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The Greatest TV Shows of All Time (Kinda): The Top 10

Despite not sticking the landing during its final season, Game of Thrones was fantastic television for a very long time. Indeed as soon as they ran out of books, it all went down hill. But that was after about 5 fantastic seasons.

I'm more forgiving of Game of Thrones, than I am of Lost. Because it was very clear to me after just 2 seasons, that there was no clear plan to answer any questions.

The most important part of writing a mystery, is knowing the answer. You can't think up an answer to a mystery you've created later, without showing that you have no idea where you're going with it.
 

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amethal

Adventurer
Skippy - move over Lassie, the roo's got it from here. Iconic.
Home and Away - nothing better than pretty blond people on the beach having drama.
Neighbours - if nothing else it gave the world Kylie Minogue's singing career.
Hollowmen - the Aussie West Wing.
Utopia - the Victorian Hollowmen.
Frontline - the greatest current affairs show of all time.
Farscape - although the the guy with the weird accent was annoying.
Are You Being Served (the Australian version) - yes, this really happened. Starred John Inman too.
Countdown - no, British readers, not that one.
Bluey - a family of blue heelers. For the kids. (And the adults.)
No Prisoner Cell Block H? (Apparently just called Prisoner in Australia.)
 


Campbell

Legend
For American TV:

  1. Mr . Robot
  2. Legion
  3. Twin Peaks
  4. Sons of Anarchy
  5. Deadwood
  6. Homicide - Life on The Streets
  7. The Wire
  8. All in the Family
  9. In The Heat of the Night
  10. Justified
Honorable Mentions
  • The Orville
  • Hannibal
  • Breaking Bad
  • Community
  • Penny Dreadful
  • Being Human
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
My list with Snarfs criteria (plus one of my own.)
Is complete.
American.
Drama.
Series, at least 2 seasons.
Judged wholly, but bonus for good ending.
No bonus for innovation.
No hipster sneaks.
Thoughtful and good
Seen it.
Not episodic, but serial (Sorry yesterdays episodic dramas are simply outclassed)

The Leftovers Lindelof finally unshackled by ABC network television is allowed to stretch his creative skills. There have have been dozens of supernatural/super science phenomena premise shows in the last 20+ years, but finally somebody gets it right. As an audience we are just as clueless as everyone else and just get to sit back and watch the world melt. No shark jumping explanations or super powered humans, just a heartbreaking story that wraps up in three neat seasons. Another bonus for Lindelof knowing when a story has run its course.

The Sopranos The series that changed it all. Thanks goodness Fox passed on it; amiright? Not the first premo cable series but for sure the first household named series. A whole new look for the ganster flick, the suburbs of New Jersey. Taking the kids to college tours by day, choking out rats by night. Gets a little long in the tooth around 5th season, but I loved the finale, yes even the Journey.

The Wire A great serial with an anthology feel. Not much else to say, great writing, good acting, Tom Waits... I fear its tongue and cheek final season is going to make it slip in lists going forward.

Breaking Bad The Malcom in the middle dad??? This is what Disney is trying to do with their anti-hero princess movies. Show us a good guy gone bad. Funny, clever, and heart touching. Ends at the 5th season before the showrunners could really break it bad.

Ray Donovan Many have tried to make the fixer series, and many have failed. Ray Donovan is the triumphant success story. The writing, the cast, its wicked good. As much as I loathe Jon Voight, he is nothing short of amazing as the family patriarch Mickey Donovan. Its worth watching just for him alone. Fell into the trap that Breaking Bad didn't, went on way too long.

Black Sails Starts out fishy, but ends like a whale. What a concept, take Treasure Island and make an adult prequel out of it. The exposition is amazing and they pull fantastic performances out of little known actors. I so do wish someday they make a Treasure Island movie with the cast (those living).

The Borgias (showtime) History buffs will cry (its not very accurate) but what a palace intrigue story. I mean what better palace than the Vatican? Cut short in three season, I think it could have wrapped perfectly with a fourth. Jeremy Irons is like a fine wine. What more can I say?

Penny Dreadful This series just oozes atmosphere. A whole new spin on monster of the week. Chilling exposition from Eva Green and Rory Kinnear (criminally underrated). Cut short by a season, but what great ride while it lasted.

Nip Tuck Folks may have forgotten this gem, but it really opened up what a cable network series could offer. Also, not another cop show; what a concept! Great character development and twist you don't see coming.

Game of Thrones This series was executed so well, at least for a time. Its really too bad Martin's writing ran out, because when it did, so did the gas in D&Ds tank. Never have I seen someone go deuces wild in the punch bowl like this. Even Disney wants nothing to do with them.

Honorable mentions.
Counterpart; Bringing the cold war spy thriller into the 21st century.

Rectify; Something new in a sea of the same.

A Brave New World; A superb take on social constructs and sexuality. Cut short but not surprising with its 100 mill price tag

Brief Comments:
Haven't seen Ray Donovan, Black Sails, Nip Tuck, Counterpart, or A Brave New World.

The Borgias was quite good. Love Jeremy Irons! And yes, tragically cut short. Hmm... makes me think about the Young Pope / New Pope.

Penny Dreadful was also excellent, and also cut short.

There is just so much great TV out there. It's almost like a joke at this point; there is, quite literally, too much to watch. If you want to have a life.

Heck, one of the best shows I have ever seen is The Patriot (Amazon Prime). It's just all sorts of brilliant. It's in my personal top 20, and maybe top 10. But I never talk about it because everyone thinks I'm discussing one of the Mel Gibson movies. It just slipped through the cracks.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
For American TV:

  1. Mr . Robot
  2. Legion
  3. Twin Peaks
  4. Sons of Anarchy
  5. Deadwood
  6. Homicide - Life on The Streets
  7. The Wire
  8. All in the Family
  9. In The Heat of the Night
  10. Justified
Honorable Mentions
  • The Orville
  • Hannibal
  • Breaking Bad
  • Community
  • Penny Dreadful
  • Being Human

Brief comments-

Mr. Robot and Legion are two of my favorite shows ever, but not necessarily top 10 (they were both honorable mention).

Homicide - Life on the Streets. So good. So very good. Not to mention the whole Richard Belzer TV Universe!

...but Sons of Anarchy? It had a severe Dexter problem (IMO). I absolutely loved the first few seasons, but it started to get ... bad. I watched the whole thing, and it never went "Full Lumberjack," but sometime around the Irish season it just lost a sense of direction.
 

payn

Hero
Brief Comments:
Haven't seen Ray Donovan, Black Sails, Nip Tuck, Counterpart, or A Brave New World.
I'd order viewing them like this;
Black Sails
Ray Donovan
Nip Tuck
Counterpart (I love this one but might fit better in a category with X-Files or Fringe)
A Brave New World
Mr. Mercedes (Sneaking another one in here this is Stephen King as it should have been done)

Ray Donovan, Mr Mercedes, and Brave New World are on Peacock which is free with commercial interruptions. If you have a cable sub still its free with 1-2 commercials per episode.

Special note: If The Sopranos is the series that took television to new heights and defined the premium cable series, then Nip Tuck is the network cable series that did the same. Nip Tuck opened the door for Breaking Bad/Saul, Sons of Anarchy/Mayans, Walking Dead, Fargo Series, etc.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Special note: If The Sopranos is the series that took television to new heights and defined the premium cable series, then Nip Tuck is the network cable series that did the same. Nip Tuck opened the door for Breaking Bad/Saul, Sons of Anarchy/Mayans, Walking Dead, Fargo Series, etc.

Just to add to my general thoughts on the matter (which I may develop fully at some other date), it is saying something when I am currently in the middle of "binging" both The Crown and Billions, and both of them are excellent shows with "name" actors doing amazing jobs, and they don't even scratch my honorable mentions.

There is, quite literally, so much great TV out there right now that ... I'd have to think about this ... but I would think that we'd have more great shows from 2010 on than we'd had in the entire history of TV prior to that. I don't mean "important to TV" shows; I mean incredibly directed, acted, and written shows- the level of talent that is in that industry right now is insane, and the talent and budget that used to go solely to making movies is now firmly in the TV camp.
 




Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Also it got showed once on a full moon. Totally against the rules.

Yeah, classifying things into weirdo categories like “drama” or “comedy” is so edgy and abnormal!

I totally earned my hipster exclusionary cred with that.


Getting rid of the Canadians is just a bonus, eh?
 

Bardic Dave

Adventurer
Yeah, classifying things into weirdo categories like “drama” or “comedy” is so edgy and abnormal!

I totally earned my hipster exclusionary cred with that.


Getting rid of the Canadians is just a bonus, eh?
It’s true, Canadian culture is a global scourge! Maple syrup, frigid cold and saying sorry? As a Canadian, I feel compelled to apologize.

In all seriousness, you’d probably have been better off restricting this to English language TV. You’d have gotten much less pushback.

Excluding British TV feels particularly problematic, given how much incredible British television there is. Not including it makes the discussion much less interesting.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It’s true, Canadian culture is a global scourge! Maple syrup, frigid cold and saying sorry? As a Canadian, I feel compelled to apologize.

In all seriousness, you’d probably have been better off restricting this to English language TV. You’g have gotten much less pushback.

Excluding British shows feels particularly problematic, given how much incredible British television there is. Not including it makes the discussion much less interesting.

i mean, this is why I bother writing explanations … that no one reads.

“2. It must be American. Or American-y (productions that are shot abroad that are mainly for American audiences and in English count as well). There is so very much good television from so many parts of the word, that the inclusion of some shows would lead to endless chaos. Call this the Borgen/BBC Rule, with the “Look kids, it’s Vancouver” exception.”

This shouldn’t be problematic because there is TOO MUCH good tv from around the world. I am not so pretentious that I think I could creditably list the WORLD’S best tv - even assuming I knew all the best tv from all the countries.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
i mean, this is why I bother writing explanations … that no one reads.

“2. It must be American. Or American-y (productions that are shot abroad that are mainly for American audiences and in English count as well). There is so very much good television from so many parts of the word, that the inclusion of some shows would lead to endless chaos. Call this the Borgen/BBC Rule, with the “Look kids, it’s Vancouver” exception.”

This shouldn’t be problematic because there is TOO MUCH good tv from around the world. I am not so pretentious that I think I could creditably list the WORLD’S best tv - even assuming I knew all the best tv from all the countries.
You definitely need that hug!

But do you really not get why “only American or made for Americans” in a thread about the greatest TV shows of all time rubs non-Americans the wrong way? I mean, as an American I assume you don’t run up against this brick wall of a mindset multiple times a day, so maybe you genuinely don’t get it? I dunno.

Don’t fret it though. I’m not claiming it’s a real hardship or anything. The pushback you’re getting is genuinely mild and good-natured. ‘Fraid you’ll just have to weather it! It’s all just a bit of fun.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
But do you really not get why “only American or made for Americans” in a thread about the greatest TV shows of all time rubs non-Americans the wrong way? I mean, as an American I assume you don’t run up against this brick wall of a mindset multiple times a day, so maybe you genuinely don’t get it? I dunno.

...and do you not get why I wrote that? I mean, sure, as an American and an English-speaking person, I could write a top 10 list without any criteria that would have been heavily slanted toward American shows (and to a lesser extent, British shows). But that would have been, IMO, much more obnoxious than explicitly excluding them. A lack of self-knowledge is what leads people to say that they are listing the best of something, and then only putting in their own culture's examples. "I'm an American, and English is my first language. so let's just assume that all those shows with the pesky subtitles... or that haven't even been subtitled ... don't exist."

But to be explicit- I think it is usually much worse for someone to implicitly claim that they are evaluating all the world's TV when they have limited experience with the best programs from other countries.

And yes- the whole point of that explanation (explicitly referencing British programs with the BBC and foreign language programs with Borgen) was to avoid this kind of unthinking pushback. Again, why bother?
 

But to be explicit- I think it is usually much worse for someone to implicitly claim that they are evaluating all the world's TV when they have limited experience with the best programs from other countries.

I'm confused - is someone evaluating the lists people are putting here? I thought individuals were putting up lists their own favourite shows.
 

Bardic Dave

Adventurer
i mean, this is why I bother writing explanations … that no one reads.

Or, maybe people read your explanation and still didn’t like it? Just because you tried to anticipate a particular reaction and forestall it doesn’t mean people didn’t read your post if they nonetheless have that reaction.

And yes- the whole point of that explanation (explicitly referencing British programs with the BBC and foreign language programs with Borgen) was to avoid this kind of unthinking pushback. Again, why bother?
It’s not unthinking just cause you don’t like it!
 

Marc Radle

Adventurer
So, here is the list. This Hall of Fame/Top 10 list is the product of maths, and therefore cannot be argued with, although you are welcome to make a case for other shows in the comments. Also? This is not an ordinal list; the rankings are not in order.

1. The Leftovers. Perhaps the best finale ever, and the best show no one watched. Very few shows are as ambitious, well-written, and well-acted as this show. Simply put, a tour de force.

2. Rectify. Rectify looked at the Leftovers’ terrible ratings, and said “Hold my beer.” Their tagline should have been, “Just as depressing as that other great show you don’t watch, but with less magical realism!”

3. The Americans. The show that consistently delighted in denying viewers the show that they wanted, and instead giving them the show they deserved. In addition, the show contained some of the best musical moments of any TV show, ever. From the beginning, with the use of Tusk immediately dropping you into this world, to the end (the obvious, yet perfect, use of With or Without You), to everything in between (Yellow Brick Road, We Do What We're Told), few series have paired music as perfectly with the visuals as the Americans.

4. The Sopranos. The all-time classic, and the show that started the good TV revolution. And the ending was perfect- fight me.

5. The Wire. The great American television show. Some might say the greatEST American TV show. The Sopranos might have started the quality TV revolution, but the Wire is the show that proved that television could be the new Great American Novel.

6. Halt and Catch Fire. A first season that was uneven quickly re-focused its attention in season 2, and told one of the most moving stories of our time.

7. Mad Men. Mad Men is to television what Chekhov is to plays.

8. Breaking Bad. Perhaps the most exciting show on this list; it is one of the few shows that not only maintained a propulsive sense of forward momentum, but the velocity continued to increase with each season and episode until by the end, you could feel yourself hurtling past the point of no return.

9. Buffy/Angel. Cheating and putting this in as a twofer. The shows still hold up, and codified many of the concepts (from "Big Bad" to the season-long arcs) that became such a feature in TV.

10. The Shield. The most vulnerable show on this list, and it isn’t aging as well. That said, I wanted to have one procedural, the last few episodes remain perfection, and the acting remains top-notch. It's probably the most overlooked "great TV" show.

Honorable Mentions:
Banshee: perfect genre TV.
Mr. Robot: the closest to Kubrick we have gotten on the small screen.
The Deuce: Shockingly good, but not as good as the Wire.
Hannibal: Stylish. Makes me hungrier than anything on the Cooking Channel.
Justified: Timothy Olyphant, barely missing out.
Deadwood: And barely missing out again.
Legion: Maybe my favorite show in terms of watching it, but the style sometimes wrote checks that the substance could not cash.
Oz: Shocking, and shockingly good at the time, but has not aged as well as some of the others.
Game of Thrones: Tough omission; a better last season (or last two seasons) would easily have put it in the top 10.
X-Files. Too dated.

And there it is. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect, IMO, is that there is a strong prevalence of anti-heroes on the list. Arguably, starting with The Sopranos (which kicked off our current craze), the Wire, Breaking Bad, the Americans, and the Shield are explicitly about anti-heroes. Mad Men, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, and the Leftovers are, at best, ambiguous. Of course, the Twilight Zone Corollary keeps me from going too far back and comparing shows (how important was Hill Street Blues?) which is why there is a strong bias to more modern shows- then again, in fairness, the vast majority of TV was really bad for a very long time.

So ... thoughts? Novelties? Party tricks? What show did I absolutely whiff on? And which of the top 10 shows is you cannoli?

Interestingly, with the exception of Game of Thrones, I haven’t seen any of these ...
 

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