Shows of the ‘New Golden Age of TV’ by year — 1999–2018

edited by Jess Kapadia

The early 2000s ushered in a new golden age of television that, along with streaming services, catalyzed a massive increase in program production. It’s changed the way we watch TV, and with the rise of Netflix, HULU, HBO Go and others, the content available to viewers has reached unparalleled numbers. The Wall Street Journal notes that the number of scripted television shows released in 2011 (266) rose 71% to 455 by 2016. The Hollywood Reporter forecasts this year’s figure to exceed 500. This surge in programming has only one downside: deciding what to watch.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular shows that premiered in each year of the “New Golden Age,” well-worth your binge-watching time:

1999 — Sopranos

HBO’s “The Sopranos” changed the way Americans watched television. The serial drama delivered long, complex story arcs and extensive character development now employed regularly by popular TV dramas. The series offers fresh perspective on the gangster genre, following the life of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano. On the surface he’s your typical tough-guy mob boss, but the viewer is granted an intimate look into Soprano’s psyche as he reluctantly submits to psychiatric counseling.

IMDb rating: 9.2

IMDb votes: 228,930

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 1999–2007

2000 — Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David deserves a nod for his creation of a certain beloved show about nothing, but his follow-up,“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” has gained just as much of a cult following. The series follows a fictionalized version of the ludicrous-yet-lovable David, constantly exacerbating life’s annoyances due to his signature unwillingness to simply let things go. David regularly prolongs unfortunate circumstances, and his powers of self-deprecation know no rival. A 2016 Vulture article discussed the impact of “Curb’s” “season serial” format, leading to a slew of binge-worthy TV comedies.

IMDb rating: 8.7

IMDb votes: 79,640

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2001–2005

2001 — Six Feet Under

“Six Feet Under” premiered on HBO in 2001, introducing viewers to a new kind of dark comedy. The show follows the Fisher family, proprietors of a Los Angeles funeral home — a unique spin on a family drama with the incorporation of adding death as a constant theme. The characters experience the same struggles commonly encountered in this genre, with mortality challenging the characters in different ways. Each episode begins with a person’s death, and explores how Fisher and Sons Funeral Home is involved in preparing for the funeral.

IMDb rating: 8.7

IMDb votes: 104,597

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2001–2005

Honorable mentions: Band of Brothers and The Office (UK)

2002 — The Wire

“The Wire” has been canonized among the greatest drama series in modern TV. Unless you have a deep aversion to violence, drug-related themes or strong language, start watching right away. “The Wire” takes a deep dive into politics, violence, the drug war, incarceration, education and how social issues all relate to one another in early 2000s-era Baltimore. The show’s greatest strength easily lies in the complexity of the plot and the number of compelling characters whose interplay creates the foundation of each enduring conflict. Since each season focuses on a different theme, main characters are sometimes relegated to supporting status for entire seasons, only to come to the forefront later on.

IMDb rating: 9.3

IMDb votes: 226,678

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2002–2008

2003 — Chapelle’s Show

Chapelle’s Show succeeded in becoming a cultural phenomenon and raising the bar for sketch comedy. Kids and adults of all ages could be heard borrowing phrases from Chapelle’s characterization of Lil’ Jon and Rick James (among others) reinforcing the program’s popularity.

IMDb rating: 8.7

IMDb votes: 43,478

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2003–2006

Honorable mention: Arrested Development

2004 — Deadwood

Although considerably less-popular than many of its contemporaries, the quality of “Deadwood’s” dialogue cemented it into the canon of great television. It chronicles the Gold Rush, incorporating real and imagined characters who live, cheat, kill and attempt to get a piece of the golden pie in the real-life historical town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Pimp-slash-entrepreneur, Al Swearengen, swears with an eloquence rarely captured on the small screen.

IMDb rating: 8.7

IMDb votes: 76,714

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2004–2006

2005 — The Office (USA)

Writer Greg Daniels transformed Ricky Gervais’, “The Office,” into a comedic boon for NBC. Steve Carell plays Michael Scott, the district regional manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pennsylvania branch. Scott’s socially inept predispositions, coupled with often genuine and pure intentions, create an absurd hilarity. However, the real strength of the office lies in the cast of supporting characters, all capable of consistently creating great humor. “The Office” personifies the dynamics found in offices across the U.S., and perhaps the world — inter-office romances, office politics and sycophancy (Dwight Schrute) — to shape an amusing, compelling comedy that resonates with viewers while simultaneously cracking them up.

IMDb rating: 8.8

IMDb votes: 253,880

Rating: TV-PG

Years on the air: 2005–2013

2006–30 Rock

“30 Rock” is Tina Fey’s masterpiece, based on her time as head writer on “Saturday Night Live,” at the NBC studio address of the same name. Fey possesses the unique ability and experience to write dialogue for characters playing the comedians on a sketch comedy show. Alec Baldwin’s dry, witty Jack Donaghy stands out as a network executive, and Liz Lemon’s (Fey) boss. She based this character on SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, with Baldwin reportedly drawing inspiration directly from Michaels as well. “30 Rock” also features memorable performances by Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski and Judah Friedlander, among other talented comedians and plenty of cameos.

IMDb rating: 8.2

IMDb votes: 99,772

Rating: TV-14

Years on the air: 2006–2013

2007 — Mad Men

“Mad Men” chronicles the rise of the mystery-shrouded Don Draper as an advertisement creative, and then executive, at fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper. The plot unfolds largely in their Madison Avenue office during the advertising boom of the late 50s and early 60s. “Mad Men” may be the most precisely executed period drama to-date, with the sets, props, clothing and cultural references flawlessly recreating the time and places the show represents. Matching the show’s excellence in aesthetic is the portrayal of relationships at the time, highlighting the struggles of gender and race. Consistent, moving performances by Elizabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks illustrate two different perspectives of ambitious and capable professionals attempting, and largely succeeding in navigating a male-dominated field in a world hostile to working women.

IMDb rating: 8.6

IMDb votes: 167,649

Rating: TV-14

Years on the air: 2007–2015

2008 — Breaking Bad

Unlike many of the series discussed here, “Breaking Bad” could be dubbed the “Walter White Show.” The high-school chemistry teacher-turned-meth cook uses his scientific prowess to make the best meth around.That’s not all, though — he also penetrates drug cartels while continually thwarting law enforcement. Although the show revolves almost completely its protagonist, the supporting cast shouldn’t go unnoticed. White’s sidekick and former student, Jesse Pinkman, serves as a chaotic counterpoint to the calm and calculated White. Walter’s wife Skyler holds her husband accountable for his actions with no-nonsense toughness. The suspense and cliffhangers employed in “Breaking Bad” make it tough to quit once you start.

IMDb rating: 9.5

IMDb votes: 1,091,241

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2008–2013

2009 — Modern Family

What “Modern Family” can lack in depth, it makes up for in charm. The sitcom does succeed in depicting what modern families actually look like, in fact, Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan conceived of the idea when discussing their own modern families. The Pritchett family deals with divorce, homosexuality and interracial marriage without ever getting heavy about it. It’s fun for your whole modern family, and seeks to normalize issues once considered taboo for television.

IMDb rating: 8.5

IMDb votes: 291,239

Rating: TV-PG

Years on the air: 2009-

Honorable Mentions: “Eastbound and Down” and “Community”

2010 — Boardwalk Empire

“Boardwalk Empire” portrays a fictionalized prohibition-era Atlantic City. Steve Buscemi plays corrupt city treasurer, Nucky Thompson, who amasses and consolidates power through his bootlegging enterprise. Creator Terence Winter based the plot and many of the show’s characters on real events recounted in the book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.

IMDb rating: 8.6

IMDb votes: 152,484

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2010–2014

Honorable Mentions: Sherlock and The Walking Dead

2011 — Game of Thrones

The wildly popular fantasy series “Game of Thrones” infiltrated pop culture more than any other show of its generation. Game of Thrones’ noble families contend for political and military power over the land of Westeros — rife with with dragons, the undead (“White Walkers”) and enough sex and violence to satisfy literally anyone’s desire. GOT has enjoyed popularity-boosting references on several equally popular television shows — including “The Simpsons” and “South Park” — as well as in movies, comic books and at least five video games.

IMDb rating: 9.5

IMDb votes:

Rating: TV Mature

Years on the air: 2011-

Honorable Mention: Black Mirror

2012 — The Newsroom

Jeff Daniels is Atlantis Cable News anchor Will McAvoy, in Aaron Sorkin’s political drama, “The Newsroom.” McAvoy, along with former flame and executive producer, McKenzie McCabe (Emily Mortimer), attempts to deliver news of substance without succumbing to network’s demands for ratings. The two often team up with ACN president,Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), to combat the less-virtuous wishes of the network’s owner. While “The Newsroom” romanticizes broadcast journalism to an overly sentimental degree, the intellectual writing and profound commentary that shadowed current events secured a substantial viewership.

IMDb rating: 8.6

IMDb votes: 91,350

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2012–2014

Honorable Mention: Veep

2013 — Rick and Morty

“Rick and Morty,” is Adult Swim’s wildly irreverent and uncouth cartoon about a kid with low self-esteem and his mad-scientist grandfather. The adventures they embark on routinely shock viewers unseasoned by the show’s filthy humor and gory violence. Comedy Central and Adult Swim (Cartoon Network’s prime-time programming block) have produced countless animated series for mature audiences, but few attain the cult-status of “Rick and Morty.” Critics call it crass and juvenile, but at the end of the day, the show is in fact about inter-dimensional travel and relatively accurate astrophysical technology. The intellectual sophistication along with whip-smart cultural references provide the show with more depth than any of its competitors.

IMDb rating: 9.3

IMDb votes: 214,809

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2013-

Honorable Mentions: “House of Cards” and “The Americans”

2014 — Fargo

The Coen Brothers released their outstanding film, Fargo in 1996. Eighteen years later, Noah Hawley created his own Fargo in its image. The television series documents twisted criminal mysteries designated, as in the film, as true. This, however, is untrue. These events are not real, and if they were, they would be some of the most fantastic tales of modern times. Each season of Fargo stands alone with new characters in different eras and plots, all following crimes that lead in some way (and to great effect) back to Fargo, North Dakota.

IMDb rating: 9.0

IMDb votes: 242,847

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2014-

2015 — Mr. Robot

“Mr. Robot” tells the story of young drug-addicted, sometimes lucid, at other times delusional, cyber security engineer-turned-hacker, Elliot Alderson. The mystery-shrouded Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), visits Elliot during his delusional episodes and urges him to use his hacking abilities for “good.” Succumbing to his hallucinations, Elliot unknowingly creates Fsociety, a group of hackers reminiscent of real-life hacktivist group, Anonymous. Their target: ECore, perceived by characters and viewers alike as “Evil Corporation.” Their mission: to wipe out all debt, the corporate gains from which they view as ill-gotten. The thriller’s use of current events to shape the plot lends the drama a strong sense of cultural relevance.

IMDb rating: 8.6

IMDb votes: 256,752

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2015-

Honorable Mention: “Master of None”

2016 — Westworld

HBO sci-fi series “Westworld,” is based on a 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name. A captivating fusion, the drama portrays a future alongside intelligent humanoids. Patrons of the Wild West-themed park are free to do as they please with the androids without repercussions for their actions. Many participate in predictable fashion by getting into gun fights, drunkenly soliciting saloon prostitutes and, of course, solemnly riding horses around beautiful natural locales. Few engage in darker, even more depraved fantasies. To keep viewers on their toes, the show’s writers inject twists and non-linear narratives to superb effect.

IMDb rating: 8.9

IMDb votes: 284,239

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2016-

Honorable Mention: “Atlanta”

2017 — The Handmaid’s Tale

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same title, depicts a post-war USA, a portion of which is governed by the oppressively religious and totalitarian “Gilead.” For reasons that remain largely unknown, the fertility rate has plummeted to a panic-inducing degree, and fertile young women are rounded up and indoctrinated to exist solely as child-bearers for Gilead’s ruling “commanders.” Elisabeth Moss stars as the enslaved Offred who hopes to find ways to cope with her circumstances, and perhaps escape to freedom.

IMDb rating: 8.6

IMDb votes: 71,729

Rating: TV-MA

Years on the air: 2017-

2018 — Queer Eye

“Queer Eye,” reboots 2003’s hit “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Featuring a new “Fab Five,” in Atlanta rather than NYC, five gay men with varying expertise (fashion, food and wine, culture, design and grooming) guide a straight man’s makeover experience. Capitalizing fully on the stereotype that gay men have some innate sense of style straight men lack, the show still manages to be hilarious, insightful and often poignant.

IMDb rating: 8.7

IMDb votes: 3,891

Rating: TV14

Years on the air: 2018