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The Drunk Monkeys 50 Best TV Shows of the 21st Century

The 21st Century has been called the “Golden Age of Television”, a time in which television finally took advantage of its serialized structure to tell stories that challenged viewers with previously unseen realism, a boom which in many ways mirrored the explosion of challenging films of the 1970’s, also a time of gritty anti-heroes. Many of the greatest television series of our era featured male anti-heroes, so many that we could very well call the century so far the “Problematic Men” era of television (Bojack Horseman in particular seems to be a thought exercise based around how unlikable a television series could make its lead and still have us willing to follow his adventures).

Were these series glorifying the poor choices, violence, and misogyny of their lead characters? Sometimes, yes: Matthew Weiner may expect viewers to cluck their tongues and shake their heads at Don Draper’s bad behavior, but also wants - also needs - them to accept him as a tortured genius. Vince Gilligan seemed to understand better than anyone just how destructive Walter White was to all who surrounded him, yet even Gilligan gives a Walt a sort of happy ending, where he gets to undo a measure of the hurt he’s caused. But David Chase thinks Tony Soprano is irredeemable, and thumbed his nose at viewers who expected either redemption or a gory bloodbath.

But the past few years has witnessed the rise of other voices, and characters, than just the middle-aged white guy. In an unexpected way, the NBC/Yahoo comedy series Community marks this sea change in television. Community was created by Dan Harmon, a textbook example of a man able to get away with terrible, abusive, and harassing behavior due, in large part, to a cult of personality that developed around his storytelling genius. And the series itself, while it featured a purposely diverse cast, centered around a very typical “cool white TV dude”. And yet, three members of that cast in particular, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, and Donald Glover, would go on to play the lead in or create series which were unlike anything that had ever been on television before. Jacobs’ Love flipped the male anti-hero stereotype, with Jacobs playing a self-destructive love addict; Brie’s GLOW showcased feminine strength and unity; and with Atlanta, Glover turned the medium of television into his own singular artistic statement. The seemingly infinite streaming market may have led to what we call “Peak TV”, and a feeling of overwhelm, but with voices like Glover’s always waiting to be discovered, we’re far from the end of the Golden Age.

The following is a list culled from votes by the writers, editors, and regular contributors of Drunk Monkeys.


Honorable Mention: Vanderpump Rules

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Our honorable mention goes out to DM family favorite, the incredible Vanderpump Rules. A spin off of the iconic Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, VPR started as a way to follow the staff of Lisa Vanderpump's WeHo restaurant, Sur, and has now grown to be a staple of DM meetings. Why isn't it on our top list? Because we can't agree on how reality TV lands in terms of the zeitgeist, not to mention this show is a niche obsession with just a handful of our staff. But trust me, VPR isn't just a blip on the tv radar- it's a way of life, and we stan LaLa, Stassi, and hell, even Jax, forever and always. See you at Tom Tom, haters!

As natural inheritor to Ron Moore’s Battlestar, and also to big screen bombast like Prometheus, The Expanse finally gets the eternal sci-fi theme of first contact right. It does so by respecting the humanness of its characters; among them, an Indian grandmother/political operative who cusses, like, a lot; a hardboiled detective; and an imposing Martian Marine (who happens to be a girl). The central conflict is between inner and outer planets; the bigger enemy shows up only gradually. Can humanity stop fighting itself long enough to make the next big leap? The Expanse’s answer is both particular and broadly hopeful.

Jeanne Obbard, staff writer

Best episode: “Caliban’s War” (season 2, episode 13)

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An early HBO experiment, Carnivale lasted two stunning seasons. Watched now it seems like a harbinger of weird shows to come (and a clear descendent of Twin Peaks) over the course of the ‘00s and ‘10s, well ahead of its time. Creator Daniel Kanuf plotted out an intricate and fascinating mythology that draws on cults, Christianity, magic, and Gnosticism. Fans spent hours digging into Carnivale’s mysteries and were often rewarded for it as the mythology was rooted in real world myths. It came with a number of directors who would go on to become successful in other dramas (Lost’s Jack Bender and The Sopranos’ Steve Shill, for instance); many an HBO director first appeared on HBO thanks to Carnivale.

But don’t think it was only a technical success. It was also terrifying. From Clancy Brown’s towering Brother Justin to Ben Crowder’s surreal dreams, Carnivale was capable of chilling in a way that Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone only could in the past. While it is a shame that HBO could not afford to continue Carnivale, its two seasons are impressive achievements and tell a complete story.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best Episode: “New Canaan, CA” (season 2, episode 12)

As Told By Ginger was ahead of its time for an animated cartoon. During its run, not only did it feature relatable characters that developed full character arcs, it tackled many themes—such as friendship, puberty, self-image—related to growing up with openness and sensitivity not found in other programming directed toward the same target audience.

Sean Woodard, Film Editor

Best episode: “The Right Stuff” (season 1, episode 9)

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Schitt’s Creek is the perfect mix of humor and heart that breaks down the stereotypes of small town living. The humor comes from the offbeat scenarios of a rich family learning to slum it, while the heart comes from the characters finally acting like a true family. They create a world where same sex relationships can live in harmony with small minded simpletons while giving the characters space to be unapologetically themselves. With the news of the show coming to an end, I have to say that from this point on nothing will warm my heart like Alexis saying, “Ew, David!”

Juliet Barney

Best episode: “Open Mic” (season 4, episode 6)

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A sweet, earnest, and unapologetically gay show from Down Under. Josh Thomas wrote and created a semi-autobiographical show about his life and his friends, and his suicidal, mentally ill mother. Josh the Character is a kind but also nerdy, average looking dude, with little ambition and a ton of neuroses who despite claiming to have a bad romantic life, nonetheless dates a never-ending string of ridiculously hot dudes that Josh the Show Creator casts for him. (Think young, gay, non-pedophilic Woody Allen). The scripts are often outright hilarious, the acting is top notch and despite the show frequently having a light touch, the pathos is also there, lurking under the surface. The people that make up Josh’s orbit, his friends and family, are all beautifully humanized, making this show one of the best ensemble casts since Cheers.

Ryan Roach, writer, Worth A Click podcast

Best Episodes: “Trifle” (season 3, episode 10)

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Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job is one strange sketch comedy show.  Not content to just be disturbingly weird and uncomfortable, they did so with an even mix of comedians and ‘regular’ people.  Lasting for five seasons and a movie, they managed to live just as long as their more ‘normal’ sketch comedy brethren. When you search for ‘shows like Tim and Eric’ you get mostly things written by and starring Tim Heidecker and/or Eric Wareheim.  Why? Because there’s nothing else quite like them.

Taras D. Butrej, film critic

Best episode: “Man Milk” (season 5, episode 10)

Based on a character created by the great Elmore Leonard, Justified is rich in southern noir atmosphere. It is filled with characters who operate along blurry lines of good and evil, or right and wrong.  As this intensely satisfying action-drama explores those concepts through fascinating characters and sharp dialog, we are left with a sprawling, surprisingly deep epic of cosmic forces fighting for survival in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Justified also benefits from playing out at times like a comic book. The series would sometimes became audacious in its twists, but the ends always vindicated the means.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer
Best episode: “Decoy” (season 4, episode 11)

Pushing Daisies follows endearingly wholesome pie-maker Ned (wonderful Lee Pace) as he navigates moral quandaries of using his power to resurrect the dead. He helps solve murders, alongside his bubbly assistant (Kristen Chenoweth), a P.I. (Chi McBride), and his undead childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel) whom he must never touch again despite their sparkling chemistry. Chipper in style, Pushing Daisies is rooted in the dangers of touch and impossible question of who gets to live and die (creator Bryan Fuller referenced the AIDS crisis as inspiration). Killed by ABC in 2009, no show would be more appropriate for resurrection.

Shari Caplan, writer
Best episode: “Bzzzzzzzz!” (season 2, episode 1)

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Along with the Simpsons, perhaps no other animated TV show has dominated popular culture in the US quite like South Park.  From its humble beginnings as a bootleg Christmas video passed around Hollywood, South Park has grown into its own post-modern empire, featuring foul-mouthed children being tossed into dark surreal scenarios that are parodies of real-world current events.  Owing to its unique rapid-fire creation technique and longstanding creative process with original creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park has managed to remain topical and relevant well past the shelf life of other animated sitcoms.

Fritz Hoepfner, Prince Consort

Best episode: “Crème Fraiche” (season 14, episode 14)

The Shield and The Wire had a friendly competition when the two dramas aired. For my money, The Shield is the better show. Shawn Ryan’s drama about corrupt cops tackled the brutality that lies in the heart of many police precincts better than any television show I have seen. In an era where the president encourages the police to be more violent, The Shield has become a must watch show.

But outside of its political relevance, it is also a deeply effective drama, touting some of the best performances on TV: Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, and CCH Pounder deliver some career best work, especially in The Shield’s pulse pounding final season. It is a roller coaster ride of a binging experience (and if you’re not a binger, you won’t have a choice once you start The Shield- it’ll be five episodes a night for you), and it saves the best for last. Its final episode, “Family Meeting,” is one of the finest episodes of television to date. You’ll never forget it.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best episode: “Family Meeting” (season 7, episode 13)

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Being put in the position of rooting for the bad guy is hardly new idea in American TV. We’ve been doing it ever since Tony Soprano waddled over to Dr Melfi’s couch and unburdened himself. But perhaps we’ve never before been asked to root for someone--or two someones--who are so explicitly anti-American. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (not their real names) are Russian spies for God’s sake. And they kill people. Innocent people. (Not just other serial killers, Dexter, you weenie). To further their end goal of destroying America. So, root for them if you can. Find their humanity if you dare. Perhaps it’s easier knowing that we won the Cold War and all their efforts our doomed? Perhaps Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are two acting savants at the top of their game and having empathy for them is instinctive? Or perhaps there are more than a few Americans in 2019 who don’t have a ton of love for America much anymore? It’s a mystery.

Ryan Roach, writer/Worth A Click podcast

Best episodes: “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” (season 3, episode 9)

Community wasn’t launched as a high-concept sitcom. Shady lawyer who never passed the bar and needs to go finish his degree goes to a shitty community college, meets wacky folks, etc. But as the first season progressed, the show began to feature a series of highly specific genre parodies which paid tribute, in inventive ways, to other pieces of pop culture. That, then, became the identity of the series, meaning each episode faced a challenge of needing to top the episode before. And for a long time, from the claymation episode to the paintball western turned Star Wars parody, to the series highlight parallel universe story “Remedial Chaos Theory”, it was successful. Behind the scenes drama will always cast a shadow over what might have been, but for much of its run, Community boasted one of the the greatest casts in television history, whose members you will find scattered across the rest of this list.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Remedial Chaos Theory” (season 3, episode 4)

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You don't hear much nowadays about Rescue Me, the post- 9/11 New York firefighter drama starring Denis Leary as the demon plagued alcoholic Tommy Gavin, but the show always meant a lot to me (and to my son's father, who watched and discussed it with me at length every week right through the series finale in 2011, long after our marriage was over).The trauma of Tommy's life was heavy and relatable, with bad decisions poisoning everyone he comes in contact with. Ultimately, it's a redemption story, and though I've not revisited in a long time (and am famously anti- damaged man tropes), I will always hold these characters close to my heart. (Team Sheila forever!)

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Best episode: “Happy” (season 2, episode 12)

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Bob’s Burgers is still one of the silliest, most insightful comedies on television. That sometimes dips into darker waters. Yet this ongoing animated comedy about a family-owned burger restaurant has never lost its sweetness. That kindness that seems inherent in the DNA of the series provides the show with an emotional core many current TV comedies lack. The best part about this element of Bob’s Burgers is the fact that it’s not an artificial kindness. Life is hard. People can be cruel. You do your best, and you hopefully go home to people who love you, even if they don’t always like you.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best Episode: “The Kids Rob a Train” (season 4, episode 15)

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SciFi for meme culture, Stranger Things has staples like overly-elaborate elevators, a creepy underworld of inconsistent relation to reality, & monsters with flower-like heads & gooey, organic trails. Bike-riding children playing Dig Dug tip their hats to Gen X. Deeper though, The Duffer Brothers created many adorable yet fallible characters who carry throbbing wounds like the gashes in walls. A girl known as a number bleeds to serve others. A laconic sheriff must be shaken into action. Friends argue in archetypal feuds then fall into heroic roles as Dungeons & Dragons serves as extended metaphor for human bonding & action.

Joey Gould, Poetry Editor

Best episode: “Dig Dug” (season 2, episode 5)

From the same creative team and featuring many of the same cast members as 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows Ellie Kemper as the chipper titular character.  Upbeat, indefatigable, and permanently ensconced in early 90s vernacular, Kimmy is a recent rescue of a group of “mole women” from a doomsday cult and is committed to having a normal life in New York after having her independence stifled for so long.  In many ways, UKS is a spiritual sequel to 30 Rock, with the same penchant for off-beat humor and cutaway gags. Special mention needs to be given to Titus Burgess, who plays the character of Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s flamboyant and fiercely protective roommate.  While he had several small roles on 30 Rock that hinted at his greatness, on UKS Burgess dominates the screen and absolutely makes this show a stellar outing.

Fritz Hoepfner, Prince Consort

Best episode:  “Kimmy's Roommate Lemonades!” (season 3, episode 2)


The best, or at least the most consistent, series of the now defunct Marvel Netflix Universe, Daredevil understood that to truly portray Matt Murdock, you need to lean as deeply on the ol’ Catholic guilt as you do the superpowers. Moody but never overbearing, with elegant action and jaw-dropping stunts (this show belongs on this list for the hallway fight sequence alone), Daredevil is the series that had the most juice left before Netflix dropped the ax.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Cut Man” (season 1, episode 2)

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Nic Pizzolatto’s anthology series shocked viewers in its 2014 season with a noir mystery tinged with gothic horror led by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Filled with narrative trickery, structural ingenuity, some of the best non-Twin Peaks direction, and tremendous performances, season one of True Detective was a phenomenon.

When season two arrived in 2015, the phenomenon burst. Seen as dull, confusing, and overly bleak, by the time season two concluded, fans and critics decided True Detective was a one hit wonder. Then, in 2019, True Detective got one more chance at the plate, this time with Maherashala Ali starring. The third season gave viewers a somber tale about a man with dementia revisiting a past case that he cannot fully remember. The season stands apart from the others, much more of a single character journey than a mystery, with no supernatural overtones or Michael Mann-like shootouts. It also gave viewers a chance to reevaluate the maligned second season, whose narrative of corruption and decay looked positively prescient considering all that has occurred since 2015. True Detective’s 2019 comeback, part of which involved showing it did not need as much of a comeback as some thought, has placed it back in the zeitgeist; it will be interesting to see if the inventive show will return once more.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best episode: “The Secret Fate of All Life” (season 1, episode 5)

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You don't hear a lot about the Netflix original "Love", starring Paul Rust as Gus and Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, two Los Angeles area misfits who fall for each other regardless of their cringeworthy character flaws and various neuroses. But in three perfect seasons I see in this show various iterations of myself and my relationships. Not only does Love focus on, well, love, it focuses on addiction, self worth, Hollywood, and not keeping your phone synched to your Bluetooth speaker. Supporting character Bertie is a highlight in a series of vaguely unlikeable characters: she's the true friend everyone deserves. Love is a love letter to Los Angeles and soul mates alike.

Kolleen Carney=Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Best episode: “Palm Springs Getaway” (season 3, episode 1)

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In lightning-quick thirty minute bouts as fraught as they are fun, creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch juggle the friendships, love affairs, and ambitions of fourteen perfectly-cast Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Alison Brie as Ruth and Betty Gilpin as Debbie lead, alternating between heel and face as they fight in the ring and outside of it for their careers and desires. Costumed with pizzazz but not excess (Brie’s often bare-faced), written with wit and truth, and featuring impressive wrestling sequences with episodic subtext, GLOW honors its source (the original 1980s wrestling show) and claims space for women in television.

Shari Caplan, writer

Best episode: “Viking Funeral” (season 2, episode 1)

When The Sopranos writer Terence Winter announced he was teaming up with Martin Scorsese to create a show about 1920s gangsters in Atlantic City, expectations for a Goodfellas-esque series were set. Boardwalk Empire turned out to be quite different, which no doubt turned some viewers off. Slow and methodical, Boardwalk Empire was often more interested in marinating in the aesthetic of the 1920s than in supplying violent shootouts or gangland beatings. For some, this almost dreamlike approach to the era was too dull.

But for those who stuck around? Well, they were afforded an hour a week of lush visuals, tremendous dialogue, and a career best performance by Steve Buscemi, who played Nucky Thompson, a strange character one would not expect to see lead a mob series. He’s quiet, grouchy, not fond of using violence first, and generally disinterested in the mob lifestyle. This resulted in Boardwalk Empire being a far cry from what viewers wanted, yes. But it also resulted in five great seasons of television that dismantled some of the myths of the 1920s and connected its problems to today’s. After its first season, talk of Boardwalk Empire declined, which is a shame as it only improved as time went on, concluding with a structurally intriguing last season that ends with a potent, sad shot. For years to come, Boardwalk Empire will be a drama HBO Go users will find and say, “I can’t believe I missed that when it aired.”

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best Episode: “To the Lost” (season 2, episode 12)

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There may be no better series to showcase the typical arc of the 21st century genre series than Orphan Black. Hook the audience with a fantastical plot and wild characters, build a fun conspiracy-laced world, turn that conspiracy into a frustrating labyrinth of twists and turns, and ultimately just sort of finish without a very satisfying resolution. But none of that matters, and Orphan Black is forever genius, because of the incredible central performance of Tatiana Maslany. She plays many characters over the course of the series, all clones with their own distinct personalities and quirks, and she breathes remarkable life into all of them. Without Maslany, Orphan Black is an also-ran, with Maslany, it’s an all-time great.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Variations Under Domestication” (season 1, episode 6)

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BSG may have ultimately have been an allegory about how racism is bad if you’re feeling cheeky and reductive. But as Roger Ebert famously once said, “it’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it”. A story of beleaguered humans on the run from killer robots also functions as a Rorschach Test. What episode were you on when you started sympathizing with the Cylons? In season four did you look back in embarrassment at the “it’s okay to torture robots” argument you made in season two? Though perhaps BSG may have crawled up into its own mythology asshole a bit too much at the end, (and what exactly was “The Plan”?), they more than made up for it with astonishing acting and somehow credible high melodrama.

Ryan Roach, writer/Worth a Click podcast

Best episode: “Sometimes a Great Notion” (season 4, episode 3)

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While some refer to Westworld as HBO’s version of Lost, I think nothing could be further from the truth. Westworld showcases the world’s addiction to technology and desire to escape reality - no matter what the cost. The viewers are meant to sympathize with the hosts, and in turn, led to dislike the humans. It’s masterful in the way it continues to build new layers and add in new worlds, without losing sight of its original intention and leads you to ask the question: In the end, would you choose your smartphone over your own daughter?

Juliet Barney, staff writer

Best episode: “The Well-Tempered Clavier” (season 1, episode 9)

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One of the stranger television shows to air prior to “prestige TV,” the original run of Doctor Who veered from masterpieces to trash on a week-to-week basis. Yet, its best episodes were so strong that Doctor Who rightfully gained itself a large and loyal cult following. Its return in 2005 revealed a more consistent show. None of the episodes were quite as dire as some of the original show’s clunkers (and the special effects were a bit better), but it did not as often hit the heights of its predecessor, either, sometimes missing the satirical punch of Robert Holmes or the mad genius of Andrew Cartmel.

But the new Doctor Who has still solidified its place among the greats. It is, after all, a show that managed to get Americans to watch a very British man fly around time and space in a 1960s English police call box. With a premise that allows for it to stick around forever, Doctor Who has reinvented itself, at least, four times since it restarted in 2005. In an era where shows fly high one season and crash and burn in the next, Doctor Who’s flexibility gives it a staying power that allows it to tell its bonkers stories about Daleks, Cybermen, and why the marginalized should always be helped.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best Episode: “Vincent and the Doctor” (season 5, episode 10)

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Personally, I don’t mind that The Simpsons is still on the air after 30 seasons. While the show is not what it used to be, the run of the series in the 21st century (from season 11 to the current 30th) has largely been interesting. While the tone of the show has changed dramatically from 2000 to the present, the core concepts of the series have remained largely intact. The show continues to offer interesting stories based on two or more members of the Simpsons family. In spite of their consistently disappointing response to the recent Apu controversy, the show still has some pointed, even hilarious criticisms for society and popular culture.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best episode: “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” (season 19, episode 9)

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It’s a shame the Coen brothers apparently aren’t fans of Fargo. More of an expansion on the universe of the 1996 film, than a follow-up to that Oscar winning film, the TV series tells a different, single-season arc every couple of years or so. The story in each season begins and ends within that season, but everything seems to be building towards a larger world. The show has yet to present a weak story in its three-season (four will be out some damn day) run. At the same time, for those who have kept up with each season, that universe-building element is becoming something close to singular.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best episode: “Palindrome” (season 2, episode 10)

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American Crime Story has no business being as good as it is. Focusing first on the trial of OJ Simpson, and then on the murder of Giovanni Versace, this Ryan Murphy backed FX show reminds us of the circus that is true crime, and America's fascination with it.

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Best episode: “Marcia Marcia Marcia” (season 1, episode 6)

On the surface, Deadwood was a violent, cynical reinvention of the western. Centered around the establishment of a real-life South Dakota boomtown, this show changed the narrative structure of historical dramas in that stories and subplots, much like real life, weren’t clear cut. More often than not, there was no denouement, and historical figures disappeared into the world of Deadwood as unceremoniously as they were birthed into it.

Fans point to actor Ian McShane’s portrayal of Al Swearingen, who transitioned from villain in season one to anti-hero in season three, as one of Deadwood’s many highlights. However, the show’s true, everlasting testament is in its cutthroat portrayal of capitalism. As the pioneers of Deadwood fight amongst themselves in their quest for land, capital, and pursuit of the American dream, their propagation brings about all of the worst parts of industrialization in George Hearst, season three’s villain. When Hearst, an industrialist who later became a California senator in real life, rolls into town, the might of unfettered capitalism presses down on our protagonists, and our historical drama about a small western boomtown finds itself unwillingly incorporated by big business.

Scott Waldyn, writer  

Best episode: "A Two-Headed Beast" (season 3, episode 5)

The gang aren't people who should be idolized (though this seems to be lost on some viewers), but their problematic existence and their inability to come out on top is what I love most about them. Incredibly offensive and awful in literally every way, the characters on IASiP are the worst parts of us as a society, unapologetically creating chaos in every situation they find themselves in. Endlessly quotable and the source of the bulk of my saved memes, I find myself rooting for Dennis, Sweet Dee, Charlie, Mac, and Frank more often than I'd care to admit.

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Standout episode: “Chardee McDennis” (season 7, episode 7)

Political burnout is real, and we're neck deep in it, but watching Selena Meyer fail, often upward, is nothing short of spectacular. Julia Louis Dreyfus is resplendent as a woman who wants to rule the free world, but doesn't really want to, and hates everyone in it, and the constant bungling of even the simplest tasks by her staff is probably less social commentary on the way the government works and more actual Washington footage.

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Best episode: “C**ntgate” (seasons 5, episode 6)

An often-repeated exhortation to convince reluctant friends to watch Friday Night Lights is “it’s not about football”. Bullshit. Of course the series is about football, and not even in a silly “football as metaphor for life” way, but football as distraction, football as discipline, football as a promise of escape. As many network series, the show suffered from meddling from studio execs, and some silly plotting, but the stark realism and compassion at the core of the series kept the series grounded. Sure, it’s about football, but it’s also one of the best depictions, in any medium, of small town life. The desperation, the solitude, and the love.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor  

Best episode: “The Son” (Season 4 Episode 5)

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You’ve been high at the Whole Foods. I’ve purchased cheap red wine with couch coins. We’ve ruined sex toys with bad washing instructions. You’ve dated coworkers against your better judgment. I’ve had a roommate with a Lynchian disconnect from reality and social norms. We’ve scammed for rent on the last possible day before it’s due. You have that one nice dress that you wear to every function you attend. I’ve had my day ruined by an unexpected failure of public transportation. We’ve… probably not facetimed with our best friend while engaged in coitus with our more traditionally successful FWB, but it’s within the realm of the imagination. Instead of yet another, probably less articulate and definitely underqualified take on what this series says about women and class dynamics in cities, I leave you with this: Broad City is one of the cleverest comedies of the “it me” era. “WANNA FOOK!?!?!?!?”

 Chris Pruitt, Managing Editor

Best episode: “Jews on a Plane” (season 3, episode 10)

I think it's universally recognized that SFU has one of the most poignant finales of all time; where so many other shows fall short, the fates of the beloved cast coupled with Claire's car heading east, to New York, to a new life, to the future, is incredibly moving and heartbreaking (as is the soundtrack; I still can't listen to "Breathe Me" by Sia without tearing up). Upon rewatch, I realize the Fishers and co. are all deeply flawed characters, needy and selfish, desperate and wanting, but in a way, isn't that what makes them so likable? We are all self obsessed Nate, hysterical Ruth, naive Claire, fragile David. SFU reminds us that we are not perfect, and that life is strange and delicate, so it's best to not waste what little time we have.

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Standout episode: “That's My Dog” (season 4, episode 5)

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A man with a dark past sits at a bar (or at his desk), drinking a Manhattan. He’s in Manhattan. It’s not an ad. It’s about how an ad, and how America, gets made. So goes the type of pitch Don Draper (Jon Hamm) wins us with. Matthew Weiner’s series, a progenitor of Mid-Century Modern mania, is an Americana masterpiece that slides through the 1960s, weaving cultural and political markers seamlessly into the lives of deeply complicated characters, from awakening housewives to riotous teenagers and badly-behaving ad men, acted with heart-breaking truth. Weiner is the Edward Hopper of television.

Shari Caplan, writer

Best Episode “The Wheel” (season 1, episode 13)

News outlets mock the news these days (with good cause). Entertaining, snarky, & precise with its investigative journalism, The Daily Show has maintained significant cultural relevance through multiple iterations of cast. It has a peerless record of launching A-list Hollywood stars & refining best practices for contemporary comedy. Its contributors discuss social issues with snappy wit. The legacy of TDS lies not only in its own continued success, but also in the brilliance of its former reporters & the social awareness it fosters in viewers. Imagine having all that to live up to five nights a week! Also, it’s hilarious.

Joey Gould, Poetry Editor

As both a parody and exultation of the Saturday Night Live environment, 30 Rock existed in NBC’s lineup as a sort of live action cartoon.  Focusing on Tina Fey as the head writer for a comedy variety show, the series managed to lampoon corporations, live television, relationships, and everything else in between.  The jokes fly at you nonstop, and often demand multiple rewatches to catch everything. The show developed a reputation for constructing very elaborate sets for jokes that often were onscreen for mere seconds.  Bolstered by a stellar cast that includes Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, and Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock was a solid comedy offering that placed it at the top of the comedy pile. Binge this on Hulu if you can.

Fritz Hoepfner, Prince Consort

Standout Episode: “Sandwich Day” (season 2, episode 14)

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Game of Thrones may very well be the most nihilistic entry into the fantasy genre modern audiences have ever seen. Each season is an exercise in trauma and pain as new characters enter our hearts only to be ripped away as we’re just becoming fond of them. The more noble and kind-hearted the character, the more brutal their demise, proving that only the slickest and vilest among us can survive.

Though Game of Thrones hasn’t ended, we’re pretty confident in saying that its lasting impact won’t be the intense gore or the unabashed depravity. This show proved to the world that a niche sword and sorcery drama could become one of the most watched television shows of all time.

Scott Waldyn, writer

Best episode: “The Rains of Castamere” (season 3, episode 3)

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Besides being a workplace comedy where people actually worked, Parks and Rec found two effective ways to keep their momentum going for much of its seven-season run. While it’s best to pretend season one never happened, season two onwards presents a show that not only offered character-driven stories, but also provided ample satire of America, small towns, government, and culture. These elements often worked together in perfect harmony, giving this show about the parks and rec department for a small fictional town in Indiana the ability to run for 125 episodes, without ever really overstaying its welcome.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best episode: “Flu Season” (season 3, episode 2)

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In Episode Eight of Twin Peaks The Return, director David Lynch does a slow push-in on an exploding nuclear bomb. In addition to being a frightful yet beautiful image, the exploding bomb manages to capture what the viewer’s mind is like while watching Twin Peaks. Returning after almost twenty-six years away, Twin Peaks came back in a style unlike anything else on television- including its original run. Instead of wallowing in nostalgia, co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost seemed to revel in taunting the viewers for wanting to return to 1991. Our dear Dale Cooper, the stalwart hero, is reduced to a comatose man who wanders around, repeating the last thing anyone said to him.

And then, of course, there is the ending. Twin Peaks’ initial run ended on a cliffhanger that also served as an appropriate conclusion for that dark drama. By bringing it back, Lynch and Frost risked providing too much closure, and it was a worry among the Twin Peaks community that the return might ruin some of the old show’s mystique. However, fans should never have doubted Lynch and Frost’s instincts. The final hour of Twin Peaks The Return provides a surreal journey into an alternate world that concludes with a scene as horrifying as any out of the original or the film while still being true to the shows themes.

It’s cruel, in a way, as the audacity of Twin Peaks The Return made everything else on television seem positively conservative in comparison.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best episode: Episode Eighteen (season 1, episode 18)

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After three incredible seasons, The Good Place is still knocking us over. A comedy set in a decidedly unique, somewhat-sinister afterlife, the show has not yet peaked. We are still fascinated by Eleanor, Chidi, Tahini, Janet, Jason, and of course, Michael. The show still has a lot to mine from the relationships of these characters to one another. There is still so much more we need to discover about The Good Place, The Bad Place, and now, The Medium Place. This show is one example of where we are absolutely obsessed with the possibilities inherent in the currently-unknown destination, yet we are also appreciating every single moment of the journey.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best episode: “Janet(s)” (season 3, episode 9)

Orange is the New Black was sold to us on a simple concept: preppy white girl Piper Chapman, convicted of a crime she had committed a decade before, is sent to prison. And if it had stayed a series about Piper alone, it certainly wouldn’t be on this list, because Piper Chapman is one of the most annoying lead characters in television history. But past season one, it's fair to say that there is no lead character of OITNB, or, more precisely, that all of the women of Litchfield are of equal importance. Starring a talented and diverse cast, and tackling issues of race and class in ways more daring that most dramatic series, OITNB was the series that signalled that streaming platforms could more than compete with cable and network television.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “A Bad Thing” (season 4, episode 12)

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For many people, and many of you reading this, the legacy of LOST was settled, by going down in flames, on the night of May 23, 2010, the date it aired its series finale, “The End”. There are other, more divisive, concluding episodes (keep scrolling to find more), but rarely has a series finale led so many to conclude that all of their time spent on a series was completely wasted. This was the inevitable conclusion to a series which was always about the difficulty of finding meaning in systems of belief, and how, ultimately all we have our connections to those around us to guide us through. But LOST promised answers, and LOST did not deliver, or did not deliver in a satisfactory way, as if there could ever be satisfactory answers to the questions it raised. And so the people who hate LOST will always hate it with a passion you can’t argue with, but those who love it will always love it with equal passion.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Through the Looking Glass” (season 3, episode 22)

The brilliance of Atlanta is its ability to drop the viewer into the middle of a scene and trust that they will find their bearings. Donald Glover EARNed every bit of praise he received since creating the show. While some of the scenarios may seem a little over the top (I mean, a guy who keeps an alligator in his house?), the emotion and trends behind it are real. With every plot point, from an acoustic cover of a rap song to an entire episode about a haircut, the show continues to build on the commentary of our culture.

Juliet Barney

Best episode: “Money Bag Shawty” (season 2, episode 3)

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Arrested Development is another good example of what happens when incredible writing meets one of the best casts a TV show could ever hope for. More than just something that speaks to our own issues with our own eccentric, sometimes toxic family members, this far-reaching comedy about the Bluth family also has the distinction of being a hard-wrought survivor all its own. Indeed, from network indifference, to being cancelled before the story was finished, to a poorly-received fourth season, few shows have endured as Arrested Development has. Impressively, it continues to reward audience patience, as evidenced by a strong fifth season.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best Episode: “Pier Pressure” (season 1, episode 10)

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I've often spoken about my love of Bojack and its brutally honest take on all the things that make being human appalling: addiction, abuse, solipsism, Menchie's frozen yogurt. There isn't one character that isn't flawed in some terrible, relatable way; yet, with each passing season, I wonder if there could (and should) be some sort of redemption for our main character, a washed up sitcom actor who tries to do good by himself and others, but fails every time. Tragic storylines aside (all that Beatrice stuff is just so harsh!), every season sports an amazing soundtrack and at least one episode that ruins you with how clever it is. Who knew a cartoon could hurt so much?

Kolleen Carney-Hoepfner, Editor-in-chief

Best episode: “That's Too Much, Man!” (season 3, episode 11)

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Casting and presentation go a long way. Why else would so many of us root for a character as deeply flawed as Walter White? At least, we rooted for him in the beginning. As Breaking Bad continued, as Walter’s transition from quiet, pitiful teacher to the vicious, clever, and still pitiful Heisenberg raged on, we became wrapped up in the other characters. Jesse. Skylar. Mike. Breaking Bad is a wild ride with more than a handful of surprises in its writing, pacing, and movements. However, more importantly, it combines its great scripts with one of the best casts ever assembled for a TV drama.

Gabriel Ricard, staff writer

Best Episode: “Face Off” (season 4, episode 13)

Damon Lindelof’s first show after LOST came with both excitement and trepidation. Those who despised his previous show’s ending worried they’d be in store for another letdown while those who enjoyed LOST wondered if Lindelof could once again find the magic. He did but in an unlikely fashion.

The Leftover still contained LOST’s mysticism, but, instead of providing concrete mysteries, The Leftovers decided to tackle more existential questions, often resembling The Sopranos’ Costa Mesa episodes more than LOST’s smoke monsters and hatches. While this at times made for a bleak show, it allowed The Leftovers to become one of the more thoughtful and adult dramas of the past decades. Its format also stood out: it was near impossible to predict what, or even who, an episode would be about on a week to week basis. Despite being serialized, The Leftovers often had the feel of The Twilight Zone, albeit one where the episodes share a universe.

The Leftovers’ run was short, only 28 episodes, but in that span of time, it managed to plumb depths and raise questions that other dramas can only wish for. It’s a gem of a show, and one that is hard to compare with others. It will be a cult classic for decades to come.

Donald McCarthy, writer

Best episode: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” (season 3, episode 3)

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The Wire is a series whose legacy is a still-evolving contradiction. What to make, after all, of an early 2000’s era series which argues ferociously for the importance of the surveillance state? But what elevates The Wire from the pack, and why it places so high on this list and in the heart of nearly everyone who has experienced the entire series, is the characters. Though the series initially centered on hard-drinking, hard-fuckin’ bad boy Jimmy McNulty, it soon became clear that Jimmy wasn’t who David Simon and his writers were most interested in. The true heart of The Wire is in the streets: in Omar, Wallace, D’Angelo, Bodie, and so many other characters who we grew to love and hate and love again as they did their best to grind out some kind of a life. And perhaps most importantly Bubbles, whose story might as well be the thesis of The Wire: that all any of us want, no matter where we’re from or what we’ve been through, is a place at the table.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Late Editions” (season 5, episode 9)

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The Sopranos tops this list not because it was the first television series to demand to be called art, but because its central question, “can we change, or do we only justify our bad behavior?” continues to haunt us, and has grown from an uneasy murmur in 2007, when the series aired its final episode, to a constant, wailing shriek in 2019. “There are two Tony Sopranos,” the big guy at the center of the series liked to say, but he was never right. There is only one whole person making the same terrible decisions over and over again, an important, recurring message to a country where each half likes to view the other as a growth to be excised.

Whether it’s AJ waking from sleep and staring at the the alarm clock in dim awareness or Vito driving into certain death in the city to escape the tedium of country life, The Sopranos understood, better than any other series, that we act poorly not because we are evil, but because we are so bored, and the adrenaline that acting poorly provides us feels more real than the love we never got from the places we were supposed to get it. That adrenaline is the same which changes prickly but mild-mannered Walter White into the cold-blooded Heisenberg, drives Bojack Horseman to the bottle, and allows sad little Dick Whitman to feel entitled to a life as dashing Don Draper.

In the end, for all his attempts at change and his eternal return toward his violent nature, Tony Soprano is rewarded with nothingness. David Chase allows you, the viewer, to decide whether or not that is a happy ending.

Matt Guerrero, Founding Editor

Best episode: “Whoever Did This” (season 4, episode 9)