Ranked Favorite TV Shows and Series Synopsis with Reviews
Written and Ranked By: C. A. Ponch
As a reminder – To qualify for the list I followed these basic guidelines:
- I watched at least three to five episodes of each show finishing most first seasons of every series on this list. Some shows were so bad that it was not worth watching more than three to five episodes. I gave them a chance. For the majority of the series, I have seen every episode.
- Each of the favorite TV shows could not have more than 30 episodes a season. That eliminated all late-night shows like “The Tonight Show”, variety of programs like “Sports Center”, and singing competitions like “American Idol” and “The Voice”. Also, I didn’t include morning shows like “The Today Show”, etc. If it were a series that aired more than once a week, it was unfortunately just too much content for me to review.
- Each series had to have at least three episodes air/stream per season to qualify. This eliminated event TV and made for TV movies but did include some great mini-series.
- No reality competitions or junk reality TV. That is not acting, and they show no real craftsmanship to judge. Those series are almost impossible to review. Variety shows with actual writers like SNL were included.
- Documentaries were accepted, but only if they were season-long documentaries with more than three episodes. I decided the difference between what qualified as a documentary series and a reality series. Reality series generally create situations and observe those situations for the entertainment of the viewer in an on-going manner much like life itself. A documentary series attempts to educate the viewer by presenting facts through a series of observations that are a full product having a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a fine line, but documentaries tend to inform or educate while entertaining.
- Each program had to have at least three episodes air during the past decade (2010-2019) that I actually saw, but I ranked TV shows from their full body of work of which that I have seen since their inception. This eliminated anything that didn’t have an episode air after 2009 but it also eliminated a few shows like “The Simpsons”, and “NCIS” which although I have seen more than three episodes of; I haven’t seen enough episodes of those shows in the past ten years. In fact, a few series on this list would have been ranked higher, had they just ended earlier before the quality of the show deteriorated.
- Lastly, there is one exception on this list of the shows I have watched this decade but can’t rank: “Sesame Street”. It’s still one of the greatest children’s favorite TV shows of all time. If you have young children, “Sesame Street” should be #1 on this list, if you don’t have young children, why are you watching “Sesame Street”? That’s strange and you may want to seek help.
10. Justified (FX – 2010 to 2015): Ponch: 10/10
“Justified” is an action crime drama television series starring Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a tough shoot-first deputy U.S. marshal working in Miami who is forced to relocate to the last place he wanted to be transferred too, his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. The character is based on one created by author Elmore Leonard in several books and short stories. The Author ranked “Justified” as one of the best adaptations of his work, which includes “Get Shorty”, “Jackie Brown”, “3:10 to Yuma” and “Out of Sight”(which gives you an idea of how great the show is considering the caliber of those films).
Nick Searcy as Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen is the only person who will take Givens who knows Raylan from FLETC in Glyn County. The rest of the cast changes from season to season but is highlighted by the second season performances of Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett; leader of the Bennett crime family and Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder; the son of one of Harlan’s biggest career criminals. The series has received eight Primetime Emmy Award nominations winning twice. The second season, received four acting nominations: Timothy Olyphant for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Walton Goggins for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Margo Martindale for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, and Jeremy Davies for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, with Martindale winning. Jeremy Davies who plays Dickie Bennett in a recurring part-time role throughout several seasons is fantastic as Mags Bennett’s middle son, who has had a riff with Raylan since a high school baseball game. Davies won an Emmy for his performance in the third season.
“Justified” really stands out from most police procedurals and Westerns. The first two seasons especially are worth watching and Martindale brings the show to a new level in season two. Timothy Olyphant brings a sly coolness to the character with a lot of humor I wasn’t expecting. It’s those aspects of not only Olyphant’s Givens character that make the show great but the humor mixed with the modern lawman procedural drama that resonates and defines the whole series.
Everyone in the cast is so charming and convincing that it’s a rung above most police procedurals. The cast is full of deeply layered back-story with a lot of character. You won’t be able to picture anyone in the role except for Olyphant by the end of the first season. It’s the defining role of his career and the grittiness of the show is balanced by the humor he brings to each intense situation. Unlike most main protagonists, the showrunners aren’t afraid to have Raylan fail which really grounds the series. “Justified” is the greatest modern Western TV series ever made.
IMDB 8.6/10 – RT 97% – Metacritic 86%
Streaming On: Hulu Subscription
9. Lost (ABC – 2004 to 2010): Ponch: 10/10
“Lost” is a Science Fiction Action Drama Mystery by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof about a group of survivors from Oceanic Air Flight 815, who crash on an island in the middle of no-where in the Pacific on September 22nd, 2004. They are forced to survive by working together to get off the island. Each survivor has a unique story and some secrets that led them to the flight. The Island itself holds the most shocking secrets including a smoke monster, polar bears, housing, and a mysterious group of island residents called “The Others”. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what they come across on the island and experience, including a security system, a series of underground bunkers belonging to the DHARMA Initiative. “Lost” has won a Golden Globe, Nine Saturn Awards, and 10 Emmy Awards being nominated 51 times, regularly being ranked by critics as one of the greatest shows of all time.
“Lost” is easily the best Network Drama of the past ten years and one of the best Network Dramas of all time. People consider “Lost” a cult classic but typically entertainment considered “cult” doesn’t have nearly this large of a following. This is a series that got everyone talking at work and on fan websites the morning after every episode. At the time, there was nothing like “Lost” ever produced. I personally think that “Lost” is one of the few shows that doesn’t fit the binging format well. It was more the weekly mystery and suspense that really drives the show. Every episode seemed to end in a shocking cliff-hanger, and you couldn’t wait to see the next episode.
The show was one of the most expensive series ever made, shot onsite in Hawaii in one of the most beautiful locations of any series. Although most would cite Matthew Fox’s Dr. Jack Shephard as the main protagonist, this was one of the first multicultural shows with an international ensemble cast with Michael Emerson winning the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama in 2009 as the mysteriously ruthless Ben Linus and the equal mystery driven Terry O’Qiunn as John Locke in 2007. “Lost” had everything: drama, action, mystery, suspense, and even romance with a love triangle between Jack, Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) a fugitive, James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway) a con man all wrapped up in sci-fi bow. The creators of the show seemed to want to cram as many genres they could into the show. The first season and first episode, in particular, are stellar, it slows down at the end of the second season with more questions than answers, picking up again by the latter half of the third season and doesn’t let up after that.
Some viewers and critics will tell you that the show left too many questions unanswered, without a proper payoff, but I felt “Lost” much like “Game of Thrones” (and most TV shows), are about the ride, not the destination. Where the show ended was satisfying to me. The series was so ingrained with aspects of sci-fi, religion, mythology, and philosophy that the ending was never going to answer all the questions every fan had: The ending was the answer, how satisfied you are really depending on how you interpret it. The show’s greatest achievement was how the showrunners never dumbed-down the series for the network TV audience while keeping high ratings. This was the best sci-fi show in decades and possibly of all-time up until that point, and by being on one of the big four networks; its popularity showed everyone that there was a huge audience of geeks out there who wanted this type of material. Not all viewers wanted dumb TV, they could follow a complex storyline, which led to so much of the popular film and TV we have now in 2020. “Lost” is brilliantly crafted serial television, which has one of the most fascinating continuing storylines in any entertainment medium. Even though it just made the cut with its last season spanning into 2010, its influence is still being felt a decade later with the influx of smart geek culture genre-related TV series and films coming out today.
IMDB 8.3/10 – RT 85% – Metacritic 84%
Streaming On: Hulu Subscription
8. Catastrophe (Amazon Prime – 2015 to 2019): Ponch: 10/10
“Catastrophe” is a situational comedy set in the UK. An Irish teacher Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan) and Ad Exec Rob Norris (Rob Delaney) who is in the UK on business, start a relationship after a one-night stand leads to Sharon getting pregnant. We go on to learn more about their lives and how these two people learn to cope with being in a relationship and having a child together that they obviously never planned to have. “Catastrophe” has been nominated and won several British Academy Television Awards.
Imagine two of the funniest people you know stuck in that situation. Hilarious! There are a few clever and witty sit-coms on TV that entertain us and make us laugh. “Veep”, “Atlanta” and “Bojack Horseman” are all witty and clever shows with a lot of heart, but there is not a funnier show on TV than “Catastrophe”. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments on this show. “Catastrophe” should be a dark comedy considering the story of how they get together and the crudeness of both characters, but it never gets that dark. Horgan and Delaney are hilarious and keep the show so light and funny. When was the last time you laughed out loud at a romantic sit-com? Not smiled and thought “this is cute”, I mean laughed a big hearty laugh. Delaney and Horgan will have you smiling and laughing every 25 minutes of each show that they are on the screen and I have never laughed like this with any romantic situation comedy. It’s only four seasons of six episodes at 25 minutes apiece. The best part about the show is you can get through it quickly, and the episodes pack more laughs than every comedy on this list. Whether you are single or have kids, this show will appeal to you. Every year the Emmy’s robbed these two nominations, and they nominate much fewer deserving actors. If you are bogged down with politics and heavy dramas, just put this show on and have some fun. “Catastrophe” is a highly underrated series that should be considered as a top ten comedy program of all time.
IMDB 8.2/10 – RT 98% – Metacritic 89%
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Subscription
7. Homeland (Showtime – 2011 to 2020): Ponch: 10/10
“Homeland” is a political spy thriller. When Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) returns home following eight years in captivity, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) thinks he has turned and is connected to a terror plot to be carried out on American soil, and she engages him in a dangerous game of cat and mouse that puts America’s national security at risk. Later, Carrie gets a promotion and returns to the front lines overseas. She is assigned to one of the CIA’s most volatile and dangerous stations in the Middle East, where she is in the heart of battle in the war on terror. Years later, after being disillusioned and placing herself in a self-imposed exile in Berlin, Carrie becomes estranged from the CIA. “Homeland” has been nominated for 39 Emmys winning eight times including winning the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama, and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes. Danes has won twice back to back in 2012 and 2013.
The acting on this show is superb. Mandy Patinkin is excellent as the father type figure to Danes’ Mathison. This is the most pulse-pounding show on TV. Every week, after one episode, ends; I can’t wait for the next to start. It is consistently strong. Usually a show has one actor that really pushes it into a new class. This show has several, Claire Danes is terrific, and Mandy Patinkin as usual is outstanding. He is one of the greatest actors of his generation and it is all on display here. Rubert Friend does an admirable job after Lewis’ departure from the show but make no mistake this show is driven by Claire Danes dead-on interpretation of a bipolar agent protecting us all. If you like government-centric thrillers like “24” or “Quantico”, you will love this show. It is far superior to those shows. You do need to watch from the beginning, this isn’t a show you can jump right into. The later seasons are not as strong as the episodes with Lewis but are still stronger than anything you will see on primetime in the same genre. “Homeland” is must-see thriller TV.
IMDB 8.3/10 – RT 85% – Metacritic 81%
6. Mad Men (AMC – 2007 to 2015): Ponch: 10/10
Mad Men” is a 1960’s period piece about fictional New York advertising agency Sterling Cooper. On the show, the phrase “Mad Men” was a slang term coined in the 1950s and 60s that advertisers working on Madison Avenue used to refer to themselves. The show revolves around Don Draper (John Hamm). Don is an advertising executive who is the main Creative Director at the firm; he is also a master manipulator and womanizer. “Mad Men” depicts American society through seven and half seasons from 1960 to 1970 touching on aspects of the time period like sexism, feminism, alcoholism, homophobia, racism, and adultery, but the main themes of the show are really identified, alienation, business ruthlessness, and all that comes with striving for upward social mobility. Draper takes us on this journey through this world mostly in Manhattan as we meet people in his personal and professional lives, oftentimes being one and the same and more often times focusing on the women who influence him. “Mad Men” has been nominated for 116 Emmy’s, winning 16 including being the first basic cable series ever to receive the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, winning four times in a row.
“Sopranos” writer Matthew Weiner wanted to create a show that was different than what he was seeing on TV at the time, which was dominated by medical dramas and police procedurals. The layered concept alone of advertising in the 60s made “Mad Men” must-watch TV, when you throw in some of the best acting, beautiful costume design, set design, cinematography, and plot, you end up with one of the best and most beautifully shot shows of all time. I am not going to lie, I found some of the first couple of episodes to be a little slow, but the perfectionism for which the show was handled was astonishing. As the show went deeper into certain plot threads and matured as America did in the 60’s I couldn’t stop watching. There has been nothing on TV like Mad Men before or after. “Mad Men” was the breath of fresh air that TV needed, and the series ushered in the new age of dramas that we are seeing today. Led by Hamm, Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olsen and the great ensemble cast, the show hits all the right notes of the time period. Even though the acting is incredible, it’s the period details and its influence on modern culture that I found so interesting. From the cut of the suits to fedoras, to shell glasses, you can visibly see the influence of the show on our culture today, and that’s a tribute to how cool and stylistic the series is. For a show set in the 60’s it always seemed so vibrant and fresh. It’s Hamm story arch and journey that really drives the show and that will keep you interested until the end. If you are a fan of the time period, “Mad Men” is a must-watch. This show is on every critic’s list of ten top shows of the decade and a lot of critic’s top 10 shows of all time. It earns every extremely positive review it gets.
IMDB 8.6/10 – RT 94% – Metacritic 87%
Streaming On: Netflix Subscription