Yes, we know that “all time” doesn’t have quite the same meaning for AMC that it does for HBO, Showtime, or even The CW. But from Mad Men and Breaking Bad—two of the most acclaimed dramas of the century—to The Walking Dead—one of the most popular and influential—AMC’s scripted originals have tended to punch above the network’s weight. Zombies, sword fights, and spies; kingpins, ad men, and tech whizzes: The best of AMC features something for everyone.
Here are the 20 best TV series on AMC—and where to stream them:
20. Hell on Wheels
Like Rectify, Hell on Wheels’ availability on Netflix gave it a fighting chance at wider, belated recognition. Not that it’s at Rectify’s level, or even in its time period. But this Western—which dramatized the lives of real and fictional players during the construction of competing, cross-country railroads after the Civil War—was never less than a richly sourced imagining of our nation’s great expansion West, with a few can’t-miss psychopaths and tortured heroes for good measure. Its final season never relented until the final spike was driven into the last slat of Union Pacific track, detouring only to resolve long-standing conflicts and foreshadow the challenges America was then readying to stare down. Anson Mount, as Civil War vet-turned-vengeful gunslinger-turned unlikely tycoon Cullen Bohannon, carried the final episodes through their bloody, heat-stroked twists and turns. And there may never be as resilient and nightmarish a mortal villain as Christopher Heyerdahl’s Thor Gundersen. Just don’t call him The Swede. —Kenny Herzog
19. The Walking Dead
I remember excitedly watching the Frank Darabont-directed premiere of The Walking Dead on Halloween in 2010, thinking, “This is so cool, but it’ll never be popular.” An hour-long zombie drama? No one’s going to watch that but me! I couldn’t have been more wrong: Flying in the face of expectations, The Walking Dead became cable’s highest-rated series, even, on occasion, besting Sunday Night Football. Stop for a moment and consider the implications: We live in a country that has become so geeky, on average, that an hour-long zombie drama can sometimes get more viewership than Sunday Night Football. In terms of quality, the quest of the Grimes Gang to survive was up and down, but the production values were always impeccable. And although the story occasionally got bogged down in places, or been stretched too thin, the show often rebounded with a moment of incredible pathos, even for iconic villains such as David Morrissey’s Governor. Whether you like the latter seasons or not, The Walking Dead’s success is massive for the marketability of horror on the small screen. —Jim Vorel
18. Interview with the Vampire
While some fans (read: me) may have initially felt apprehensive about the thought of AMC adapting Anne Rice’s classic novel, it seems fair (and important) to say what a relief it is that the network has knocked this one out of the park. Because Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is incredibly good. Better-than-my-wildest-expectations good. The kind of good that makes me downright giddy that my initial assumptions about what kind of show this would be were so wildly off. This series is the absolute best kind of adaptation, one that hangs on to the original’s truest elements even as it uses its source material to say something new about this story, these characters, and even the world we live in now. True, there are significant changes from the novel. From reimagining Louis de Pont du Lac as a Black, gay brothel owner in early 20th century New Orleans to fully embracing the queer subtext that’s always been simmering under the surface of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, this is a thoroughly modern adaptation that nevertheless leans into what’s kept us coming back to this series for decades: its thorny moral center and the compelling, if toxic love story between Louis and his maker Lestat de Lioncourt. The blazing chemistry between stars Jacob Anderson and Sam Reid would be reason enough to watch on its own, but this dark world is more than worth the repeated weekly visit. —Lacy Baugher-Milas
17. Into the Badlands
From production design and costuming to choreography and stunts, Into the Badlands brings its audience a mythology-rich tribute to classic Hong Kong action cinema and wuxia films that is the closest thing we’ve ever seen on TV to a serialized version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
I’m not here to make a case for the plot or storyline of Into the Badlands. It paints in broad, pulpy strokes, with faction-vs.-faction scheming and power plays that draw clear inspiration from the dueling houses in Game of Thrones. It lifts the tropes of classic Shaolin Temple films, full of students studying secret techniques and harnessing ancient, mystical forces to avenge slain family members. It gives us a cast of characters whose loyalties and rationalizations are in a constant, soap-operatic flux. Its morals are on the simple side. But its visuals? Its costumes? And, my God, its action sequences? I’m not sure there’s ever been a show with better fight scenes on TV. Into the Badlands delivers crackling, hyperkinetic, bloody sequences of flying fists, acrobatics, and swordplay: It’s a gift from the heavens. —Jim Vorel
16. TURN: Washington’s Spies
A rare American period drama, Turn: Washington’s Spies is roughly based on the true story of the Culper Ring, the Revolutionary War-era men who were essentially America’s first spies. It follows the story of Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), a farmer in Setauket, New York, and his group of friends who ultimately help turn the tide of the war. Woodhull is a reluctant patriot who is alternately heroic and deeply unlikeable (the extramarital affair that kicks everything off doesn’t help), but there’s still something appealing about his extended internal struggle to determine where his loyalties ultimately lie. The Mentalist’s Owain Yeoman is a special highlight as turncoat Benedict Arnold, and the series’ depiction of the old-school methods of spycraft—hanging petticoats in windows, that kind of thing—are both interesting and smart. —Lacy Baugher
15. Dispatches from Elsewhere
Jason Segel’s charming series is ostensibly a puzzle box: four strangers band together to try to put together clues relating to two warring secret institutes. And yet, Dispatches from Elsewhere wraps all of that up into an optimistic and charming exploration of selfhood. Like a kind of Amélie-by-way-of-Philadelphia, its central characters (played by Segel, Andre Benjamin, Sally Field, and Eve Lindley) wander the city through warm, candy-colored hidden rooms divining cryptic patterns and uncovering unexpected vistas they never knew existed—both within the visual landscape and inside their very souls. It has quite a bit in common with the late, great Lodge 49, as our heroes step outside their comfort zones to try and unpack what it all means (and what “it” even is) in sweet, earnest ways. The season finale for what is now being deemed an anthology also took huge, meta risks that gave this delightfully unique series a very personal sendoff. —Allison Keene
14. Kevin Can F—k Himself
The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane once wrote, “the most volatile compound known to man is that of decorum and despair.” This proves ever-true in Kevin Can F—k Himself, AMC’s strange, emotionally resonating hybrid series. In it, we follow the travails of Allison (Annie Murphy), a long-suffering wife whose husband’s world is a low-brow sitcom. When Kevin (Eric Petersen) is on screen, their lives are illuminated by stage lights and augmented by a laugh track—almost always at Allison’s expense. The fictional audience guffaws over Kevin’s infantile interests and behaviors, as Allison tries to find anything positive about the marriage she has felt trapped in for 10 years. Humiliated, ignored, and gaslighted throughout, Allison tries to keep up a good face while inwardly falling apart. Then as soon as Kevin leaves the room, the studio goes with him; Allison is left alone in the quiet of a drab house, feeling the full weight of her crippling frustration as the laughter fades away.
But desperate times lead to desperate measures, and after a particularly stinging bit of news, Allison hatches a plan to take back her life—by taking her husband’s. Kevin Can F—k Himself (which hits its sitcom beats almost too well) is ambitious and experimental, and it’s far more than satire. —Allison Keene
13. The Little Drummer Girl
In The Little Drummer Girl, Florence Pugh plays Charlie, a young actress whose predilection for storytelling and deception makes her the perfect candidate for espionage work. Director Park Chan-wook, the mastermind behind The Handmaiden, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, is an equally perfect candidate for putting it together: The South Korean filmmaker makes his TV debut by engaging his powerful grip on the viewer’s sympathetic eye across different perspectives, layers, and schemes, both narrative and visual. What kicks off with a bombing, investigated by spy leader Kurtz (Michael Shannon, whose gruff brilliance finds an amplifying admirer in Park), soon becomes a viney erotic thriller between Charlie and an Israeli spy named Becker (Alexander Skarsgård), who is Kurtz’s weapon of choice for pulling the new recruit into their anti-terrorist work. —Jacob Oller
This AMC series is reminiscent of both Ex Machina and Westworld with a story framed around the invention of “synths,” anthropomorphic robots, and the impact they have on the human world. Humans tackles some heavy themes, including memory, personhood, human (and non-human) rights, and the fear of things we may not understand. Some of it is well-mined sci-fi territory, but Humans puts a fresh spin on the themes you might remember from old Twilight Zone re-runs. It also features an impeccable cast, led by Gemma Chan, William Hurt, and a few others, who turn in some of the most human (and sometimes spooky) performances you’ll see anywhere on TV. The show is actually a remake of a Swedish series, and is one of the few remakes that manage to meet (and sometimes exceed) the quality of the original. —Trent Moore
11. Dark Winds
Set within the Navajo Nation, Dark Winds is the story of a bank heist and a double murder viewed through the eyes of Lt. Joe Leaphorn, played by the excellent Zahn McClarnon. He and his junior officer Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon) set about solving both cases while the FBI lingers and their own people look on with suspicion. The supernatural elements are subtle enough to contribute rather than subtract; they fit the atmosphere and never become so egregious or important that it delegitimizes the actual crime story. In fact, it’s necessary to depict a culture that was almost erased; there is still power here. As the mystery deepens, Leaphorn is the prism through which we see the lingering effects of the conquest that is still resonant for the people who ended up on the wrong side of it; just because a murder takes place in 1971 doesn’t mean it cannot trace its dark lineage back through the painful decades. —Shane Ryan
10. This Is Going to Hurt
This Is Going to Hurt deals with the miserable professional lives of junior doctors with grim realism, empty of any disguise, and carries an emotional hammer that can devastate the viewer at any moment—sometimes mid-laugh. Ben Whishaw stars as Adam Kay, a junior doctor on a nearly decrepit NHS ward. He’s tetchy, he’s snobby, and he’s repressed even by British standards. But he’s also sincere and funny, and he’s more than up to the task of shouldering the heaviest dramatic burden in a show that revolves around him. The thick of the action takes place inside the hospital, where an alternating array of tragic and comic situations mark off the long days and nights as Kay tries to ensure the health of his nation’s pregnant women and babies. Bitingly comic, searingly sad, and fully educational—how can you beat that combination? —Shane Ryan
The phrase “ahead of its time” could have been coined specifically for Rubicon. A taut espionage thriller drowning in paranoia, the one-season show debuted in 2010 right as network siblings Breaking Bad and Mad Men were taking off with mainstream audiences. In that regard, the timing couldn’t have been better for Rubicon. But TV viewers weren’t quite ready for the show, which stars James Badge Dale as Will Travers, an analyst for a private intelligence agency, whose investigation into the death of his mentor leads to the well-paced and carefully plotted unspooling of a chilling conspiracy involving the shady movements of America’s wealthy elite. It’s a storyline that plays differently today than it did during Obama’s first term in office, which might make Rubicon even more compelling now. But even though the show supplemented the central conspiracy with an exploration of workplace dynamics in the intelligence community, it still wasn’t able to capture a large enough audience to earn a second season. It’s possible it never stood a chance once The Walking Dead came charging out of the gate just a few months later, devouring everything in its path. But it’s hard not to wonder what might have been had the show come along just a few years later, once viewers became more accustomed to the type of storytelling Rubicon favored. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But at least we can finally revisit that gripping single season after years of the show being curiously absent from streaming. —Kaitlin Thomas
8. The Terror
Serial television addicts have become more than accustomed to “morally gray, mostly white men making poor decisions when the chips are down” plotlines since The Sopranos kicked off the antihero craze 20 years ago. The first season of the horror anthology series The Terror, which tells the tale of the slow and grisly end that comes to the crews of two British ships—Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Captain Francis Crozier’s Terror—on a failed mission to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1846, trafficks in this trope, but with a twist. The poor decisions here, in a terrifying frozen wasteland with no food sources and sudden and mysterious deaths lurking around every ice block, seem to be the only natural course—even as the supernatural comes to bear in those decisions, and as more and more of the crew and its officers go mad from the extremes about them that want them dead. Nearly every performance here is a standout, including those from Mad Men alumnus Jared Harris, as Crozier, and Game of Thrones veterans Tobias Menzies, as Captain James Fitzjames, and Ciarán Hinds, as Franklin. The Terror is a series that rewards patience while remaining knuckle-whitening the whole way through.
Infamy is the evocative, chilling second season of AMC’s anthology series where showrunner Alexander Woo and his team have crafted a hell of a ghost story (or, more accurately, a kaidan), continuing the first season’s knack for mixing together mythology, ambiguity, genre, and striking imagery to chill the bones. If you want a good scare, you’re in great shape. The bad news—and it’s only bad news if you don’t have it in you to confront the horrors of the real world—is that no ghost could be more unsettling than the historical and depressingly everyday nightmares that The Terror has in store. In this case, the historical event being explored is an American (and sadly timely) one: the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during the Second World War.
If the body horror or creeping dead don’t turn your stomach sour, the reminder of the ugliness of the past (and the present) surely will. But if you’re ready and willing to experience it, the rewards are considerable. It’s captivating, provoking and complex, as eager to earn your stunned silence as it is to send you pushing back from the television in revulsion. Most importantly, it never sacrifices story and especially character in pursuit of those reactions. The Terror might use terror (and its cousin, dread) to unlock doors in your stomach and psyche, but it’s not a parlor trick. There are horrors of worlds beyond ours, and horrors of our own making. By confronting its characters with both, Woo and AMC make the latter much, much harder to ignore. —John Maher and Allison Shoemaker
7. The Killing
Joel Kinnaman. That’s the reason you need to watch The Killing. In world-weary, recovering addict Detective Stephen Holder, Kinnaman created one of television’s most intriguing, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and hilarious characters. It’s worth it to binge the series for his nuanced performance alone. Seriously. The first two seasons focus on Holder and Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) as they investigate the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay) in rainy, murky Seattle. Michelle Forbes brings a palpable anguish to grieving mother Mitch Larsen. Billy Campbell is riveting as sketchy politician Darren Richmond. The series will keep you guessing, with red herring after red herring, and Holder and Linden are unlike any other cop pairing on TV.
The Killing is a show whose parts (fantastic performances) never added up to a perfect whole (at times confusing, circuitous storytelling), but the parts are terrific. The third season, the last to air on AMC before the series aired its fourth and final season on Netflix, features a brilliant performance by Peter Sarsgaard as death row inmate Ray Seward; keep an eye out for Bex Taylor-Klaus as homeless teen Bullet. Her performance was so great that I’m still waiting for her to become the next big breakout star. By now you’ve probably heard how outraged fans were when the Season 1 finale failed to offer a satisfying conclusion. But behold the beauty of the binge: You can view the first two 13-episode seasons all at once. And voila! There’s nothing to be upset about. —Amy Amatangelo
6. Lodge 49
If Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko’s quietly extraordinary fable recalls the blissed-out Southern California of the 1970s—shag carpet and stained wood; surf shops and lodges; the rakish disrepair of once-booming Long Beach—that’s because its subject is the disappearance of a way of life. Though its plot is set in motion when Dud (Wyatt Russell), a down-and-out beach rat reeling from the death of his father, joins a fraternal order in search of new purpose, Lodge 49 expands its warm, gentle embrace from there until its simple pleasures become almost mystical: An out-of-work newspaper reporter begins having visions; the laid-off employees of an aerospace manufacturer come together for a midnight project; a plumbing salesman chases his holy grail; Dud’s sister, Liz (the wickedly funny Sonya Cassidy), abandons ship (literally) when a dalliance with corporate culture becomes too much to handle. Far from uncomplicatedly nostalgic, Lodge 49 is, rather, a humane, tenderhearted examination of the communities that emerge where others have withered, and perhaps the finest treatment of the Great Recession and its aftermath yet to appear on TV. —Matt Brennan
5. The Night Manager
John le Carré stories are usually morose or opaque, as spies are seen either trapped in dark and cold worlds or dealing with the monotony that makes up most of their days. (Witness Gary Oldman’s slow, emotionless swim to fill the days of his “retirement” in the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.) But not The Night Manager. In this series, we have bona fide movie star Tom Hiddleston looking dashing in linen suits—or sometimes nothing at all—as he goes undercover in the world of yachts and fresh lobster salads to take down Hugh Laurie’s Dickie Roper, the worst man in the world—the type of person who learns of a sarin gas attack and thinks “business opportunity.”
But all the glitz and double-crossing isn’t all that sells this production. Attention must also be given to the supporting cast. Tom Hollander’s Lance “Corky” Corkoran could have been your typical nefarious character who’s onto our hero, but instead he’s an addict in desperate need of Roper’s attention, which is all the more delicious. The fact that Olivia Colman was very pregnant while filming made British intelligence agent Angela Burr’s obsession with taking down Roper much more real and dangerous. Most impressive, though, might be breakout star Elizabeth Debicki, who played the beautiful, if dead-eyed, Jed Marshall, who knows she made a deal with the devil and doesn’t quite know how to get out of that web. —Whitney Friedlander
4. Halt and Catch Fire
By the time Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers’ group portrait of the dawn of the digital age concluded its final act, cable’s most underappreciated drama of recent vintage emerged as one of its most poignant, a treatment of connections broken and (re-) made over the course of a distant decade. Halt and Catch Fire was always, as Joe (Lee Pace) proclaims in the pilot, about “the thing that gets us to the thing,” but it’s the series’ final season, set amid the scramble to build the Internet’s dominant search engine, that draws the point most elegantly. Through videogames, coding assignments, nascent ideas tied to the web’s wide reach, Halt and Catch Fire suggests, Joe and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Kerry Bishé) and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) complete the circuits of affection at the heart of all human endeavor, and so discover life’s “one constant”: “It’s you. It’s us,” as Donna says in the series’ sublime finale. “The project gets us to the people.” And so it did. —Matt Brennan
3. Better Call Saul
In AMC’s crafty Better Call Saul, the relationship between Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman suggests an impossible problem: Two trains approaching each other on parallel tracks, where x represents speed, y represents distance, and the one constant is the knowledge that they’ll eventually meet, at the place where Better becomes Bad. Of course, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Breaking Bad prequel, starring the brilliant Bob Odenkirk as the con man-cum-elder law specialist and future drug trade consigliere, is never so frustrating as those SAT questions, which demanded mathematical acumen and epistemological patience I do not possess. This is, I see now, the core appeal of Better Call Saul, the desire that informs its underappreciated art: In the intertwining lives of Jimmy; his late brother, Chuck (Michael McKean); his girlfriend and fellow attorney, Kim Wexler (the indispensable Rhea Seehorn); former cop Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks); and supervillain-on-the-make Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), it’s the perfect example of a TV series in which it’s not what happens that matters, but how it happens, turning our attention to the stations along the journey from point A to point B. A tragicomic masterpiece, Better Call Saul is constantly bringing its most important variables, time and tone, into conversation, collaboration, and tension. —Matt Brennan
2. Mad Men
Look, you don’t need us to tell you that Mad Men is one of the greatest TV dramas of all time; you have the entire Internet for that, and frankly, that’s time you could be spending watching more Mad Men. But with his tale of 1960s (and eventually, early 1970s) ad men and women and the American Dream, Matthew Weiner did something truly extraordinary: He proved that there’s drama in everyday life. Unlike pretty much every other TV drama, this one doesn’t deal with cops, doctors, or lawyers; there are no Mafia dons or drug lords going down in a hail of bullets. It’s just a bunch of people working together in an office, trying to push forward and navigate one of the most compelling decades in American history. Sure, it’s glamorous and brilliantly written, and the fact that Elisabeth Moss never won an Emmy for it is criminal, but ultimately, it’s oddly relatable, and that’s what great TV is supposed to do—show us to ourselves. —Bonnie Stiernberg
1. Breaking Bad
Some argue that The Wire is TV’s best drama of all time; others stand up for Mad Men or The Sopranos, the latter of which has the benefit of being so important historically that it begins many textbooks’ modern TV eras. But Breaking Bad made its bones quickly, publicly, and with plenty of pizzazz. It entered the TV landscape with just a few episodes of tonally questionable wobbling—the balance-finding of an ambitious acrobat searching for the tightrope’s center—and stuck the landing on the remaining five seasons. Who cares if the first season’s DVD case called it a dramedy? America knew what it was immediately, even if we didn’t know exactly where it was going. How has the tragic ballad of science teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) weathered its title over the years? If the current TV landscape is anything to judge by, it’s a proud grandfather, looking over its progeny with the same glee and gentle judgment of any overachieving patriarch. Breaking Bad may not have set the paradigm of unlikable anti-heroism in pop drama, but it certainly put the “pop” in the designation. —Jacob Oller
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