The 50 Best TV Shows Streaming on Amazon Prime (2016)

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The 50 Best TV Shows Streaming on Amazon Prime (2016)

Amazon Prime may still be chasing Netflix when it comes to original series, but their hits go much deeper than just Transparent. Nine Amazon Original shows made our list of the streaming service’s Top 50 shows, and those are joined by several original series from that other Netflix competitor, HBO. The rest of Amazon Prime’s selection may not quite compare to Netflix and Hulu, but there are plenty of binge-worthy series to enjoy. Here are the 50 best TV shows streaming on Amazon Prime, free with your membership which also includes free shipping and streaming music.

50. Schitt’s Creek


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Creators: Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy
Stars: Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Annie Murphy
Original Network: CBC/Pop
We don’t often look to our friends to the North for television options, but Amazon Prime recently imported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-produced sitcom Schitt’s Creek, and it’s worth a watch. Created by Eugene Levy and his son Daniel Levy—who both star alongside Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy—Schitt’s Creek is a fish-out-of-water sitcom that follows the uber-wealthy Rose family after they’ve lost their absurdly-sized fortune. With nowhere to go, they move to Schitt’s Creek, a small town that family patriarch Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) once bought his son David (Daniel Levy) as a joke. Forced to live out of a motel, the Roses struggle to make a small town life without caviar, Porsches or breezy, last-second trips to Ibiza. The show follows them as they try desperately to sell the town to another unwitting buyer and get enough money to get out of dodge. Comedy veteran Catherine O’Hara is a particular stand out among so many already fantastic performances, putting in an outstanding turn as a former soap opera actress who’s given up the stage but not the melodrama. The entire show is worth watching just to see her meltdown as she gives acting lessons to middle school teens or drunkenly shoot a commercial for a terrible winery.—Erica Lies

49. Poldark


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Creator: Debbie Horsfield
Stars: Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ruby Bentall. Beatie Edney, Jack Farthing, Heida Reed, Kyle Soller, Richard Harrington, Phil Davis, Warren Clarke
Original Network: BBC One
Lovers of sweeping, romantic sagas will delight at the latest Masterpiece presentation, which takes viewers back to the late 1700s following the American Revolutionary War. Ross Poldark, an officer in the British army, returns home to his family estates in Cornwall to discover that, not only was he presumed dead, but his father has died, the woman he loves is marrying his cousin, and he has a mountain of debts and no obvious way to raise the funds. Based on the series of 12 novels by Winston Graham, Poldark stars Aidan Turner in the title role. As the heroic Poldark, he vows to sets things to right even as the odds seem insurmountable. And he doesn’t want to succeed out of some sense of upper-class pride, but for the people of Cornwall who have fallen on hard times.—Paulette Cohn

48. The Newsroom


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Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher, Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, Sam Waterston
Original Network: HBO
Fresh off winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin probably wasn’t expecting to become the Internet’s new whipping boy after the first couple episodes of his latest TV drama The Newsroom. But if TV critics hadn’t already grown tired of hearing Aaron Sorkin climb up on his soapbox in his last two TV shows about TV shows (Sports Night and Studio 60), they might have written more about how badly we need an example of cable news done right. It’s an ambitious undertaking to rewrite cable news—to make it intelligent, honest and entertaining. But Sorkin has already proved his ability by giving us a U.S. President we could root for. With a top-notch cast, sharp writing and a fascinating environment, there’s much to love about The Newsroom, even if much of it felt all-too familiar to Sorkin fans.—Josh Jackson

47. The New Yorker Presents


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Creator: Alex Gibney
Stars: Farley Katz, Roz Chast, Liana Finck, Benjamin Schwartz
Original Network: Amazon Original
As of right now, we don’t really have anything to compare to The New Yorker Presents, and that’s incredibly exciting. Director Dave Snyder teamed up with Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney for the pilot episode, which brings the magazine to life using sketches, cartoons, documentary shorts, and even performance poetry for a pleasant, although sometimes disjointed collection, featuring Alan Cumming, Marina Abramovi?, Andrew Garfield, the work of Jonathan Demme, and much more. The New Yorker Presents does not need an episodic theme—indeed, that might detract from some of the excitement that comes from not knowing exactly what to expect.—Shannon M. Houston

46. Dollhouse


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Creator: Joss Whedon
Stars: Eliza Dushku
Original Network: Fox
Between Buffy and The Avengers, Joss Whedon had a habit of creating good shows that got canceled too soon. Dollhouse was no Firefly, but after a weak first season that focused on singular missions from Eliza Dushku’s character, it expanded into a fascinating sci-fi universe. The premise of the show was that brain-wiping technology could allow the techs of the Dollhouse to install different personalities and skills in their blank-slate agents. In the first season, this just felt weirdly exploitative for the viewer, but the sweeping arc of the second season began to question the ethics of imagined technologies and turn the first season’s plotlines on their heads. And the payoff was huge with an epic two-episode apocalyptic flash-forward that ended each season, starring Felicia Day as a survivor of the Dollhouse technology gone viral.—Josh Jackson

45. Bosch
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Creator: Michael Connelly
Stars: Titus Welliver, Annie Wersching, Amy Price-Francis, Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Lance Reddick
Original Network: Amazon Original
Adapted from a series of best-selling novels by Michael Connelly, Bosch features Titus Welliver as the titular Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a highly skilled Army veteran turned obsessive L.A. homicide detective. Unsurprisingly, the show’s literary foundation as a pulpy beach-read reflects both its strengths and weaknesses. Anchored by a charismatic performance by Welliver as well as a assured sense of place (the show expertly captures the dark L.A. nightlife), the ten-episode first season consists mostly of the kind of paint-by-numbers cases that any decent cop drama worth its salt has explored in one form or another. Much like the books it’s based on, Bosch’s inaugural year is engaging and intriguing, if ultimately a bit forgettable in the long run.—Mark Rozeman

44. 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

43. Mad Dogs


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Creator: Shawn Ryan
Stars: Steve Zahn, Billy Zane, Michael Imperioli, Ben Chaplin, Romany Malco
Original Network: Amazon Original
This one’s a little like The Big Chill meets Reservoir Dogs. Now in their 40s, five college friends reunite in Belize for a weekend of fun and relaxation. They’re staying at the opulent villa of Milo (Billy Zane), their most successful old pal who is now enjoying an early retirement. But as their vacation progresses, all sorts of old issues come to bear. Cobi (Steve Zahn) isn’t faithful to his wife, much to the chagrin of Joel (Ben Chaplin), who used to date her. Lex (Michael Imperioli) is loyal to Milo at the expense of his other friends while Gus (Romany Malco) is still reeling from his recent divorce. That alone would probably be enough for the show, but the pilot episode ends with a jaw-dropping plot twist that sends the friends’ lives off in a completely different direction. Based on the hit British series of the same name and from Cris Cole, the same executive producer of the original and Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Mad Dogs could become your next binge obsession.—Shannon Houston

42. 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)

41. Treme


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

40. Alpha House


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

39. Enlightened


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

38. 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.—Josh Jackson

37. 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

36. 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

35. Catastrophe


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Creators: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan
Stars: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan
Original Network: Amazon Original
What if you got pregnant from a one night stand? What if you lived in London and the father of your future child live in Boston? It would probably be a catastrophe. The result for Amazon’s fictional world, however, is an absolutely charming series about two people (played by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) trying to make the best of a tough situation. What really sets the show apart, aside from its bawdy humor, is that Delaney and Horgan’s characters are genuine and real. The way the average TV show handles pregnancy is ridiculous. A pregnant woman is usually just a cliché of bizarre cravings and nausea. But Catastrophe is an honest look at what pregnancy entails, particularly when you’re over the age of 35. Indeed, I may be making the show, entirely written by Delaney and Horgan, sound heavier than it is. It’s simultaneously hilarious and grounded. How often does that happen? But here’s what you really need to know—the entire first season is only six episodes. You could start watching right now and be done by dinner. So what are you waiting for?—Amy Amatangelo

34. Mr. Show with Bob and David



Creators: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross
Original Network: HBO
Before alternative comedy was a recognized thing, there was Mr. Show with Bob and David, a genius sketch comedy show that had a criminally short run on HBO from 1995 to 1998. Each episode was loosely based around a central theme and laboriously structured, with sketches leading directly into each other, and sometimes even wrapping around each other like Russian nesting dolls of comedy. Although celebrated for its absurd point of view, Mr. Show didn’t shy away from the real world, often tearing into the inequalities of society and the increasing domination of corporate America. Not every bit landed, but the show still had a shockingly high batting average over its four seasons, and very little of it feels dated today. The show isn’t available on any of the major streaming sites, including HBO Go, but the DVDs are still cheap on Amazon, and much of the show can be found on YouTube. If you’re wondering why the recent news of a reunion is such a big deal, check out the original Mr. Show and you’ll find the answer.—Garrett Martin

33. Boardwalk Empire


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

32. Red Oaks


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Creators: Joe Gangemi, Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer, Jennifer Grey, Gage Golightly, Paul Reiser, Richard Kind
Original Network: Amazon Original
Red Oaks, a new comedy from Amazon, arrives with a hell of a pedigree. It’s produced by Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green, Green directs the pilot, and it’s created and written by long-time Soderbergh associates Joe Gangemi and Gregory Jacobs. (Jacobs also directed this summer’s Magic Mike XXL.) Future episodes are directed by people like Amy Heckerling and Hal Hartley. Set in a country club in New Jersey in the mid-’80s, the show openly evokes movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Caddyshack and The Flamingo Kid, and with a consortium of creators who understand both comedy and drama behind it, there’s a lot of hope that it’ll fall into the same realm of bittersweet nostalgia as beloved comedies like The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks.—Garrett Martin

31. Hannibal


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

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 later seasons. Many shows start to fade as they age, but The Good Wife is finishing strong.—Amy Amatangelo

29. 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

28. 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

27. Orphan Black


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

26. Mozart In the Jungle


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

25. Sons of Anarchy


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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
Original 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

24. Oz


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Creator: Tom Fontana
Stars: Kirk Acevedo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Christopher Meloni, George Morfogen, Rita Moreno, Harold Perrineau, J. K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Eamonn Walker, Dean Winters
Certainly a “water cooler show” if there ever was one, Oz made waves with its violence and sexual content early on and its equally deep and disturbing storytelling once people got over the fact that it was set in a maximum security prison. It’s probably safe to say that there’s an entire subset of former viewers out there who think of every prison and prison caricature in terms of what they saw on Oz, from the racial gangs to the unpredictable violence and stress of daily living. A truly ensemble cast was one of the selling points for the large and ambitious HBO series, which showed that an adult-content drama could still turn great ratings. The fact that it was on a premium network was essential, allowing a much deeper (and more realistic) depiction of the horrors of incarceration in the United States.—Jim Vorel

23. The Americans


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Creator: Joseph Weisberg
Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor
Original Network: FX
We’re still mad that The Americans was completely shut out of the Emmys. The series pulled off what many shows cannot—its stellar second season was even better than its first, as the threats Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) faced moved right into their home. The show works because of the amazing performances. Rhys and Russell slip in and out of accents and wigs, but they are always believable as Russian spies hiding in plain sight. Noah Emmerich’s Stan was heartbreaking, and—right up until the final moment—it looked like he might betray his country to save the woman he loved. Annet Mahendru’s Nina was simultaneously vulnerable and cunning. The stakes on The Americans are extraordinarily high, and each week was fraught with nail-biting tension. The season finale shocking plot twist about Emmett’s killer, and Leanne and their daughter was a doozy. But even more shocking was the KGB’s recruitment ideas for Jennings’ daughter Paige (Holly Taylor)—and the fact that Elizabeth thinks it’s a pretty good idea. The stage is set for an amazing Season Three.—Amy Amatangelo

22. Eastbound & Down


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

21. Sex and the City


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Creator: Darren Star
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon
Original Network: HBO
Okay, bad news first: Darren Star’s Sex and the City was not a perfect show. Most of us who watched could not relate to the very specific demographic of women who were showcased. And, for a series whose beating heart was NYC, the show did not do well in its presentation of gay characters or characterS of color (whenever they showed up). Hell, even the main character was problematic and difficult to root for at times—Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the not-so-eloquent writer who was better at choosing a pair of Manolo Blahniks than making decisions in her love life (Team Aiden)? This was an infuriating show to experience sometimes, and that’s partly why we loved it. It remains a phenomenon, and as cliché as it may sound, it opened the door for more complex narratives about women and sex, and it did so unapologetically thanks in large part to Kim Cattrall’s role as Samantha Jones. And if Samantha was too much for you, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) offered up their own unique perspectives, giving the foursome an original, entertaining, and important balance of personalities and feminist (or anti-feminist) outlooks. So when we talk about the impact of HBO, Sex and the City has to be a big part of the discussion. This is especially true in a time when excellent shows like True Detective are being accused of putting their women characters in lazy, typical plot positions, without agency. Whatever class issues, or race issues, or gender and sexuality issues Sex and the City might have swept under the rug (or addressed in a problematic way), it still functioned as a loud, oft-obscene call for agency among the marginalized. And it did all of this with some of the funniest dialogue and sex talk we’d ever heard. “My man has funky tasting spunk!” will go down in history as one of the most horrifying, incredible TV moments of all time, and that’s just the tip (ahem) of the legendary SaTC iceberg.—Shannon M. Houston

20. Girls


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

19. Archer


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Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Amber Nash
Original Network: FX
Archer has succeeded as a hilarious parody of both James Bond and Mad Men with the comedic sensibilities of FX’s best. Season Two was full of surprising twists—like Archer’s breast cancer. The mini third season—the “Heart of Archness” trilogy following Archer’s revenge on the man who killed his Russian love—made Archer one of the few story-driven animated series that actually delivers.—Ross Bonaime

18. Justified


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Creator: Graham Yost
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins
Original Network: FX
It was easy to wonder if Margo Martindale’s Emmy-winning turn in Season Two was an unrepeatable stroke of luck, but with newcomers Mykelti Williamson and Neal McDonough delivering dazzling performances in Season Three, award-worthy guest stars appear to be the rule not the exception on this show. Combine that with the best ensemble on television (anchored by Timothy Olyphant, Walter Goggins and Joelle Carter), firecracker writing from show-runner Graham Yost with a dependable stable of wordsmiths, and the feature-film quality direction and cinematography from Francis Kenny, Michael Dinner and others, and what do you get? An instant classic that improbably translates Elmore Leonard’s twisted humor, Western deconstruction and damaged psyches into hour-long gems week after week after week. When people complain that there isn’t anything good on TV anymore, Justified is all you have to say to shut them up.—Jack McKinney

17. Downton Abbey


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Creator: Julian Fellowes
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes, Rob James-Collier, Rose Leslie, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera
Original Network: PBS
Downton Abbey is never short on drama and general strife. The ensemble series is extraordinarily well-acted (as evidenced by Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter and Brendan Coyle all receiving Emmy nominations), and there’s perhaps no easier way to describe the second season’s plot twists than “fucking nuts”—a term we strongly feel the saucy Dowager Countess would approve of. Amnesia? Yup. Temporary paralysis? Got it. Murder conviction? Oh, big-time. In less capable hands, these stories would’ve likely flown off the rails and veered into the completely ridiculous, but the talented cast of Downton Abbey handle it with aplomb, making for some of most compelling television in recent memory.—Bonnie Stiernberg

16. Star Trek: The Next Generation


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Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton
Original 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

15. Flight of the Conchords


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

14. Doctor Who


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Creators: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Stars: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith
Original Networks: BBC
Originally launched in 1963, The Doctor returned to the TV screen in 2005, traveling through time and space in the TARDIS, an antiquated and surprisingly spacious blue police box. The special effects may have gotten marginally better, but the camp has stayed the same. With Russell T. Davies at the helm and David Tennant playing the 10th doctor, the show was never better. But with Steven Moffat taking over as showrunner, the next Doctor, Matt Smith, continued the unflappable enthusiasm of the 10 who came before. There’s a new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, to continue the tradition, but you can catch up on Netflix before the show returns to BBC America.—Josh Jackson

13. The X-Files


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Creator: Chris Carter
Stars: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, Mitch Pileggi
Original 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. While those early seasons were tied up in episodic monster-of-the-week mysteries, it grew into something special when it was given the space to tell a grander arc—a lesson all network executives have been slow to learn. Its greatness waned in the later years, but the show did more than investigate the implausible; it accomplished it by taking aliens and conspiracy theories to the mainstream.—Josh Jackson

12. Bored To Death


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

11. Firefly


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Creator: Joss Whedon
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Original 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 don’t conform to authoritarian rule are forced to eke out their livings among outlying planets where the long arm of the law can’t follow. The characters might explore space, but the show simply explores humanity. Watch the way-too-short lived series in full before finishing with Serenity.—Josh Jackson

10. Transparent


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

9. The Twilight Zone


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Creator: Rod Sterling
Original Network: CBS
From the bitter social critique of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” in Season One with its eery comparison to Cold War America to the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” about a salesman who discovers there’s something on the wing of his plane, it’s worth noting how well The Twilight Zone has aged. If you’re just going to watch one episode, we recommend “The Eye of the Beholder” from Season 2, which combines everything that makes this a cherished television series. The audience is dropped in media res as Janet Tyler lies hospitalized with gauze wrapped around her head. The camera movement and light is inventive and screens the audience from truly discerning what’s going on. The slow unwrapping of the gauze is possibly the most tense moment in the entire series, and the surprise that follows has left an indelible mark on television and audiences alike.—Darren Orf

8. Veep


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

7. Louie


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Creator: Louis C.K.
Stars: Louis C.K.
Original Network: FX
When life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade. But as comedian-turned-divorced dad Louis C.K. has proven on a week-to-week basis, you don’t have to be happy about it. Louie offers a painfully real but hilarious look at Louis C.K.’s fictional, jaded version of himself and explores the humor in divorce, aging and parenthood. The show has only gotten more ambitious with each season, abandoning much of its former structure by Season Four and moving closer towards continuity and multi-episode arcs. The stories often felt like short films rather than episodes of TV show. But through all the changes, Louie retained the surrealism and dark humor that has consistently made it one of the best shows on TV.—Tyler Kane

6. Deadwood


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

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm


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

4. Six Feet Under


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

3. Arrested Development


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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
Original Network: Fox
Mitch Hurwitz’ 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

2. The Sopranos


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

1. The Wire


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

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