My Top 10 TV Shows

Jacob Hampton
Apr 3, 2020 · 7 min read

Though our focus at Rogue Auteurs is film, I’m just as big of a fan of television. Formerly thought of as the regulated, restricted, cheaper alternative to movie-going, TV is now has just as much artistic merit thanks to the rise of streaming and the ever-expanding roster of companies distributing original content. Binging a show is one of the fastest ways to help the day go by as we all sit at home with uncertainty. So in honor of being stuck inside, here are my 10 favorite shows of all time that you can stream right now.

In creating this list, I limited myself to shows that have finished their runs. Also, without a limitation, I noticed that I didn’t include any miniseries. This only goes to show what I appreciate most about TV, which is its ability to create a long-running investment in characters and stories over the course of years.

Honorable Mentions

Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000) — Aired on NBC, not streaming, 1 season
Broadchurch (2013–2018) — Aired on BBC America, streaming on Netflix, 3 seasons
Catastrophe (2015–2019) — Amazon Prime, 4 seasons
Bojack Horseman (2014–2020) — Netflix, 6 seasons (would be in the top 10, but I’m still catching up on the last two seasons)
Master of None (2015-?) — Netflix, 2 seasons (would be in the top 10, but still hasn’t formally ended despite no word on another season)

10. Fleabag (2016–2019) — Amazon Prime, 2 seasons

Either you’re tired of hearing about it, or you’re thrilled to see it on the list. What Phoebe Waller-Bridge accomplished in 12 short episodes is nothing short of astonishing. It’s a pretty recent inclusion for an all-time list, but a year after watching the finale I still think about its emotional impact, along with the many, many laughs I had along the way. It’s so short that there’s really no reason not to watch it.

9. Girls (2012–2017) — HBO, 6 seasons

Say what you will about Lena Dunham, or the show’s too-white portrayal of New York, but Girls was a fresh satire on millennial privilege that managed to be moving as often as it was hilarious. It was a show that never shied away from its characters’ flaws, which ultimately turned many people off from it. For better or worse, there’s no denying that its unique brand of humor and quirks ushered in a creative new era of “city friends hang out” shows, a genre that used to be confined to broadcast channel limits.

8. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015–2019) — Aired on CW, streaming on Netflix, 4 seasons

Though it’s far from the first TV musical in history, I’ve never seen anything that feels like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. If you like musicals even slightly, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not giving the show a try. It occasionally dips into some unnecessary hijinks over the course of its four seasons, but the hilarity of the songs, the brilliant callbacks, and the solid long-term character development make every episode worth it.

7. Rectify (2013–2016) — Aired on Sundance TV, streaming on Netflix, 4 seasons

Rectify makes for some heavy viewing by forcing the audience to ask itself a lot of questions over the course of Daniel Holden’s story. What would you expect people to do if you were wrongly convicted? How do we have faith in a justice system susceptible to these mistakes? How much patience can you have with someone who needs help but won’t accept it? Despite an unplanned cancellation, it feels complete and ultimately is about the hope that things really can be okay.

6. Broad City (2014–2019) — Aired on Comedy Central, streaming on Hulu, 5 seasons

While some of the shows on this list benefit from a mention of when they “get good,” Broad City has to be the most instantly enjoyable of the bunch. From season 1, it immediately feels like a show you’ve known and loved for years. It’s a showcase of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s chemistry and comic abilities, and it rarely disappoints over its five seasons. If you want a binge without any kind of early-episode hump to get over, look no further.

5. The Americans (2013–2018) — Aired on FX, streaming on Amazon Prime, 6 seasons

What if your life was a lie? Not in an angsty way, but in a literal way: your name, career, marriage, and even your children all a facade to blend in. The Americans spent six seasons on missions gone wrong, car chases, and shootouts, but it never lost focus of its central question. A huge part of its brilliance is that you can delve into its nuanced details about U.S.-Soviet relations if that’s your cup of tea, but the show is just as enjoyable as a family drama about the cost of creating a fake identity.

4. Looking (2014–2015) — HBO, 2 seasons and a movie

Looking wasn’t the first TV show to center on a majority-gay cast of main characters, but it was the first of its kind to not be about the struggle of acceptance. By shedding that common trope, Looking was able to dissect a wide variety of other issues, conflicts, and strengths of gay culture. HBO isn’t a stranger to niche shows, but it was still remarkable to see this kind of representation somewhere other than a low-budget web series. It was cancelled far too soon, but the network at least followed through with a finale movie to tie up loose ends.

3. Lost (2004–2010) — Aired on ABC, streaming on Hulu, 6 seasons

There will never be another show like Lost. Countless have tried to mimic its success, never understanding exactly how it captured lightning in a bottle. All I have the energy to say about the ending these days is that the journey is still worth it, no matter your opinion of where it ultimately leads. It seems most people have an experience with the show in some way, usually quitting after a few seasons. I challenge you to give it another go, regardless of your history with it. For its time, format, and network, I still feel confident calling Lost the most ambitious show of all time. (Okay, fine. I have to say that no, they weren’t dead all along and that it was always a character show.)

2. Parks and Recreation(2009–2015) — Aired on NBC, streaming on Netflix, 7 seasons

I have Rogue Auteurs’ own Chad to thank for introducing me to this show. Like many others, I’d dismissed it as a less funny knockoff of The Office before ever seeing it. To be fair, the show doesn’t do much to dispel that notion in its brief first season, but once it comes into its own it’s one of the strongest ensemble shows out there. It was an insanely effective career launching pad for almost *literally* every one of its main cast members as well. One of my highest praises for Parks is how much of its humor comes from positivity. It’s all about how much these people love each other rather than them being incompatible (with the exception of everyone’s hatred of Jerry of course). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good insult comedy, but during such an emotionally draining time in our world, Parks’ warm brand of humor is more welcome than ever.

  1. The Leftovers(2014–2017) — HBO, 3 seasons

My favorite show of all time also happens to be the one that’s most difficult for me to describe. Its premise sounds like a generic drama with confused authorities running around trying to figure out why 2% of people are suddenly gone, but by taking place in daily life several years after that event, the series immediately moves past any expectations you might have for that subject matter. After the decent first season covers the material from Tom Perotta’s novel, the phenomenal second and third take the story to places I’m not sure anyone other than Damon Lindelof could imagine. I’ve never seen another show be so entertaining while also asking piercing questions about grief, love, belief, and the lies we tell ourselves and others. Many were burned by Lindelof’s previous creation, Lost, after they were disappointed in the answers they got. His response is a beautiful series about how we react when we can’t find any answers at all.

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