The 50 Best TV Shows Streaming on Netflix Right Now

Note: We update this list to add the best new titles Netflix has to offer. These picks are fresh as of October 09, 2015. You're welcome.

The DVD/Blu-ray industry is really going to hate us. We blessed lazy, ass-glued-to-the-couch film lovers with epic rundowns of the best horror movies, the best comedies, the best romantic movies, and the overall best movies streaming on Netflix right now, making life much easier for indecisive cinema indulgers stuck to their laptops. And, yes, helping people save the money they would've spent on discs they'd maybe watch once before relegating the DVDs to dust pile. But, as anyone familiar with Netflix should know, the extremely convenient website is just as clutch, possibly even more so, when it comes to television programs.

Finding time to catch up with numerous 90-minute flicks is one thing; working 13 hours' worth of TV goodness into one's busy schedule is almost impossible, and then multiply that times however many shows are on the must-watch itinerary. Courtesy of everyone's favorite all-access rental service, though, we can now all experience the best that the small screen has to offer, whenever we want, at our earliest convenience, and without the hassle of having to return borrowed DVD box sets to impatient friends.

To save you all the time of having to sift through the site's catalog, we've done it again, but this time it's The 50 Best TV Shows Streaming on Netflix Right Now. Your crowded, memory-free DVR box would thank us if it could.



  • Peaky Blinders

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Iddo Goldberg, Annabelle Wallis

    Peaky Blinders follows a historic English gang of the same name, particularly boss Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), who manages the gang’s operations in post-World War I Birmingham. This British drama hasn’t been too popular in the States, but since Netflix picked up U.S. distribution rights in the fall, it shouldn’t be long before people are drawn in by the strong performances, particularly that of the charismatic lead, fast-paced story-telling, and beautiful cinematography. So be the coolest one in your group of friends and start watching before everyone else finds out about it, especially if the end of Boardwalk Empire has left a historical crime drama-shaped hole in your heart.

  • M*A*S*H

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff

    For the most part, making a TV show based on a movie seems like a bad idea. Recent shows like Fargo and Bates Motel prove this to be wrong, but the first show to do so was M*A*S*H, one of the highest rated shows of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, as well as television history. Set in an army hospital during the Korean War, this comedy dealt with serious issues.

    The characters use humor to deal with the horrific events of the war, which was highly representative of the Vietnam War, in progress at the time of the show’s airing. The show used stories from actual war surgeons, and this realism, in combination with dark humor, made for a complex look at the reality of war and how to deal with it. If that isn’t enough to make you want to watch M*A*S*H, you should know that its 1983 finale episode was the most watched and highest rated episode of TV history at the time, and the show is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

  • Marvel's Daredevil

    Season: 1
    Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ayelet Zurer, Bob Gunton, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall

    Netflix’s new series Marvel’s Daredevil is perfect for people who just can’t seem to satisfy their Marvel addiction. Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, a blind crime-fighting lawyer who has yet to have a quality movie made about him. The show is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is continuous with the other films in the Marvel franchise. It follows Daredevil in his early days as a superhero, as well as the rise of crime lord Wilson Fisk (D’Onofrio), aka the Kingpin. Marvel’s Daredevil is the first in a series of Marvel TV shows, all of which will lead to a Defenders crossover miniseries. Even if Daredevil isn’t your favorite superhero, every Marvel fan should check out this show, especially if you plan on watching the Defenders miniseries and actually want to know what’s going on.

  • New Girl

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone

    Honestly, you should watch the first season of New Girl just for the sake of getting to season two, one of the best shows of 2013 so far. To be fair, the sitcom was still finding its footing and establishing character relationships. Here's the rundown: Quirky teacher Jess (Deschanel), fresh off a break-up moves into a new apartment, where she meets her new roommates: Schmidt, the quintessential former fatty turned rich douche (Greenfield), former pro baller Winston (Morris), and law school dropout and potential love interest Nick (Jake Johnson). Hilarity ensues.

    While the jokes were hit or miss, the season showed us the potential for greatness (which is proven in season two). Plus, you can watch them all consecutively, which could only increase your viewing pleasure and appreciation for the show, considering how sporadic it aired while it was on during the season.

  • Futurama

    Seasons available: 1-10
    Stars: Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Tress MacNeille

    Created by Matt Groening, the genius of adult animation behind The Simpsons, Futurama follows Fry, an immature but goodhearted pizza delivery guy who is accidentally frozen and wakes up 1,000 years in the future. Along with Leela, his smart, one-eyed love interest, and Bender, a loud, obnoxious, and heavy drinking robot, Fry goes on futuristic adventures through space, and even finds himself in alternate universes. Groening’s sci-fi cartoon is set in a future eerily similar to the present, despite technological advances, and makes satirical statements about modern life.

    While not as popular as The Simpsons, Futurama has more of a cult following, due to its dark and surreal humor. It has a lot of math and science-based inside jokes for “nerds,” combined with slapstick and gag humor we are so familiar with from The Simpsons. The result is a comedy that just as much intelligent as it is hilarious.

  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

    Seasons available: 1-9
    Stars: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, Danny DeVito, Kaitlin Olson

    Good taste means nothing to the characters on FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia—hell, they don't even care if the beer they serve inside the rundown Paddy's Pub is drinkable. Thus, it's no surprise that TV viewers seeking a little edginess in their half-hour comedy servings continue to regularly watch the series seven years after its premiere.

    Whether they're sleeping with each other's moms, snorting coke, ironically dating handicapped people, or spicing things up with LSD, the Sunny gang's business is moral corruption, not beer sales. And business is always thriving.

  • Parks and Recreation

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Paul Schneider, Jim O'Heir

    Back when it premiered, in April 2009, NBC's Parks and Recreation, which was shot in the same reality TV style as The Office, met lofty expectations with an unevenly funny debut season. The cast, including Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones, promised greatness, and several of the early episodes are indeed hilarious. But it wasn't until Parks and Rec's knockout second season that the intelligently subversive sitcom came into its own.

    Today, it's still one of the best comedies on television.

  • A Different World

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Lisa Bonet, Marisa Tomei, Dawnn Lewis, Jasmine Guy, Loretta Devine, Kadeem Hardison, Lou Myers, Darryl M. Bell, Sinbad, Charnele Brown, Cree Summer, Glynn Turman

    A Different World is a spin-off of The Cosby Show, following many people’s favorite Huxtable, Denise (Bonet), as she goes to college. However, Denise drops out and leaves the show in the second season, and the series focuses on her friends Whitley and Dwayne, and their life at the fictional historically black school Hillman College. This type of setting is unique for a sitcom, and A Different World takes a large step away from the wholesome world of The Cosby Show. It’s a much edgier show (well, edgy for the ‘80s and ‘90s), and deals with topics that The Cosby Show tended to shy away from, like issues of race, class, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This show provides an alternative for people who love The Cosby Show, but have grown up and want a show that deals with more adult issues.

  • Freaks and Geeks

    Seasons available: 1
    Stars: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty, Busy Philipps

    Before Judd Apatow laid bare the heart in raunchy sex comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, he injected brains and feeling into the high-school series with Freaks and Geeks, one of the sweetest (and shortest) TV experiences of all time.

    Set in the early '80s in a Detroit suburb, the 18-episode-long series introduced viewers to the two children of the Weir family. Lindsay's the freak, and Sam's the geek. From there, the show followed the two outcasts to look into the depths of the high-school experience with compassion and humor.

    Freaks and Geeks is one of greatest shows ever made. But keep in mind, it's not a joke machine. You'll laugh, sure, (Bill as the Bionic Woman?), but mostly you'll remember the show's inclusive warmth.

  • Friends

    Seasons available: 1-10
    Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer

    There are times in life when all you really need are your friends. No, not your actual friends, but a group of six young New Yorkers who you watch through a screen and pretend are your friends. For 10 years Friends was one of the most popular shows on television, and most people knew more about Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe than they did about their non-fictional friends. Today, the familiarity of this show provides us with a sense of comfort similar to being with loved ones. While you can’t hang out and drink coffee at Central Perk in real life, relaxing on the couch at home and watching old episodes of Friends is the next best thing.

  • 3rd Rock From the Sun

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jane Curtin, Simbi Khali, Elmarie Wendel, Wayne Knight

    3rd Rock From the Sun is a late ‘90s sitcom about extraterrestrials living on Earth and posing as a human family to study their behavior. Much of the humor comes from this fish-out-of-water premise, as the aliens have to adapt to a human society that they don’t understand. The character Tommy, played by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is particularly funny, as he’s an adult alien stuck in a teenager’s body, and must go to high school and act like a normal teen. This premise seems silly, and it is, but the show is also written with some intelligent humor. The aliens think humans are an uncivilized and unintelligent species, and their dismissal of humans as a whole is a biting commentary on colonialism and Western attitudes towards “natives” of foreign countries. If you like a blend of silly and sarcastic humor, you should definitely check out this show.

  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

    Seasons available: 1
    Stars: Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, Sara Chase, Lauren Adams

    If you loved 30 Rock, but have already seen every episode more than once, the next show you should check out is the new Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Created by Tina Fey and 30 Rock show runner Robert Carlock, the show centers around Kimmy, played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper, a woman who escapes from a cult and restarts her life in New York City. The cast also includes Jane Krakowski, in her first major role since playing Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock. Given Netflix’s track record for original series, and the all-star team behind this one, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of this year’s most promising new shows.

  • Bob's Burgers

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal

    While we’ll always love The Simpsons, Fox’s Sunday night animation line-up was starting to get pretty stale, and was oversaturated with tired, Seth Macfarlane-created comedies. That is, until 2011 when our Sunday nights were blessed with the gift of Bob’s Burgers, a seemingly common animated comedy that’s actually one of the most refreshing shows on TV.

    The Belchers have become one of modern television’s most lovable families, led by unsuccessful burger chef Bob (voiced by Archer’s incredibly talented voice actor H. Jon Benjamin), and Linda, a loud, eccentric mother with a thick New Jersey accent who likes to spontaneously burst into song. The kids include Tina, the awkward young teen who lusts after the butt of Bob’s rival’s son; Gene, the enthusiastic middle child who enjoys gender bending and making music; and Louise, the youngest, yet most diabolical of the children, who always has a scheme and never takes her pink rabbit ears hat off. The characters, and the fantastic work of the actors who voice them, are what make the show such a gem. Combine that with smart writing and you’ve got one of the most hilarious and heartwarming family comedies on television.

  • Portlandia

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein

    It's no small feat that IFC's off-center sketch comedy show Portlandia never feels repetitive; after all, the central cast is only made up of two heads, Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen and Sleater Kinney guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein. The show's overall mood, that of silliness played completely straight, helps to keep the energy vibrant from skit to skit, as Armisen and Brownstein lovingly lampoon the citizens of Portland, Oregon. Both absurdist and satirical, Portlandia strikes a chord all its own.

  • Arrested Development

    Seasons available: 1-4
    Stars: Jason Bateman, David Cross, Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, Jeffrey Tambor, Alia Shawkat, Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter

    Did we deserve the (god bless you) Netflix continuation of Mitchell Hurwitz's Arrested Development? What did we do to deserve the show in the first place, what with its incredible ensemble cast, intricate narrative threads and callbacks, jokes that built for entire episodes to culminate in brilliant punch-lines like goddamn Grandmaster chess moves?

    How the hell did this happen? How did all these people come together to make such a funny, moving, and intelligent TV show?

    If you aren't familiar, Arrested Development told of the Bluth family, a superficially selfish bunch of affluent layabouts that enters the crucible of a white-collar criminal case when the patriarch, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), is arrested. His most competent son, Michael (Jason Bateman), tries to keep things together.

    Fox cancelled the show after three seasons, despite protests from critics and the show's cult following. Last May, Netflix revived the show for a fourth season. It wasn't perfect. But it was what we needed. And you can watch the entire thing.

  • The League

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Jon LaJoie, Stephen Rannazzisi, Kate Aselton

    A weekly show about a bunch of average Joe's infatuated with playing fantasy football? It sounds like a thin, why-don't-they-make-a-reality-show-about-my-friends premise, but FX's The Leaguehas defied such skeptical odds to become a consistently laugh-out-loud charmer, mostly in part to its winning cast.

    Exhibiting top-notch, and seemingly effortless, chemistry, the leading men, from Mark Duplass to Nick Kroll, make even the most inconsequential of sight gags and punchlines exceedingly tolerable. It's nothing earth-shattering, but The League doesn't have to be-it's perfectly fine with simply being reliable.

  • Family Guy

    Seasons available: 1-12
    Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Seth Green, Mike Henry

    Now that Seth MacFarlane's Ted, the writer-director's first victorious stab at Hollywood filmmaking, is one of biggest R-rated comedy hits of all time, a lot of those Family Guy haters-the ones who decry the Fox animated series' lack of fully developed stories and emphasis on scatterbrained structure-are probably acting like they've always been down with the Griffin family.

    Well, we have, and if putting together our countdown of the show's 50 best episodes reminded us of anything, it's the fact that Family Guy is just as cuttingly and relentlessly funny as it's admittedly hit-or-miss with its random jokes. As the eight seasons' worth of eps available on Netflix can confirm, though, the dedication of MacFarlane and his writing staff show toward making viewers bust guts as often as possible is both admirable and, more often than not, effective.

  • The Office

    Seasons available: 1-9
    Stars: Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak, Craig Robinson, Melora Hardin, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinsey, Paul Lieberstein, Oscar Nunez, Phyllis Smith, Amy Ryan, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton

    Based on the British comedy of the same name, the American version of The Office has introduced us to some of the most original characters (thanks, Ricky Gervais!) and writing in TV history.

    Like the show, the characters are so beloved and accessible because they're  people you know, just exaggerated to hilarious extremes. Who hasn't had the boss who would buy himself a mug stating that he is, in fact, the best boss? There's always a woman obsessed with her cats a few cubicles over. And there's always a Dwight, someone who cares way too much about the job, and may or may not have the potential to be a serial killer.

    Now that the series has ended, there's no better time to revisit The Office from the beginning.

  • Peep Show

    Seasons available: 1-8
    Stars: David Mitchell, Robert Webb

    A contemporary Odd Couple situation, Peep Show milks laughs from the desperation that brings two very different men together as unlikely roommates. Don't let the show's gimmick—camera angles are limited to first-person POV shots from our heroes, Mark and Jeremy—fool you. This is one of the funniest TV series in the history of the medium. When the dust settles, it may go down in history as the best British comedy of all time. Yes, it's often funnier than Fawlty Towers. There's a reason that this series has ran for so much longer than the average UK series. Find out for yourself. —RS

  • The Bernie Mac Show

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Bernie Mac, Kellita Smith, Jeremy Suarez, Camille Winbush, Dee Dee Davis

    It all began with a segment from The Original Kings of Comedy, where Bernie Mac took in his sister's children after she entered rehab. Fox turned the situation into a weekly sitcom that was much different from what fans of Mac were used to, specifically his loud, animated tirades. Mac stayed true to his signature humor as much as the constraints of broadcast television permitted, but just like in real life, his love for his family was more than apparent.

    The show was also famous for Mac's frequent breaking of the fourth wall, which he did to relay the importance or absurdity of a given moment to the audience. The Bernie Mac Show went strong on Fox for five seasons, seeing a 100th episode before the series ended.

    Because Mac played himself, there were plenty of celebrity cameos a la Curb Your Enthusiasm, ranging from Hugh Hefner to Shaquille O'Neal. Bernie Mac passed away in August 2008, but his stand-up, numerous film roles, and all form integral parts of his untouchable legacy.

  • Frasier

    Seasons available: 1-11
    Stars: Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney

    Frasier is one of the most successful spin-offs of all time, taking a character from Cheers and allowing him to flourish on his own in a show that really allowed him to develop as a character. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) is a witty psychologist with his own radio talk show, who has moved back to his hometown of Seattle. This reunites him with his family, the supporting characters that really bring the show together, which includes his retired cop father and his neurotic, effeminate brother Niles. These characters are funny on their own, and hilarious together because of their chemistry. This, along with the nice balance of high and low humor, is what made the show successful for eleven seasons.

  • 30 Rock

    Seasons available: 1-7
    Stars: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Katrina Bowden, Judah Freidlander, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross, John Lutz, Kevin Brown

    Before Modern Family came and took over the comedy awards circuit, NBC's 30 Rock was unbeatable at every major television accolades event, from the Primetime Emmys to the Golden Globes. And for good reason-overseen by the brainy, sexy, and undeniably funny Tina Fey, this satirical look at a fictional variety show, not unlike Fey's old Saturday Night Live stomping grounds, fires hilarious quotables at viewers with tireless ferocity. Many come from Alec Baldwin, whose work as the wonderfully egotistic, Lorne Michaels-like executive has evolved into one of this generation's top sitcom characters.

  • Malcolm in the Middle

    Seasons available: 1-7
    Stars: Frankie Muniz, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Masterson, Justin Barfield, Jane Kaczmarek, Erik Per Sullivan

    You might catch Malcolm in the Middle on syndication these days, see Bryan Cranston playing Malcolm's dad Hal, and think, "Hey, it's Walter White playing a harmless suburban dad. LOLZ!"

    Bryan Cranston's always been a great actor. The pent up rage that he exhibits as Walter White germinated in his Hal character, especially in scenes that have him talking about his job. Of course, Hal wasn't the star of the show, neither was Jane Kaczmarek, even though she played Malcolm's mother, Lois, and nabbed seven Emmy nods and three Golden Globes in her breakout role.

    No, the star of the show was Frankie Muniz, who played the fourth-wall breaking title character, Malcolm. Malcolm was a genius, a regular in gifted classes, making   Malcolm in the Middle one of the few shows where you got to see smart people on television.

    What the title song says is true: Life is unfair. And like so many kids, Malcolm suffered the injustice and humiliation of everything from bullying to his first kiss to a bat-shit crazy mom. In other words, the injustice and humiliation of being a kid.

  • Terriers

    Seasons available: 1
    Stars: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James, Laura Allen, Rockmond Dunbar, Jamie Denbo, Kimberly Quinn

    Quietly, and underneath the noses of confident HBO executives, the FX network has emerged as cable television's premier hotbed of dynamic original programming (see: Justified, Sons Of Anarchy, American Horror Story, Louie). Aside from its many impressive hits, though, FX has also seen first-rate shows struggle to gain audiences before tapping out after one season.

    One of the unfortunate casualties is Terriers, a unique marriage of crime drama and oddball comedy centered around an alcoholic former cop (Donal Logue) and a criminal (Michael Raymond-James) who launch their own half-assed private investigation business. Something like HBO's similarly sacrificed Bored To Death, except less goofy, and, yes, more deserving of a second chance.

  • The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: David Cross, Sharon Hogan, Will Arnett, Blake Harrison, Spike Jonze

    David Cross' small-screen hustle has been one marked by mostly under-appreciated efforts; back in the late '90s, Cross and his buddy Bob Odenkirk (a.k.a. Saul Goodman on AMC's Breaking Bad) manned the wonderfully bizarre HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show, and then, from 2003 through 2006, on Fox, he played the always inappropriate Tobias Fünke on the cult favorite Arrested Development. The last part of his slept-on trifecta is IFC's The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and, despite its similarly humble exposure, it's proof that, within the comedy genre, he's quite the able leading man.

    Cross stars as the titular Mr. Margaret, an in-over-his-head American tasked with running a sales team in London. The basic fish-out-of-water setup brings forth plenty of enjoyably awkward moments, while Cross' supporting players (including Spike Jonze and fellow Arrested Development alum Will Arnett) give him the perfect foils off which to play.

  • Wilfred

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Elijah Wood, Fiona Gubelmann, Jason Gann

    One of these days, the dark FX comedy Wilfred will receive its just due. Perennially underrated since its June 2011 debut, the delightfully twisted series-about the disturbed companionship between a troubled guy named Ryan (Elijah Wood) and big neighbor's dog (Jason Gann), the latter manifested in Ryan's warped mind as a dude in a raggedy canine suit-balances psychological complexities with hilarious raunch, a delicate tonal marriage that's not easy to execute and deserves its props.

  • Cheers

    Seasons available: 1-11
    Stars: Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Woody Harrelson, Kelsey Grammer, Kirstie Alley, Bebe Neuwirth

    Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Obviously, that place would have to be a bar, because you are an alcoholic. Also, it's the premise of Cheers, a beloved show that handled the serious stuff just like your bartender does: with humor.

    The main character, Sam (Ted Danson) ended his pro baseball career because of alcoholism, before finding himself as a bartender. If that sounds like an awful way to recovery, we'd invite you to go to a bar at 2 a.m., completely sober, and watch everyone's poor choices. It'll probably be enough for you to give up the devil juice all together.

    But despite its humorous portrayal of addiction, class conflicts, and homophobia, Cheers will always be about finding the one place where you do belong. We're still looking for a place that will joyfully greet us every time we enter, and hand us a beer. Maybe we'll change our name to "Norm."

  • Bates Motel

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz, Mike Vogel, Nestor Carbonell, Jere Burns

    Can you blame anyone for expecting Bates Motel to be a disaster? The ambitious show's limitations were numerous—the fact that it's based on a classic movie (Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), that it's a modernization in which high-school-aged Norman Bates befriends a bunch of present-day teenage pop tarts, and that its end-game is already common knowledge. Next to What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, Bates Motel was the year's sketchiest looking new show.

    But then a strange thing happened—the pilot premiered in mid-March, and it wasn't half bad. And then, as each episode aired, and young Norman (an excellent Freddie Highmore) and his unhinged mother, Norma (the even more excellent Vera Farmiga), got more embedded into their new hometown's Twin Peaks-esque weirdness (random public hangings, huge marijuana fields, creepy teenage Asian girl prostitution rings), co-creators Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) improved the series on a weekly basis.

    The final season 1 product, though often scatterbrained, is good, lightweight fun executed by an ace cast.

  • Fawlty Towers

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth, Brian Hall

    Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, is the unsung king of sarcasm. On the short-lived British sitcom Fawlty Towers, series co-creator Cleese's hotel proprietor specializes in rudely belittling his unaware guests. It's a simple formula (Basil clowns people while compensating for his inept staff) that the Monty Python's Flying Circus member and wife/co-writer Connie Booth milked for all of its hilarious worth over 12 solid episodes.

  • The Wonder Years

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano, Dan Lauria, Jason Hervey, Alley Mills, Olivia D'Abo

    Nostalgia has never been as profoundly moving and humorous as it was on ABC's The Wonder Years. Covering a year-span of 1968 to 1973, the coming-of-age series mined great laughs and touching sentiments from the life of young Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), a suburban, middle-class kid whose issues-dealing with a bullying older brother, a hard-nosed dad, and the woes of adolescent friendship-were, despite their old-school presentation, timeless. Because, really, we've all had our very own Winnie Cooper in our lives, no?

  • Arrow

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, Paul Blackthorne

    Just because a show is on The CW doesn't mean it sucks. Aside from the obvious exceptions to the rule, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, there's Arrow, the hour-long adventure drama based on DC comics slickest archer, Green Arrow. If you're unfamiliar with the saga, Arrow tells the story of a billionaire playboy who changes his way after going through traumatizing and life-changing events while marooned on an island for five years. He returns to his home of Starling City a new man, ready to avenge his father's death and stop the corruption that runs amok.

    But unlike Smallville and the CW's other attempts at superhero shows, Arrow  does a believable job of balancing camp and badassery. This is thanks, in part, to the writers knowing exactly how to embed each character (OK, with the exception of Katie Cassidy's Laurel Lance) into the action. Not only do you look forward to the show for another Oliver Queen ass-kicking, but also to what his right-hand man Diggle's bulging biceps will get into this week and what kind of sexual innuendo his IT girl Felicity Smoak will make next.

    Oh, and the fact that it drops familiar names like Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Assassins doesn't hurt either.

  • Archer

    Seasons available: 1-4
    Stars: H. Jon Benjamim, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Adam Reed

    Imagine if James Bond was an even more shameless horndog, an overachieving slacker, and a hilarious wise-ass all rolled into one-that's what you get from the title character in FX's underrated spy romp Archer. Voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, Sterling Archer would much rather bang chicks, binge on alcohol, and party it up instead of repeatedly save the day, and it's that juxtaposition of shallow rube and proficient hero that gives Archer its unique appeal.

  • Louie

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Louis C.K.

    Just go with me for a second when I say that what makes Louie the best comedy on TV is its willingness to not be funny. Louis C.K., who damn near does everything on his FX show but don drag for the female characters, is brave enough to let his show—like life—get dark. This isn't discomfort humor, like something from Tim and Eric. No, when Louie puts the laughs aside, it's to confront something difficult. One of the best examples of this is in the second season episode "Eddie," where Louie runs into a comic from his past. Like Nic Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas, Eddie is planning to kill himself. There is nothing funny about this episode's conclusion. It's just honest.

    When the show is at its best—which is basically every damn episode—it moves with no hesitation between absurd laughs and the realest ruminations about a regular-type life. There's nothing else like Louie.

  • Orange Is the New Black

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs

    If you want proof of how awesome this show is, consider this: Orange Is the New Black is more popular on Netflix than the latest season of Arrested Development. That's huge, considering the hysteria that preceeded Arrested Development's release. However, what sets this new series from Weeds' creator Jenji Kohan apart from the rest isn't just the numbers, it's also the refreshing plot and ethnically diverse cast.

    Based on the Piper Kerman novel of the same name, OITNB follows a yuppie-turned-jailbird, incarcerated for her involvement in a drug ring, as she experiences life behind bars. What she discovers isn't simply the women-in-prison stereotype you' expect. Rather, she takes a liking to a vast array of big personalities that make the show both hilarious, heartfelt, and well worth a binge-watch.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    Seasons available: 1-7
    Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg

    For young horror fans with uncontrollable hormones, Buffy The Vampire Slayer represented the ultimate all-in fix throughout its inventive, though at times uneven, seven-season duration. On the monster front, creator Joss Whedon and his team delivered everything from vampires to witches and demons, with a slick blend of straightforward scares and witty humor. But libidos were most enticed by Buffy's generosity in terms of kick-ass female characters who are quite easy on the eyes, namely star Sarah Michelle Gellar and series regulars Alyson Hannigan and Eliza Dushku.

  • Skins

    Seasons available: 1-7
    Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Hannah Murray, Dev Patel, Mike Jenkins, Kaya Scodelario, Jack O'Connell, Lily Loveless, Megan and Kat Prescott, Luke Pasqualino, Dakota Blue Richards, Joe Dempsie, Sebastian De Souza

    Erase every memory you have of the U.S. version of Skins if that's the only experience you've had with the show. The original UK version is 10 times more insane, 10 times more heartwrenching, and 10 times more stoned. The point is, you'll never be bored. Every two seasons rotates in a new cast of fucked-up teen characters engaging in all-out debauchery, but in a way that's startingly realistic and true to modern issues. Booze, teen pregnancy, depression, and homosexuality, anyone? Not to mention, the series introduces audiences to some young actors poised to take over Hollywood, namely Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, and Kaya Scodelario.

  • Alias

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Ron Rifkin, Bradley Cooper, Merrin Dungey, Carl Lumbly, Kevin Weisman, Melissa George, Rachel Nichols, Balthazar Getty, Lena Olin, Amy Acker, Elodie Bouchez, Mia Maestro, Greg Grunberg, David Anders

    We have Alias to thank for introducing us to Jennifer Garner. She played the super sexy— and deadly—CIA agent, Sydney Bristow, a Krav Maga expert who's fluent in 30 languages (31 if you count the language of love). It may be hard to keep track of the double agents, the triple agents, backstabbers, and secret government agencies, but Alias will never be called boring or predictable. We're talking explosions, knife fights, guns, and a bountiful selection of wigs! Did you really expect anything less from creator J.J. Abrams?

  • Black Mirror

    Seasons available: 1-2

    The term "TV anthology" has been thrown around a lot lately, concerning ‘new season, new story’ shows like True DetectiveAmerican Horror Story, and Fargo. But chill—those are only kinda-sorta anthologies. For the real deal, seek out classics like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

    Or, if you’re not in a black-and-white-screen kind of mood, there’s Black Mirror, the amazing British sci-fi series that’s been wowing critics since 2011, and, as of this week, is finally available for all non-blokes on Netflix. Split into two seasons, the futuristic genre series is made up of six one-hour tales about the various ways in which technology could, if it advances too much over time, go horribly wrong. It's as if Rod Serling's ghost inhabited the most cynical Silicon Valley's tycoon's soul and remixed TheTwilight Zone for modern times.

    The execution is next-level, yet the themes are universal. If you’re, say, an asshole who regularly cheats on his or her significant others, "The Entire History of You" depicts a world where your memories are instantly accessible, via a "grain" chip implanted behind your ear, and always there to contradict your lies with hard evidence; "Be Right Back," meanwhile, takes relationship issues a step further towards the macabre, following a woman who uses her recently deceased boyfriend’s social media history to create a clone whose personality, not unlike many Twitter profiles, is soulless; and for you nihilists out there, the chilling "White Bear" presents a mega-bleak justice system that makes A Clockwork Orange seem humane.

    Though its three years old, Black Mirror will continue to be one of insert-future-year-here's best shows until someone else comes close to honoring the god Rod Serling this well. Which isn't likely.

  • Harper's Island

    Seasons available: 1
    Stars: Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, Katie Cassidy, Adam Campbell, C.J. Thomason, Jim Beaver, Cameron Richardson, Richard Burgi, Victor Webster, Matt Barr, Dean Chekvala, Harry Hamlin, Gina Holden, David Lewis, Cassandra Sawtell, Claudette Mink, Brandon Jay McLaren

    If you're in charge of a new TV series and the network execs cast your show away to Saturday nights, you're more than likely screwed. Which is what the minds behind CBS' daring whodunit horror series Harper's Island learned the hard way back in 2009, when the series ran its 13-episode course to very little ratings hoopla.

    A shame, really, since Harper's Island is an absolute blast, never skimping on the hardcore carnage (by network programming standards, at least), keeping viewers guessing with its genuinely inscrutable mystery, and featuring an assortment of colorful performances from an attractive cast. Naturally, such an original show never stood a chance; here's your chance to give Harper's Island its just due.

  • Twin Peaks

    Seasons available: 1-2
    Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen, Warren Frost, Richard Beymer, Michael Horse, Piper Laurie, James Marshall, Everett McGill, Jack Nance, Ray Wise

    With AMC's murder mystery The Killing, the creators' decision to delay the killer's identity has pissed damn near every viewer off; in the early '90s brain-scrambler Twin Peaks, however, the whodunit factor is far less important.

    What's most important about co-creator David Lynch's bewilderingly strange psychodrama, about an FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) investigating a prom queen's slaying in the world's batshittiest town, is that its central mystery is tucked beneath an overcoat of gonzo horror and countless WTF moments. Like American Horror Story after it, Twin Peaks is more about the experience than the narrative.

  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    Seasons available: 1
    Stars: Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey manages to pay homage to Carl Sagan's 1980s original, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, while creating an engaging show for a 21st century audience. Tyson proves a charismatic host, the science is high-level enough to interest adults, and the special-effects are trippy enough retain the core audience of stoners and kids (weird how similar the two are when it comes to TV). Even the new ship looks relatively cool, even if it's just a sleeker version of Boba Fett's Slave1. What’s more, Tyson goes hard in the paint when it comes to controversial topics; climate change skeptics and intelligent design advocates watch out.

    The fact that this all aired in primetime on Fox is, despite what Tyson might believe, an actual miracle. Even though few people may have watched it during the season, it's a victory for modern culture that the show aired at all.

  • Breaking Bad

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks

    It's hard to believe that there are still people out there who haven't seen AMC's Breaking Bad; at this point, creator Vince Gilligan's bleak and unpredictable drama should be required viewing for anyone who owns a DVR machine.

    As sickly chemistry teacher turned crystal meth cook Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his unstable partner (Aaron Paul) descend further into the drug world's abyss, Breaking Bad continually outdoes itself, pushing TV's boundaries with shocking violence, complicated storytelling, and fearless performances. As it approaches its finale, we'll see if it can become that thing that's eluded TV lovers for so long: the perfect show.

  • Sons of Anarchy

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst, Tommy Flanagan, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Maggie Siff

    When one sees a grizzled biker gang ride by on their hogs, thoughts of classic Shakespearean tragedies aren't what typically come to mind-images of Jack Daniels and bourbon bottles, on the other hand, probably do materialize. Kurt Sutter, a veteran of The Shield with a theater background, found Hamlet in Harley-Davidson riders, however, and in that duality he created FX's Sons of Anarchy, an exaggeratedly violent yet dramatically sound look at the bonds and rifts within California's SAMCRO biker squad.

  • Mad Men

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Jared Harris, Bryan Batt, Aaron Staton, Kiernan Shipka

    How many hours have we spent with Don Draper by now?

    As TV becomes more cinematic (and thus richer) with regards to camera movement and editing, as it begins to play with form in the exciting ways, the medium will continue to stand distinct from film because of duration. You don't even get two hours with Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. In the wake of Mad Men's sixth season, we've spent roughly 63 hours with Don Draper (Jon Hamm). And given the pace of AMC's long, hard gaze into the '60s, those hours feel especially packed.

    Testifying to the power of duration, Mad Men's unfurling arcs have asked viewers to evolve their feelings in ways that are only possible with time-lots of time. If you'd told me circa season one that I would feel something other than revulsion at the dawn of season six for Pete Campbell, the WASPy ad exec with the punchable face, I wouldn't have believed you. But as in life, relationships change and grow. My relationship with Pete (and to hell with you if you think that's a strange thing to say) is entirely different now. This is a beautiful and powerful thing, art that asks you to change. It should not be underestimated.

    When it's over, Matthew Weiner's Mad Men may very well be remembered as the greatest show to emerge from TV's golden age. Exploring the complicated tangle of the personal and the political at an ad agency during one of America's most turbulent decades has provided viewers with enough indelible images and fascinating characters to populate entire novels. And the show only gets better as it incorporates more of the formal innovations of cinema into its machinery.

    It's not right that I have to invoke other art forms to express the genius of Mad Men. It's lazy, for one thing. But it's also a reflection of the adolescence television is experiencing. The medium is still finding out what it can do. We're lucky, all of us, to be alive to watch.

  • House of Cards

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly, Kristen Connolly, Sakina Jaffrey, Constance Zimmer, Sebastian Arcelus

    As expected from director/executive producer David Fincher, House of Cards oozes sexiness. Through smokey cinematography and double-entendre filled dialogue, Fincher can make anything, no matter how evil it is—in this case, an overlooked cabinet member (Kevin Spacey) trying to exact revenge by imploding the current presidency—seem utterly intoxicating. That's why the show makes so much sense on Netflix. Its wickedness is so addictive that you can't help but need fix after fix.

  • Sherlock

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs, Andrew Scott, Vinette Robinson

    The story of Sherlock Holmes is an old one, but never has it been as present in modern pop culture as it is nowadays. First came the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law film in 2009. That Guy Ritchie-directed flick did well, but, since it was, for the most part, a silly comedy, it can't quite hold the same emotional depth as BBC One's Sherlock, which is set in modern-day London.

    Starring currrent Hollywood hot-boys Benedict Cumberbatch (this year's Star Trek Into Darkness) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) as Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, it's an extremely engaging take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic. Sherlock takes a lot of the same stories and villains, but modernizes them. For example, Jim Moriarty (Irish actor Andrew Scott), one of Sherlock's most popular enemies from the books, is a huge part of the series.

    While many modern crime shows can be lazily procedural (the latest American take on Sherlock Holmes, the new hit CBS series Elementary, is good but it does suffer from this issue), Sherlock manages to escape that rut with tightly written episodes and compelling plots. Sadly, each season only has six episodes total between, though a third season has been greenlit. Due to Cumberbatch's and Freeman's now busy schedules, however, the next run might not make it onto the air until late 2013, or even early 2014.

    But hey, look at it this way: That means you've all got a whole year to marathon this show.

  • Luther

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Steve Mackintosh, Indira Varma, Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves, Warren Brown, Dermot Crowley

    And you thought Idris Elba was a beast on HBO's The Wire.

    On Luther, he stars as the titular John Luther, a Detective Chief Inspector with London's Metropolitan Police in the Serious Crimes Unit. Accordingly, he's seen some serious shit that's affected him in less than ideal ways-it's all made him into someone who's got a very distinct idea of what good and evil is, and he also operates in an extremely morally gray area.

    Luther, tallying at 10 episodes over two seasons, sticks closely to Elba as he solves various crimes and deals with his inability to live a well-adjusted, normal life. It's always refreshing when, as a viewer, you can tell that a TV show's producers aren't underestimating the audience's collective intelligence with hokey dialogue and lazy plot-lines. You'd be hard-pressed to find a character who's as compelling as the genius, paranoid, sociopathic, malignant narcissist Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), especially when it comes to her dynamic with Luther.

  • Friday Night Lights

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gauis Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan

    The best thing about Netflix's Watch Instantly format is the ability it gives users to finally connect with critically adored TV shows that ultimately checked into the programming graveyard in the midst of more in-the-know friends always fawning over them.

    A prime example is Friday Night Lights, a best-show-ever nominee for those wise enough to have stuck with the low-rated series during its five-year run. A group in which we here at Complex definitely fall. Using the trials and tribulations of a Texas high school football team as its backdrop, Friday Night Lights touched upon issues of racism, financial strife, and abortion with poignancy and grace.

  • Damages

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Noah Bean, Tate Donovan, Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, Anastasia Griffith, Marcia Gay Harden, Martin Short

    Much has been made about the modern-day TV revolution's lineup of strong male characters—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Vic Mackey. It hasn't only been a boys' club, though. Giving the small-screen movement a much-needed dose of don't-fuck-with-me estrogen, cutthroat lawyer Patty Hewes (as played by Emmy winner Glenn Close) stomps through the critically acclaimed FX drama series Damages with authority, grace, and an omnipresent intimidation factor. She's not deplorable like, say, Walter "murderer/meth dealer" White or Don "cold-hearted womanizer" Draper, but Patty's nonetheless an imposing force of nature.

    What makes Damages, which aired from 2007 through 2012, so damn compelling is Patty's complicated relationship with her younger, less harsh underling Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). In a way, she's the Jesse Pinkman to Patty's Walter White, though with much less life-threatening and literally homicidal manipulation issued out by the latter in this case.

  • The West Wing

    Seasons available: 1-7
    Stars: Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, John Spencer, Dule Hill, Moira Kelly, Rob Lowe, Janel Maloney, Richard Schiff, Joshua Malina, Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Alda, Jimmy Smits, Mary McCormack

    Aaron Sorkin wrote some of the best TV the world has ever seen while high on coke. In 2001, just after the second season of his White House drama The West Winghad wrapped, Sorkin was arrested at the the Burbank Airport for, among other things, possession of crack. Crack.

    The writer and creator behind A Few Good Men, The American President, and Sports Night, had long battled with drug addiction, and did some of his most beloved work while writing stupid-stoned in the dead of night. His characters walk and talk with the same bottomless energy. And never have they walked and talked better than on The West Wing, an unabashedly liberal look at American politics.

    Martin Sheen played Jed Bartlet, the Democratic president, and the rest of the characters were made up of his senior staff. We're stans here, so it's OK to shout out your favorite now. Were you a Josh person? (He had great hair and a debonair air, so we get it.) A CJ lover? (She was tough as fuck, and when she lost her man at the end of "Posse Comitatus" in the third season, we wept like children.) Have a soft spot for Toby much? (Of course you do.)

    For four consecutive years, the show won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama. Those first four seasons, of which Sorkin wrote nearly every episode, is one of the finest runs in TV history, almost peerless.

  • Scandal

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Columbus Short, Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz, Joshua Malina, Jeff Perry

    One can't be blamed for sleeping on ABC's highly addictive political soap opera Scandal. After all, it's the brainchild of Shonda Rhimes, the creator of such guy-repelling programs as Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. But this year, during Scandal's provocative second season, resistance proved futile, especially if you happened to sign onto Twitter while the show aired. The social media site was a venerable, constantly updated Scandal message board on Thursday nights.

    Much of the credit goes to star Kerry Washington, whose work as political problem-fixer Olivia Pope slickly merges vulnerability (seen through her hush-hush dalliances with top-ranking government shotcallers) with imposing tenacity.

  • The IT Crowd

    Seasons available: 1-4
    Stars: Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry

    The IT Crowd is worth watching if only because it pulled off the impossible: After a successful run between 2006 and 2010, the series managed to return in 2013, and remain as hilarious, relevant, and on-point as ever.

    For those of you who have never seen the show, however, here are a few things you should know (and things that will, hopefully, convince you): It stars Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, Girls) and Richard Ayoade (Submarine and The Double director) as two IT specialists working in your standard London office building, and Katherine Parkinson as a new hire who lied on her resume about having a lot of experience with computers...when she really knows nothing about them at all. Seriously, at one point, she believes that the entire Internet is contained in one tiny, wireless box.

    The IT Crowd ended in 2010, but not on the most finale-ish note—so, three years later, Channel 4 gifted us with a special episode to end the series. Funny, and with no cliffhangers? Hello, perfect show.

  • The Walking Dead

    Seasons available: 1-4
    Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jon Bernthal, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Jeffrey DeMunn, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, Michael Rooker, Emily Kinney

    A television show about zombies? Any George A. Romero fanboy will tell you that, prior to AMC's The Walking Dead, such a proposition was unheard of. After all, TV producers only care about medical dramas, cop shows, and domestic sitcoms, right? Not the brave souls in the AMC offices, who continued their daring streak of green-lighting dark, cutting-edge adult dramas (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) by giving acclaimed filmmaker Frank Darabont the go-sign to adapt Robert Kirkman's beloved Image Comics title.

    It's easy to see why AMC took the risk. The Walking Dead, as Kirkman lays it out, isn't about the zombies as much as its about the living characters. Led by do-gooder sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the show's band of random survivors drives the hour-long pressure cooker, quarrling with each other while trying to stay alive amidst the flesh-eater takeover. And thanks to Glen Mazzara, who stepped in to fill Darabont's role for season two after AMC's behind-the-scenes drama, the series is now exactly what optimistic fans thought it could be all along: bold, fearless storytelling.

    Furthermore, it's the people's show, breaking cable ratings records and dominating social media conversations every Sunday night while never registering with Emmy voters and making many stuffed-shirt pundits resist its genre sensibilities.

  • The X-Files

    Seasons available: 1-9
    Stars: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, Mitch Pileggi

    Genre fans have been treated well by television executives as of late, with the high-quality standards enacted by The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. But at one time, lovers of all things supernatural were hard-up for scares and weirdness on the boob tube, which made the arrival of Fox's excellent The X-Files so exciting back in 1993. And for nine dense, intense, and often frightening seasons, paranormal investigators Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) kept the one-of-a-kind excitement alive.

  • American Horror Story

    Seasons available: 1-3
    Stars: Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters, Denis O'Hare, Frances Conroy

    For the first half of its debut season, American Horror Story was the funhouse ride that never stopped. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, tapping into their Nip/Tuck craziness and not their Glees oftness, dared viewers to stick around, throwing so many out-of-nowhere images, batshit plot turns (S&M ghosts, mutants in the attic, horny spirits in skimpy maid get-ups), and unsubtle horror movie references at the screen that the FX series felt more like a guilty pleasure than a genuine investment.

    As the season progressed, however, American Horror Story faintly pumped its brake enough to nurture the central family story, giving fans plenty of reasons to actually care for the Harmons (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Taissa Farmiga). It was a tightrope act that very few thought could be pulled off, but, somehow, Murphy and Falchuk turned a kitchen sink genre conceit into a legitimate small-screen drama. Of course, it didn't hurt that they had Jessica Lange on their team; playing the Harmons' conniving, dominating, and downright sinister neighbor, the Oscar winner gave 2011's most devilishly addictive performance across all mediums.

  • Supernatural

    Seasons available: 1-9
    Stars: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Mischa Collins

    In terms of television programming, the last few years have been quite good for genre fans. There's The Walking Dead, of course, and the more demented American Horror Story. But there's one show that's been delighting lovers of monsters, witches, and other antagonistic grotesqueries since way back in 2005: The CW's Supernatural.

    Slightly below the radar, Supernatural has been the most consistent genre show on TV, powered by the pitch-perfect chemistry between leads Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, as demon-slaying brothers Sam and Dean Winchester. It's also wonderfully creative, with a never-ending surplus of inhuman villains often rendered by impressive visual effects and padded with rich, fascinating mythologies.

    We know what you're thinking—a show on The CW starring a couple of pretty boy pin-up types can't be anything more than something your little sister would watch. Give Supernatural a chance and you'll discover that it's one of TV's best-kept secrets.

  • Lost

    Seasons available: 1-6
    Stars: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Terry O'Quinn, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim, Harold Perrineau, Ian Somerhalder, Dominic Monaghan, Maggie Grace, Naveen Andrews, Henry Ian Cusick, Emilie de Ravin, Elizabeth Mitchell, Michael Emerson, Jeff Fahey

    Nearly two years removed from its divisive finale episode, we're still pondering the after-effects of ABC's Lost, trying to decide whether its long-awaited conclusion was satisfactory or chump style. Either way, the singular hit-about survivors of an airplane crash stranded on a mysterious island where flashbacks, flash-forwards, and even flash-sideways are the norm-is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of program, one that, even in its most confusing and frustrating hours, took creative risks that subsequent shows have failed miserably trying to emulate.

  • Fringe

    Seasons available: 1-5
    Stars: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Jasika Nicole, Blair Brown, Kirk Acevedo, Seth Gabel, Leonard Nimoy

    Fringe combined the best elements of several genres: science fiction, horror, and, most importantly, high-stakes, character-driven drama. The J.J. Abrams-backed science-fiction drama trails an FBI agent (Anna Torv), an enigmatic boy genius (Joshua Jackson), and his nutty doctor of a father (John Noble) as they investigate paranormal and otherworldly happenings, all while working to keep a parallel dimension's evil version of Noble's character from bringing the apocalyptic ruckus.

    It's a wide-open premise that allows Fringe to bless viewers with an assortment of strikingly bizarre imagery. Early into the second season, for example, a shadow-man attacked a guy whose wife comes home to watch her husband disintegrate into ashes; "Marionette" (season three) features the pleasant shot of a mad scientist controlling his wife's dead body like a puppet with ropes and pulleys. And that's just a sample of Fringe's most heinous scenes, which once again begs the question: Why haven't you watched this damn show yet?

  • The Twilight Zone

    Seasons available: 1-5

    How many times have you heard someone, when in a bizarre situation, say, "It feels like I'm in the The Twilight Zone"? There's one man to thank for that ongoing pop culture reference point: Rod Serling, the game-changer responsible for several award-winning TV scripts, but most notably known for creating the groundbreaking anthology series The Twilight Zone.

    Given a look today, the Zone's greatest episodes still hold up as television's best examples of thought-provoking and unsettling storytelling. Serling and his writing team (led by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont), probed societal issues and everyman fears with a genre-specific eye, inserting aliens, time travel, horror, and sometimes dark comedy into the everyday world as mirrors for viewers to confront harsh realities. The show was incredibly ahead of its time.

    And it was, more often than not, scary as hell. Try driving on an open road alone at night after watching "The Hitchhiker", or not shivering in the presence of mannequins once you've seen "After Hours". We still get paranoid while flying on airplanes ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"), reading cookbooks ("To Serve Man"), and quarreling with neighbors ("The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street").

    Television producers have tried time and time again to match what Serling did back in the early '60s, but to no avail. What's most scary about The Twilight Zone is how brilliant it remains today.

  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents

    Seasons available: 1-3

    They don't call the late Alfred Hitchcock "the master of suspense" for nothing. As he displayed in his classic films, from Vertigo to Psycho, the British filmmaker knew how to build up tension and wring out mysteries better than anyone, a distinction that remains the case to this day. And through the magnificent and scary anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitch, who bookended every episode as the host, had an outlet to give fans of heady dramas and riveting thrillers quicker, but no less memorable, fixes.

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