Kendall Roy, Ted Lasso, and Jon Snow in the best TV shows of all time | Agents of Fandom

Top 10 Best TV Shows of All Time, Ranked

Did your top series make the list?

Few things are as satisfying as investing in a great TV show. Movies will always be a high-level form of entertainment, but television offers a special opportunity that big-screen storytelling doesn’t: the chance to spend countless hours in the same world with the same characters. Looking back on the remarkable year of TV in 2023 led us to wonder what a list of the best TV shows of all time would look like.

Television comes in many shapes and sizes. You have your workplace comedies like Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, popular sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Friends, and classic dramas like Sherlock and Twin Peaks. Narrowing down 100 years of programs to a list of only 10 means some great shows, unfortunately, didn’t make the cut. The prowess of those that remain is undeniable, so let’s dive into our top 10 best TV shows ever.

10. ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ (2005-2008)

Aang and Zuko standing in a canyon in Avatar: The Last Airbender | Agents of Fandom
Watching Zuko and Aang come together as friends after their past trials and tribulations is truly beautiful. Image Credit: Nickelodeon.

Everyone loves a good coming-of-age tale, and Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best of all time. Although the animated series partially shares a name with James Cameron’s Avatar movies, it’s not taking a back seat to the billion-dollar movie franchise in the slightest. This supernatural fantasy series, created by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, is the definition of a complete, satisfying, and emotionally cathartic story.

Avatar: The Last Airbender follows Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen), a young boy who awakens in an iceberg to an unfamiliar world ravaged by war. He rediscovers his purpose on a journey with his friends Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack De Sana) and learns it’s his destiny as the Avatar to restore balance and save the world from the tyranny of the Fire Nation. The series contains unique mythological elements, captivating characters, and elaborate world-building. It’s renowned globally for its beautiful storytelling through three incredible seasons and is celebrated by children and adults as one of the best TV shows ever.

9. ‘Chernobyl’ (2019)

Alan Williams standing up and Jared Harris sitting down in a room together in Chernobyl | Agents of Fandom
Just because Chernobyl is telling a story that’s already happened doesn’t make it any less entertaining to watch. Image Credit: HBO.

For a limited series consisting of only five episodes to make of list of the best TV shows speaks to both the quality of the series and the diversity of the medium. Chernobyl fits into a unique Venn Diagram where it may be the least-watched entry on this list, but also the highest quality. It lands at the number nine spot, partially because of the “limited series” aspect. It unfortunately doesn’t have the longevity to contend with other entries but make no mistake: Chernobyl is still one of the best TV shows ever.

From creator Craig Mazin (The Last of Us), this historical docudrama is set in April 1986. It follows the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the attempted cover-up that followed the disaster. The series explores powerful themes of sacrifice and heroism while taking a very realistic approach to storytelling by not shying away from the horrific elements that took place during this tragedy. Led by commanding performances from Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl won 10 Emmys in 2019, is arguably the best limited series ever, and one of the best TV shows, period.

8. ‘The Office’ (2005-2013)

Steve Carell, John Krasinski, and Rainn Wilson standing together in The Office | Agents of Fandom
Is there a more iconic TV trio than Michael, Jim, and Dwight in The Office? Image Credit: NBC.

Every once in a while, a show or movie comes around and gives the world a generational character, and that’s what The Office did with Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Perhaps no character has penetrated pop culture in the form of memes, GIFs, and funny quotes more than the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. But there are so many more elements that contribute to The Office being one of the best TV shows ever, beyond just the charismatic lead performance from Carell.

The mockumentary follows the employees of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch, led by Michael Scott, as they sell paper and other office supplies and engage in hilarious workplace hijinks. The show does a wonderful job getting the viewer to buy into each character through tons of small interactions that each lead to intense investment and emotional connection. A remake of the original U.K. series of the same name, the newer version was far more successful and became a cultural sensation. The Office revolutionized the comedy genre on TV and attempts to replicate its success will surely continue for years.

7. ‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015)

Jon Hamm sitting across the desk from someone in Mad Men | Agents of Fandom
Jon Hamm’s performance as Don Draper will go down as one of the most important in television history. Image Credit: AMC.

One of the most common themes on this list is great characters, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the best characters aren’t the ones that treat everyone with respect, but rather the ones who aren’t afraid of being disrespectful for the sake of getting the job done. Jon Hamm plays the magnetizing and charismatic Don Draper, a creative director at Sterling Cooper, an advertising agency that demands the maximum amount of their employees.

Set in 1960s New York, one of the most entertaining draws of Mad Men is its portrayal of an evolving society and workplace over seven seasons. Some of the earlier seasons are a tough watch given the harsh treatment of women in the workplace and at home, but it makes their rise to success that much more satisfying. The world at Sterling Cooper is competitive and alluring, but the overall narrative inside the show is rich with satisfying character development and stunning style. Some rough scenes haven’t aged all that well, but Mad Men is still one of the best TV shows of all time.

6. ‘The Wire’ (2002-2008)

Dominic West and Michael Kenneth Williams talking inside a suit store in The Wire | Agents of Fandom
The Wire is the most honest look at the inner-city drug trade out of any show ever. Image Credit: HBO.

As much as we like to pretend everything is black and white, there’s usually more than one side to any story. Bad people are capable of doing the right thing, and good people can be evil, especially when they’re desperate. The Wire embodies these traits to perfection, telling the story of the drug trade in Baltimore, Maryland through the eyes of both dealers and law enforcement. The gritty police procedural contains many notable cast members such as Idris Elba, Lance Reddick, Wendell Pierce, and the late Michael Kenneth Williams.

From creator David Simon, the series follows the intricate dynamics of Baltimore, delving into the systemic issues of the school systems, media, and law enforcement. Throughout its five-season run, The Wire constantly challenges the status quo by shining a bright light on the difficulties and moral ambiguities faced by those stuck in the system. Strong performances serve as a compliment to one of the show’s most important features: its examination of the broken modern societal structure. The HBO original series collected only two Emmy nominations, and while it sadly didn’t bring home any hardware, it’s still one of the best TV shows of all time.

5. ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-2019)

Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington standing in the grass in Game of Thrones | Agents of Fandom
Although the quality of the show declined severely in the final two seasons, the outfits remain iconic. Image Credit: HBO.

It may surprise some to see Game of Thrones on this list, given its abomination of an ending, but the case is still strong. Casting aside the rough seventh season and horrendous eighth seasons, the series has nearly six flawless 10-episode installments to fall back on. Focused on the brutal battle for the Iron Throne, the show weaves an elaborate narrative with supernatural elements balanced against a vague but terrifying threat in the White Walkers. Game of Thrones gained a massive following in its early seasons and dominated Sunday night conversation for most of the 2010s.

Based on the medieval book series, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, the series began in 2011 and immediately established it wasn’t afraid to take the same risks as the source material. The series won 59 Emmy Awards over its eight-year run and contains many notable stars such as Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, and Kit Harrington. Last two seasons included, it’s still one of the best TV shows of all time.

4. ‘Ted Lasso’ (2020-2023)

“He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f*cking where!”

Although Ted Lasso premiered on Apple TV+ only three short years ago and has already finished a three-season run, the series unequivocally belongs on this list. Writer and creator Bill Lawrence took a character from a goofy YouTube video released over 10 years ago and built out an emotionally layered and complex world around him at AFC Richmond. The series gets more ambitious as it progresses and continuously tackles themes of how challenging it can be to overcome the clash of infectious optimism and modern cynicism.

Ted Lasso is full of great characters, but it’s driven by the man at the center of everything, Coach Ted (Jason Sudeikis), and his relationship with everyone around him. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or your life experience, Ted Lasso gets you to buy into the characters with some of the most gratifying development over three seasons. The series won 11 Emmys and received 61 nominations for performances, writing, and directing. It is the definition of a complete program that makes you feel good down to your core, and it’s easily one of the best TV shows ever.

3. ‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007)

Edie Falco and James Gandolfini standing together at a celebration in front of a crowd in The Sopranos | Agents of Fandom
Regardless of where you place The Sopranos on a list of the best TV shows, Tony Soprano is one of the most famous characters in history. Image Credit: HBO.

Whether mob shows are your cup of tea or not, any credible list of the best TV shows of all time must include The Sopranos. The series is widely beloved for its convoluted characters and elaborate storytelling, and the main character, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) provides a nuanced view of morality. The Sopranos doesn’t commit to telling just one part of the story, instead providing multiple perspectives that work in tandem to deliver one of the most complex and personal looks into the human psyche. It was one of the first big hits for HBO and kicked off a renaissance on the platform that continues to this day.

The Sopranos is character-driven and works so well because the actors tasked with bringing those characters to life give outstanding performances. The HBO original series won 21 Emmys during its nine-year run for performances and overall production and holds over 100 nominations. The great James Gandolfini sadly passed away in 2013 at only 51 years old, but other series regulars like Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli are still producing top-class content today. The Sopranos is universally regarded as one of the best TV shows of all time and could easily be number one on this list.

2. ‘Succession’ (2018-2023)

Matthew MacFadyen as Tom Wambsgans sitting with his feet up on a desk in Succession | Agents of Fandom
After four years of pining over the throne, it was Tom Wambsgans to take over in the Succession series finale. Image Credit: HBO.

Everyone loves a good guy, but what happens when the protagonists in a series are all, at best, horrible people? Succession seeks to answer this question by taking a close look at the personal lives of those entrenched in the highest levels of corporate America. The series follows the Roy family, owners of a giant media conglomerate, and explores powerful themes of corporate intrigue and sibling rivalries. Its defining traits are its sharp but dark humor and brutally honest commentary on the benefits and drawbacks of growing up with extreme wealth and tremendous privilege.

Succession and an earlier entry on this list, Ted Lasso, have one great thing in common: they knew when to stop. The best TV shows always have an ending in mind and never lose sight of that. While extra time with the Roy family would surely be fun to watch, any series that has defined and meaningful character arcs for each character with no unnecessary adage will always be better. The HBO drama collected 75 nominations from the Television Academy and won 13 awards, including several for Outstanding Drama Series. Succession has a strong case for the best writing, directing, and production quality of any TV show ever, and it belongs high on a list of the best TV shows of all time.

1. ‘Breaking Bad’ (2008-2013)

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston sitting on a couch with hazmat suits and gas masks pulled up over their faces in Breaking Bad | Best TV shows | Agents of Fandom
Jesse Pinkman and Walter White will always be the most iconic TV duo. Image Credit: AMC.

You heard it here folks, Breaking Bad is the best TV show ever, and it isn’t particularly close. It follows Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) transition from a high school teacher into a meth kingpin in pursuit of money to pay for his cancer treatment, and his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a drug dealer and Walter’s former student. The series explores harsh themes of morality and the consequences of choices as Walter further descends into madness and the criminal underworld. Walt and Jesse serve as mirroring opposites as they navigate an increasingly dangerous world, both fighting for their twisted idea of redemption.

The performances from Cranston, Paul, and other supporting cast members like Anna Gunn, Giancarlo Esposito, and Bob Odenkirk are nothing short of generational. The overarching narrative and relationships are among the best in storytelling history, and the series doesn’t dip in the slightest from the pilot to the finale. These characters left a mark on pop culture so strong that they received statues in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the series is set. Breaking Bad won 16 Emmy Awards during its six-year run, including six in the final season for performances, Outstanding Drama Series, Writing, and Editing.

If You Haven’t Watched the 10 Best TV Shows, You’re Missing Out

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing TV shows in countless different genres, but these 10 stand tall above the rest. Some honorable mentions include another AMC classic, Better Caul Saul, the sitcom Friends, and the BBC mystery, Sherlock. The beauty of television is that it’s an ever-evolving medium; in 100 years this list will likely look different. The only guarantee is there will be plenty of great shows to celebrate between now and then.

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