In the vast landscape of television, certain shows rise above the rest, leaving an indelible mark on the medium and captivating audiences with their exceptional storytelling. As we delve into the 21st century, we encounter a plethora of remarkable series that have redefined television as we know it. In this article, we will explore why the following television shows are widely considered the best of the century, showcasing their unique narratives, compelling characters, and profound impact on the cultural zeitgeist.
Just to be very clear, this list is not based on anything other than my own personal taste. And to avoid too much controversy I’d like to mention that I haven’t seen the following series, which is probably why they’re not featured: The Sopranos, The Wire, The Leftovers, The Americans, The 100, Friday Night Lights, Justified, Better Call Saul, Deadwood and Veep, among others.
I couldn’t bring myself to list them in order, so instead I’ve added them in tiers.
Tier 1: The Best Of The Best
Succession, a gripping HBO drama, examines the complex dynamics of a wealthy and dysfunctional family fighting for control of a media conglomerate. With its sharp writing, superb acting, and compelling plotlines, Succession offers a riveting exploration of power, wealth, and the lengths people will go to maintain control. Its compelling character arcs and intricate interplay between family members make it a standout series of recent years.
Barry, a dark comedy series, presents a compelling character study of a hitman who discovers his passion for acting while on a job. With its blend of humor, introspection, and unexpected twists, Barry offers a fresh take on the antihero trope. The show’s exploration of identity, morality, and the pursuit of one’s true calling is brought to life by Bill Hader’s stellar performance and the series’ seamless balance of comedy and drama.
Lost, a groundbreaking and influential series, revolutionized the way we approach serialized storytelling on television. With its complex narrative structure, diverse ensemble cast, and intriguing mythology, Lost captured the imagination of millions worldwide. The show’s exploration of faith, redemption, and the human condition, coupled with its masterful character development, ensured its place as one of the most discussed and debated series of its time.
Sure, the last season didn’t land the plane – but the intensity of every single episode leading up to it should not be forgotten.
Community, a meta-comedy series, takes place in a community college and follows a diverse group of students navigating their way through hilarious and often surreal situations. The show’s clever writing, pop culture references, and lovable characters create a rich and comedic tapestry that appeals to both mainstream and niche audiences. Community’s self-awareness and meta-commentary on television tropes make it a beloved and influential series.
Parks & Recreation (2009)
Parks & Recreation, a delightful sitcom, offers a heartwarming and comedic look at the inner workings of a small-town Parks and Recreation department. Led by the charismatic Leslie Knope, the show celebrates the power of community, friendship, and optimism. Parks & Recreation’s endearing characters, sharp writing, and uplifting spirit have made it a cherished series, leaving an enduring legacy in the realm of sitcoms.
The Office (US) (2005)
The Office (US) is an iconic mockumentary sitcom that masterfully captures the mundane yet hilarious world of office life. With its sharp writing, brilliant ensemble cast, and documentary-style format, the series creates an authentic and relatable experience for viewers. The Office’s blend of humor, heart, and memorable characters, led by the incomparable Steve Carell as Michael Scott, has made it a timeless classic and a benchmark for workplace comedies.
BoJack Horseman (2014)
BoJack Horseman, an animated dramedy, transcends its medium to deliver a profoundly introspective exploration of mental health, addiction, and the complexities of human existence. Through its anthropomorphic characters, the show tackles themes of existentialism, self-destructive behavior, and the search for personal redemption. BoJack Horseman’s unflinching honesty, layered storytelling, and remarkable voice acting, especially Will Arnett’s portrayal of the titular character, have solidified its status as a groundbreaking and emotionally resonant series.
Breaking Bad (2008)
Breaking Bad is a masterclass in character transformation and moral ambiguity. The series follows the journey of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer, as he descends into the criminal underworld. Breaking Bad’s meticulous storytelling, exceptional performances, and intricate moral dilemmas make it an unforgettable exploration of human nature, ambition, and the consequences of one’s choices. Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White and the gripping narrative propelled Breaking Bad to the pinnacle of television greatness.
Mad Men (2007)
Mad Men offers a mesmerizing glimpse into the world of 1960s advertising and the lives of its complex characters. Through its stylish aesthetics, evocative period setting, and sharp writing, the series delves into themes of identity, gender roles, and the pursuit of the American Dream. Mad Men’s character-driven storytelling, nuanced performances, and exploration of cultural shifts during a pivotal era in American history have earned it critical acclaim and a place among television’s finest dramas.
Watchmen, a groundbreaking superhero drama, fearlessly deconstructs the genre and addresses timely social and political issues. Set in an alternate reality, the series explores themes of racism, systemic injustice, and the complexities of heroism. Watchmen’s thought-provoking narrative, exceptional performances, and bold storytelling choices captivated audiences and sparked conversations about representation and the role of superheroes in society. With its unapologetic storytelling and powerful social commentary, Watchmen stands as a testament to the potential of television as a medium for complex and impactful storytelling.
This might seem like a stretch to have in the top tier, but as a fan of the graphic novel, this show lived up to all the hype. It somehow honoured the original text & characters, but created something entirely original that also landed the incredibly complicated ending.
Eastbound & Down (2009)
Eastbound & Down, without a doubt, stands as one of the best shows ever made. Created by Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and Ben Best, this irreverent comedy series delivers a wild and unforgettable ride through the world of Kenny Powers, a former Major League Baseball pitcher. What sets Eastbound & Down apart is its fearless and unapologetic approach to storytelling. The show fearlessly dives into the depths of Kenny’s egotism, arrogance, and self-destructive behavior, presenting a character who is equal parts repulsive and strangely endearing. McBride’s portrayal of Kenny Powers is nothing short of brilliant, capturing the essence of a fallen sports hero struggling to find relevance in a world that has moved on. The writing is sharp, filled with biting humor, and never shies away from pushing boundaries, making for a relentlessly hilarious and often cringe-worthy experience.
Dexter, a captivating psychological thriller, centers around a forensic blood spatter analyst who leads a secret life as a vigilante serial killer. This morally ambiguous series delves into the depths of the human psyche, questioning the nature of good and evil. Dexter’s internal struggle, compelling storylines, and meticulous attention to detail make it a standout in the genre, exploring themes of identity, redemption, and the duality of human nature.
Again, the final season was a huge letdown but it still deserves a place at the top for the first 1-5 seasons alone. Thankfully the series regained some credibility with the reprise of Dexter: New Blood, which was fairly decent.
Tier 2: So Close To Being Perfect
Misfits, a British science fiction drama, brings a fresh and irreverent approach to the superhero genre. The show follows a group of young offenders who acquire supernatural abilities while serving community service. With its dark humor, gritty storytelling, and flawed yet relatable characters, Misfits offers a unique blend of supernatural elements and social commentary that sets it apart from traditional superhero narratives.
Rick & Morty (2013)
Rick & Morty, an animated science fiction sitcom, has garnered a cult following with its ingenious blend of outrageous humor, mind-bending concepts, and poignant existentialism. The series follows the interdimensional adventures of the eccentric scientist Rick and his impressionable grandson Morty. With its clever writing, creative world-building, and complex character dynamics, Rick & Morty pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling and explores existential themes with humor and depth.
Sherlock, a modern-day reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective stories, has captivated audiences with its sharp writing, brilliant performances, and meticulous attention to detail. The series showcases the iconic detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal partner Dr. John Watson as they solve puzzling mysteries in contemporary London. Sherlock’s dynamic storytelling, intricate plots, and magnetic performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman make it a standout in the crime drama genre.
Atlanta, a critically acclaimed comedy-drama, defies categorization with its unique blend of humor, social commentary, and surrealism. Created by Donald Glover, who also stars in the series, Atlanta delves into the lives of aspiring rapper Earn and his cousin Alfred as they navigate the music industry and the complexities of life in Atlanta. With its thought-provoking exploration of race, identity, and ambition, Atlanta stands as a remarkable and groundbreaking piece of television.
Fleabag, a dark comedy-drama, has garnered widespread acclaim for its raw and unfiltered portrayal of a complex and troubled woman navigating life in modern-day London. Created and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the series offers a poignant exploration of grief, relationships, and self-discovery. Fleabag’s razor-sharp writing, stellar performances, and the direct address of the audience create an intimate and immersive experience that resonates deeply with viewers.
30 Rock (2006)
30 Rock, a witty sitcom, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the chaotic world of a fictional sketch comedy show. Created by and starring Tina Fey, the series excels in its clever writing, rapid-fire jokes, and memorable characters. 30 Rock’s satirical take on the entertainment industry, coupled with its meta-commentary and impeccable comedic timing, has made it a beloved and influential series that continues to be celebrated for its sharp wit and hilarious ensemble cast.
Arrested Development (2003)
Mindhunter, a gripping psychological crime drama, takes viewers on a haunting journey into the minds of serial killers. Based on true events, the series delves into the early days of criminal profiling and the development of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Mindhunter’s meticulous attention to detail, thought-provoking exploration of human psychology, and superb performances make it a standout series in the genre. Its unsettling atmosphere, complex characters, and chilling storytelling elevate it to the upper echelons of crime dramas.
Fargo, inspired by the Coen brothers’ film of the same name, offers a darkly comedic and thrilling anthology series set in the eponymous fictional town. Each season presents a new story with interconnected characters and themes of crime, morality, and the unpredictable nature of life. Fargo’s exceptional writing, impeccable acting, and distinctive blend of black comedy and tension make it a masterclass in storytelling. Its unique tone, rich character development, and homage to the original film make it an unforgettable television experience.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a long-running sitcom, stands out for its irreverent humor, bold and often controversial storytelling, and unforgettable ensemble cast. The show follows a group of narcissistic and morally bankrupt friends as they navigate absurd situations and engage in hilarious antics. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s fearless approach to comedy, its ability to tackle taboo subjects, and its commitment to pushing boundaries have earned it a cult following and a reputation as one of the funniest and most audacious shows of the century.
Chappelle’s Show (2003)
Chappelle’s Show, created by and starring Dave Chappelle, broke new ground in the world of sketch comedy. With its fearless approach to controversial subjects, razor-sharp wit, and brilliant social commentary, the show tackled issues of race, politics, and pop culture with unmatched audacity. Chappelle’s ability to blend humor with insightful observations about society created a unique and captivating viewing experience. The show’s iconic sketches, such as “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” and “The Racial Draft,” became cultural touchstones and showcased Chappelle’s comedic genius. Chappelle’s Show pushed boundaries, challenged conventions, and left an indelible impact on the comedy landscape.
Tier 3: Really Good But Not Great
Black Mirror (2011)
Black Mirror, an anthology series created by Charlie Brooker, has become synonymous with thought-provoking science fiction and social commentary. The show explores the dark side of technology and its impact on society, presenting cautionary tales that often hit close to home. Black Mirror’s ability to blend dystopian futures with relatable human stories, its sharp writing, and its ability to spark conversations about the consequences of technological advancement have earned it a devoted following and critical acclaim.
Skins (UK) (2007)
Skins, a groundbreaking British teen drama, revolutionized the way youth culture was portrayed on television. The series delves into the lives of a group of teenagers navigating the complexities of adolescence, tackling sensitive issues with honesty and authenticity. Skins’ raw and unflinching approach to storytelling, its diverse and relatable characters, and its willingness to tackle taboo subjects make it a powerful and influential series that resonates with audiences of all ages.
Game of Thrones (2011)
Game of Thrones, an epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, captured the imagination of millions with its intricate world-building, complex characters, and political intrigue. The series weaves a sprawling narrative of power struggles, alliances, and battles for the Iron Throne in the fictional land of Westeros. Game of Thrones’ breathtaking production values, captivating storytelling, and jaw-dropping plot twists made it a cultural phenomenon and a landmark in television history.
The Walking Dead (2010)
The Walking Dead, an epic post-apocalyptic drama, has redefined the zombie genre and captivated audiences worldwide. Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, the show follows a group of survivors navigating a world overrun by the undead. With its intense character-driven narratives, visceral action sequences, and exploration of humanity’s resilience, The Walking Dead has become a cultural phenomenon, captivating audiences with its blend of horror, drama, and emotional depth.
The Good Place (2016)
The Good Place, a delightful and thought-provoking comedy, explores existential questions of morality, the afterlife, and what it means to be a good person. The series follows Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, who finds herself in a seemingly perfect utopia after her death. With its sharp writing, clever humor, and philosophical undertones, The Good Place tackles complex ethical dilemmas with wit and charm, leaving audiences contemplating the nature of morality and the pursuit of personal growth.
Bored to Death (2009)
Bored to Death, a quirky and offbeat detective comedy, stands out for its unique premise and charming characters. The series follows a struggling writer turned unlicensed private detective, played by Jason Schwartzman, as he embarks on humorous and often absurd investigations in New York City. Bored to Death’s blend of dry wit, eccentric characters, and unconventional storytelling make it a refreshing and entertaining series that embraces the quirkiness of its premise.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000)
Curb Your Enthusiasm, a semi-improvised comedy created by and starring Larry David, offers a hilarious and unfiltered portrayal of everyday life. The series follows a fictionalized version of Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, as he navigates social situations and encounters numerous awkward and cringe-worthy moments. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s biting humor, improvisational style, and Larry David’s unparalleled comedic timing have made it a beloved and influential comedy series that resonates with audiences.
Party Down (2009)
Party Down, a clever and underappreciated comedy, revolves around a group of aspiring actors working as caterers while pursuing their dreams in Hollywood. The series combines sharp writing, a talented ensemble cast, and humorous yet poignant explorations of the entertainment industry and personal ambition. Party Down’s irreverent humor, relatable characters, and witty dialogue create a memorable and binge-worthy series that remains a hidden gem in the television landscape.
Californication, a dramedy series, offers a provocative and darkly humorous exploration of a self-destructive writer’s journey through the wild and glamorous world of Los Angeles. The show delves into themes of love, creativity, and the consequences of one’s actions. Californication’s witty writing, memorable performances, and complex character dynamics, led by David Duchovny as the flawed yet charismatic protagonist, make it an addictive and compelling series that navigates the complexities of fame and personal relationships.
Russian Doll (2019)
Russian Doll, a mind-bending and introspective dramedy, took audiences on a captivating journey through existentialism and self-discovery. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, the series follows the story of Nadia Vulvokov (played by Lyonne), who finds herself trapped in a time loop, reliving the same night of her 36th birthday party. Russian Doll’s unique narrative structure, compelling character development, and existential themes of mortality and personal growth set it apart from traditional storytelling. The show masterfully blends dark humor with moments of profound introspection, exploring the complexities of human existence and the search for meaning. Lyonne’s exceptional performance, coupled with the show’s thought-provoking storytelling, has earned Russian Doll critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base.