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The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time

A ranking of the most game-changing, side-splitting, tear-jerking, mind-blowing, world-building, genre-busting programs in television history, from the medium’s inception in the early 20th century through the ever-metastasizing era of Peak TV

Better Call Saul

Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk in 'Better Call Saul.'

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Tel

HOW DO YOU identify the very best series in a medium that’s been commercially available since the end of World War II? Especially when that medium has experienced more radical change in the nine years between the finales of Breaking Bad and its prequel, Better Call Saul, than it did in the 60-odd years separating Walter White from Milton Berle? The current Peak TV era is delivering us 500-plus scripted shows per year, many of them breaking boundaries in terms of how stories are told and who’s doing the telling. So, we decided to update our list of television’s all-time best offerings, originally compiled in 2016. Once again, we reached out to TV stars, creators, and critics — from multihyphenates like Natasha Lyonne, Ben Stiller, and Pamela Adlon to actors like Jon Hamm and Lizzy Caplan as well as the minds behind shows like The X-Files, Party Down, and Jane the Virgin — to sort through television’s vast and complicated history. (See the full list of voters here.) Giving no restrictions on era or genre, we ended up with an eclectic list where the wholesome children’s television institution Sesame Street finished one spot ahead of foulmouthed Western Deadwood, while Eisenhower-era juggernaut I Love Lucy wound up sandwiched in between two shows, Lost and Arrested Development, that debuted during George W. Bush’s first term. Many favorites returned, and the top show retained its crown. But voters couldn’t resist many standouts of the past few years, including a tragicomedy with a guinea-pig-themed café, an unpredictable comedy set in the world of hip-hop, and a racially charged adaptation of an unadaptable comic book. It’s a hell of a list.



Medicine has long been part of the holy trinity of TV professions, along with police work (whether in modern day or the Wild West) and the law. Yet of all the great doctor shows the medium has seen —St. Elsewhere, House, Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy, to name just a few —the only one to make our list was this mid-Nineties juggernaut. Created by Michael Crichton and produced by John Wells, ER combined the structure of a hospital drama with the pace and adrenaline of an action movie. It expertly conveyed the chaos, the triumphs, the tragedy and even the comedy of life in an emergency room. It made a superstar out of George Clooney as rule-breaking pediatrician Doug Ross, and also had a pretty special cast around him that included Julianna Margulies, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, and many more over the course of 15 seasons. We need to intubate! STAT!


‘The Office’ (U.K.)

Near the conclusion of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s mockumentary masterpiece, Tim (Martin Freeman) philosophizes, “The people you work with are just people you were thrown together with. Y’know, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you’ve got in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.” Viewers would ultimately spend a bit less than eight hours total with Tim, his crush Dawn (Lucy Davis), the repulsive Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), and, most notably, their horrible boss David Brent (Gervais). Yet the writing, the world-building, and the performances made it feel like we had been trapped on the same bit of carpet with them for years. One of the defining shows of 21st-century comedy, without which several others on this list would not exist — and not just the American remake. And if David’s self-aggrandizing antics could at times be painful to watch, Gervais and Merchant’s unflinching commitment to depicting the agonies of workplace drudgery paid off beautifully in the series-concluding Christmas special. 



On this bleak, haunting comedy, SNL alum Bill Hader plays a hitman who stumbles into an acting class and discovers that he would rather kill on stage than do it with bullets. The premise could have easily devolved into a one-joke show about the blurry line between the two ruthless professions. Instead, Barry took its title character’s desire for a career change —and the implications of an emotionally stunted man having to explore his feelings, as part of the acting method taught by the self-aggrandizing Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) —very seriously. As a result, Barry can be both the funniest show on television (especially when Anthony Carrigan is around as cheerful Chechen mobster NoHo Hank) and the most tragic, often within a few beats of one another.


‘The X-Files’

In the dank basement office to which the FBI has banished him for filing one too many reports about aliens and monsters, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has a poster with a picture of a flying saucer and the slogan “I Want to Believe.” For a long time, Chris Carter’s exciting sci-fi procedural tried to play things down the middle, so that Mulder’s skeptical partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) could seem entirely reasonable in dismissing his conspiracy theories. But X-Files fans understandably wanted to believe in a lot of things: flukemen, shapeshifters, and, most of all, in the idea that Duchovny and Anderson’s insane chemistry would eventually lead Mulder and Scully into a romance. The show popularized the idea of a series having a “mythology” and an ongoing serialized story that you had to watch from the beginning to understand. But the majority of the episodes followed the “Monster of the Week” format, and it’s those that have held up best all these years later, especially after so many later shows did such a bad job of trying to create their own X-Files-style mythology.