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The 40 Best TV Series of All Time, According to IMDB Users

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | November 21, 2013 | Comments ()


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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and with the holidays arrives reruns, hiatuses, and a slew of series that will end their yearly runs, giving us much of December to finally take a break from television and spend it with our families.

Hahahahahahahaha. No.

The holidays are the ideal time to hunker down and catch up on those classic television series you’ve been meaning to get around to forever, except that you keep getting sidetracked by the mediocrity that makes up much of the current television schedule. People are beginning to argue that the Golden Age of Television is winding down, and I don’t know about that, but I will say that most of the shows on this list come from the last decade or so, and there are 11 of them that are still running. Make of that what you will.

At any rate, I thought this list — ranked entirely by IMDB user ratings — might trigger a few ideas for catch-up watching over the break. There are a few questionable shows on here (Suits, I like, but top 40 of all time? And Downton Abby? Come on) and there are a few that really should be on here that aren’t (Slings and Arrows is a top ten for me, as is The Shield, which actually clocks in at #41. Wonder Years, Scrubs, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Orange is the New Black and Community are all also missing ).

Here’s the list. What’s missing? What’s rated too high? Quibble with it all you’d like. As for me, I’m going to find out what this Death Note is all about.

1. Breaking Bad

2. Game of Thrones

3. The Wire

4. Sherlock

5. Sopranos

6. Arrested Development

7. Firefly

8. Dexter

9. Avatar: The Last Airbender

10. The Simpsons

11. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

12. Rome

13. Freaks and Geeks

14. Twin Peaks

15. Twilight Zone

16. Death Note

17. Oz

18. Seinfeld

19. Leyla ile Mecnun

20. House M.D.

21. House of Cards

22. Batman: The Animated Series

23. Deadwood

24. Friends

25. South Park

26. Fawlty Towers

27. Cowboy Bebop

28. Suits

29. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

30. Six Feet Under

31. Archer

32. Downton Abbey

33. The Office

34. Doctor Who

35. Battlestar Galactica

36. Boardwalk Empire

37. The Walking Dead

38. The X-Files

39. Curb Your Enthusiasm

40. Justified



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • chuysteelers

    I did not look at the entire list. Once I saw that The Wire was not number one, I figured that the rest of the list would be off too. I just finished watching Breaking Bad, and it was a great show, but not to the level of The Wire or Sopranos.

  • Anonymous

    Dragon Ball Z !!
    cant forget that :D

  • bartap

    No Buffy? The list in invalid.

  • Dush Ku

    No Buffy, no 30 Rock, no Friday Night Lights...
    This list is idiocy.

  • Rhonda Hanson

    thirty something, dallas, dynasty, chips, magnum pi, law & order, luther, sex and the city, so, so, so many missed

  • Mz Black Widow

    dallas, dynasty, chips, sex and the city ...? Please tell me you're being sarcastic ,,,

  • Justin Jagoe

    A truth-bomb: 'Archer' is the inferior H. Jon Benjamin-starring animated sitcom currently on the air.

  • Jiffylush

    Six Feet Under should be higher.

    When I talk about great shows that everyone should watch I talk about The Wire and Six Feet Under.

    This list does seem to skew young and very internet-centric to me, but then again it is a popularity contest on IMDB so isn't that exactly what it should be?

  • Michelle

    Where the shit is FNL? YOU CAN'T DENY TAMI TAYLOR, IMDB.

  • JAG

    The fact that The Walking Dead made it but NOT Mad Men or Friday Night Lights makes me want to punch an orphan.

  • I really don't understand how Law and Order isn't on the list. Not saying that to be all "waaahh, my favorite got dissed" - genuinely surprised. Whether your yardstick is quality, popularity or pop-cultural impact, L&O certainly outranks some of the "meh" that pops up here.

  • Mz Black Widow

    I would have 9 of this list in my top 40. Admittedly, several shows on here are reputed to be (and I believe it) that good, they just don't appeal to me.
    Obviously - to me there are 31 shows missing but the smack in the face ones that I am shaking my head about are Buffy, Homeland, MASH, Scrubs, Roseanne, Sons of Anarchy, NCIS, NYPD Blue.

  • Jim Slemaker

    I'm wondering where the hell is THE WONDER YEARS?

  • Pawesl

    This should be the 40 best tv shows in the last 20 years. Not a single classic on that list. I Love Lucy IMO is the greatest sitcom ever.

  • bastich

    Not one show from ABC's legendary "TGIF" lineup made it on the list?

    No Balki, or Urkel, or Topanga, or Misters Belvedere and Cooper, or even the Tanner Family?

    FOR SHAME, IMDB

  • Uriah_Creep

    Lisa Simpson: All right! It's time for ABC's "TGIF" line-up!
    Bart Simpson: Lise, when you get a little older, you'll learn that Friday is just another day between NBC's "Must See Thursday" and CBS' "Saturday night craporama".

  • MrWhirly

    The Wire
    Mad Men
    Breaking Bad
    The Shield
    all could make an argument for number one. These are the shows that I know I'll be watching reruns of forever.

    I feel like The Sopranos deserves a spot there too but I really didn't like much of the last 2 seasons.
    After them is the next tier of

    Battlestar Galactica
    Friday Night Lights
    X Files
    Wiseguy

    But it is all subjective based on what I like. The debate is fun though. As much as I love Sherlock and Justified, there's too small of a sample. I also think dramas and comedies need separate categories.

  • Laurie Lolo Oatsvall Hutson

    As a Browncoat I love that Firefly is on this list (obviously promoted on fandom sites) but where's Star Trek, West Wing, Bewitched or Gilligans Island

  • Sean

    The Simpsons should be higher than 10.

  • manting

    Simpsons, MASH, Twilight Zone, and the Wire are my top four. Any order. Some of the shows on here are laughable - its clear that the demographics of IMDB users skews way young. Like 12. Deathnote?!! Batman animated series? Cmon man. If you are going to pick a cartoon there are so many that are superior.

  • fracas

    The Whedonlessness of this list makes me almost as sad and confused as the Sorkinlessness.

  • fracas

    Wait! I just saw Firefly on the list. I must have missed it on my first look through. My faith in humanity is restored. What little I had before.

  • ZedWrecker

    Missing Twilight Zone, The Munsters, Kolchak the Night Stalker, Dark Shadows, Tales from the Dark Side, Rome, West Wing, Gilmore Girls...

  • Bert_McGurt

    Rome - number 12.
    Twilight Zone - number 15.

  • ZedWrecker

    Then they should be much higher on the list.

  • manting

    Rome? You mean the epic television show about ancient Rome where the actors use ENGLISH accents? Rome doesnt belong in the top 100. Twilight Zone was some of the best television of all time.

  • manting

    how about ITALIAN accents. Or at least Mediterranean accents. If there was a show about King Arthur and they had Italian accents that would be ridiculous right? So why does a show about ancient Rome have all the actors use English accents. It was just silly.

  • ZedWrecker

    What would you have them speaking, Latin? Yeah, let's bring back a dead language for the sake of a freaking show. And you know what, piss on you for saying it doesn't belong on the top 100.

  • manting

    Will you sing about it? http://vimeo.com/41156263

  • ZedWrecker

    DON'T TEMPT ME, BRO.

  • ZedWrecker

    What would you have them use, Roman accents?

  • Zuffle

    The Shield should be in the top five. No question. Family meeting!

  • stella

    Ummm where is Friday Night Lights?

  • No "Zorro and Son"? I call shenanigans.

  • e jerry powell

    I see shows on this list that would upset Butters with all the gay wiener content.

  • pomeroy

    Rome at #12 while Mad Men is nowhere to be seen tells me all I need to know.

    And not having Friday Night Lights on here is just criminal.

  • Three_nineteen

    So, I just finished Season 2 of The Shield, and I have a question (Spoilers, obviously):

    Am I supposed to like Vic? Or sympathize with him, or root for him and his team? It's really weird, because he murdered poor Reed Diamond in the first episode, so it looks like they were setting him up to be pretty bad. But then Vic starts acting like he doesn't want to go "too far", whatever that is, when that ship pretty much sailed in the pilot. For example, he refuses to kill that weird scary Mexican drug dealer.

    I do enjoy the show, especially Claudette. I also love watching Boyd Crowder being a goofy horny fuck-up.

  • AS I recall, Vic was firmly in "love to hate territory", but Michael Chiklis is just so damn good you can be forgiven for being a bit reticent.

  • MrWhirly

    Agreed. You should just let it play out and see how you feel over time. Same as with Don Draper and Walter White. Sometimes you can't help loving them and other times you want to smack em right in the mouth. The Antihero is such a great character. I'm in the middle of S2 for my third rewatch and loving it all over again. Tied for best show of all time for me.

  • Yocean

    I'm a-tittered that two anime shows made to this list; Death Note and Cowboy Bebop. One word of advice; there is no need to watch Death Note till end. After a certain climactic event, the show turns from a thrilling game of wits to an afterbirth level mess. Though if you do decide to stick around, the ending is pretty satisfying, as incredible as it is. There is one character who is basically a McGuffin that has done the impossible.

  • DeaconG

    How did Batman: The Animated Series get on here and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited didn't?

    After all, Batman SINGS!

  • Sean

    Because as much fun as JL/JLU is...Batman is better. Smarter, darker, better written, better animated.

  • manting

    if you are going to go anime than it would be Star Blazers or Robotech - its 12 year olds voting on IMDB

  • Archie Leach

    I'm willing to bet that if The Phil Silvers Show/Bilko would've been on the list if the show was on the tube today but obviously all the born post-1980 have never even heard of it..... including here.....

  • José Rafael Solis Corps

    No The West Wing (probably the best political series ever), but you have something like Suits? Don't get me wrong, I love Suits, but it's not BEST of all time material.

  • Nobody important

    What the hell is leyla? Sounds stupid. Mash? Many of these shows do not need to be in this list. South park? worst show ever. Really? This is a stupid list.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Honestly, your Disqus handle does not inspire a lot of confidence in your opinion. Just sayin'.

  • Nobody important

    hmmmm.. maybe but pot calling the kettle black?

  • Uriah_Creep

    Touché. But I'm an important Creep. Just ask my vast army of admirers. ;)

  • emmalita

    Is this person hassling you Mr._Creep? You want I should do something about it?

  • Uriah_Creep

    Please stand down, Cpl. Emm. We will give this person a chance, because we are magnanimous. Good to see you were on the ball, though.

  • foca9

    The top five is not that far off… but I can't take a list seriously with Suits that high up.

  • commanderfunky

    Boardwalk Empire at 36? How about top 10?

  • Kristopher R

    No "Automan"??? Pffft

  • FinFan68

    Sadly, I remember that show. "On a scale of 1-10 think of me as an 11"

  • Kristopher R

    It's not sad if your remember the show. I barely remember it. But I remember liking it.

  • DominaNefret

    I knew I would take issue with this list, since I don't like a number of the most popular modern shows and I assumed (correctly) that this list would skew overly modern, but it is far worse than I expected.
    I'd like to see the demographics of who rated these, because from what I have seen, males from 18-35 are the most likely to rate anything on IMDB, which really skews the data.
    Thus why this list is mostly compromised of guy shows and shows from the last ten years.
    I'm not surprised that a few of my favorites aren't on the list, but I am shocked by the absence of others.
    No The West Wing? That should be #4, or at least in the top 10.
    No M.A.S.H.? Scrubs? Mary Tyler Moore? I Love Lucy? Bob Newhart Show? Boston Legal? Queer As Folk? Prime Suspect? Inspector Lewis? Upstairs Downstairs? E.R.?

  • axis2clusterB

    Justified does not get enough love, at all, ever.

  • MrWhirly

    Yeah, I'm amazed more ladies don't watch it for the gratuitous shirtless Raylan shots each week. He's gotta be sexier than Jax Teller, right? He gets better plots and dialogue anyway. I'm rewatching the Quarles season right now. What a great villain!

  • axis2clusterB

    While I love me some Jax, Tim Olyphant wins hands down. I'm rewatching the whole series in advance of the new season, I can't help myself.

  • Bert_McGurt

    You've certainly got to HAND it to him for that performance...

  • dizzylucy

    Agreed, but I'm just stunned at all that it made it to the list. Probably because the dozens of people who watch rated it 10/10.

  • thatsmrsnyder

    Lists like these make me really realize how useless IMDB is as a rating platform. Ratings stand more as a "what's popular" in pop culture than an indication of lasting quality.

  • ryallen

    Dexter has no business on this list. If it had ended after season 6, perhaps, but 7 and 8 have banished it to the annals of tv hell.

  • manting

    After season two I gave up. The premise wears thin quickly.

  • Cree83

    After noting the absence of shows from the 50s-80s, I was going to say this list MIGHT be okay if it were best shows of the 90s-present, but even if that were the case they still left out Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Frasier - which was much more consistently funny over it's long stretch than Friends, The West Wing, the ones you noted like Scrubs, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, etc.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think this list tells you a great deal more about the specific type of person who bothers to rank tv series on IMDB than on the quality of those tv series.

  • Uriah_Creep

    And if you wallow around in the IMDB forums a bit (NOT recommended), you'll find that the average IMDBer is a youngish male with an intelligence just slightly lower than a framing hammer, so we should all consider the source before becoming too outraged at this list.

  • MrWhirly

    Absolutely. True for most polls too. In the time it takes to rank shows, I could have been watching Omar verbally take down Maurice levy again.

  • DominaNefret

    I just commented about this. I was actually looking at demographics on IMDB the other day because I thought that the way a movie was rated seemed to be low, and I noticed that the majority of the people who rated the movie were males between 18 and 30 and they had given it a 3, while almost all of the females who rated it gave it between an 8 and a 10, so the overall ranking was skewed lower since twice as many guys had ranked it, even though it was a movie aimed at women. So I went to a few more pages out of curiosity, and noticed that 18-30 year old guys rate things at a much higher volume than any other group. It totally skews the rankings of all of these lists and the overall score of a lot of movies/shows.

  • Probably a good thing that the IMDB rating is a completely irrelevant marker for quality entertainment then.

  • alannaofdoom

    Depressingly, those demographics mean that this list is probably also what studios and networks mean by "best."

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That's way more research than I would've put into it, so thank you for validating my gut reaction.

  • Sam Underwood

    Xfiles needs to be higher than 38...

  • Indy Z

    Wow, Dustin, it warms the cockles of my heart that you're a 'Slings & Arrows' fan. I've never met anyone who's heard of it before (outside of an insular theater group in college), but it's pretty perfect. FrogHammer, "Richard Nixon said that," horses don't like fire, Rachel McAdams, and also everything about Darren Nichols. Everyone should watch it; I was really bummed when Netflix took it off streaming.

  • Wicked

    I just cannot believe that MAD MEN IS NOT IN THIS LIST. I can't take this.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Not a single Star Trek? Set phasers to STUNNED.

  • DeaconG

    No Star Trek:TOS OR TNG?

    FIRE PHOTON TORPEDOES!

  • SelenaMac

    This comment made my whole day.

  • bastich

    How is "Leyla ile Mecnum"?

  • Bert_McGurt

    Better than House, but not as good as Seinfeld.

  • Wicked

    Mad Men is not in this, what! ?Fringe? Carnivale? Homeland? Shameless? Buffy the vampire slayer? Party Down? I love Lucy?

    Friends is in this shit? Suits... seriously?! Dexter? Are you kidding me? That series was shit after season 4.

  • Mentalcase

    Yeah Mad Men was the one that sticks out for me as unfairly absent here. My friend JUST got me watching Carnivale. I'm 2 episodes in and it's been very intriguing so far. I hope it keeps it up.

  • Wicked

    Ìt does, you are in for a treat, especially in season 2. The finally will break you though, because it was cancelled right after season 2 was done. :(

  • JustOP

    Death Note is a fantastic little anime about a very, very smart highschooler who finds a black book that allows him to choose how and when people die by writing it. The worlds greatest detective, a very eccentric man named L, is then tracked with finding him down and stopping him. It's got some excellent twists, absolutley awesome music, and a really satisfying rivaly between the 'protagonist' and L.

    If you like anime, chances are you'll enjoy it. If you havn't watched anime before, it's an excellent introduction to it. If you generally don't like anime, I'd still recommend you watch the first 3 or 4 episodes of this show.

  • Ben

    Death note is awful wanky trash.
    Sorry but the show gets off on masturbating over how fucking smart the characters are so much it forgets about being coherent and logical. About the point where L and Light are at school together and the entire show devolves into

    Light: If I do this, L will think I'm doing this, but L will know I know that, so he will think this, but L will know I know the he knows that I know that he knows that that, so I should do that

    L: Light is doing this, so that must mean that, except he will know that I know that, so it must mean this, but he will know that I know that he knows that I know that he knows that OH GOD SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU PRETENTIOUS TWATS!

    It's the most frustratingly pretentious anime I've seen since NGE.

  • Ozioma

    So basically, Death Note plays like an anime version of 'Sherlock Holmes,' with the book-wielding Moriarty expy as the villain protagonist?

    Awesome.

  • JustOP

    You're actually not far off, they have a rivalry/friend/equal thing going on much in the same way as Holmes and Moriarty.

    The only difference I can think of is that Sherlock is 'the good guy' of his respective show. Whereas in Death Note, both L or Light (the protag) could be called 'the good guy' and the other 'the bad guy', depending where you stand.

  • Sam Underwood

    Ya Death Note is great, really excited when i saw Cowboy Bebop break onto this list too

  • Wicked

    Where in the fuck is Sons of Anarchy?

  • These lists really need to be segregated by Drama and Comedy. I have no idea how one compares Archer and The Wire in terms of quality. Completely different aspirations.

  • I can't speak to the tv series, but the live-action Death Note movies are pretty enjoyable.

  • LD

    Justified and Deadwood should be in the top ten.
    I couldn't get into GOT. It's just an excuse for female nudity and violence and it becomes repetitive after a short while.

  • Sam Underwood

    While I agree with your Justified comment, you obviously did not give GoT enough time if you think its an excuse Female nudity and is repetitive. I would argue GoT is one of the most Feminist shows on TV atm.

  • manting

    best television adaptation of literature. I do think there is gratuitous nudity but the story is just great.

  • bastich

    * "40 Best TV Series Of All Time, But Still Not As Good As 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' "

    There, IMDb -- I fixed the title for you. You're welcome.

    Schmucks.

  • manting

    Joel Hodgeson though, not mike nelson

  • emmalita

    I told my dad last night that there's going to be an MST3K marathon on Thanksgiving Day. He said, "thank god." I smiled, and then remembered he is spending T-Day with ME! What was that "thank god" about? Huh?

  • bastich

    He's thankful for spending T-Day watching an awesome show with his awesome daughter, of course. :)

    Wanna trade dads for the day? Mine will just snooze in front of the TV with the football game on all day.

  • emmalita

    I'll go buy the bus ticket today. :)

    This is better than Secret Santa! Dad exchange.

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