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Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the 50 Best TV Shows of the 21st Century (So Far)

Over the course of a few months, several Zoom meetings, lots of emails and countless Excel spreadsheets, three THR TV critics joined forces to hash out, and rank, what they consider the greatest shows since 2000.

Back in April, THR‘s team of intrepid film critics got together and ranked the 50 best films of the 21st century so far, delivering a list that was fascinating, head-scratching and packed with cinematic greatness. Like all well-conceived lists, it offered room for enthusiastic agreement and virulent disagreement — as well as a guarantee that any title you had yet to see was surely worth checking out.

That list began with an important question: “Why now?” Their conclusive answer: “Why not?” 

That makes it even easier for us to justify our own stab at the same project: Why rank the best TV shows of the past 24 years — which isn’t even a quarter of a century — right now? Because the film critics did it first and it looked like a lot of fun!

It was not fun.

OK, that’s not exactly accurate. Debating great TV is always fun. But the past 24 years have been a television boomtown (not to be confused with the NBC drama Boomtown, which didn’t receive much consideration, though its first season was excellent). Whether you call it a golden age (or platinum, or your metal of choice), expand the boundaries of John Landgraf’s “Peak TV” well beyond its actual definition or just employ the #TooMuchTV hashtag, there’s little doubt that the television landscape on Dec. 31, 1999, has almost no resemblance to what the kids are watching on their iWatches today. (That, incidentally, is a different problem. “The kids” are watching their content on YouTube and TikTok, and they probably don’t even know what an “NBC” is, much less a Boomtown.)

There were 600 original scripted shows airing on broadcast, cable and streaming in 2022 alone. That it was already hard enough to list the 50 best shows of last year is a luxury problem. We’re living through the greatest era of television content ever, and that’s fantastic, but it makes listing very challenging. It’s likely that we excluded at least five of your favorite shows ever. We apologize.

We had to start with parameters. We agreed that any show that had episodes airing after Dec. 31, 1999, was eligible for consideration, even if that show first premiered in the 20th century. That meant, for example, that The Sopranos was eligible, but only for the five seasons that aired from 2000 on. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was eligible, but it lost three and a half seasons. You get the idea.

The next parameter was harder to set and entailed more bickering. We decided that while the volume of available international television has expanded exponentially in the streaming era, it’s hard to feel like we’ve seen a representative output of, say, the Korean TV industry. To avoid claiming authority based on such a limited sample, we decided to restrict the list to English-language options. (That said, we collectively urge everybody to watch HBO’s My Brilliant Friend.)

The democratizing required for three critics to co-author one list meant that we went from a tentative and amorphous blob of several hundred contenders to a more refined blob that was still over 100. We watched and rewatched countless episodes, a task that was frequently a real pleasure. And, in a handful of multi-hour Zooms, we deliberated on every single one of those contenders and then spent hours hashing out placement. 

There was, as you would imagine, some consensus, and then there were spirited fights. When you have partisans of stately costume dramas and wonky multi-part political documentaries and CBS multicam sitcoms all making their cases, things can get heated.

This final list doesn’t look like what any of our individual Top 50s would be — and that’s exactly how a process like this is supposed to work. A lot of these shows are canon, and you’ll see them in any ranking of this type. But hopefully you’ll find some of our inclusions strange and unexpected. Even more hopefully, perhaps when you read our explanations, you’ll come away understanding our perspective and, if you haven’t watched the show yourself, you’ll seek it out — even if you’re not sure you care about a Southern Gothic drama revolving around a wrongfully accused murderer or the story of sisters trying to save a bar in East Los Angeles.

It’s also a living list. After a wave of series finales in the past year, we ended up selecting very few active shows here. But there are definitely a few shows that, if they close their runs strong, would have a great case for inclusion if we re-ranked this list in five years. Or if we re-ranked this list in a week. Or if we reconsidered the list before it was published.

We each have feelings about things that are missing from the list or things that the list could use more of. Short version: Needs more British TV! Needs more animation! Needs more reality TV! 

So, enjoy reading the list and getting worked up about what we got right and what we got wrong. 

OK, fine: We did have fun making it.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): America to Me, Arrested Development, Bob’s Burgers, The Good Wife, The Great British Bake-Off, Happy Valley, Harley Quinn, It’s a Sin, Justified, The Office (U.S.), Sense8, Somebody Somewhere, This Country, Up, Watchmen