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100 best TV shows of all time, according to critics

  • 100 best TV shows of all time, according to critics

    Televisions have been fixtures in American homes for decades, so choosing the 100 best shows of all time is no easy feat. Stacker compiled the data for all TV reviews available on Metacritic, averaging reviews for each season and ranking shows according to the highest average.

    Certain names appear over and over, like acclaimed writer David Simon, who started out as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore, where he later set his hit shows “The Corner” and “The Wire.” He appears again as the writer of “Treme,” set in New Orleans, and “Show Me a Hero,” set in a New York City suburb.

    Many of the acclaimed shows tackle issues of race, giving viewers an opportunity to relate, debate, and even learn from what they are watching. “P-Valley” portrays the lives of Black dancers at a Mississippi Delta strip club, and “When They See Us” uncovers the wrenching stories of five Black and Latino teenagers in New York City whose lives were destroyed by a racist justice system. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” takes on race, as does “The Night Of” in its recounting of a Pakistani-American college student accused of murder.

    Others paint eerie and dystopian futures, like “Watchmen,” and the last of humanity ravaged by war in “Battlestar Galactica.” Shows like "Justified" and "Deadwood" reckon with America's present by showing its troubled past.

    Megahits like “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos,” and “Mad Men” made the cut, yet other runaway successes like “Game of Thrones” are absent. Beloved classics like “M*A*S*H,” “Seinfeld,” “I Love Lucy,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Cheers,” and “Law and Order”—with all its spin-offs—are examples of popular shows that, according to critics at least, aren't in the top 100.

    To find a television show's cumulative Metascore, Stacker averaged the reviews for each season and ranked shows according to the highest averages. Live-action series, animated series, docuseries, miniseries, and series with only one season were included. The "Series Metascore" represents the Metascore for all seasons that had data available, with the most recent available date from Aug. 31, 2020.

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  • #100. Treme

    - Series Metascore: 84
    - Highest-rated season: 1

    HBO’s mini-series “Treme” is set in New Orleans post-Katrina, where residents grapple with the hurdles of rebuilding. The cast includes Wendell Pierce, Melissa Leo, Kim Dickens, Clarke Peters, and John Goodman.

  • #99. Dear White People

    - Series Metascore: 84
    - Highest-rated season: 2

    “Dear White People” is a comedy following students of color as they handle racism at a mostly white Ivy League college. It started on Netflix in 2017.

  • #98. Rescue Me

    - Series Metascore: 84
    - Highest-rated season: 3

    Denis Leary plays a troubled firefighter in “Rescue Me,” as he and the rest of his New York City firehouse crew face issues of life and death. It ran for seven seasons on FX.

  • #97. Curb Your Enthusiasm

    - Series Metascore: 84.2
    - Highest-rated season: 3

    Larry David stars in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as a caustic curmudgeon, based on himself, as he manages to irritate and antagonize friends and strangers on a regular basis. David also created “Seinfeld,” making hundreds of millions of dollars from the show's syndication rights.

  • #96. The Good Wife

    - Series Metascore: 84.3
    - Highest-rated season: 2

    Julianna Margulies heads the cast of “The Good Wife,” which also includes Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming, Josh Charles, and Chris Noth. She plays the wife of a disgraced and imprisoned politician going back to work as an attorney. It was loosely inspired by the case of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose wife Silda Spitzer stood at his side when he resigned and admitted patronizing sex workers.

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  • #95. Pushing Daisies

    - Series Metascore: 84.5
    - Highest-rated season: 1

    Pushing Daisies” is a comedy about a pie maker who can bring the dead back to life, a talent that carries certain drawbacks and helps solve murder cases. It ran for two seasons on ABC.

  • #94. Extras

    - Series Metascore: 84.5
    - Highest-rated season: 2

    Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant created, produced, and starred in “Extras” on the BBC, a deadpan comedy of actors landing roles as extras while trying to build their careers. The pair also created the original British version of “The Office.”

  • #93. Enlightened

    - Series Metascore: 84.5
    - Highest-rated season: 2

    Laura Dern plays the lead in “Enlightened,” a show about a self-destructive employee who moves from the top rung to the bottom at a company and tries to repair her havoc-filled life while plotting revenge. Set in a cookie-cutter California suburb, it features Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother who plays her fictional mother, and Luke Wilson.

  • #81. Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (tie)

    - Series Metascore: 85

    The four-part series “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men” follows the career of the hip-hop stars, with interviews, performances, and archive footage. It shows their talent helping them emerge from the violence and poverty of their New York home.

  • #81. Wonderland (tie)

    -Series Metascore: 85
    -Highest-rated season: 1

    Filmed like a documentary, “Wonderland” is a drama set in a fictional hospital, based on Bellevue in New York City, that specializes in psychiatric care. It was canceled in 2000 by ABC after just eight episodes. The show was hailed by some critics for its unflinching approach and criticized by others for negative, often violent, portrayals of mental illness.

     

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