America’s Top 20 TV Shows of All Time
Posted by EMILIA ROGERS
Our editors listed the America’s Top 20 TV Shows of All Time for you.
1) Golden Girls (1985 - 1992)
In light of Hollywood's proclivity for pretending that older actresses don't exist, the fact that NBC commissioned a sitcom centered on a quartet of older ladies sharing the same house is, in retrospect, quite remarkable. The Golden Girls soon rose to prominence in the ratings, assisting NBC in overcoming a rating downturn and allowing viewers to fall in love with Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia. Despite its comedic veneer, The Golden Girls was never afraid to address serious subjects such as marriage equality, elder care, and AIDS prejudice.
2) Oz (1997 - 2003)
There was Oz before The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and The Wire. Oz was HBO's first effort into a one-hour television drama, and it acted as a showcase for what could be done on a premium cable network at the time. The show gained a legion of fans thanks to its depiction of the convoluted and dangerous world of Oswald State Penitentiary, which initially drew attention due to its explicit descriptions of sex and brutality.
3) Rick and Morty (2013 - )
Rick and Morty have certainly taken on a life of their own for a show that began as a basic Back to the Future parody. Rick and Morty is a high-concept, strange science fiction adventure as well as a grounded character study of an alcoholic inventor and his socially awkward grandson/sidekick. It manages to be both hilariously amusing and unexpectedly moving, which is a difficult combination to strike. Adult Swim is still the place to go for top-notch animated comedy, as seen by this show.
4) Hannibal (2013 - 2015)
When it came to escaping the shadow of Silence of the Lambs and its countless sequels and prequels, Hannibal was always up against it. While the series never quite reached the same level of popularity as its film counterparts, it remains the definitive portrayal of the sophisticated serial killer for many Hannibal Lecter aficionados. Hannibal delivered a gloomy, gruesome, and wonderfully produced look at the twisted and tangled relationship between Doctor Lecter and FBI investigator Will Graham for three seasons. It demonstrated that a broadcast network like NBC can produce the same kind of sophisticated, highbrow narrative that AMC and HBO are known for.
5) House of Cards (2013 - 2018)
When it comes to political drama, fiction can no longer compete with reality. Despite this, House of Cards continues to lead the pack. This American version of the BBC mini-series is packed with suspense and unexpected narrative twists, and it's backed up by a great ensemble that includes Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. House of Cards established that streaming services can compete with traditional TV networks in terms of viewership and critical acclaim as the first Netflix series to win an Emmy award.
6) Sex and the City (1998 - 2004)
Sex and the City became a cultural phenomenon as a show featuring four single New York women talking frankly about sex, confiding in each other, and celebrating friendship. It was based on Candace Bushnell's best-selling book, and it holds the distinction of being the first cable show to win an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Men would come and go in their lives, but Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda were always there for each other on a program that didn't highlight "getting a man" as a woman's ultimate objective. Funny, honest, and empowering, Sex and the City was fashionable but not to the point where it wasn’t relatable.
7) Law and Order (1990 - 2010)
NBC's Law & Order was a no-nonsense "here's your case, here's your trial" series that mixed police procedural with a courtroom drama and aired for two decades. Unlike other police ensemble series, the personal lives of the detectives and attorneys would be secondary to the show's focus on our legal system and its myriad moving components rather than on people. Law & Order would tackle ripped-from-the-headlines cases that paralleled real-life events in the news, spawning multiple spinoffs, one of which, Special Victims Unit, is still on the air, as well as all of Dick Wolf's "shared universe" Chicago series.
8) The Muppet Show (1976 - 1981)
The Muppet Show was a whimsical musical hall-style variety show created by puppeteer Jim Henson and starring his beloved Muppets. It featured skits, musical numbers, and celebrity guests, as well as a continuous look behind-the-scenes as producer Kermit the Frog attempted to keep everything from falling apart — including his mental state. The Muppet Show produced a timeless, family-friendly ambiance that appealed to all ages, whether it was covering an old song or sending puppet pigs into space.
9) Doctor Who (2005 - )
Doctor Who, a massive science fiction series that premiered in the early 1960s and features the exploits of the Doctor – a renegade galactic custodian with mastery of time-travel technology — has become a huge part of British pop culture. The classic Doctor Who series featured seven different Doctors (thanks to the character's pattern of regeneration), giving the show a built-in premise of a rotating leading man — a trait that helped freshen up the proceedings as each new Doctor brought with him his tone, style, and peculiarities — and ran for over 25 years before being resurrected in 2005. Doctor Who became a cult hit in the United States, but it left a lasting influence in the United Kingdom.
10) Better Call Saul (2015 - 2022)
Existing in the shadow of a series as renowned as Breaking Bad seems like a suicide mission, which makes Better Call Saul's creation of an incredible identity all the more astounding. It was a dangerous decision to abandon Walt and Jessie in favor of a secondary character like Saul, but author Vince Gilligan and actor Bob Odenkirk have developed an original plot that works as both a prequel and a sequel. The character of Saul is given tremendous depth by fleshing out his terrible history, which also adds to the already incredible Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul is certainly one of the best shows on television right now, although it is just in its second season.
11) Community (2009 - 2015)
What began as a very standard sitcom concept — a group of strangers from various walks of life meeting and becoming friends — evolved into a meta love letter to the films and series that inspired it, as well as its creator, Dan Harmon. Greendale Community College was transformed into everything from an action movie-inspired paintball battleground to the setting for a conventional stop motion Christmas narrative, all while taking an unexpectedly in-depth look at how friendships and relationships evolve and change as we get older. Community survived numerous cancellations by a hair's breadth, becoming as tenacious as the study group at the center of its comic, tragic story.
12) The X-Files (1993 - 2018)
Despite a hit-or-miss ratio that isn't always in favor of the show, no one can argue that The X-Files is anything short of a classic. The sardonic Mulder and the cynical Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, have as much distinct character and chemistry as any pair of leads in practically any story, especially within the science fiction genre and television medium. Despite having 208 episodes, The X-Files is one of those series where you can pick and choose which episodes you want to watch. It's a terrific day to watch one of the most important and interesting genre shows of all time on any given day.
13) Friends (1994 - 2004)
Remember the one with the blackout? Or the one with Ross's wedding? Or the one in Vegas? (That final one, ironically, also depicts Ross's wedding.) You're bound to end up on one of those if you turn on the television at any point during the day. The Central Perk gang of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross earned their place in comedy history and television at large for ten seasons and well over 200 episodes.
14) Sesame Street (1969 - )
Some anticipate that history will be judged by two eras of time: what happened before Big Bird and what happened after Big Bird. Seriously, it's difficult to envision a time when Sesame Street wasn't a household name. The amount of ingenuity and passion poured into the decades-spanning series resulted in pop culture icons who transcended the program itself: Elmo, Snuffaluffagus, and Oscar, to mention a few. They're not just puppets on a television program. They're nearly blood relatives.
15) South Park (1997 - )
The sharp cartoon satire of Trey Parker and Matt Stone deserves no explanation for its status as one of the best shows of all time. The reasons to tip your ski-cap to South Park are endless, whether you're looking for brilliant low-brow humor, timely and biting political commentary or simply want to watch an animated series pick a fight with any and every subject, no matter how controversial), or simply want to watch an animated series pick a fight.
16) Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)
Game of Thrones has brilliantly changed the television fantasy genre. Whereas Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess had previously been the peak of fantasy depiction on television, HBO's Game of Thrones combined the grandeur of The Lord of the Rings with a heavy splash of The Sopranos' politics, resulting in a major hit for the network. Game of Thrones has raised the bar for genre television quality.
17) Seinfeld (1989 - 1998)
Seinfeld certainly had people talking for a "show about nothing." Seinfeld managed to not only showcase themes previously thought taboo on mainstream television in front of millions of people but also changed what modern comedy could tackle in its nine seasons on the air. Seinfeld defied every comedy stereotype by focusing on the weird exploits of four imperfect people and the cast of characters in their lives, and it became a cultural phenomenon as a result. Jerry Seinfeld became a household figure because of his unusual phrasing and outrageous plots, which inspired a whole new generation of comedies.
18) The Simpsons (1989 - )
After The Simpsons, sitcoms were never the same. The Simpsons, in addition to putting Fox on the map as a network, introduced sharp writing and smart social commentary into primetime, proving that animated series could be enjoyed by adults as well. The Simpsons are the longest-running American sitcom in history, having aired for almost 20 years. Homer and Bart Simpson are two of the most well-known pop culture personalities of the last two decades, and it's difficult to think of a modern comedy that hasn't been affected by The Simpsons in some manner.
19) Lost (2004 - 2010)
Lost forever revolutionized network television, and it did so in a wonderful way that kept us all guessing. More than a decade after Lost terrified the public with smoke monsters and mystery hatches, mythology-driven, sci-fi-tinged ensemble-cast TV is still king. But there was more to Lost than that. It was often breathtakingly beautiful, with amazing island landscapes that showcased its then-unprecedented budget. And, especially in the early seasons, the writers were able to convey a remarkable variety of high-quality, self-contained short stories of love, grief, and longing because the show concentrated on character-driven side storylines.
20) Mad Men (2007 - 2015)
Thanks to its brilliant, introspective scripts and fascinating array of characters, Matthew Weiner's subtle, engrossing look at a 1960s advertising executive put AMC on the map as a key force in the written TV industry. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) was a fascinating protagonist – a self-made guy in every sense of the phrase since his entire identity was a deception that let him prove just how effective he was at selling people on the proper image. Weiner used the supporting characters, to highlight what a turbulent time the 1960s were, as well as the impediments that were continuously thrown in the way of those seeking to rise above the level of society they were reared in. Mad Men was calm and introspective at times, but it was also very clever and capable of startling and delighting you at the perfect time.