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Photograph: Time Out

The 100 best TV shows of all time you have to watch

Crime thrillers, sitcoms, sci-fis and period epics: the finest scripted TV ever made, as selected by Time Out critics

Phil de Semlyen
Matthew Singer
Edited by
Phil de Semlyen
&
Matthew Singer
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It only took about 70 years, but television is finally getting some respect. In the decades leading up to this point, TV was largely considered among the lowest forms of entertainment. It was smeared as ‘the idiot box’, ‘the boob tube’. Edward R Murrow referred to it as ‘the opiate of the masses’, and Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about the malaise of fruitless channel surfing. Was its poor reputation deserved? Certainly, the ratio of garbage to gold was high, and though it’s hard to quantify if it was worse than any other artistic medium, the fact that it was all being beamed directly into your living room made the dreck much harder to avoid. 

That’s all changed. Television is now the dominant medium in basically all of entertainment, to the degree that the only thing separating movies and TV is the screen you’re watching on. The shift in perception is widely credited to the arrival of The Sopranos, which completely reinvented the notion of what a TV show could do, and the advent of streaming has made it so that hundreds of new shows are now continually flipping the script every few years, if not months. 

But that doesn’t mean everything before 1999 is pure dross. Far from it: television has been popular since World War II, after all. And while this list is dominated by 21st century programs, there are hundreds of shows that deserve credit for pushing TV forward into its current golden age. Chiselling them down to a neat hundred is tough, so we elected to leave off talk shows, documentaries (worthy, of course, of a whole other top 100 list), variety shows and sketch comedy, focusing on scripted, episodic dramas, comedies and miniseries. Even then, it proved to be an exhausting task.

So don’t touch that dial – these are the greatest TV shows of all-time.

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100 best TV shows

Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Photograph: Ursula Coyote/AMC

1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

‘You know the business, and I know the chemistry.’ And so begins the unholiest of on-screen partnerships and, for our bag of non-sequential bills, the greatest TV show in the history of the medium. Terminally ill chemistry teacher Walter White (the revelatory Bryan Cranston) and druggy deadbeat Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, its tragic soul) are creator Vince Gilligan’s cooly calculating yin and sketchy, insecure yang as they slowly build a meth empire. Their arc heads only one way, but backdropped by a parched New Mexico desert that slowly fills up with shallow graves, it’s an extraordinary ride, balancing light and darkness with enough dexterity and dark humour (the bath tub! The fly!) to provide respite from the moral decay. But while Breaking Bad is, of course, a morality tale – a Faust riff – its political edge is sharp enough to cut yourself on. Walter has done everything he was supposed to do: working two jobs, paying his bills and sharing his chemistry knowledge with generations of bored teens, but a cancer diagnosis still leaving him needing to pick between the ruin of family or that of his soul. That is, of course, until he picks both. In short? Class A television.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Twin Peaks (1990–1991)
Photograph: Lynch Frost Productions

2. Twin Peaks (1990–1991)

As Jaws was to the blockbuster, so Twin Peaks is to TV drama: it changed everything. For 50-odd years, a handful of actors and creatives might transcend their small-screen origins and enter the Hollywood pantheon, but only those whose star had faded would suffer the return journey. But David Lynch didn’t care for tradition – and in the process of bolting his worldview to the clichés of weekly detective shows, teen romance and small-town soap opera, he and collaborator Mark Frost elevated the medium. Gorgeously shot, perfectly cast and sporting the greatest TV soundtrack of all time, the result was a huge popular success: check out the contemporary Peaks-themed magazine covers, spin-off novels and even coffee ads. The second season fell victim to studio interference – and the aggressively alienating, fabulously inventive 2017 reboot can be a challenging watch – but at its best, Twin Peaks is simply one of the great works of modern art.

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The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Photograph: HBO

3. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

It’s tough being a TV writer in the wake of David Chase’s The Sopranos. Put simply, the Bayeux Tapestry of televisual entertainment provided the last word in antiheroes. The late James Gandolfini walked through darkness as Tony Soprano, a violent wiseguy with a soft spot for ducks and a patriarchal family man with a belief in therapy. Our moral compasses were found spinning in perpetuity thanks to the vast psychological terrain covered – and that’s before we talk Edie Falco’s complex, complicit Carmela, Michael Imperioli’s touchpaper sensitive Cousin Christopher, Drea De Matteo as the tragic, lacquered Adriana and, of course, Lorraine Bracco as Dr Melfi, the most ethically elastic therapist in the biz. Even after six seasons, the opening theme was an adrenaline shot, and the divisive finale set a standard for when to just... cut.

The Wire (2002–2008)
Photograph: HBO

4. The Wire (2002–2008)

McNulty, Bunk, Lester, Kima, Prez, Herc…when season 5 wrapped, the messy but dedicated surveillance cops (plus sidekick Bubbles) in David Simon’s crime opus proved harder to say goodbye to than one of those dingy Baltimore dive bars. Aside from the shaky final season, which cleaves closest to the showrunner’s own experiences at The Baltimore Sun, it’s hard to pick between its runs, such was the consistent quality of the writing of Simon, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and co pulled off (the docks-set season 2 has its naysayers, but we’re not among them). The casting is on point throughout its vast ensemble, with a young Michael B Jordan and a Londoner called Idris Elba grabbing the attention, and the late Michael K Williams cool AF as one-man crime wave Omar Little, a queer icon in a genre hardly known for them. Watch it as a violent odyssey along America’s social fault lines or a show about technology where crappy burners still trump hi-tech gadgets. Or just enjoy Isiah Whitlock Jr saying ‘Sheeeeeeeit!’ a lot, like these guys.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Photograph: BBC

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)

With apologies to Star Wars fans, Alec Guinness’s finest hour comes as John le Carré’s world-weary spook, George Smiley, in a magisterial espionage drama that spawned a barely-less-brilliant sequel in Smiley’s People (1982). The plot couldn’t be simpler – there’s a mole inside British intelligence and the out-to-pasture Smiley must root him out and thwart Soviet spymaster Karla (a rarely seen but still mesmerising Patrick Stewart). But every scene is alive with hidden meaning, with even its jargon – ‘scalphunters’, ‘chicken feed’, ‘treasure’ etc – and world-building, parlayed from le Carré’s own time at MI6, ushering you through the looking glass and into a decaying post-imperial Britain. Smiley speaks rarely, trusts almost no one and is tormented by the indiscretions of his rarely-seen wife Ann, and Guinness expresses multitudes through the merest eyebrow raise or exasperated sigh. The scheme to trap the mole, meanwhile, is proof that slow burn TV can electrify just as much as its brasher, 24-style counterpart.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Photograph: The WB

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

In every generation there is a chosen teen idol to captivate audiences. For six years and seven seasons, starting in the late ’90s, the chosen one was Buffy Summers – and boy, did Sarah Michelle Gellar slay as Sunnydale High’s resident demon-battler. The small-screen continuation of Joss Whedon's 1992 horror-comedy film of the same name, the bloodsucking bonanza balances nerdy comedy with weighty themes like grief and consent, while never skimping on the action as Buffy and her Scooby Gang tackle an array of big bads. But what makes Buffy so enticing is a kitschy cross-genre formula that expertly spans sci-fi, body horror, supernatural frights and psychological thrills. There’s even a magnificent musical episode. And Buffy never lost sight of its heart and soul either. Battling the horrors of high school, the Hellmouth and beyond, it staked patronising stereotypes and took teen girls damn seriously.

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Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Photograph: HBO

7. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

When it arrived in 2011, David Benioff and DB Weiss’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s adult fantasy novels felt less like a sexed-up Lord of the Rings than a medieval Dallas – only with Starks and Lannisters rather than Ewings and Barneses. But by its ninth episode (which shockingly killed off its apparent main character), it was clear it was so much more: an astute, witty and subversive drama that, drawing from history rather than fantasy, was less a good-vs-evil battle than a horde of flawed but engaging characters creating a fiery mess of conflicting, usually selfish agendas, while their world teetered on the verge of catastrophe. As the show evolved and the budgets grew in step with its dragons, the action reached epic proportions, and it hit the kind of viewing figures and cultural proliferation you’d never have expected from such ‘nerdy’ fare. The show still gets a bad rap for its final two seasons, but while the writing lost some of its bite, it remained more spectacular, exciting and complex than most genre cinema.

The Office (UK) (2001-03)
Photograph: DR

8. The Office (UK) (2001-03)

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s faux doc may just be the most influential TV show of this millennium. It only gave us 12 episodes (plus two Christmas specials) with David Brent (Gervais), Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman), Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook), Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis) and the staff of paper merchants Wernham Hogg, but it delivered a lifetime of painfully recognisable laughs. Few shows have skewered white-collar working life so astutely – the performance appraisals, the staff training days, the quiz nights, the romance across the printers – or captured the way people actually talk so intuitively. For all its rep for cringe comedy, it also has a real feel for people. Often mischaracterised as a horrible boss, Brent is so much more than a silly dance, a tragicomic figure who just wants to be loved and admired by his team. The result is one of the greatest TV characters in one of the greatest TV shows. Oh, and fuck the Swindon lot.

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Mad Men (2007–2015)
Photograph: Lionsgate

9. Mad Men (2007–2015)

This ad agency drama is a slow burn, yes, but one that’ll keep you coming back for as many drags as its chain smoking adulterers. It also erupts into soap opera-calibre reveals and occasional oddball action (lawnmower, meet foot). Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner’s ’60s-set world is smoldering with visual nostalgia – though its unflinching looks at the in-flux era’s vices and social failures sure aren’t. However, aesthetics alone can’t fuel seven standout seasons: The characters here are astoundingly written and portrayed, particularly secretary Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), the persistently punchable Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and, of course, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an iconically clever and talented fraud as vile as he is enviable.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Time Out Los Angeles
Succession (2018–2023)
Photograph: HBO

10. Succession (2018–2023)

On paper, it sounds like a snooze: a disgustingly rich family navigates bickering siblings and boardroom votes to crown a corporate heir. But creator Jesse Armstrong’s stressful plot twists and densely-packed insults keep allegiances on a swivel, both for the audience and between members of the Roy family. And that just might be this sublime tragicomedy’s greatest gift: Its characters are largely unrelatable and unlikeable, yet absolutely irresistible. Good luck picking a standout between Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, and – ‘You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs’ – Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun. Oh yeah, it’s very quotable, too.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Time Out Los Angeles
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The West Wing (1999-2006)
Photograph: Warner Bros.

11. The West Wing (1999-2006)

Aaron Sorkin’s soaringly optimistic view of American politics delved just enough into the nitty-gritty to convince us that a better world was possible, thereby offering a welcome corrective to the Bush era and beyond. But it was an indelible cast of characters who make the endless walk-and-talks and Beltway jargon sing, from Martin Sheen’s prickly, professorial President Bartlet to Allison Janney’s charismatic press secretary CJ Cregg. The sexual politics can sometimes be iffy and it hasn’t all aged perfectly, but the speed and smarts of this wonk-y wonder remain unbeatable. Let Bartlet be Bartlet.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (1993–1999)
Photograph: Paramount

12. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (1993–1999)

Way ahead of its time, this exhilarating space opera rewrote Gene Roddenberry’s rulebook, exposing rot at the heart of the Federation with thorny arcs that hurled Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) – a survivor of Next Generation’s Borg battle – and his remarkable crew into pitched battle with the shape-shifting Changelings. Blurring the lines between freedom fighter and terrorist, religious fanatic and visionary, it provided no easy answers. It’s an intergalactic crime that the best Trek series by far isn’t better loved.

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Stephen A Russell
Contributor
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Dekalog (1989)
Photograph: Telewizja Polska

13. Dekalog (1989)

A ten-part series so formally faultless that its book of published screenplays has a foreword by Stanley Kubrick, Three Colours director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s early work for television utilises the template of the Ten Commandments to explore ideas of morality and human fallibility. Set almost entirely on a single, brutalist housing estate in 1980s Warsaw, these extraordinary films – two of which would be expanded to feature length and released into cinemas worldwide – may seem daunting, but there’s wit, intelligence and depthless empathy in their fable-like vignettes.

Seinfeld (1989-1998)
Photograph: Castle Rock Entertainment

14. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

A show about all the things other shows weren’t – the absurdities of everyday life; the microaggressions that, pre-Twitter, most would consider too insignificant to complain about aloud – Seinfeld reconfigured what a network sitcom could be, and the kind of people it could be about. Were Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer bad people, though? Sure, they may have represented our most selfish, neurotic, borderline sociopathic impulses, but that’s what made them so singularly funny, and oddly relatable. Really, now: how could anyone not like them?

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Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
Photograph: HBO

15. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

Maybe because The Sopranos and The Wire stole its thunder at the time, this HBO drama – featuring probably the greatest finale in TV – has never quite got its due (despite those nine Emmys). Set at an LA funeral home owned by the repressed Fisher family, Six Feet Under’s meditation on mortality will make you laugh as often as it has you pondering the meaning of it all. The brilliant cast, featuring Frances Conroy, Richard Jenkins and Rachel Griffiths, is led by Michael C Hall as the uptight David, a man whose romance with LAPD officer Keith (Mathew St Patrick) may restore your faith in love.

The Simpsons (1989-)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

16. The Simpsons (1989-)

There’s a narrative that’s developed around The Simpsons: nine seasons of gold; 24-plus-seasons (and a movie) of relative dross. Yeah, sure. But jiminy jillikers, is there anything better than those first nine seasons? Its quotes alone are like a second language for anyone who came of age in the ‘90s – not just ‘d’oh!’ and ‘Don’t have a cow, man’, but ‘I call the big one Bitey’, ‘It’s an Albany expression’, and ‘The goggles do nothing!’ Should it have gone out on top? Probably. But when you gift the world a decade of something so perfect, do you really owe it anything else?

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Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)
Photograph: Alamy

17. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

Based on Alfred Döblin’s meaty novel, German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 14-part series is 894 minutes of glorious Teutonic misery. It centres on ex-con Franz Biberkopf (a terrific Günter Lamprecht) as he navigates Weimar Germany. If you want to take its temperature, check out the episode titles: ‘A Hammer Blow to the Head Can Injure the Soul’; ‘A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence’; and ‘Loneliness Tears Cracks Of Madness Even In Walls’. All the angst is worth it for its cynical yet empathetic portrait of a man trying to retain his humanity amid dark days.

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Photograph: MGM

18. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

The original twist-in-the-tale series wasn’t just inspired science fiction and horror. Thanks to creator/host/narrator Rod Serling, who wrote or co-wrote more than 90 of its 156 episodes, it was television with a progressive social conscience, encompassing themes about race, immigration and anti-war sentiment. The show has inspired such storytellers as Stephen King, Jordan Peele and M Night Shyamalan, and boasts early appearances from the likes of Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and William Shatner. Forget the film and TV reboots – the best of the original run still pack a punch.

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The Muppet Show (1976–1981)
Photograph: ATV

19. The Muppet Show (1976–1981)

It’s half a century since The Muppet Show premiered and the characters’ popularity shows no signs of waning. Jim Henson’s finest creation is a deceptively complex thing – a mix of sketch show, backstage sitcom and Hollywood satire – which appears simple because its cast are all made of felt. You never see them on screen, but this is the work of some of history’s best comic performers, making you believe a frog and a pig could have one of the great screen romances. Everything from Rick and Morty to The Simpsons owes it a debt.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-)
Photograph: HBO

20. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-)

Presenting a (you'd hope) fictional version of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s life, this addictive satire basks in David's habit of entirely dispensing with the niceties. Whether tossing his garbage into an angry stranger’s bin, sheepishly firing his therapist after clocking him in a thong at the beach, or just getting riled up by a woman holding up the lunch line, he barks out the kind of awkward truths most of us would find far too uncomfortable to utter. It makes Curb the most oddly liberating watch on TV.

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Band of Brothers (2001)
Photograph: Getty Images/HBO

21. Band of Brothers (2001)

The men of Easy Company, 101st Airborne come to searing life over ten episodes and numerous costly battles in this Hanks-and-Spielberg World War II epic. Like its forebear Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers is visceral in its depiction of combat, and careful not to lose its characters in the fog of war (a problem its successor, The Pacific, struggled with). Damien Lewis is a steady fulcrum as Cpt Dick Winters, while the real Winters and his old comrades appear in pre-episode preludes to share their experiences and make you weep. Michael Kamen’s theme is a hall-of-famer, too.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Friends (1994-2004)
Photograph: Warner Bros.

22. Friends (1994-2004)

If Friends aired today, it probably wouldn’t play. There’s the lack of diversity and fat-shaming putdowns – and that’s before we’ve even tried believing Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Rachel could afford the Manhattan rent. Somehow, though, a show that first aired during the Bill Clinton era continues to hold up. The jokes still sparkle and you’re still invested in the storylines – even the ones involving Marcel. And you only need to spot every new immersive Friends experience that pops up or spot a Gen Z-er clad in Friends merch to realise that this bubbly sitcom endures.

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Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Things to Do Editor
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Arrested Development (2003-2019)
Photograph: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

23. Arrested Development (2003-2019)

Before the Roys there was the Bluths, a family of rich idiots so insulated from reality they think single bananas cost $10 and have no idea what a chicken sounds like. Mitchell Hurwitz’s comedic opus has the tone of a farce and the rhythms of, well, something that hadn’t previously existed – the modern single-camera sitcom was in its infancy, and Hurwitz amps it up with dense wordplay, meta-jokes, split-second gags and absurd visual puns. It was cut short after three seasons, then given an oddly flat Netflix revival, but its initial run is perfect.

Orange is the New Black (2013–2019)
Photograph: Lionsgate

24. Orange is the New Black (2013–2019)

The girls who get it, get it. Life was never the same after this show’s seven brilliant seasons. Initially centering on a well-heeled protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who gets 15 months in Litchfield Prison for money laundering, OITNB quickly broadens out to take in Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Poussey (Samira Wiley), their fellow inmates and their lives prior to prison. Later, it takes a cold, hard look at the criminal justice system, but even in its darkest moments you're rooting for these characters right to the end.

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Ella Doyle
Guides Editor
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The Singing Detective (1986)
Photograph: BBC

25. The Singing Detective (1986)

Dennis Potter’s six-part BBC series is Britain’s best TV dramatist working at the peak of his powers. The late Michael Gambon is Philip E Marlow, a writer bedridden in hospital who escapes his agonising skin condition via a fantasy world of ’40s pulp fiction. Various timelines are expertly interwoven exploring Marlow’s traumatic life, his state of mind often revealed through Potter’s device of having characters burst into corny song. It’s storytelling as free association, powerfully mining Potter’s own life (he suffered from a similar illness) and boasting a monumental Gambon performance.

Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)
Photograph: Universal Media Studios

26. Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)

On paper, the reboot of a dated Star Wars wannabe was nothing to get excited about. But Star Trek veteran Ronald D Moore made Galactica a thrilling chase, a 9/11 metaphor, a survival potboiler, a paranoia thriller and a philosophical treatise on the nature of humanity all at once. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell’s military and political leaders are its moral heart, but Katee Sackhoff’s hard-drinking, heartbroken fighter ace Starbuck steals the show. From the impossibly tense pilot episode, ‘33’, to its admittedly baffling conclusion, it was never less than fascinating.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)
Photograph: MTM Enterprises

27. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)

US sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show broke more ground than a fleet of jackhammers. Built around Mary Richards (Moore) trying to reinvent herself in a new city (Minneapolis), it blazed trails on ’70s TV, depicting a young woman forging a career in TV news without being dependent on a man. And it remains an ensemble comedy par excellence, with a supporting cast that inspired three spin-offs; Rhoda (starring Valerie Harper), Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) and Lou Grant (Ed Asner). What other show can boast that?

Better Call Saul (2015–2022)
Photograph: Sony Pictures

28. Better Call Saul (2015–2022)

It’s said that only contrarians claim that Better Call Saul is better than its big bro Breaking Bad – and even if that’s a bit of a stretch, those attention-seekers can build a pretty good case. Here Vince Gilligan refined everything his Walter White story was brill for: from its slick, intelligent storytelling and exquisite, stylish shots to its snappy dialogue and carefully-constructed characters. Even though we always sorta knew the eventual fate of shyster lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the tale of his spiral from grappling upstart and deluded victor to fallen spectre, is a rollicking and glorious arc.

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Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London
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Brideshead Revisited (1981)
Photograph: Maximum Film / Alamy Stock Photo

29. Brideshead Revisited (1981)

With its elite British thesps, posh piles and woozy summer vibes, Evelyn Waugh’s interwar-set tale of Catholic guilt, sexual repression and the class system translates perfectly to sweeping long-form television. Credit to young director Charles Sturridge, who presided over a gruelling two-and-a-half-year shoot to deliver a telly masterpiece with themes of queerness and class that still resonate. Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews mine a deliciously ambiguous kind of chemistry as sorta-social climber Charles Ryder and louche aristo heir Sebastian Flyte. It even boasts an influential teddy, Aloysius, who sparked an ’80s teddy bear revival.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Underground Railroad (2021)
Photograph: Kyle Kaplan

30. Underground Railroad (2021)

‘If there’s any justice, this rich adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning book will find an audience for years to come.’ We wrote that back in 2021, when Barry Jenkins’ extraordinary slavery epic first landed on Prime Video. It’s fair to say that justice has yet to be served, despite Underground Railroad’s richly deserved Golden Globe win. The story of Cora (Thuso Mbedu), a fugitive from a Georgia plantation, is part brutal historical document, part magical realist odyssey across a morally corrupt realm, all realised with bleak beauty by the Moonlight director. Spread the word.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Frasier (1993-2004)
Photograph: Paramount

31. Frasier (1993-2004)

On paper, the seventh billed character from Cheers getting his own show seemed as appetising as Friends spinning off ‘The Gunther Show’. But sending psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) back to Seattle to start his own radio show, chase women and, best of all, spar with his equally erudite brother Niles (a sublime David Hyde Pierce) was a masterstroke. Elevating sibling one-upmanship into an artform, the show spun sophisticated comedy and knockabout farce on a dime – and, in Eddie, it boasts the greatest dog in sitcom history.

Blackadder (1983-1989)
Photograph: BBC

32. Blackadder (1983-1989)

A rollicking tour of English history via the medium of crooks, cheats and idiots. After a shaky first season Blackadder’s jaunts through the Elizabethan and Georgian eras to the insanity of World War I remain flawless. Rowan Atkinson’s supercilious Blackadder is never as clever as he thinks, but Tony Robinson’s deeply stupid Baldrick and Hugh Laurie’s idiots (George IV, especially) steal scene after scene. Ben Elton and Richard Curtis’s scripts teem with silly jokes and witty references in a schoolboy’s revenge on generations of stodgy history teachers. Its shocking, devastating conclusion has never been bettered.

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The X-Files (1993-2002)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

33. The X-Files (1993-2002)

Starting out as a smart, zeitgeist-grabbing mystery-of-the-week show – with occasional glimpses of a wider alien invasion theme – The X-Files benefitted from two perfect leads in Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, and a willingness to blend conspiracy silliness and self-mocking humour with genuinely dark horror. Problems came in later seasons, as it became increasingly clear that no one – even creator Chris Carter – knew where all this was headed, piling twist upon twist until the mythology became hopelessly labyrinthine. Those early seasons are still magnificent, though.

M*A*S*H (1972-83)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

34. M*A*S*H (1972-83)

It’s the law when mentioning M*A*S*H that you have to talk about its final episode watched by a record-breaking 125 million people. But, let’s be fair, the other 255 episodes are pretty special too. A spin-off from Robert Altman’s hit 1970 movie, Larry Gelbart’s sitcom following a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, splitting our sides while sewing up soldiers, is a treat. Early seasons leaned into Altman’s anti-establishment bite, but the show later relaxed into warmer, character-led fare. It also minted Alan Alda as one of the greats.

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Wolf Hall (2015)
Photograph: BBC

35. Wolf Hall (2015)

Hilary Mantel’s novel is brought to vibrant life in an adaptation filled with immaculate performances, narrative sophistication, gilded palaces and shadowy chambers. Despite its power games and bloody deaths, it’s more than just Game of Thrones with a PhD. Mark Rylance, a stage superstar finally breaking through on screen, brings deep heartache to Tudor England’s wily but principled political fixer Thomas Cromwell as he serves the most capricious of masters in boorish wife-addict King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) and endures agonising loss. He’s not alone: the last moments of Claire Foy’s Anne Boleyn are almost unbearably sad.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
South Park (1997-)
Photograph: MTV Entertainment Studios

36. South Park (1997-)

The Simpsons won over the masses, but discerning viewers might argue that South Park has always been the better show: the jokes are funnier, the songs more memorable, the plots wilder, the satire sharper, and best of all it didn’t make Rupert Murdoch even richer. Starting out as the DIY love-child of two oddball comic geniuses, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show became an unexpected powerhouse, spawning fluffy toys, hit singles and the single funniest movie spinoff of all time. Yes, the humour can be nasty, puerile and flat-out offensive, but that’s kind of the point.

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Top Boy (2011–2023)
Photograph: Netflix/Chris Harris

37. Top Boy (2011–2023)

Top Boy had been cancelled by Channel 4 in the UK when rapper and superfan Drake came along and got it patterned on Netflix. Major props, then, to both the rapper and the streamer, which after all, has not been shy of canning series midflow itself – as Sense8 and The OA fans will testify. London to its core, all five gripping seasons stand right alongside the best US crime shows. Ashley Walters and Kano radiate charisma as Hackney’s Avon and Stringer: Dushane and Sully, frenemies vying to rule east London’s drugs trade.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
The Office (US) (2005-2013)
Photograph: NBC Universal

38. The Office (US) (2005-2013)

The Office was the most-streamed show during the pandemic, and now there’s talk of a reboot. That Americans want to revisit the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin so frequently differentiates the US version from its Brit counterpart. Its satire of beige-collar drudgery is never particularly scathing – it’s really just a genial comedy about quirky workplace buddies and their romantic entanglements. But it’s very good at being that, with a cast that truly understands its characters and, in Jim and Pam, the best Sam-and-Diane courtship since, well, Sam and Diane.

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Cheers (1982-1993)
Photograph: Paramount

39. Cheers (1982-1993)

Friends may have weaponised the will-they-won’t-they romance, but Sam and Diane got there first: the philandering proprietor and prissy barmaid at Boston’s most beloved drinking den kept audiences – and their gang of memorable, mismatched regulars – guessing right to the end. An unstoppable ratings phenomenon – it’s been estimated that around 40 percent of the US population watched the final episode – Cheers thrives in reruns thanks to its boundless charm and warmth. Oh, and goofy young Woody Harrelson is a delight.

Bluey (2018-)
Photograph: Ludo Studios

40. Bluey (2018-)

Bluey isn’t just another ‘kids show’. It may centre on a family of anthropomorphic Australian blue heeler dogs, but it’s uncommonly human, and the lessons it imparts hold value for little’uns and big’uns alike. Not that it makes a big point of it; most episodes only emphasise the importance of imaginative play. But it’s really about the way children and parents interact, with deeper messages about empathy, trust and forgiveness – all conveyed through short, silly, often legitimately funny, sometimes achingly beautiful vignettes. It’s a true gift.

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Fleabag (2016-2019)
Photograph: Two Brothers Pictures

41. Fleabag (2016-2019)

Even Phoebe Waller-Bridge herself probably didn't realise that her naughty, witty 2013 one-woman show, about a daring and slightly damaged twentysomething trying to navigate her chaotic London life, would translate quite so well to TV. A compact, bingeable miniseries combining caustic laughs, drama, sex, and heartbreak, Fleabag boasts immaculately crafted characters and a conveyor belt of zingers (‘I’ve got two important meetings and I look like a pencil!’). The finale’s heart-wrenching 'it'll pass' still lingers.

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Liv Kelly
Contributing Writer
The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
Photograph: Columbia Pictures

42. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)

Having deconstructed the stand-up comedian’s sitcom in the fourth-wall-breaking It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Garry Shandling created a mock talk show hosted by a narcissistic misanthrope (played by Shandling), whose monstrousness was matched only by that of producer Artie (a career-best Rip Torn) and hapless sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor). Celebrity guests – Sharon Stone, Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston and more – playing asshole-y versions of themselves helped make it a tartly postmodern joy.

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The Thick of It (2005–2012)
Photograph: BBC

43. The Thick of It (2005–2012)

You know the drill. A government makes a cock-up and out they come: countless, expletive-packed The Thick of It memes. But this political sitcom shouldn’t just be remembered for its ongoing topicality, the swearing or for inventing the word ‘omnishambles’. Because Armando Iannucci’s satire didn’t just scythe through politics, it skewered the kind of inept careerists that plague all walks of life. Few comedies ever get close being this glintingly sharp and flat-out menacing.

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Ed Cunningham
News Editor, Time Out UK and Time Out London
Heimat (1984-) 
Photograph: Edgar Reitz Film

44. Heimat (1984-) 

In an age where streamers don’t even play out the credits before skipping onto the next episode, Edgar Reitz’s 1920s-1980s German family epic is a throwback to another, more patient era. Hopefully this kind of slow telly is not lost altogether, because Heimat (German for ‘homeland’) charts seismic changes – social, technological, er, Nazi – in enthralling detail and rewards immersion with a glorious history lesson. There’s even been a ‘British Heimat’ – BBC miniseries The Village – but, c’mon, there’s 59 hours and 32 minutes of the real deal to get through.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Better Things (2016–2022)
Photograph: FX

45. Better Things (2016–2022)

With its regular Hollywood cameos (David Duchovny, Sharon Stone, Danny Trejo et al) and inside baseball glimpses of life as a jobbing actress in Tinseltown, co-creator Pamela Adlon’s emotionally truthful and sharp-witted comedy-drama is like Entourage for grown-ups. The heroically brilliant Adlon plays Sam Fox, single Jewish mom to three sassy kids with a next-level collection of contemporary art, a hand grenade of a British mother (Celia Imre) and a whole bundle of relatable anxieties. Should have won multiple Emmys, not least for adding the word ‘shpilkes’ to our vocabulary.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
ER (1994–2009)
Photograph: Warner Bros.

46. ER (1994–2009)

Medical dramas have been a TV staple for decades, but when ER came crashing through the double doors, frantically wheeling a patient to surgery while screaming for 50 micrograms of something or other, it changed the game. It made the genre urgent and sexy, capturing the adrenalised edge of the emergency room and launching many of its cast to fame. From live episodes to Quentin Tarantino guest directing, ER pushed the medical procedural to its heart-racing limit.—Olly Richards 

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Spaced (1999-2001)
Photograph: Paramount Comedy Channel

47. Spaced (1999-2001)

Written by and starring Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg, directed with wild elan by Edgar Wright, this show launched deservedly a comedy generation. Hynes and Pegg play flatmates united by a vague desire to be creative, but mostly to be twentysomething slackers who are really into Star Wars and drinking. Wright’s showstopping movie parodies are a delight for film nerds, but every moment is packed with absurd humour, silly jokes and the potential for great things. It’s the experience of being young and rootless in 12 perfect episodes.

Chernobyl (2019)
Photograph: HBO/Sky

48. Chernobyl (2019)

From the guy who wrote Scary Movie 3 comes one of the most impossibly tense and intensely moving shows of the 2020s. Craig Mazin’s blow-by-blow account of the Chernobyl disaster is horrifying and inspiring, and shows that we came closer than many people realised to a continent-wide disaster, but for the bravery of a few. Jared Harris’s heroic chemist Valery Legasov makes for a compassionate and human centre to the ensemble cast, in a story that’s full of courage and weakness; political manoeuvering and heartbreaking self-sacrifice.

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Sex and the City (1998–2004)
Photograph: HBO

49. Sex and the City (1998–2004)

There’s a lot about Sex and the City that looks dated now, but to judge it through a 2020s lens is to ignore the things it did brilliantly. There has rarely been a show that so frankly and funnily depicts friendship between women in their thirties and forties, and how many comedy shows would have their central character enter into an affair with her toxic ex, ruining his marriage and shattering her engagement, then ask you to still love her? Sex and the City goes to places few other shows would dare, and it still looks great doing it.

I May Destroy You (2020)
Photograph: Natalie Seery

50. I May Destroy You (2020)

Londoner Michaela Coel followed up her delightful sitcom Chewing Gum with an unlikely turn: a form-busting, raw, bristly exploration of the aftermath of sexual assault. A young writer, Arabella (played by Coel) is raped by a stranger on a night out in London. Over 12 perfectly-formed episodes, Coel lays out Arabella’s aftershock and her challenging recovery process, supported by her friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), who struggle with their own experiences of breached consent as well as trying to find a good way to help.

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Edge of Darkness (1985)
Photograph: BBC

51. Edge of Darkness (1985)

You may know him as the hawk-nosed dino hunter who mutters ‘clever girl’ before being torn to bits by velociraptors in Jurassic Park, but before his untimely death at the age of 53, Bob Peck was one of this country’s finest working actors. As the dour Yorkshire detective who launches an investigation into the murder of his own activist daughter, Peck brings heart and depth to this still-startling BBC drama, an apocalyptic story of exploitation, rebellion and the nuclear threat. The final shot is unforgettable.

Lost (2004–2010)
Photograph: Bad Robot / Touchstone

52. Lost (2004–2010)

Okay, so the final season got a little too mystifying, but there was no denying the exhilarating, enigmatic thrill of JJ Abrams’ puzzle-box journey from the plane crash up to that baffling finale. Stacked with out-there sci-fi concepts, it smuggled them to the masses in the guise of a Survivor-like drama that had a Machiavellian villain (Terry O’Quinn’s love-to-loathe-him Locke) and an aching love story between Jack and Kate (Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly). That’s why so many of us found it unmissable.

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Stephen A Russell
Contributor
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Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Photograph: Universal Television

53. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)

One needn’t care a lick about football to fall for Friday Night Lights. Yes, it’s centred around a high-school team in rural Texas where everyone cares way too much about oval balls. But that’s just a jumping off point for a high-EQ exploration of the ties that bind small communities. Arguably, it’s also about the secrets of a successful marriage – there may not be a more endearing one in all of television than that of Coach Eric and Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton). 

Veep (2012-2019)
Photograph: Dundee Productions

54. Veep (2012-2019)

Armando Iannucci could be accused of being too cynical about politics… at least until 2016, when American politics proved he wasn’t cynical enough. The Thick of It creator’s Beltway satire couldn’t quite measure up to the savagery of Trump, but it was the ideal antidote to the hopey-changey illusions of Obama. Iannucci purposefully leaves party affiliations undefined, allowing him to smear everyone in Washington equally. As VP Selina Meyer, Washington’s ultimate baby-kissing opportunist, Julia Louis-Dreyfus solidifies her status as the best comedy actor on TV.

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Stranger Things (2016-)
Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

55. Stranger Things (2016-)

Stranger Things is not just for the sci-fi nerds. The spooky, touching and often hilarious show follows a group of Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed pals as they cope with government conspiracies, demogorgons and assorted family crises. The cast is great, with Millie Bobby Brown utterly captivating as Eleven and Winona Ryder at her wacky best, and it’s set in the ’80s so everyone looks ridiculous too. Netflix at its absolute best, Stranger Things has all the jumpscares and tender moments to keep you hooked.

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Ella Doyle
Guides Editor
Dad’s Army (1968-1977)
Photograph: Alamy

56. Dad’s Army (1968-1977)

With its honeyed view of wartime England – a land of china cups, little shops, loveable old-timers and distant, foreign threats – it could be argued that the likes of Dad’s Army are in no small part to blame for the plague of insidious nostalgia that continues to poison British culture. It’s hard to feel resentful, however, because this is such a good-natured and endlessly loveable series, full of wit and warmth and featuring – in bluff Captain Arthur Lowe and debonair oddball Sergeant John Le Mesurier – one of the all-time great sitcom double acts.

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Columbo (1968-2003)
Photograph: Universal

57. Columbo (1968-2003)

Columbo is detective TV as comfort watching. This partly comes from its dedication to formula – a rich dude commits a seemingly unsolvable murder, unprepossessing Lt Frank Columbo enters, befriends the perp and, over 75 minutes slowly, zeroes in on their guilt (‘Just one more thing…’) – but mostly from the warm ramshackle presence of Peter Falk, who imbued the character with many of his own mannerisms and costume including that shabby raincoat. Fun fact: the first season premiere ‘Murder By The Book’ was directed by a young Steven Spielberg.

The Bear (2022-)
©Chuck Hodes/FX

58. The Bear (2022-)

If The Bear was just about running a hectic restaurant kitchen, it would still deserve a place on this list. Fallen-from-grace chef (Jeremy Allen White) trying to turn his dead brother’s sandwich shop into something majestic makes for exquisite – if stressful – entertainment. But what elevates The Bear is its characters – all looking for their purpose and slowly believing they’re worth more than they thought. Every ingredient here is of the finest quality.

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Deadwood (2004-2006)
Photograph: Paramount

59. Deadwood (2004-2006)

David Milch’s tragically short-lived western is as coarse, chewy and intoxicating as tobacco. Located in a grimy gold rush outpost a finger-length beyond the reach of American law, it serves up cussed characters drawn from myth, history and Milch’s filthy, rich imagination. At the gorgeous, rotten heart of it all is Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen, who among the ranks of Golden Age TV’s difficult men (Tony Soprano, Walter White et al), surely stands as the most exquisitely problematic.

Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)
Photograph: Kadokawa Shoten

60. Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)

‘3, 2, 1, let’s jam.’ Cowboy Bebop’s catchy credits lead into one of the most stylish shows ever drawn. It follows a crew of broke bounty hunters – the Bruce Lee-like Spike Spiegel, ex-detective Jet Black, amnesiac hustler Faye Valentine, and the kooky hacker Ed. The series is filtered through different genres: one episode might be a detective noir; another might riff on blaxploitation films. No matter where each takes you, you’re guaranteed incredible music, evocative animation and charisma to burn.

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Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)
Photograph: HBO

61. Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

After dealing with the modern Mafia in The Sopranos, writer Terence Winter flashed back to the 1920s with this dazzling crime drama. Set in Atlantic City, its consistency and capacity to surprise made it a worthy successor to The Soprano. And with Martin Scorsese directing the pilot, it attracted an amazing cast, too, including Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Stephen Graham (as Al Capone!), Jeffrey Wright and, of course, Steve Buscemi as refreshingly cerebral Mob boss Nucky Thompson.

NYPD Blue (1993-2005)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

62. NYPD Blue (1993-2005)

‘You got a lot of morons in your family? ’Cos that could be genetic.’ Detective Andy Sipowicz, embodied by Dennis Franz like a timebomb with hypertension, is ’90s TV’s ultimate cop and NYPD Blue, with its trademark jerkycam style, remains as gritty, grimy and energised as the city itself. Hill Street Blues co-creator Steven Bochco’s team-up with David Milch (Deadwood) eventually built its 261 episodes around Franz’s deeply unwoke detective, especially once David Caruso had left in season 2, delivering pacy procedural, gruff antiheroes and more than a few bum shots in one Emmy-showered package.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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The Leftovers (2014–2017)
Photograph: White Rabbit Productions

63. The Leftovers (2014–2017)

What would happen if two percent of people suddenly vanished? Magic television, that’s what. Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof worked with author Tom Perrotta to adapt his novel into a chronically underseen three-season drama that explored the changed lives of the people left behind after the sudden departure. Often grim but incredibly watchable, it has Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston on peak form as flawed characters trying to make sense of their lives and faith in the wake of a mysterious cataclysm. 

Small Axe (2020)
Photograph: Parisa Taghizadeh

64. Small Axe (2020)

12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen’s BBC five-part anthology explores different aspects of the Black experience in Britain – and it might just contain the single greatest episode of TV ever produced in its homeland. While each story is superbly performed and highly watchable – particularly barnstorming opener Mangrove – the second instalment Lovers Rock is entirely unique: a rolling, flowing, near-plotless 70-minute celebration of music, community, romance and shared history.

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I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002)
Photograph: BBC

65. I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002)

Steve Coogan’s greatest contribution to the small screen, Alan Partridge is a highly quotable, painfully funny crowning glory. From BBC sports presenter to Norwich radio host, Alan attempts to rescue his career from a roadside motel (then a caravan in season 2), even as his obnoxious personality puts him at odds with everyone around him. He’s a narcissist whose buffoonery never fails to entertain, with his long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and sorta-friend Michael (Simon Greenall) as unwitting enablers. Back of the net!

Firefly (2002)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

66. Firefly (2002)

Most shows that get cancelled halfway through their first season vanish into obscurity; Firefly, instead, found a loyal audience on DVD and got a big-screen sequel. That’s because its characters are every bit as memorable and funny as the Scoobys in Joss Whedon’s signature show, Buffy, and because its space-Western future stood out long before The Mandalorian stole its gimmick. Led by Nathan Fillion, the crew of the Firefly-class ship Serenity take on warlords and corrupt sheriffs across the ’verse, like a leaf on the wind.

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Our Friends in the North (1996)
Photograph: BBC

67. Our Friends in the North (1996)

If you’re after a crash course in British working class culture, it’d be hard to do better than this bracing BBC drama. Over nine episodes, the series follows four Newcastle friends from the youthful idealism of 1964 to the jaded pre-Blair ’90s, through union struggles, romantic entanglements and run-ins with the law. It’s sobering to note that of the superb central cast – Daniel Craig, Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, and the wonderful Gina McKee – the only one not to achieve a measure of blockbuster fame was also the only woman.

Girls (2012–2017)
Photograph: Apatow Productions

68. Girls (2012–2017)

Lena Dunham’s depiction of life as a young, single woman in New York ran straight into inevitable comparisons with the Blahniks-and-brunch escapism of Sex and the City. But it speaks volumes for Girls that those parallels quickly disappeared, as its frank depiction of four young women struggling with dead-end jobs, vague situationships and unhealthy friendships proved audacious, painfully funny and completely its own thing. That commitment to depicting all the messy joy of being an urban twentysomething makes it a Millennial TV classic.

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Georgia Evans
Deputy Commercial Editor, Time Out
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Skins (2007–2013)
Photograph: Company Pictures

69. Skins (2007–2013)

If there’s one coming-of-age TV show all young Brits are familiar with, it’s Skins. The story of eight Bristol teenagers, it tackles dysfunctional families, mental illness, adolescent sexuality and drug abuse with equal candour. Yes, the plotlines can be far-fetched, but teenagehood is melodramatic in nature. Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult, Jack O’Connell and the show’s other breakouts have subsequent projects that are bigger, but few as beloved. Because it doesn’t matter how grown up the audience is, they’ll still always love these teens deeply.

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Georgia Evans
Deputy Commercial Editor, Time Out
Doctor Who (1963-)
Photograph: BBC Studios

70. Doctor Who (1963-)

Originally envisaged as a semi-educational, family-friendly series with an old man and his granddaughter exploring time and space in an old-timey police box that’s bigger on the inside than the outside, Doctor Who has become one of the most enduring TV shows of all time, having amassed almost 900 episodes (and three films) since its debut 60 years ago. Key to its endurance is the built-in replaceability of its lead actor, ever-changing companions, and memorable villains, be they Daleks, Cybermen, or snarling statues that attack you when you blink.

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30 Rock (2006–2013)
Photograph: Universal Television

71. 30 Rock (2006–2013)

She may have vanished into lucrative roles in mediocre mainstream movies, but between 2006 and 2013 Tina Fey was a dynamo: the creator, producer, co-writer and star of perhaps the finest American sitcom of recent times. Set in the NBC network headquarters at New York’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza – hence the name – the show is endlessly sharp in its takedowns of celebrity culture, commercialism and corporate stupidity – though even Fey admits that some of its close-to-the-bone gags about race may not have aged too well.

Barry (2018-2023)
Photograph: HBO

72. Barry (2018-2023)

Harrowing, incisive and utterly charming at the same time, boundary-breaking Barry managed to straddle the line between bleakness and roll-around comedy thanks to the sizeable skill of co-creator and star Bill Hader. The former SNL comedian plays a hitman and Afghanistan veteran who comes to LA for a job but winds up taking an acting class, which, funnily enough, becomes derailed by his severe PTSD and habit for killing for cash. Twists, turns and time-jumps follow, as does Henry Winkler’s greatest role since the Fonz.

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Leonie Cooper
Food and Drink Editor
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Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
Photograph: DreamWorks/Apatow Productions

73. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

A John Hughes-style coming-of-age dramedy, set in the ’80s but with a millennial sensibility, starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini – that should’ve been a massive hit, right? Instead, it was jerked around by NBC and cancelled after one season. But Freaks and Geeks’ influence has endured. Not only did its cast turned out to be big-screen comedy’s next generation, its DNA courses through every smart, heartfelt teen show since, from Veronica Mars to Sex Education.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019-)
Photograph: FX

74. What We Do in the Shadows (2019-)

Bettering Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s quirky big-screen mockumentary about vampire roommates was an onerous challenge. But Clement’s hilarious spinoff immediately differentiates itself via Matt Berry’s theatrical disregard for syllables and the introduction of energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), a dweebish bore who thirsts for emotional energy over blood. The show is as goofy as it is sharply written and full of instantly-memorable detours. Cameos from some of cinema’s most recognisable vampires don’t hurt, either.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Time Out Los Angeles
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Schitt’s Creek (2015-2020)
Photograph: CBC Television

75. Schitt’s Creek (2015-2020)

Because personal growth isn’t usually funny, most good comedies tend to be about self-sabotaging assholes. But that’s only true at the beginning of this riches-to-rags sitcom in which the wealthy Rose clan loses everything, except a town they bought as a joke. Canadian comic royalty, led by father-and-son co-creators Eugene and Dan Levy, inject every episode with deadpan hilarity. Catherine O’Hara’s obscurely-accented soap actress Moira and Annie Murphy’s socialite-turned-sweetheart Alexis are highlights. These lovingly observed characters are simply the best.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Photograph: NBC Productions

76. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

Not just a launchpad for Will Smith, The Fresh Prince redefined what the Black family unit looked like on the small screen. While predecessors like The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons reflected the parenting experience, it spoke to the youth. And its hip-hop swagger and socially aware subject matter shock up a stale sitcom formula built to cater to middle America. Any given episode can swing from an outrageous dance sequence to a grounded tale about an absentee father. Much like its fashion trends (hello again neon), its commentary on racial politics remains scarily relevant.

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Father Ted (1995-1998)
Photograph: Hat Trick Productions

77. Father Ted (1995-1998)

It may have been overshadowed in recent years by the self-implosion of co-creator Graham Linehan – a man who has fallen so far down the rabbit hole that he should probably change his name to Alice – but that’s a shame, because Father Ted remains a near-perfect sitcom. The central odd couple of hapless, put-upon Dermot Morgan (may he rest in peace) and goggle-eyed toddler-man Ardal O'Hanlon remains unbeaten, the supporting cast are pure magic, and its best jokes are so perfectly constructed that many of them have entered the cultural lexicon. Up with this sort of thing!

I, Claudius (1976)
Photograph: BBC

78. I, Claudius (1976)

Though its ’70s sets and wigs make it look a little ancient, the BBC’s Robert Graves adaptation remains a beast of a show. Over a single series it tracks 30 years of ancient Rome via staggering amounts of backstabbing, poisoning, incest, camp and insanity – influencing everything from Game of Thrones to The Sopranos. Its cast, a roll-call of British talent, boasts Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi in the title role, and even Christopher Biggins as Nero. A must-watch for anyone who’s ever thought about the Roman Empire.

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James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
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Andor (2022-)
Photograph: Des Willie/Lucasfilm

79. Andor (2022-)

One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter – but which is Cassian Andor? For George Lucas, Star Wars was never just a space fantasy. With its fleets of battered starships ranged against the might of the Empire, the movie was a nod to revolutionaries throughout history. Disney+ series Andor finally took those ideas seriously, offering a forensic, top-to-bottom exploration of the mechanics of rebellion, and a timely look at how the might of fascism can be undermined. It’s rip-roaringly exciting, too.

Luther (2010-2019)
Photograph: BBC

80. Luther (2010-2019)

Rarely has an actor so inherently embodied a role as the towering Idris Elba as bend (or break) the rules police detective DCI John Luther. Pounding the streets of London to find the city’s most sinister serial killers and growl at them, you can feel the world-weariness shrugging through his trench coat, as with all the very best hard-boiled heroes who have bitten off more than anyone else would chew. Is it any wonder everyone wanted him as Bond? Throw in Ruth Wilson’s femme fatale frenemy Alice Morgan, and you’re onto a winner.

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Stephen A Russell
Contributor
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Insecure (2016–2021)
Photograph: Arts Entertainment

81. Insecure (2016–2021)

On paper, Insecure is a comedy about messy Black millennials navigating life, work and romance in South Los Angeles. At its heart, though, it’s about the long-lasting friendship between social worker Issa (Issa Rae) and corporate lawyer Molly (Yvonne Orji), spanning all the ups-and-downs, thorniness and tenderness of their bond, as they navigate changing careers, long and short-term relationships and big fights. Always hilarious, often ridiculous but endlessly emotional, it’s an ode to Black women and female intimacy.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-)
Photograph: FX

82. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-)

Has there ever been a more morally decrepit assembly of people than the patrons of Paddy’s Pub, a Philly watering hole with rats in the walls? The pub’s landlords and mainstays refer to themselves as ‘The Gang’: twins Denis (Glenn Howerton), a for-sure psychopath, and wannabe actress Dee (Kaitlin Olson); the neanderthal Frank (Danny DeVito); pseudo-alpha male Mac (show creator Rob McElhenney); and Charlie (Charlie Day), a glue-sniffing weirdo. They’ve endured molestation, cancer, and demonic levels of alcohol consumption and made it all funny. Now on their seventeenth season, The Gang endures.

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Atlanta (2016-2022)
Photograph: FXP

83. Atlanta (2016-2022)

Twin Peaks with rappers’ was creator-star Donald Glover’s pitch for Atlanta, a show that starts out following Earn (Glover) as he manages the career of his rapper cousin ‘Paper Boi’ (Bryan Tyree Henry), before spinning off in bizarre, self-contained directions. But that premise undersells the Afro-Surrealist show’s sheer unpredictability and its sobering reminders of the pervasiveness of anti-Blackness. That it straddles the line between bleak social commentary and absurdist comedy so successfully is testament to its confidence and craft.

Line of Duty (2012-2021)
Photograph: BBC Drama Productions

84. Line of Duty (2012-2021)

Hire James Ellroy to write The Bill and you’d end up with something akin to this seemingly straightforward cop drama with a seething underbelly of political corruption, organised crime and ‘bent coppers’. It’s held together by a superb cast – notably a gruff Adrian Dunbar and soul-of-the-show Vicky McClure – but it’s creator Jed Mercurio’s writing that really makes the series remarkable, particularly in later episodes where the moral lines become blurred and the ubiquitous nature of corruption is made horribly clear.

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Futurama (1999-)
Photograph: 20th Century Fox Television[

85. Futurama (1999-)

When pizza delivery boy Fry is cryogenically frozen on Y2K, he wakes up in the 31st century (and still a delivery boy). This animated sci-fi from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening plays like a workplace comedy propelled by Star Trek-esque missions. Its sense of humour is as silly as it is academic; for every mafioso robot and ‘death by snoo snoo’ there’s a light lecture in quantum mechanics. But it’s the show’s outsized heart that leaves the biggest impression: you can bring a Futurama fan to tears with one mention of ‘Jurassic Bark’.

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Michael Juliano
Editor, Time Out Los Angeles
Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
Photograph: Universal Media Studios

86. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)

After a slow start, Parks and Rec bloomed into an endlessly watchable show full of hijinks, humour and heart. With a powerhouse cast led by Amy Poehler as the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department’s lovable deputy director Leslie Knope, the characters let us in on their inside jokes episode after episode. In an era of government scepticism, Parks and Rec created a world in which good government can truly work – especially when it’s run by women. With her quippy catchphrases and unwavering idealism, Knope is TV’s ‘glorious female warrior’.

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Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Things to Do Editor
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The White Lotus (2021-)
Photograph: © 2021 Home Box Office, Inc.

87. The White Lotus (2021-)

An eerie bop of a theme song is the first hint that Mike White’s absurd and witty whodunits set in luxury hotels are going to twist the knife. The second hint is the discovery of a body – a motif across season 1 (Hawaii) and season 2 (Sicily). Each character is an actor’s dream, as sex and money-fuelled double-dealing play out in paradise, and wild reveals are teased until a finale of pure carnage. Careers have been made and re-energised (all hail Jennifer Coolidge) at The Four Seasons. Eating the rich has never been such a delicacy.

Peep Show (2003–2015)
Photograph: Objective Productions

88. Peep Show (2003–2015)

You’d be hard pressed to find a Brit under 60 who can’t reference at least one episode of Peep Show. So what makes this sitcom sing? The simple-yet-genius conceit of listening in on the deadbeat main characters’ inner monologues – and watching events, from the mundane to the surreal and horrific, unfold through their eyes. What could have been an awkward TV experiment becomes a triumph thanks to writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, and David Mitchell and Robert Webb playing Mark and Jeremy: two very different flavours of no-hoper, each doomed to life with the other in a Croydon flatshare.

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James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
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Dexter (2006-2013)
Photograph: Showtime Networks

89. Dexter (2006-2013)

Let’s address the lumberjack in the room: Dexter’s series finale was laughably bad. Then again, the show’s occasional ridiculousness was one of its charms. The premise itself, involving a Miami PD blood-spatter expert (Michael C Hall) moonlighting as a serial killer, strained credulity. And yet, when it worked, it threaded a tight needle between semi-purposeful camp and disturbing psychological horror. Much of the credit goes to Hall, whose chilling blankness made the dark humour funnier and the just-plain-dark parts legitimately unsettling.

Spiral (2005-2020)
Photograph: Canal+

90. Spiral (2005-2020)

The French policier – ‘NYPD Bleu’? – boasts the kind of longevity only afforded to shows that can evolve without messing with the formula (a moreish mix of cop thriller and legal procedural). Over eight seasons, it charts the shady day-to-day business of cops dealing with the gruesome byproducts of Paris’s violent underworld. The characters are a seriously vivid bunch: from stressed-out, no-BS cop Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust), to her bull-headed colleague and confidant Gilou (Thierry Godard), to straight arrow judge Roban (Philippe Duclos). It’s a police procedural with real élan.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)
Photograph: Channel 4

91. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)

Long before the Upside Down, there was Darkplace Hospital, a medical facility situated, worryingly, ‘over the very gates of hell’. It’s the setting for Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness’s inspired spoof of B-horrors and General Hospital-style soaps that ran to a tragically brief six episodes. As its host, ‘author, dreamweaver, visionary, plus actor’ Garth Marenghi (Holness) explains: ‘MI8, which is actually three levels above MI6, pulled the plug’. Happily, not before we were introduced to Holness, Ayoade, Alice Lowe, Matt Berry and some extraterrestrial broccoli. Hopefully MI8 okays a revival.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Community (2009–2015)
Photograph: Paramount Studios

92. Community (2009–2015)

Community is engineered in a cult TV show lab, written by a madcap scientist (Dan Harmon), starring a group of on-the-rise actors (Jeff McHale, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs) and a comedy curmudgeon (Chevy Chase), and fusing absurdist humour and meta jokes. Following a ragtag group of community college students and pushing the envelope of what a sitcom can do, it garnered a maniacally devoted following. They promised us six seasons and a movie. We’re still waiting on the movie.

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It’s a Sin (2021)
Photograph: Red Production Company

93. It’s a Sin (2021)

Initially planned by writer Russell T Davies as a prequel to his early noughts LGBTQ+ landmark Queer As Folk, this exuberant, bittersweet miniseries follows Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander) and his friends as they explore their identities as gay men in a 1980s that’s haunted by AIDS and homophobia. With a cast that doesn’t falter for a second and an expertly crafted script, It’s a Sin is a tender, raucous and ultimately devastating celebration of love and loss.

Annie McNamee
Contributor
Spooks (2002–2011)
Photograph: BBC

94. Spooks (2002–2011)

Record complaints greeted this BBC spy thriller’s decision to stick one of its characters faces into a bubbling vat of chip oil in season 1. Where do you even go from there? Waterboarding kittens? The answer, it turned out, is a stream of gnarly espionage scenarios in which MI5 (about seven people here, led by Peter Firth’s scotch-glugging Harry Quinn and featuring Matthew Macfadyen’s heartthrob operative Tom Quinn) tackle terrorism from a high-tech HQ with fancy doors. Ruthlessly unsentimental about killing off its characters, escapist yet full of post-9/11 resonance, it remains a cortisol-amping ride.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Rick and Morty (2013-)
Photograph: Williams Street

95. Rick and Morty (2013-)

Following the hilarious hijinks of the eponymous duo, this irreverently existential show about a nervous school kid and his misanthropic scientist grandpa tackles a series of interdimensional threats, with familial discord heightening the calamitous drama. It’s meta, sharply satirical and no matter how outlandish the (mis)adventures, complex humanity always grounds the storytelling. Bursting with pop culture references – the Die Hard episode is especially gleeful – and an abundance of guest voice stars, Rick and Morty is a superb shock to the solar system.

Oz (1997–2003)
Photograph: HBO

96. Oz (1997–2003)

Grittier than a Tarmac sandwich, the cons incarcerated in the Emerald City unit in Oswald State Correctional Facility – or ‘Oz’ – are very much not in Kansas anymore. HBO’s tough-as-nuts (but still weirdly funny) prison drama walked so that The Night Of, Orange is the New Black, Prison Break and the like could run, but it still outstrips them for sheer brutality and its willingness to engage with American prison system’s most flabbergasting excesses. Ernie Hudson, JK Simmons and about 12 actors who’d go onto appear in The Wire comprise a correspondingly epic cast.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Nathan Barley (2005)
Photograph: TalkBack Productions

97. Nathan Barley (2005)

This cult British comedy follows loveable twit Nathan Barley (a pitch-perfect Nicholas Burns), hipster magazine journalist and ‘self-facilitating media node’ on a mission to convince the internet that he's cool shit. The fictional ‘Sugar Ape’ mag is an on-the-money VICE parody, while Barley barks out quotable nonsense (‘Check out my website, yeah? It’s well fucking futile’) at such a giddy rate that you’ll wish there were more than six episodes to speed through. In short? It’s totally Mexico.

Call My Agent! (2015–2020)
Photograph: Netflix

98. Call My Agent! (2015–2020)

The attempt to transplant this French comedy set in a Parisian talent agency to a British setting fell flatter than an open bottle of Perrier. Probably because only the French could pull off a show where a bunch of hard-pressed sophisticates double-cross, bicker and sleep together – sometimes all in the same episode. The self-spoofing A-list cameos don’t hurt either, whether it’s a workaholic Isabelle Huppert injecting herself with adrenaline or Jean Dujardin taking method acting to some unsanitary places. It’s fun for the same reasons as Entourage is fun, only with a whole lot more élégance.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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Babylon Berlin (2017-)
Photograph: Sky Deutschland

99. Babylon Berlin (2017-)

The fact that it’s co-created by Cloud Atlas’s Tom Tykwer clues you into how much ambition is packed into this seductive noir. Like Cabaret by way of Raymond Chandler, Babylon Berlin plonks you in the shoes of Great War veteran-turned-detective Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) in a Weimar Berlin where everything and everyone is touched by corruption and anesthetised by hedonism. Even Rath is hooked on morphine, treating a case of PTSD that’s swiftly worsened by copious murder, conspiracy and political violence. Weltschmerz has never been so sexy.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Gomorrah (2014-2021)
Photograph: Sky Atlantic

100. Gomorrah (2014-2021)

Like the movie of the same name, this Italian crime thriller will leave you with a phobia of screeching Vespas. Their presence, transporting 9mm-packing paranza – the Camorra’s school-aged footsoldiers – invariably presages some form of brutal violence in a show that’s hardly short of it. It’s all loosely based on the same Roberto Saviano book as the 2008 film, though a more stylised and, well, addictive take on the subject. Drug lord Ciro ‘The Immortal’ Di Marzio (Marco D'Amore) is a charismatic conduit through Naples’ gangster-run projects. Just don’t get too attached to anyone.

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Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
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