Top 50 Best TV Shows Ever

29. Sherlock

2010-
Like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes is one of those evergreen characters that is endlessly reinvented, either with a period-appropriate take or adapted for the present day of whoever tackles him. Steven Moffat andMark Gatiss plumped for the latter, bringing the great grouse detective bang up to date with texting, sexual innuendo, bromance and gusto.Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have long since entered the canon of great Sherlocks and Watsons, and their every move is charted by a massive, enthusiastic fan base. The show is witty, wonderful and far too infrequently on our screens.

 

28. Twin Peaks

1990-1991
Who killed Laura Palmer? That was the question on everyone’s lips during 1990 as David Lynch’s bizarre small town mystery unfolded on our screens. A demon called Bob, a little man who talked backward and minor pie fetish were just some of the features on display here. But despite a healthy dose of surrealism everything fell into place. Until the rather less appealing second season, that is, where the question on people’s minds was more akin to ‘who is Windom Earle and what in God’s name is going on?’ but that’s beside the point.

 

27. The Office (UK)

2001-2003
Ignore those who claim that the American remake of The Office is superior. For while the Steve Carell-headed sitcom is undoubtedly brilliant, it is perhaps a bit too… cheerful? The joy of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original series was its total lack of joy: in 14 episodes, it deftly depicted the wretched reality of dreary office life. It was a life of muted greys, PowerPoint training sessions, and an all-pervading hopelessness, led by a deluded boss who thinks he’s everyone’s mate (“basically just a chilled-out entertainer”). Sometimes, there’s nothing like a bit of old-fashioned British pessimism.

 

26. Lost

2004-2010
Few TV shows gripped viewers’ imaginations quite like this hybrid ofSwiss Family Robinson and Twin Peaks. A byzantine central mystery intertwined with character-centric subplots (expertly embellished through the use of flashbacks, flashforwards and eventually flash sideways) kept audiences captivated and spread the focus across the entire ensemble cast. But aside from the host of colourful characters – from earnest Jack to cocky Sawyer, noble Jin to bug-eyed Ben – it was the ever-deepening mysteries that kept us coming back: what did the number mean? What was the black smoke? Who were The Others? How come Hurley never lost weight despite being marooned on an island?

 

25. Seinfeld

1990-1998
It began as a summer replacement series, and a low-rated one at that, but Seinfeld, based on the comedy of and starring Jerry Seinfeld, was given the one thing that few shows get these days: time for an audience to find it. Patience on the network’s part paid off, as Seinfeld, the show about nothing, became an unprecedented juggernaut. The audience fell in love with four self-centred pals whose self-involvement drew them together, turning Jerry (Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards) into household names. Not to mention (though obviously we are) such supporting characters as Newman, Puddy, Babu Bhatt, George’s parents, Frank and Estelle; Uncle Leo and, of course, the Soup Nazi. As a reflection of society, the image is not a pretty one, but it is classic.

 

24. Fawlty Towers

1975-1979
One of British TV’s greatest ever sitcoms, the central question ofFawlty Towers – why the world’s least hospitable man would go into hospitality in the first place – remains tantalisingly unanswered across 12 kipper-serving, Siberian hamster-hunting, German-baiting episodes. A straight zero on TripAdvisor, the very layout of Fawlty Towers itself offers comedy gold as Basil (John Cleese), his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), waitress Polly (Connie Booth) and poor, benighted Manuel (Andrew Sachs) manoeuvre themselves (and the odd corpse) around its dowdy interior without ruining anyone’s stay. Basil, needless to say, fails. Often and hilariously.

 

23. 24

2001-2015
Okay, so the recent miniseries wasn’t great, but 24 has bounced back before and we’re hoping the forthcoming 24: Legacy will see the Jack Bauer Power Hour back on form (albeit without Jack Bauer). At its best, there was just nothing like it – insane levels of adrenaline, finely calibrated political intrigue and twists that hit you in the face like a two-fisted punch from Tony Almeida. 24 was some of the most cinematic TV we’ve ever seen, with no expense spared to depict CTU’s intense battles against cunning terrorists and the odd occasional rogue President. Even when 24 was rubbish, it was still loveable – admit it, you still have a soft spot for the cougar that menaced Kim Bauer in the show’s worst ever plot device, back in Season 2.

 

22. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

1997-2003
Imagine, for a moment, a world where the only version of Buffy was the movie. Terrifying, isn’t it? Fortunately, Joss Whedon reclaimed his knowing, meta stab at horror movies with the TV incarnation, castingSarah Michelle Gellar as the cheerleader-turned-chosen-one supernatural slayer and launching a thousand memorable lines of dialogue. Buffy excelled because it ran real-world struggles through the medium of fantasy and horror and gave us great villains, romantic entanglements that felt painfully honest and a Scooby gang we’d all hang out with. Plus: monsters.

 

21. The X-Files

1993-2016
Yes, we know the series came back this year with that truncated tenth season. We’re… just choosing to ignore that (except for possibly episode three). In its ’90s heyday, Chris Carter’s series was the perfect stew of conspiracy theories, romantic drama, monster-of-the-week shocker and just the right leavening of humour when called for. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s Mulder and Scully deserve a place in the pantheon of TV partnerships, evidenced by the fact that the show suffered when Duchovny stepped away. Still, when it worked, it really worked.

 

20. The Shield

2002-2008
When the very first episode sees the lead shoot another cop in the face to cover up his own corruption, you know you’re not watching a run-of-the-mill police procedural. A brutal look at life behind the badge, Shawn Ryan’s down-and-dirty drama basked in its protagonist’s cavalier approach to right and wrong and a reliance on street justice over the letter of the law. It was to Michael Chiklis’ eternal credit that, despite acts of murder, torture, theft, drug distribution and other transgressions too numerous to list, Detective Vic Mackey remained a sympathetic and highly charismatic character – you just wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

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