Best TV Shows of All Time

A man and woman sitting on a gray couch eating popcorn and scrolling TV shows with remote.

There is an almost unlimited number of TV shows available for streaming or rent, but how many are worth your time? So many start off great, then fall flat or fizzle out by the third or fourth season. Others get cancelled before you can even binge you way through.

Great television boils down to great writing and dimensional characters, whether you’re streaming a side-splitting comedy or dark new drama. Here are some of the best-rated and most-viewed TV shows of all time, by genre.

 

 

Comedy

 

South Park

Don’t let the shocking gore and glut of fart or dick jokes fool you.  While more than a few gags are purely for humor’s sake, South Park also cuts to the heart of many current issues with witty satire and social commentary. In fact, that’s often true even when the jokes are crude at face-value.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone dish out jokes days after a big headline hits, largely due to the fact South Park episodes take a week or less to complete, on average.

Stream every episode on HBO here.

 

The Office

Between Jim’s endless pranks on Dwight and just about anything that comes out of Michael Scott‘s mouth, every last episode of The Office is worth watching. Whether you’re a white-collar worker yourself or not, you’ll relate to this mockumentary-style TV show about the colorful staff at Dunder Mifflin.

Stream it on Peacock here.

 

The Simpsons

With nearly 700 episodes and over 30 seasons, almost everyone on earth has caught at least a glimpse of this famous family bolting to the couch.

The Simpsons catches flak from critics for declining humor, but longtime fans know it’s still going strong. After all, Homer is still…well, Homer, which means no shortage of adventures await the family.

Stream the series on Disney+ here.

 

Family Guy

Despite getting its start in 1999, Family Guy has 19 seasons to date—thanks to Fox foolishly canceling the series twice in its earlier days. Its popularity grew during syndication, however, and the network eventually brought back the Griffins for good.

While comparisons to other adult-audience cartoons like The Simpsons or South Park are inevitable, Family Guy really stands on its own feet.

Cutaway gags add extra laughs for no other reason than they’re funny, which really underscores the show’s goal: to never take itself too seriously.

You can stream it on Hulu here.

 

Parks and Recreation

Another mockumentary TV show similar to The Office—and produced by the same people—Parks and Rec follows the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana, in all their bureaucratic glory.

Leslie Knope, played by the hilarious Amy Poehler, is heedlessly optimistic in her department’s abilities to improve their beloved hometown. There’s also Ron Swanson, a libertarian who hates all things government-related; April Ludgate, the blasé intern; Tom Haverford, the trend-savvy millennial stereotype—and countless others.

Like The Office, each character gets multiple story arcs and grows throughout the series, but ultimately retains all the quirks audiences love most.

Stream all 7 seasons on Peacock here.

 

30 Rock

Created by Tina Fey, 30 Rock provides an inside look at a fictional show on NBC that parodies Saturday Night Live.  The show is based on Fey’s real-life experiences writing for SNL, and takes place in the Comcast Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Fey plays Liz Lemon, a frazzled but dedicated showrunner constantly forced to wrangle arrogant or unintelligent actors, keep show writers on-task, and butt heads with network exec Jack (played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin).

Surrealist humor, classic sight gags, and quick-witted dialogue elevate 30 Rock above so many other sitcoms. It’s absurdly clever at times and just plain absurd at others, yet never feels disjointed or forced.

Stream every episode on Peacock here.

 

Friends

Much like The Simpsons, almost anyone on earth has seen at least a few seconds of this now-classic sitcom. Friends follows six twenty-somethings as they make their own ways in New York City, navigating bumpy careers and even bumpier love lives.

Without a doubt, Friends was one of the most popular TV shows ever. Its series finale garnered over 50 million viewers, beating out Magnum P.I. for the fifth most watched finale in history (M*A*S*H is still number one, if you’re curious).

Fans adored Joey’s innocent stupidity, Chandler’s sarcasm, Monica’s neuroticism, and Phoebe’s…oddness—and, of course, the constant “will they, won’t they” element of Ross and Rachel.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here.

 

 

Drama

 

The Wire

This crime drama series from HBO follows a drug investigation from the points-of-view of the homicide and narcotics unit on the case, as well as the criminals they’re tailing.

The Wire only lasted 5 seasons, but audiences quickly grew hooked on the realistic style and longer story arcs.  Each episode opens with an epigraph, later spoken and put into context by a different character.

Flashbacks are almost never utilized, and you won’t hear narration or expository back story dumps thrown in, either. The Wire is structured a bit like a book, with multiple narratives converging and weaving together brilliantly.

The show is so realistic and honest, in fact, that some colleges now teach classes on The Wire, using it as a guide into urban America and the flaws of some age-old institutions.

Stream it on Amazon Prime here.

 

Breaking Bad

Reminiscent of classic Westerns with plenty of modern action thrown in, Breaking Bad follows a high school chem teacher diagnosed with cancer.  He teams up with a former student to produce and sell meth, hoping to gather enough cash to provide for his family after his death.

The show raked in several Emmys, Golden Globes, and other awards during its five-season run.  More than a few critics have dubbed it one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

Unlike other TV shows that may start off strong but lose their way, Breaking Bad only received greater acclaim as the show progressed.  While a few naysayers claim it normalizes or even glamorizes the meth epidemic, most agree it’s pure entertainment at its finest.

Stream every episode on Netflix here.

 

The Deuce

This drama chronicles the rise of the porn industry in New York during the 70s and 80s. Its all-star ensemble includes James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chris Bauer, and several others.

Season 1 of The Deuce begins with the Martino twins—both portrayed by Franco—as they provide a front for the Mafia. Meanwhile, a prostitute looks to leave the game and break into now-legal pornographic films. Its three seasons jump years ahead from one another, but in a linear fashion that’s still easy to follow.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here.

 

Generation Kill

Based on a Rolling Stone reporter’s memoirs of the 2003 Iraq invasionGeneration Kill is a miniseries chronicling his experiences with the first wave of American Marines as they attacked Baghdad.

Despite consisting of only 7 episodes, the cast is fairly enormous. It includes Alexander Skarsgård, James Ransone, Lee Tergesen, Jon Huertas and many more.

Generation Kill garnered 3 Primetime Emmys and critical acclaim—as it should, since it came from the same writing team behind The Wire. 

Stream every episode on HBO Max here, or Amazon Prime here.

 

Oz

This drama follows the inmates and staff at Oswald State Correctional Facility, also known as Oz. In this maximum-security prison, inmates fight for power in their own hierarchy, while some keep their heads down and simply try to survive long enough to once again find freedom.

One inmate, Augustus Hill, narrates the show. Hill was paralyzed from the waist down following his own brush with the law, and now distances himself from the gangs and groups in Oz to stay clean and serve his sentence.

Oz has been called “gruesome,” “shocking,” and “gripping”—and virtually any words used to describe it are accurate.  Its graphic nature heightens the drama, however, and makes the show even more compelling.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here, or Amazon Prime here.

 

The Americans

For fans of period TV shows, this drama-thriller series takes place during the Cold War.  It follows two KGB officers during their charade as an American couple in Falls Church, VA, after the inauguration of Reagan through the Nuclear Forces Treaty.

With insights into the inner workings of both the FBI and KGB, The Americans is filled with plenty of intrigue and action. The characters’ personal arcs are satisfying to watch, as well, without bogging down the larger storylines.

Stream every episode of this series on Amazon Prime here.

 

Science Fiction

 

Black Mirror

This dystopian sci-fi series’ non-linear nature means viewers can watch out of order, or skip any episodes that don’t pique their interest.  Even the worst episodes of Black Mirror are so compelling, however, you’ll probably just want to binge from the beginning.

While the main theme of each episode relates to the dangers of misused or overly advanced technologies, Black Mirror never feels preachy. In fact, many episodes feel like simple observations of the inevitable—which is what makes them so chilling.

From virtual reality gone too far, to overprotective parents who’ll do anything to keep their kids safe, Black Mirror is an addictive reflection of a not-at-all distant future.

Stream every episode on Netflix here.

 

Game of Thrones

More fantasy than sci-fi, this series follows nine noble families as they battle over the throne and control of their kingdoms.  Despite an enormous cast, fan-favorite characters quickly stand out and pull audiences into the numerous plotlines and power struggles—which stretch far beyond the battlefield.

Stunning visual effects and music composition make Game of Thrones feel less like a TV show, and more like a series of short movies.  Given the richness of the novels upon which GoT was based, no other treatment could do the stories justice.

Game of Thrones’ viewership extends past usual fantasy fans.  The series became so popular, in fact, that DuoLingo offers the fictional GoT language of High Valyrian among its choices.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here.

 

The Leftovers

In The Leftovers, 2% of the world’s inhabitants have vanished, leaving the survivors of the event–dubbed the “Sudden Departure”—to grapple with unanswered questions and grief.

Meanwhile, the world devolves into groups of cults with their own theories and agendas. The main characters of The Leftovers have either lost loved ones in the Departure, or in the cult-driven aftermath.

With cult-like popularity all its own, The Leftovers is a grim but well-written series deserving of a spot amongst best TV shows in the new millennium—and, perhaps, all time.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here.

 

Westworld

Equal parts dystopian drama and sci-fi Western, Westworld explores a high-tech amusement park in which guests can use androids to indulge their craziest fantasies, no matter how wild or vile.

The androids, known as hosts, are programmed never to harm the human guests—until one host decides a revolution is in order.

Stream every episode on HBO Max here.

 

The Twilight Zone

An absolute classic in the sci-fi realm, The Twilight Zone is an anthology series that explores countless “What if” scenarios surrounding surreal—and sometimes horrific—events.

In terms of longevity, few TV shows hold up just as well today as when they first aired.  The Twilight Zone poses questions and stories that stick with you for decades after you watch them.

Stream every episode on Hulu here.

 

The OA

Following a seven-year disappearance, a young blind woman returns with scars on her back—and her vision mysteriously restored.

She calls herself the Original Angel, and claims she was in another dimension filled with other missing persons.  Rather than approach police, she convinces four kids and their teacher to help her save the others.

Stream every episode on Netflix here.

 

via GIPHY

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