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The 50 Best Free TV Shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

November 13, 2013  |  1:10pm

If you’ve spent your $75 dollars to be an annual Amazon Prime member, don’t just settle for free shipping on your purchases. The Amazon Instant Video library continues to grow and now includes enough TV for you to consider cutting the cable (or even that other streaming service if you’re really paring down). We’ve collected 50 of our favorite shows that are streaming for free in Prime Instant Video, from dramas and comedies to the occasional work of non-fiction (high-brow reality TV) and animated show. These are all available as of November 2013, but the selections change fairly often. Also, be sure to check out our list of the The 100 Best Free Movies on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Here are the the 50 best free TV shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video:

50. Fringe
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Creator: J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Stars: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick
Original Network: Fox
When I gave up on Fringe during its bumpy first season, it seems I was too impatient. It eventually grew into a smart, compelling sci-fi drama. And even back then I couldn’t deny that John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop was among the best characters on TV. He’s both grandfatherly and dangerous; he shows flashes of great anger and then humble remorse. And he’s self-absorbed but with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. I should have known to give J.J. Abrams more time.—Josh Jackson (no, not that one)

49. Black Adder
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Creators: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson
Stars: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry
Original Network: BBC1
Leave it to the Brits to find humor in World War I. The fourth season of this show—which featured comedy heavyweights like Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry—took place during that Great War, but each prior season was set in a different historical era, with the Blackadder cast poking fun at the Middle Ages, the Elizabethan age and the Regency period.—Bonnie Stiernberg

48. Angel
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Creators: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt
Stars: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker
Original 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 find that overlap of “smart” and “entertaining” every time.—Josh Jackson

47. Key & Peele
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Creators: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Original Network: Comedy Central
Because of its premise—“growing up biracial in a not quite post-racial world”—and sketch-comedy format, Key & Peele has earned comparisons to Chappelle’s Show. And, because of a killer President Obama impression, the half-black, half-white comedians have become approachable spokesmen of the mixed experience. On their show and in interviews, they talk of how strange it felt to take standardized tests, when they’d check “OTHER” under “RACE.” But their humor isn’t just skin deep. In “Pizza Order,” a lone customer justifies his three-pie request with a headcount of his action figures. In “I Said Bitch,” two husbands try to discuss their wives, but as far out of earshot as possible. “Just Stay for the Night” is a necessary Christmas song parody—as director Peter Atencio said on Tumblr, “’Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is a rapey song and it’s time we acknowledged that.”—Christina Lee

46. NYPD Blue
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Creator: Steven Bochco
Stars: Dennis Franz, David Caruso, Jimmy Smits, Rick Schroder, Kim Delaney, Mark-Paul Gosselar, John Irvin, Amy Brenneman
Original Network: ABC
Steven Bochco created a new kind of cop show with Hill Street Blues and struck gold again in the ‘90s with NYPD Blue. The reason this show lasted a dozen years was not because it was “soft-core porn,” a charge levied by the American Family Association that caused 225 affiliates to preempt its series debut, but because the characters’ flaws made it more interesting than just the good guys vs. the criminals. Well, that and Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz.

45. United States of Tara
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Creator: Diablo Cody
Stars: Toni Collette, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Corbett, Brie Larson, Keir Gilchrist
Original Network: Showtime
Created by Diablo Cody with support from Steven Spielberg, this edgy little comedy centers around Tara Gregson, a mother and wife with dissociative identity disorder, causing her alternate personalities to take over whenever she’s stressed. At the beginning of the series, Tara has three alters: Alice, a housewife straight out of a 1950s sitcom; T, a flirty, out-of-control 16-year-old girl; and Buck, a manly war vet. More personalities are introduced as the show progressed before its unfortunate cancelation after three seasons.—Riley Ubben

44. Torchwood
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Creator: Russel T. Davies
Stars: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Bum Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd, Freema Agyeman, Bill Pullman
Original Network: BBC
A spin-off of long-running BBC series Doctor Who, Torchwood retained some of its predecessor’s campy fun, but also seemed to be reaching for the gritty realism that had understandably escaped most sci-fi shows until Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica remake redefined what sci-fi could be. By the second season, creator Russel T. Davies seemed to conclude that Torchwood would be better suited to leave the frivolity for the good Doctor, and let Harkness go to darker places. The five-episode story-arc “Children of the Earth,” is a nail-biting, epic story that never lets up and finishes with its biggest punch to the gut. Like Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, Davies has not only reimagined a classic series, he’s used his new extraterrestrial platform to explore human nature.—Josh Jackson

43. Workaholics
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Creator: Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm, Kyle Newacheck, Connor Pritchard, Dominic Russo
Stars: Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm
Original Network: Comedy Central
Several shows have attempted to tackle the post-collegiate letdown of the working world, but following these three man-bros as they party their way through jobs at a telemarketing firm takes low-brow humor to astoundingly hilarious depths. Adam Devine, Blake Anderson and Anders Holm (along with their on-screen drug dealer and off-screen co-creator Kyle Newacheck) take turns half-assing the climb up the corporate ladder while maintaining an unwavering devotion to Super-blunt Sundays, Half-Christmas parties (keg of egg nog and all) and out-there drug experiences. Combining the absurdity of competitive corporate culture with the absurdity of “getting weird” on the weekend couldn’t be more relatable to the average internet show binge-watcher, even if we’re not all bartering for clean urine on the playground. The result is a quotable, re-watchable series that is very tight butthole, indeed.—Dacey Orr

42. Luther
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Creator: Neil Cross
Stars: Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Paul McGann
Original Network: BBC One
He may have made a name for himself as Stringer Bell on The Wire, but this series finds Idris Elba on the other side of the law, as Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. Elba took home an Emmy for Best Actor in a Miniseries for his portrayal of the genius Serious Crime Unit cop.—Bonnie Stiernberg

41. Andy Griffith Show
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Creator: Arthur Stander
Stars: Andy Griffith, Ronny Howard, Don Knotts, Frances Bavier
Original Network: CBS
We’d be hard-pressed to find more to ask for in a small-town single dad than Sherriff Taylor, who takes his young Opie fishing, plays him the guitar and provides all the wisdom and warmth a boy needs to eventually become a famous director. Plus Barney is seriously lucky to have his boss also be his best friend. Because who the hell else would employ him? No one. That’s why the one time he did leave Andy, the only way he could make money was by selling vacuums door-to-door. What magical hold does Barney have on Andy? Barney’s a hot-headed bumbling mess, and it just boggles our minds that Andy would, time and again, agree to double dates with Barney. RIP, Mr. Griffith. And long live Andy Taylor.—Anita George

40. Parenthood
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Creator: Ron Howard
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Mae Whitman, Bonnie Bedelia
Network: NBC
Parenthood is palpably real. The Bravermans are us. Each week, the show provides insight into what it’s like to be part of an extended, loving and meddling family while giving viewers the opportunity for a nice cathartic cry. Family dramas are the hardest type of one-hour programming—they must keep viewers engaged without a weekly patient to cure, crime to solve or case to litigate. So the show has taken on some heavy topics, from breast cancer to infertility. Parenthood has quietly become one of the best shows on TV.—Amy Amatangelo

39. Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino
Bryan Konietzko
Stars: Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Jessie Flower, Dee Bradley Baker, Mako, Grey DeLisle, Mark Hamill
Original Network: Nickelodeon
Don’t be put off by M. Night Shayamalan’s clunky 2010 live-action adaptation. Created by a pair of American animators Michael Dante DiMartino, the richly animated TV series nonetheless merges the wild imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, the world-building of the most epic anime stories and the humor of some of the more offbeat Cartoon Network originals. Following the the exploits of the Avatar, the boy savior Aang who can control all four of the elements—fire, water, earth and wind—the series is filled with political intrigue, personal growth and unending challenges. Spirits and strange hybrid animals present dangers, but so do the people who seek power for themselves. This is one you’ll enjoy watching with your kids—or on your own.—Josh Jackson

38. The Blue Planet
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Creator: Alastair Fothergill
Stars: David Attenborough
Original Network: BBC One
Long before we had Planet Earth or Life, The Blue Planet series set the new standard for grandeur and majesty in a documentary series. Each of the eight episodes explore different aspects of aquatic life—capturing previously unseen animals and undocumented behaviors. If the promise of seeing new and exotic undersea life in extreme, breathtaking environments (it’s underwater, get it) isn’t enough of a draw, David Attenborough narrates the whole spectacle. This series helped turn documentary series into pop-culture events.—Sean Doyle

37. The Ren & Stimpy Show
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Creator: John Kricfalusi
Stars: Billy West, John Kricfalusi, Cheryl Chase, Bob Camp
Original Network: Neckelodeon
Who would have thought a violently psychotic Chihuahua and a stupid, fat cat would have made such a terrific duo? The pair made children laugh at jokes they didn’t truly understand and adults sometimes wish their young ones weren’t watching. By today’s standards their toilet humor is tame, but in a weird way, Ren and Stimpy brought families closer together.—Adam Vitcavage

36. Home Movies
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Creator: Loren Bouchard, Brandon Small
Stars: Brendon Small, Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky, Janine Ditullio, Paula Poundstone
Original Networks: UPN, Adult Swim
The young, would-be auteur Brendon was never a huge ratings success, but for those who saw him on Adult Swim (or even earlier on UPN), he’s hard to forget. Created with plenty of improv, Home Movies is a little bit Woody Allen and little bit mumblecore. Fans of Bob’s Burgers will particularly enjoy this first creation from Loren Bouchard—and hearing H. Jon Benjamin voice Coach McGuirk. Plus, it’s got one of the best series finales in TV history.—Josh Jackson

35. Pushing Daisies
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Creator: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Field Cate, Ellen Greene, Swoosie Kurtz
Original Network: ABC
There’s been little on television that’s been able to match the dreamlike whimsy of Pushing Daisies—a comforting, sugary confection as light and sweet as cotton candy. The chemistry between the show’s four leads—the endearingly boyish Lee Pace as Ned, the piemaker; the sunny Anna Friel as Ned’s childhood sweetheart Charlotte, a.k.a. “Chuck”; the deadpan Chi McBride as the private eye Emerson Cod; and Kristin Chenoweth, who plays Ned’s co-worker and secret admirer Olive Snook with perky verve—is so charming it’s combustible. There is undeniable magic about a show built on the premise of bringing people back to life (if only for a minute, or, in Chuck’s case, a lifetime). The true joy of Pushing Daisies lies in its infinite details: the honeycomb-shaped office; the mysterious honey-soaked house, with hives and nests hanging from the ceiling like stalactites; Lily’s green eye patch at the nunnery; the quiet longing and knowing glances shared between Ned and Chuck, dancing their never-ending “ballet of avoidance”; and the strong dialogue, which sparkles and crackles.—Jeremy Medina

34. Fawlty Towers
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Creators: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs
Original Network: BBC2
While we can’t say we’d ever want to stay at the titular hotel, run by the hapless Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), we sure do enjoy watching him struggle to maintain it. Cleese has said the show was inspired by his stay at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay and his encounters with its owner, Donald Sinclair, whom he’s described as “the most marvelously rude man I’ve ever met.”—Bonnie Stiernberg

33. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
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Creator: Anthony Bourdain
Star: Anthony Bourdain
Original Network: Travel Channel
As much a travelogue as a food show, No Reservations finds Anthony Bourdain bravely eating street food in Bangkok and sulfur-cooked eggs in the volcanic springs of the Azores. The writer/chef has parlayed the success of his best-selling books Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour into 142 episodes of eloquent, candid reflections on offbeat culinary adventures everywhere from the Pacific Northwest to Sri Lanka, making for a mouth-watering and ravenously addictive TV series.

32. The Colbert Report
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Creators: Stephen Colbert, Ben Karlin, Jon Stewart
Stars: Stephen Colbert
Network: Comedy Central
Opting for a different approach to news satire than his mentor, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert takes his potshots at the shouting-match mess of modern cable-news partisan commentary by hilariously inhabiting a blowhard persona himself, and playing it for all it’s worth with only the slightest wink. He does this so well that an Ohio State University study found that there’s actually a sub-group of viewers who believe that Colbert “only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said.” Wow.—Steve LaBate

31. Dead Like Me
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Creator: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Laura Harris, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Cynthia Stevenson
Original 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

30. The Good Wife
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Creator: Robert King, Michelle King
Stars: Julianna Margulies, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi, Graham Phillips, Makenzie Vega, Josh Charles
Original 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 current fifth season. Many shows start to fade as they age, but The Good Wife is in the midst of a creative renaissance. The kind that will mark the series as one of the great dramas of our time.—Amy Amatangelo

29. The Kids in the Hall
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Creator: Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald
Stars: Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson
Original Network: CBC/HBO
The Kids in the Hall first unleashed their quirky take on sketch comedy in 1988 in Canada on the CBC network. The group—which included Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson—was best known for memorable characters like Headcrusher, the It’s a Fact! girl and Gavin. And although the show only lasted for five seasons, it left behind unforgettably hilarious sketches like Bobby vs. the Devil and Things to Do. —Tyler Kane

28. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
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Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, D. L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson
Original Network: NBC
From the first cold open and Judd Hirsch’s on-air Network moment to Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) taking control, Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue and scrappy idealism seemed to find the perfect outlet in a drama about a sketch comedy show. But the ratings never materialized, and NBC stuck with the comedy show about a comedy show—30 Rock—instead. Still, that sole first season is well worth revisiting.—Josh Jackson

27. The Wonder Years
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Creators: Carol Black, Neal Marlens
Stars: Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia d’Abo, Jason Hervey, Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano
Original Networks: ABC
The Wonder Years is a family show, and yes, a few of its episodes inch dangerously close to after-school-special territory, but make no mistake: revisiting this late-’80s/early-’90s staple as an adult is just as—if not more—enjoyable than watching it the first time around. It’s unabashedly nostalgic, but it chronicles the ups and downs of Kevin Arnold’s, Winnie Cooper’s and Paul Pfeiffer’s adolescence against the backdrop of the Vietnam era and our nation’s changing social landscape with a maturity most shows geared towards kids lack. The tiny childhood moments that stick with us are treated with the respect they deserve. We laugh when Kevin’s brother Wayne gets him in a headlock and calls him “scrote” for the umpteenth time (try sneaking that by the Nick at Nite censors nowadays!) or when Kev squares off with his mortal enemy Becky Slater, and we cry when Kevin’s occasionally distant father struggles to relate to his teenage kids. And sorry, but if you don’t hold your breath when Kevin puts that letterman jacket over Winnie’s shoulders, you’re dead inside. Music geeks will appreciate the incredible soundtrack as well (a veritable greatest hits collection from the likes of Dylan, The Beatles and Motown’s finest).—Bonnie Stiernberg

26. Frasier
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Creator: David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, Moose
Original Network: NBC
Frasier is arguably the best spin-off in television history. Kelsey Grammer played the character for 20 years, and made Dr. Crane the longest-running live-action character on TV. The show won more Outstanding Comedy Series awards than any other show with five, while Grammer won four Lead Actor awards. In total, the series won a record-tying 37 Emmy Awards during its run. Though it was about a psychiatrist, the heart of Frasier was Dr. Crane’s relationships with his father and brother. Like Cheers, it also produced one of the longest “will they, won’t they” relationships with Niles and Daphne. Of course, they will.—Adam Vitcavage

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