Television has taken a huge step forward over the last 25 years. Episodic storytelling seems to be overtaking traditional 90-minute blockbuster films.
Between Netflix, HBO GO, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube Premium, viewers have more options than movie theaters could ever offer. There are shows in every niche you could imagine — from exotic supercars to dystopian futuristic dictatorships.
Given the sheer amount of well-made television shows on the market, it is tough to really nail down a definitive ‘best’.
What follows is my attempt at ranking the top 7 TV series of the past 25 years.
7.) Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
One of the greatest film industry tragedies of the past 25 years is Freaks and Geeks getting nixed after one season. NBC executives completely dropped the ball, putting a halt to one of the most promising shows of the decade.
Typically, Hollywood likes to glorify high school, casting manchildren actors who are not even remotely believable as the 17-year-old characters they are playing. What makes Freaks and Greeks resonate with viewers is its realistic depiction of suburban teens.
The creators manage to shed light on real-life subjects like divorce, drug abuse, and depression, all the while injecting their own brand of unique, offbeat humor. The 18 episodes leave you wanting more, so try not to get too attached.
6.) Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)
Welcome to the Roaring Twenties. Times are changing. Prohibition just went into effect and organized crime is at its peak.
Boardwalk Empire focuses on Nucky Thompson, a political boss of Atlantic City loosely based on real New Jersey politician Enoch Johnson.
Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, lives a double life, acting as both a politician and gangster. He gets involved with notable mafiosos such as Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Al Capone along his rise to power, making for fascinating TV.
5.) Californication (2007-2014)
Hank Moody is a self-loathing writer who just can’t get his life in order. Karen, the mother of his daughter, just left him to marry another man.
At his lowest point, Hank is a depressed alcoholic. At his highest point, he’s a best-selling author living the rockstar lifestyle. But no matter where he stands, one thing always remains — he’s a total chick magnet.
Californication is a true diamond in the rough, with top-notch dialogue, three-dimensional characters, a juicy plot, and an unbeatable soundtrack.
4.) Vikings (2013- )
This History Channel gem is a rare find — a cable show that matches the quality of top-notch series on premium networks. In fact, it’s better than a majority of those shows.
Vikings follows the heroic exploits of Ragnar Lothbrok, a powerful warrior with lofty ambitions. You witness his rise, from simple farmer to famed explorer, and all the trials he encounters along the way.
Everything about Vikings is exceptional. Superb acting, a deep plot, and developed characters make for one of the few must-watch shows on cable.
3.) Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000- )
Larry David is single-handedly keeping comedy television alive. Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s return last fall was an unexpected treat to fans everywhere.
In a world of sitcoms and cheap laughs, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a breath of fresh air. Larry’s alter-ego is brash, neurotic, and walks to the beat of his own drum.
His relentless pursuit of ‘doing the right thing’ leads to some of the most painstakingly awkward situations you could ever imagine.
2.) Game of Thrones (2011- )
This show has revolutionized modern television with its plot twists and epic scope.
Game of Thrones is similar to Star Wars in that if you’re a fan, you are a fan. You can’t just be a casual Game of Thrones watcher.
With its laundry list of characters, made-up countries and languages, it pretty much forces you to be a nerd about it all. People eat it up, and that’s about as good of a sign of success as any.
While many are quick to put GOT at the top of their lists, it will never trump the best television series of all-time.
1.) The Sopranos (1999-2007)
James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano is the most gripping character in television history.
As a viewer, you’re never quite sure whether to root for him or against him. And that’s the beauty of it all. There’s good and bad in him. After all, he’s human, just like you and me.
Creator David Chase toes the gray area, hammering home the universal reality that, in the real world, it’s never simply black or white, good or bad.
The Sopranos is the pinnacle of dramatic television. There is simply no debate about it.
Disagree with these rankings? Give me your top 7 in the comments.