in their “quiet mountain town.” The early episodes are focused much tighter on those central characters as well, while just beginning to dip into pop culture parody (such as “Chinpokomon”) and episodes dedicated to supporting characters (such as “The Succubus”). The show hadn’t quite grown to its full potential, but it’s still easy to miss some of these character-driven stories compared to South Park’s more recent product, which so often dedicates whole episodes to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s opinions on a single trend, celebrity, film or limited subject matter. Jim Vorel

24. Fargo


Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks
Network: FX

If you made a list of untouchable auteurs, that is, creators whose work should never be built upon or remade,the Coen brothers would sit comfortably near the top. That did little to alarm Noah Hawley, whose reimagining of their classic 1996 murder mystery took on the unthinkable, and succeeded brilliantly. At its highest moments, the first season of Fargo—the second isn’t on Hulu yet—was myth-making in its finest form. That’s what this show was; a myth, a legend, a tall-tale in the Minnesota cold. Every great myth needs a greater villain, and Fargo had one of the best of the year. The pairing of Hawley’s twisted antagonist, Lorne Malvo, and the always enigmatic Billy Bob Thornton (giving his finest performance in years) was perhaps the greatest achievement of the FX drama. It was clear that Malvo was only human, and yet we were fully prepared for Hawley to reveal that he was something more. In the final moments, when Malvo’s outcome was all but certain, I couldn’;t help but expect for him to rise again, as he always seemed to. In a mere ten episodes, this character went from unknown to larger-than-life. For all those new shows that struggle to build worlds and characters, please, watch Fargo and take note. Eric Walters

23. 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

22. Friday Night Lights


Creator: Peter Berg
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett
Network: NBC

Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meat-heads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show manages to convince episode after episode that, yes, football somehow really is life. Rachael Maddux

21. Alfred Hitchock Presents


Creator:   Alfred Hitchcock  
Stars:   Alfred Hitchcock, Harry Tyler, John Williams
Networks: CBS, NBC

It may be a little bit of a stretch to truly call Alfred Hitchcock Presents “horror,” as it were, but it was definitely high drama in the style created by the master of suspense. Hitchcock, of course, knew true horror, whether via The Birds or Psycho, and threads of these films, along with thrillers such as Notorious or North by Northwest, are woven into the long-running show’s DNA. Take the ultra-macabre episode “Man From the South,” starring horror icon Peter Lorre as an insidious old man with a truly nasty proposition for a young gambler played by Steve McQueen. Lorre’s character promises to give McQueen his Cadillac … if McQueen can successfully strike his Zippo lighter 10 times in a row. If he fails? Then Lorre will cut off McQueen’s finger as punishment. It’s a sadistic, weird premise that has since been adapted again multiple times, including by Quentin Tarantino in 1995’s Four Rooms, but none of them can touch Hitchcock. Jim Vorel

20. Queer as Folk


Creators: Ron Cowen, Daniel Lipman
Stars: Gale Harold, Hal Sparks, Randy Harrison, Michelle Clunie, Thea Gill
Network: Showtime

Based on the Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 series of the same name, and following the lives of gay men in Pittsburgh, Queer as Folk broke ground not only for its candid depiction of the gay community in America—it was an early feather in Showtime’s cap, quickly becoming its highest-rated show and announcing the network’s intention to compete with HBO for premium-cable supremacy. Was that effort ultimately effective? Not really. But Queer as Folk remains as addictive as ever: Sexy and melodramatic, while never sacrificing a sense of humor about itself (as with the hilariously awful show-within-a-show Gay as Blazes). It was witty and quick without being reductive—indeed, gay audiences may have flocked to Queer as Folk partially out of a sense of exhaustion with Will & Grace—and thus the finest entry in Showtime’s 2000s drama boom. Graham Techler

19. 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

18. Battlestar Galactica


Creators: Glen A. Larson (original), Ronald D. Moore, David Eick
Stars: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas, Tricia Heifer, Grace Park, Tahmoh Penikett
Network: Sci-Fi (SyFy)

Ronald D. Moore turned a cheesy ‘70s show into a gritty, unflinching look at what it means to be human, and ended up with one of the best sci-fi series of all time. With the crew of Galactica encountering no aliens during its exodus, the show was free to pit religion against science, freedom against security and family against conscience—tensions with no easy answers. It’s an epic tale with few villains and fewer heroes just flawed people fighting for survival. Josh Jackson

17. Will & Grace


Creators: David Kohan, Max Mutchnick
Stars: Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, Sean Hayes
Network: NBC

Will & Grace remains a pivotal show for gay culture and the representation of gay characters on a sitcom. It received an absurd 83 Emmy nominations throughout its original run—the series returned for a ninth season in the fall of 2017—and each of the four regulars, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, won an individual Emmy, making it one of only three sitcoms ever to achieve that feat. The stories, revolving around life and love in New York City, may have been sitcom boilerplate, but the subject matter (gay/Jewish identity), the rat-a-tat one-liners, the blockbuster guest stars, and the main cast’s chemistry were anything but: Will & Grace isn’t just a landmark TV series, it’s a rollicking good time. Jim Vorel and Matt Brennan

16. NYPD Blue


Creators: Steven Bochco, David Milch
Stars: Dennis Franz, David Caruso, James McDaniel, Nicholas Turturro, Sharon Lawrence, Gordon Clapp, Jimmy Smits, Kim Delaney
Network: ABC

Detective Andy Sipowicz. That’s really all you need to know about NYPD Blue. In the recovering alcoholic who suffered more than Job, Dennis Franz created one of television’s best and most iconic characters. By the end of the series’ 12-season run, Sipowicz could have spent an entire episode saying nothing at all, and we still would have known exactly what he was thinking. The landmark series may be remembered for pushing the boundaries of network television (hello, naked behinds!) or for how David Caruso infamously departed the series after the first season, but its true genius was in the way that it seamlessly and authentically wove the characters’ personal lives with the cases they were investigating. While watching, we felt immersed in the 15th Precinct. Gritty, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and, at times, hilarious, the series set the bar high for all cop dramas that would follow. If you can only watch one episode, I would direct you to “Heart and Souls,” which aired November 24, 1998 and is one of the finest episodes ever about death. I still get chills thinking about it. Amy Amatangelo

15. Prime Suspect


Creators: Sally Head
Stars:Helen Mirren, Tom Bell, Karen Tomlin, Peter Capaldi
Networks: ITV, PBS

With its acquisition of ITV’s long-running crime drama, which follows Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) as she pursues her quarries and confronts the Metropolitan Police Service’s rampant sexism, Hulu possesses the skeleton key to the antiheroes of TV’s most recent “Golden Age”: a slight, perceptive, ambitious, alcoholic British woman. Over the course of seven seasons, spanning 25 years in all, Mirren found in Tennison the resignation, and the rage, that faces any uncompromising figure in this comprised world. And yet she etched in our memories a uniquely compelling, damaged character, one to whom every detective to appear on TV since bears no small debt. To put it another way: In Prime Suspect, Mirren delivers one of the most brilliant, influential performances in the history of the medium. Full stop. Matt Brennan

14. ER


Creator: Michael Crichton
Stars: Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Noah Wyle, Sherry Stringfield, Eriq La Salle, Laura Innes, Alex Kingston, Gloria Reuben, Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic
Network: NBC

The longest-running medical drama ever to air on American television, at least for now (Grey’s Anatomy is coming up on the outside), I remember ER as a landmark in my own TV-watching life: It was the first series my mom let me stay up to watch, I think because she loved it so much she needed someone to talk about it with. An era-defining success with critics, audiences, and Emmy voters alike, ER drew on the conventions of the hospital procedural, the primetime soap, and creator Michael Crichton’s real-life experiences to lend Chicago’s fictional County General layers of nuance, depth, energy, and excitement that few TV series before or since can claim to match; at least one episode, Season One’s “Blizzard”—in which a quiet day erupts with the carnage of a 40-car pileup—remains so thoroughly seared in my memory I’m almost afraid to watch it again, lest I disturb the experience. I could list all of ER’s milestones and accomplishments, from turning George Clooney and Julianna Margulies into major stars to its mountain of awards, but it’s probably easier to put it like this: Though it dipped in quality in its later seasons, ER in the early years was perhaps the defining TV drama of its era. —Matt Brennan

13. The X-Files


Creator: Chris Carter
Stars: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, Mitch Pileggi
Network: FOX

Pairing Scully the skeptic and Mulder the believer as they investigated the paranormal, The X-Files at its best was as good as any other TV show in history. Its greatness waned in the later years, but the early seasons did more than investigate the implausible; it accomplished it by taking aliens and conspiracy theories to the mainstream. Josh Jackson

12. The Mary Tyler Moore Show


Creators: James L. Brooks, Allan Burns
Stars: Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Betty White, Cloris Leachman
Network: CBS

Even if you were born long after the show premiered, you probably are familiar with its most iconic moments—Mary triumphantly tossing her hat in the air, the death of Chuckles the clown or the traveling group hug that ended the series. Mary Richards (Moore) remains iconic as the first single, career woman to ever be the subject of a television show. She lived by herself! Made her own decisions! And wasn’t worried about getting married! Can you believe it? Set in the newsroom of WJM in Minneapolis, Mary’s co-workers included her irascible boss Lou Grant (Asner), affable news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and goofy anchorman Ted Baxter (Knight). This was an office-based comedy in a time when family comedies were all the rage. The groundbreaking series paved the way for shows as varied as Murphy Brown, 30 Rock and The Mindy Project. Plus Mary had spunk, and we love spunk. Amy Amatangelo

11. The Shield


Creator: Shawn Ryan
Stars:Michael Chiklis, Michael Jace, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder, Benito Martinez, Forrest Whitaker, Glenn Close
Network: FX

Shawn Ryan’s cop drama masterpiece premiered on FX a few months before David Simon’s cop drama masterpiece premiered on HBO. Years later, if you ask anybody which cop drama masterpiece they believe to be the Greatest Of All Time™, they’ll probably say The Wire. That’s fine. The Wire’s laurels are well-earned, but give a little more consideration to The Shield, too, huh? In many ways, The Shield is The Wire’s equal. In some, it is superior; a vivid, graphic entertainment that’s no less profound than Simon’s musings on Baltimorean crime and punishment. The Shield is grimdark stuff from back before grimdark became de rigeur in our pop cultural diet; there are no straight-up good guys or bad guys here, just good guys who occasionally do bad things and bad guys who occasionally do good things. The series is fueled by enough doom to make the Bard himself crack a wry smile, and it’s loaded with dubious morality. We were caught in the thrall of Vic Mackey’s reckless, self-serving corruption long before Game of Thrones made character survivability a guessing game, and Breaking Bad made us root for ethically suspect protagonists. Most of all, though, The Shield put a spotlight on law enforcement malfeasance without irrevocably blurring the line between social critique and theatricalized excitement. Andy Crump

10. 30 Rock


Creator:   Tina Fey  
Stars: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander
Network: NBC

The spiritual successor to Arrested Development, 30 Rock succeeded where its competition failed by largely ignoring the actual process of creating a TV show and instead focusing on the life of one individual in charge of the process, played by show creator Tina Fey. 30 Rock never loses track of its focus and creates a surprisingly deep character for the its circus to spin around. But Fey’s not the only one that makes the series. Consistently spot-on performances by Tracy Morgan—whether frequenting strip clubs or a werewolf bar mitzvah—and Alec Baldwin’s evil plans for microwave-television programming create a perfect level of chaos for the show’s writers to unravel every week. 30 Rock doesn’t have complex themes or a deep message, but that stuff would get in the way of its goal: having one of the most consistently funny shows on TV. Suffice to say, it succeeded. Sean Gandert

9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Creator:   Joss Whedon  
Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, Marc Blucas, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, James Marsters, Anthony Stewart Head
Networks: The WB, UPN

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had it all: Romance, drama, tragedy, suspense. The show took the teen-soap formula and elevated it to an art. It was a unique combination of tragic romance, apocalyptic fantasy and the clincher: emotional realism. It also featured the most serious and realistic depiction of human loss ever witnessed on the small screen (in “The Body” dealing with the death of Buffy’s mom by natural causes). Humor? The writers understood the campy sheen that must accompany any show named Buffy. They also knew how to use snappy dialogue and uncomfortable situations to full effect. Complex characters? You’d be hard pressed to find another program that had the same range and consistency of character development. Everyone matured (or devolved) at his or her own realistic rate. As some feminist writers have argued, TV had never before seen the complexity of relationships among women that you saw with the likes of Buffy, Willow, Joyce and Dawn. Plot? The writers employed elaborate multi-episode, multi-season story arcs. People and events of the past always had a way of popping back up, the way they do in real life. Philosophy? Series creator Joss Whedon was all about the meta, the ideas and story behind the story. He succeeded, creating a WB/UPN show that bears closer resemblance to the works of Dostoevsky and Kafka than 90210 or Dawson’s Creek. Tim Regan-Porter

8. 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 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

7. The Office (U.K.)


Creators: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant 
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis, Oliver Chris, Patrick Baladi, Stacey Roca, Ralph Ineson, Stirling Gallacher
Network: BBC

Before there was Steve Carell’s Michael Scott and endless “that’s what she said” jokes, there was Ricky Gervais’ equally clueless David Brent and his fantastical dancing. Before there were John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s adorable Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly, there were Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis’ star-crossed Tim Canterbury and Dawn Tinsley. And, of course, before there was Rainn Wilson’s assistant [to the] regional manager, Dwight Schrute, there was Gareth Keenan—Mackenzie Crook’s retired Territorial Army member, who is both obsessed with his slightly senior workplace status and his one-sided friendship with his boss. The series synonymous with the use of the mockumentary format on TV (see also: Modern Family, Reno 911!) is a tightly compacted version of the long-running, Emmy-winning American spinoff (This is the U.K., after all, so there’s only two six-episode seasons, a Christmas special and a reunion episode). Fans of the latter will recognize similar plot points here. Whitney Friedlander

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

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. The fact that Sam decides not to get married and “stays with the bar;it is of course his one true love. Jim Vorel

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’s sitcom about a “wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together” debuted six weeks after Two and a Half Men but never gathered the audience to keep the show alive. Still, Hurwitz 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: The Oedipal Buster spiting his mother Lucille by dating her friend Lucille, and eventually losing his hand to a hungry loose seal; George Michael crushing on his cousin only to have the house cave in when they finally kiss; the “Save Our Bluths” campaign trying to simultaneously rescue the family and rescue the show from cancellation. 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. 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. Parks flourished over the years with some of the most unique and interesting characters in modern comedy. And the beloved comedy accomplished the near-impossible and went out on top in 2015 when the series came to an end. Comedies, in particular, have a difficult time knowing when it’s time to take a bow. But Leslie Knope and her merry band of friends kept us laughing (and crying) right up until the series finale, which offered a powerfully good farewell to one of the most creative and beloved network series. Ross Bonaime and Amy Amatangelo

3. 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

2. I Love Lucy


Creators: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz
Stars: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, Richard Keith
Network: CBS

I Love Lucy is one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time. It’s a show so well-structured, and so beloved, it continues to air in 2017, even though the last new episode premiered in 1957. It was the first show inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, and multiple publications, including TV Guide and TIME, have named it one of the best television shows of all-time. Many series have clearly been (and still are) influenced by the wacky adventures of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, but I Love Lucy also played a major role in what would become a staple of the sitcom genre;reruns and syndication, born out of necessity after Ball became pregnant while filming. Ball and Arnaz were consistently determined to bring their unique vision to television, which ultimately resulted in a reinvention of the modern sitcom. Even if the generations to come don’t get to experience the magic in the same way that some of us have, the legacy of Ball and Arnaz, and how they made and re-made television, will always be apparent. Chris Morgan

1. Seinfeld


Creators:   Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David
Stars: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards
Network: NBC

On any given weekday, the likelihood is high that I watch a Seinfeld rerun that I’ve seen at least 20 times before, and I’m not alone in that habit. The fact that the show has been in continual reruns and syndication since its 76-million viewer finale proves how beloved it remains to this day: Seinfeld is still making money for networks 19years after it ended. Its grasp on pop culture minutia was on another level entirely, as was its distaste for typical sitcom conventions. Long-term relationships and love triangles were practically non-existent on Seinfeld. Never did characters offer sappy apologies to each other. Never did they even learn from their mistakes! Larry David and company were instead committed to telling stories of everyday, casual misanthropy from people who viewed themselves as generally decent or average, but were in reality pretty terrible individuals. Without even going into depth about the show’s transformative effect on the cultural lexicon, known as “Seinlanguage” it’s easy to see how Seinfeld uniquely stood out from every one of its peers. Jim Vorel

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