Yes, we know that “all time” doesn’t have quite the same meaning for AMC that it does for HBO, Showtime, or The CW and its predecessors. 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, swordfights, and spies; kingpins, ad men, and tech whizzes: The best of AMC features something for everyone.
Here are the 15 best TV series on AMC:
For Fear the Walking Dead, the challenge has always been to set a distinct course from its predecessor, The Walking Dead—itself in the midst of a long creative and ratings decline. Fear, which begins on the eve of the zombie apocalypse, turns the initial panic into an early strength, as high school guidance counselor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her two teenaged children, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), try to establish a modicum of security and stability in their new world; the series’ other distinguishing feature is its landscape, whether the action occurs at sea, as in Season Two, or in remote corners of the American southwest, where much of Season Three is set. Still, as Fear has fought lackluster reviews and an element of Dead fatigue—after a record-setting debut in 2015, viewership has returned to Earth—its boldest gambit may be to engage with a subject The Walking Dead has scrupulously avoided: the zeitgeist. The action now straddles the U.S.-Mexico border and features military, paramilitary and civilian groups vying for scant resources. Sound familiar? —Matt Brennan
Come with me, children, and I’ll tell you about the time before Mad Men. A time when AMC stood for American Movie Classics. This half-hour dramedy, about a Pittsburgh radio station during World War II, was the network’s first original series (sorry, Don Draper!). It hearkened back to a time when radio stations had actors who performed weekly program and radio was king. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to see this delightful gem, which ran from 1996 to 1998. There’s no DVD box set and it’s not streaming on any of the many, many platforms. It will live on, though, in our memories. —Amy Amatangelo
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 has been up and down, but the production values have always been impeccable. And although the story has occasionally bogged down in places, or been stretched too thin, the show has 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 has already been massive for the marketability of horror on the small screen. —Jim Vorel
From production design to 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
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
Garth Ennis’ Eisner Award-winning late-1990s comic,Preacher, wasn’t an obvious candidate for a TV adaptation. The story of a preacher in rural Texas, granted supernatural powers when he’s possessed by the spawn of an angel and a demon, follows his literal search for God and features characters like a hard-drinking Irish vampire, a bounty-hunting Saint of Killers, and a teenage suicide-attempt survivor named Arseface. But we live in an era of Batshit Crazy TV, and producers Sam Caitlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen wholly embrace the wildest elements of the comics to great effect. Piling bodies of unkillable angels, Voodoo magic, furry suits, a trip to Hell, a plot thread involving Hitler—nothing is too outlandish or insane for the show. None of this would work without tight writing and a top-notch cast, though. Preacher’s is led by the trio of Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga and Joseph Gilgun, playing three flawed protagonists who are often their own worst enemies as they try to atone for and survive past mistakes. It all makes for gripping television, unlike anything we’ve seen before. —Josh Jackson
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 miniseries, 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 Coleman was very pregnant while shooting made British intelligence agent Angela Burr’s obsession with taking down Roper much more real and dangerous. Most impressive 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
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, traffics 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 on 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. —John Maher
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 teenage 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 story telling), 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 One 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 viola! There’s nothing to be upset about. —Amy Amatangelo
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
AMC’s admixture of political and aesthetic challenges to the status quo culminates in Dietland, whose leading promotional image is of its heroine, Plum Kettle (the extraordinary Joy Nash), lobbing a cupcake with a lit fuse as if it were a Molotov cocktail. Created by Marti Noxon (Sharp Objects, UnREAL) from Sarai Walker’s novel, it most certainly flies on and off the rails, but no one could accuse it of pulling punches; in the course of its one and only season, Plum, the fat advice-column ghostwriter for a glossy magazine’s skinny bitch chief content officer, Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Marguiles), becomes involved in both a battered women’s collective run by the heiress to a fat camp fortune (Robin Weigert) and a vigilante group that kidnaps rapists and drops them from planes. From its opening montage—purging, crimping, weighing, straightening, cutting, suffering, avenging—Dietland embraces the “intense nausea” that Plum, preparing for gastric bypass surgery, mentions in the pilot episode, in the literal and philosophical senses of the term—except that she ultimately channels the meaninglessness and absurdity Sartre describes into hallucinatory radicalism.
In the face of its fundamental flaws, then (including, funnily enough, the grievously miscast Margulies), Dietland taps into the same flights of fancy as The Good Fight, then releases the emotions it generates from the strictures of law and social norms. The result, at least when it hews closest to Plum’s specific, richly imagined subjectivity, depicts uncomfortable situations and engages unanswerable questions (including a skin-crawling chubby chaser subplot that I watched, rapt, through my fingers, knowing all along how it would end) with such reckless abandon that Dietland emerges, as a vigilante explains to Plum, as “propaganda of the deed,” a combustible, revolutionary fantasy for our present crisis. —Matt Brennan
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
By the time Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers’ group portrait of the dawn of the digital age concludes its final act, cable’s most underappreciated drama of recent vintage emerges 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 episode, 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
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
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