A comprehensive ranking of the 50 best tv series ever made, including American Horror Story, Shameless, ER, and More
As this will be my first foray into producing a “Top X List” of any kind (let alone random commentary that goes with it), some degree of patience may be required by any potential readers (all 5 of you). There will of course be “where is this on the list, is he mad”, with a blend of “what in the world is he doing putting this on here for, this got cancelled after two seasons for good reason”, and finally a splash of “that is way, way too high or low on the list, did he watch that one after a happy hour gone bad”. And if any or all of these comments are made, that would actually be considered complimentary (I think).
If everyone agreed with the entire thing, then I’d just be accused of copy/pasting something I googled on the internet that is a worldwide consensus. The true measure of success of something like this will be just how outlandish a reader thinks your list is, which means you’ve proven just how subjective this exercise can be. And let’s be honest- I actually seek banter and controversy- I’m like Colin Robinson on What We Do in the Shadows, I feed on it (yes, that was a cheaply-done foreshadow as you may see that show again in this document).
Having said that (here comes the excuses I claimed I would be avoiding), I will obviously only rate things that I have seen. It is possible that your show has not been viewed by me (yet). It is also possible I may have forgotten shows through time. Someone in their 50’s who is just feeding off memory should be considered very suspect trying to do this.
This list will need to become a living, breathing document over time. It will require modifications and revisits (opinions may change after all). But I realized after all these years, I needed to create a home base for all this.
**One last note- I will only be adding a few sentences to commentary (a crib note of emotions if you will)- for a full review of anything, there are people far better than I (I recommend Indiewire or AV Club to name a few). In addition, I will MOSTLY be keeping documentaries out of this (sorry Making of a Murderer) and will include where to stream at the end of the comments. Ready, set, action.
Honorable Mention: Bodyguard (Netflix), Family Guy (Hulu), The Simpsons (Hulu), The Shield (Hulu), Casual (Hulu), Sex Education (Netflix), Cheers (Netflix), Love (Netflix), The Wonder Years (Hulu), Mo (Netflix), The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), Pen15 (Hulu)
Doesn’t seem fair to be in the honorable mention section:
55. Master of None (Netflix)
54. The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)
53. Freaks and Geeks (Hulu)
52. Mindhunter (Netflix)
51. Ozark (Netflix)
50. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I’m not going to lie, I have not watched every season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There are some episodes where I’m going “eh” through some of it. But then they’ll turn around and make an episode where I’m laughing so hard my wife thinks I’m having some sort of mid-life medical event (when they were drinking red wine out of Coke cans and all their lips turned red during an intervention comes to mind). Danny DeVito (I mean Frank Reynolds) has had two series runs (Cheers and Sunny) last a combined total of 26 seasons – I don’t think it’s an accident that he was part of both of them. (Hulu)
49. The Other Two
There was a long gap between Season 1 (Comedy Central) and Season 2 (HBO Max) of The Other Two, but thank goodness HBO Max saw its value. This is another show that will absolutely crack you up. It’s got the wonder-kid younger brother that can do no wrong (a Justin-Bieber-like implant with show biz aspirations). Accompanying Chase Dreams is his high-strung mom (hello again Molly Shannon), and a brother/sister combination that routinely and hilariously flop through their adult lives trying to garner whatever elusive success they can. It’s not one you may have heard of, but it’s one you should definitely be queue-adding. (HBO Max)
48. My So-Called Life
Referred to (often) as a cult classic, this mid 90’s gem covered about as much ground as one could cover in 19 episodes. From what I remember, when ABC cancelled My So-Called Life, an uproar could be heard form every corner of the critic-universe. Claire Daines and Jared Leto were kind of the centerpieces, but the supporting cast was equally effective. Maybe it was because I was younger when I watched it, but all the “coming of age” pains sure seemed to hit home as these students walked through the hallways and lived their self-proclaimed difficult lives.
I just about left this one off the list but then remembered just how much I liked it. It had all the various high school ground covered. Smart girl not in any particular clique trying to find her way – check. Girl tries to date bad boy as she’s going through her rebellious stage – check. Nerdy kid who is pining for the smart girl, does the bad boy’s homework as a way to keep an eye on things – check. But it’s very well done. (Hulu)
47. American Horror Story
This should almost have its own sub-rankings. There have been some very incredible seasons made of American Horror Story (mostly in the first handful of seasons), and a few clunkers in between. I especially loved nearly any season Jessica Lange was in- this series was made for her. “Horror” probably isn’t the right genre description on a lot of these installments; but creepy, dramatic, suspenseful, supernatural? You bet. (Amazon Prime)
46. Somebody Somewhere
This is a rookie show (1 year in) that everybody should add to their watchlists. It’s subtle, it’s small-town, it’s community – and it’s got so many little nuances going on in each episode that it engages you from the word go. Somebody Somewhere will sneak up on you. Jeff Hiller as Joel is a great find. (HBO Max)
45. Schitt’s Creek
I really wasn’t going to watch it. My wife said we’re watching it. And so it began. And Schitt’s Creek became a mainstay on our evening ritual for the better part of 3 months while we binged it. I have to say, I was laughing far more than I had planned (I would even catch myself doing it without knowing it on occasion). The series didn’t go on for too long and exited at a perfect time.
I started out loving Stevie’s oblivious sarcasm, and then just settled in and enjoyed watching the family self-implode and argue – the David/Alexis squabbles were a big draw, but at the end of the day, wasn’t it really about how ridiculously funny Catherine O’Hara was? No one ever really got a handle on what kind of accent/drawl that was – which means it was literally just her own; kind of like Michael Scott’s vocabulary that would show up from time to time. Moira was the best. (Hulu)
Glow goes squarely into the “we needed to see more seasons of this” category. Three seasons just left me wanting more. You want to talk about a creative plotline. A (somewhat fictional) backdrop of women’s professional wrestling in the 1980s. That timeline was right up my old-age alley. Stone Cold Steve Austin these ladies were not, but they were wildly entertaining. This made me want to watch a lot more stuff with Alison Brie in it. (Netflix)
What would we do without Frank Gallagher? 11 seasons of dysfunction (Frank wasn’t alone and didn’t have a copyright on dysfunction, however). Again, a train wreck that you not only couldn’t look away from, but one you actually tuned in to see again and again? Was it that they made us feel better about ourselves in some fiction/non-fiction kind of way?
I don’t think anybody realized just how important Emmy Rossum (Fiona) was to Shameless until she was gone. She was as close as there was to some semblance of sanity in the family, and she was great at her portrayal from day one. Of course even with she left, Lip was still there (thankfully). We all knew how good Jeremy Allen White was, but I think that was very recently reaffirmed with an entry we’ll be talking about higher up the list. At the end of the day, just gimme some more Gallagher.
PS – This was a series I tried to watch initially during workouts at the local YMCA, but for those that have watched it, there is usually a gratuitous scene of some kind mixed in some episodes that you really didn’t want your workout strangers to your left and right seeing. You didn’t want your membership revoked. (Netflix)
42. Arrested Development
I’m not exactly sure what happened in those last few seasons (it’s almost best to avoid it altogether, as it could permanently tarnish its legacy for you), but the first three seasons of Arrested Development were really the cutting edge of this brand of sharper and satirical humor and set the tone for many, many like it to come. (Netflix)
41. Derry Girls
A television comedy series about a bunch of school-age Catholic girls in Derry, Northern Ireland, growing up in the 1990s. How could Derry Girls possibly be on any list? Try it, you’d be surprised. These Catholics have Protestant-like potty mouths, get themselves into more trouble than local small-time hoods, and some of the episodes revolving around their parents are even more entertaining (there are some pretty cool songs incorporated into some of these seasons, I will add). And yes, they even incorporate a way to have an episode revolve around the Bill Clinton presidency – just saying. (Netflix)
40. The Americans
This was just absolutely fantastic storytelling. A spy piece during the Cold War with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys at the forefront, how could one go wrong. The Americans was so good that just typing this short paragraph makes me want to consider adding this to the distinguished, and rarely-initiated, watch-it-twice list. A lot of people will say this needs to go way up the list. They probably aren’t wrong. Oh and on season 1, episode 1, the first tense scene is accompanied by Tusk (Fleetwood Mac). They had me at hello. (Hulu)
I watched a string of some episodes from the early seasons a few years ago and still found them incredibly entertaining. This was part of the must-see Thursday night line-up for years. While so many got pulled in by the young and rebellious George Clooney as Doug Ross, I was always a huge Noah Wyle, Maura Tierney, and Anthony Edwards fan (yes, before Dr. Greene, there was Goose by the way). Sally Fields won an Emmy the year she was a guest star – her role as someone that was bipolar was uncharted ground at that time. I have not watched other medical dramas to compare this to (Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago Med), but I highly doubt there was one made any better. Bonus points to ER for not including corny soap opera elements (no offense McDreamy). (Hulu)
38. The Jinx
Engaging from start to finish. My lone doc entry as The Jinx really didn’t feel like one. You spend a lot of the series saying how can this possibly be, and without flinging out spoilers, the ending does not disappoint, with one final ‘wow’ moment at the finale. (HBO Max)
37. Better Things
I have to finish the last season of Better Things still, but its place is already set on this list. Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox is really something to behold. It doesn’t even feel like these people are acting (I guess that’s the definition of a show well-made). Again, common theme, but I am always entertained by smart writing that includes a high degree of wit; in any series, in any genre. The oozing sarcasm displayed here is a language I speak fluently, so I feel right at home in this series.
Once I got past the “how does she let her girls treat and talk to her this way” piece (this show really wasn’t made for parent-judging), these short 20-25 minute life lessons with a LA/Hollywood backdrop really grab you. An entire episode watching Sam and her daughter navigate their way home from a Dodgers game is an instant classic. (Hulu)
My first Apple TV entry (working on This is Mankind right now, we’ll see where that goes). Severance has the potential to be one of those “list-climbers” as they now go beyond Season 1. What some people may call “weird or odd” is right in someone else’s sweet spot (thus the subjectivity of these fun lists). After the first few episodes I was like, uh-oh, where is this going, but by the second half of the season I was counting the minutes down to see what happens next. Adam Scott is great as always, and did you ever think you’d see John Turturro in something like this? The Big Lebowski this is not. (Apple)
Another limited series entry, this one comes in at 8 episodes. But again, Unbelievable is one that’s hard to watch at times. Brilliantly acted by the likes of Toni Collette, Kaitlyn Dever, and Merritt Wever, it tackles the difficult subject matter of rape and subsequent authority figures treating the victim as the one shouldered with burden of proof. From false confessions to family history, all are being brought back into play in this travesty. Once you start watching this you will be at Episode 8 before you realize what hit you. (Netflix)
34. When They See Us
When They See Us is a 4-episode limited series, so I’d imagine I could have added that to the ground rules since subsequent seasons weren’t even a possibility. But this retelling of the Central Park Five case from the late 1980s (5 Black youths put on trial for a crime they did not commit- coerced confessions and the whole works) needs to be on SOME list. And I don’t think I have enough entries yet to make a “limited series” list, so it’s going on this one. The suspense and grit through which this true story is re-enacted is about as gripping as you will find. Hard to watch at times (another one of those ‘I can’t believe this happened’ travesties), it’s one that everyone needs to see. (Netflix)
33. The Good Fight
This is also a “work in progress” entry as we are getting through the last few seasons. But I’ve seen enough of The Good Fight to know it belongs on any list. It is some of the smartest writing on TV today. And it really may have been slightly ahead of its time- it was politicizing before it was fashionable to politicize. And they go after the Orange One so subtly (and often times not so subtly)- it makes you smirk when you think no one is watching you. And here’s my plug for Sarah Steele as Investigator/Do-It-All Marissa- we need FAR MORE storylines with her in it- her energy is hard to match. (Paramount Plus)
How did a show that would have been in my top 5 in the heart of the series end up drifting to the bottom half you ask? I feel almost bad doing it – Seinfeld provided countless mornings of water cooler talk for nearly a decade. But today I find myself watching The Office reruns (often), but not Seinfeld. I think it didn’t quite stick the element of aging well like a few of the other entries. Was there a show more relevant in its time though – really, a show about nothing? Probably not. But for putting it at this point in my list, I guess it’s “no soup for me”. “Not that there is anything wrong with that.” (Netflix)
31. Mare of Easttown
Completely worthy of a binge. What may set up as a slow burn really is anything but. The drama and mystery that incrementally builds up with each episode of Mare of Easttown is masterful. Kate Winslet shows a lot of layers in her character, and any awards that went to Jean Smart from this show (as the mother) were rightly deserved. We got a double dose of the reintroduction of Jean Smart going that year (see Hacks). A banner year, indeed. (HBO Max)
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