Top Rated 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 rated 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 rated 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.
20. The Good Wife (CBS – 2009 to 2016): Ponch: 10/10
“The Good Wife” is a Chicago based legal drama starring Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick. Alicia’s politician husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) is caught in a sex scandal. After Peter goes to prison, Alicia returns to her previous career as a lawyer while trying to balance life as a mother to two teenagers. The show revolves more around Alicia’s career as a defense attorney working for partners Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and the cases she tries than the scandal; but how the scandal affects her marriage and family adds an extra layer of plot depth to the show, including her romantic feelings for Will. The series has been nominated for 43 Primetime Emmy Awards winning five of them including Margulies winning twice for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
‘The Good Wife” is the best legal drama ever made. Although the series revolves around Julianna Margulies’ character, the full cast is amazing. The writers and directors get the most out of every actor on the show including the guest actors portraying clients and attorneys. The show has been nominated and has won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes in a time where premium channels and cable dominate the awards circuit. The long list of fantastic guest actors is incredible, many of which went on to lead roles in their own shows. Dylan Baker, Alan Cumming, Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Nathan Lane, Carrie Preston were all nominated for Outstanding Guest Emmy’s; it seems like the producers nail every cast member no matter how big or small the part is.
Margulies is captivating and is the perfect balance of conservative mother/lawyer and sexy co-worker. She really excels in her courtroom scenes and is a very believable, mostly single parent. Archie Panjabi as a sultry bi-sexual investigator Kalinda Sharma and Alan Cummings as Eli Gold, Peter Florrick’s campaign strategist, and crisis manager add to the series excellence bringing charisma and drawing attention. Principal cast members Baranski, Charles, Cumming, and Panjabi have all received award nominations for their respective roles but make no mistake, this is Margulies’s show.
If you like strong female-led dramas, this is the show for you. If you enjoy courtroom procedurals this is the show for you. If you are a little conservative and can’t stand all the abundant sex and violence on most premium channel series, then this should be the first show you binge watch. As clean as what “The Good Wife” is, the series never disappoints and always delivers every episode. It holds its own against most premium channel shows, and it proves you don’t need cursing or very mature content to make a great adult-oriented series. “The Good Wife” teaches you to be strong in whatever situation life gives you and is easily one of best Primetime dramas of the past ten years, with the exception of “Lost” there wasn’t a better show on the “Big Five” networks.
IMDB 8.3/10 – RT 97% – Metacritic 85%
19. Stranger Things (Netflix – 2016 to Present): Ponch: 10/10
“Stranger Things” is a suspenseful sci-fi/horror series in the vein of 80’s summer blockbuster sci-fi/horror movies like “E.T.”, “Goonies”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Firestarter”, “Poltergeist”, etc by the Duffer Brothers. A young kid goes missing in a small town in Indiana; just disappearing into thin air, and no one can find him. His mother Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) launches an investigation with the Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and local authorities to try and find him.
The show starts to develop supernatural elements when weird events start occurring around the town, including the appearance of a psychokinetic girl (Millie Bobby Brown) who helps the missing boy’s friends in their own search. “Stranger Things” received 30 Emmy Awards nominations winning six awards.
“Stranger Things” was the breakout hit for Netflix in the summer of 2016. It was the most talked-about show that summer and the hype was well deserved. The fast-paced plot, superb casting, perfect cinematography, creepy atmosphere, and mood-setting music all added up to a very fun and enjoyable TV show. This is a binge worthy suspense at its finest. I have never seen anything like this on TV before, yet everyone has seen this in some form or another on the Big Screen. That’s what makes the show so great! It has a familiarity to it, that brings you back to your childhood, yet it feels fresh and is created with such irresistible appeal and it does this by setting the mood perfectly with its sound editing and soundtrack. Also, the cast has a ton of chemistry that you don’t always get from a group of mostly non-adult actors.
This is one of the best groups of teenage actors ever assembled on screen. Millie Bobby Brown makes you take notice as the captivating Eleven and her scenes with David Harbour as the rugged police officer/adoptive father are some of the most endearing of the show, with both of them earning Outstanding Supporting Actor nominations. The Duffer Brothers created something that really struck a chord with a lot of people both old and young and in the process became hot Hollywood commodities and earning new deals. The first three seasons are so enjoyable they just fly by, and I am hoping the Duffer Brothers can bring this to a satisfying close, considering how many other projects they are going to be creating for Netflix.
IMDB 8.8/10 – RT 93% – Metacritic 75%
Streaming On: Netflix Subscription
18. Mr. Robot (USA – 2015 to 2019): Ponch 10/10
“Mr. Robot” is a modern drama thriller. Computer programmer Elliot (Rami Malek) works as a cybersecurity engineer during the day, but at night he is a vigilante hacker. He is recruited to join a group of underground hackers by the secretive Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to help bring down corporate America, including the company he is paid to protect, E-Corp. Although he works for a corporation, his personal beliefs make it hard to resist the urge to take down the heads of multinational companies that he believes are running — and ruining — the world. The series has received 12 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series with Malek winning for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2016.
I can’t believe a show on USA is in my top 20, but it is. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it should be one of the next shows on your binge-watching list. Although the title makes it sound like a sci-fi show, it is not, this is a psychological techno-drama. This is Slater’s comeback show. He is a brilliant supporting actor to Malek. Rami Malek gave the best performance of any actor on TV in 2015 and 2016. He is so perfect for the role of Elliott to the point where I can’t picture anyone else in the role. This is the most original show on TV and it’s very modern. The cinematography and score add a layer of suspense to every episode. It’s fresh and timely, and the makers of this show must have done a ton of research to even create the series, it’s terminology alone seem miles ahead of everyone else. “Mr. Robot is a series that dives deep into the psyche. It feels like a show made in 2020, not 20 years ago like most programs. “Mr. Robot” really makes you ask questions about our own realities when it comes to technology and business conglomerates. The show always has you guessing about what is real and what isn’t. I could have easily ranked this show in the top five, but is sometimes difficult to watch and I feel some viewers may not have the stomach for some of the material. The show’s ending was as crazy and surreal as its beginning. Although there may be parts of the show that are confusing, for the more sophisticated viewer who wants a show to push them and make them think, “Mr. Robot” is a series you will be rewinding and re-watching many times.
IMDB 8.5/10 – RT 94% – Metacritic 81%
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Subscription
17. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu – 2017 to Present): Ponch 10/10
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a dystopian future drama series, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. It is based in the totalitarian society of Gilead which is a recent future United States. The handmaidens are enslaved to produce children for the commanders. June Osborne who they call Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is assigned to Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) June/Offred just wants to get back to her daughter that was taken from her and find her husband (O. T. Fagbenle). Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, and Alexis Bledel round-out an extremely impressive cast. “The Handmaid’s Tale” received widespread critical acclaim and won 14 Primetime Emmy Awards from 44 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Moss and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Dowd. It is the first series on a streaming platform to win an Emmy for Outstanding Series. It has also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama and Best Actress for Moss, all in its first season.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” was one of, if not the best show of 2017, its first season. Moss gives an amazingly riveting performance and can capture the hopelessness and frustration of the handmaidens. This is one of the more complex and darker shows to come out in a while, some viewers will find it hard to watch, but it is satisfying almost to the point of edification. I feel like after watching this show that I would fight to make sure nothing like this would ever happen. The cast delivers and really moves you to feel this way, and the series excellent use of light and dark contrasting cinematography controls the visual feel of the series almost like another character. The commanders are of such low morals that it improves your morality just by watching the show and feeling for these women. The strange thing is that the actors and directors somewhat make the series sexy at times and it’s very pleasant during the light moments. It’s truly an incredible piece of fiction. Everything is mood-driven from the beautiful set design to the music to the haunting costume design which is now iconic. Dowd is her usual astounding self and Moss reminds us why she keeps getting these deeply rich parts. “The Handmaid’s Tale” really makes us look at our government and the people in power, this show is extremely timely. The show dipped a little in quality in the third season and I hope it can find its story footing again, because it’s already found its place in all-time great TV lore. The politics of this show will be talked about for generations. Go out and spend the six dollars a month on Hulu or just get a 30-day trial and binge this show, it’s worth it.
IMDB 8.5/10 – RT 88% – Metacritic 86%
Streaming On: Hulu Subscription
16. The Leftovers (HBO – 2014 to 2017): Ponch: 10/10
“The Leftovers” is a drama based around a cataclysmic event, “The Sudden Departure,” where 140 million people, roughly two percent of the world’s population disappear instantly. Three years after their disappearance, the Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), his family and the whole town of Mapleton have to deal with mysterious happenings in the town and a by a cult called the “Guilty Remnant” that includes Laurie (Amy Brenneman), who is also Kevin’s ex-wife. The show also includes Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), and his sister Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) who loses her whole family in the departure. The series is based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name and was created, written and produced by Damon Lindelof who also co-created “Lost”. Like other great underappreciated HBO series “Oz” and “The Wire”, “The Leftovers” has only been nominated for one Emmy, yet many critics still consider it one of the greatest shows of all time and many cited its last season as the best show of 2017.
“The Leftovers”, especially the final season is spectacular. If you are a fan of “Lost”, imagine a “Lost”-ish type atmosphere but unlike “Lost”, it aired the perfect amount of time, 3 seasons of brilliant television. Also, unlike “Lost”, this time Lindelof stuck the landing. The show hits its stride when Kevin and Nora’s journeys collide. Some will be upset by the number of questions unanswered, but life doesn’t work that way and neither does this show. Answers to all the plot questions can be taken any way you want; it’s that ambiguity of it which is the show’s greatest accomplishment. Although the “Departure,” is the main driving force around the show, it’s how people react to their loved ones missing which makes the show great. The show is about living with loss, trying to move on, and completely failing when they try because there are no real answers. These people can’t move on because none of them got closure. All the actors on the show are great but Coon, Theroux, and Brenneman, really capture those feelings of loss and helplessness perfectly. “The Leftovers” is far more about moving on when experiencing loss than it is about trying to find out what happened to the departed. The “Departure” is just a device used for that drama. This show isn’t going to be for everyone, but it should be. Some viewers are going to want answers, but if you can sit back and enjoy the ride, you will witness one of the greatest shows ever made.
IMDB 8.3/10 – RT 91% – Metacritic 81%
15. The Night Of (HBO – 2016): Ponch: 10/10
“The Night Of” is a crime drama limited miniseries. It was based on the first season of the BBC series “Criminal Justice”. It’s the story about 20-something Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) who is a Pakistani-American college student accused of murdering a young woman on the Upper West Side of New York City. It deals with deeper issues of racism in the law and criminal justice system. Naz is defended by his attorney Jack Stone (John Turturro), who is an unlikely choice and a bit eccentric. There are cultural and political overtones throughout the whole trial. The show is as much about Naz’s survival in prison as it is the trial. It was nominated for 13 Emmys and won five including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Riz Ahmed, who beat Turturro out who was nominated in the same category.
The first episode of “The Night Of” is chilling television and it doesn’t let up from there. There is a point where you truly can’t tell whether Naz committed the murder or not, yet you still are horrified about what might happen to him in jail. Ahmed portrays Naz’s naivety and innocence so well. As Naz keeps falling further down a path of bad decisions, Ahmed nails every emotion. He deserved the Emmy he won and his transformation was astonishing. He was able to change as the character did. Turturro was his usually wonderful entertaining self and I honestly thought he would win over Ahmed. Both deserved it. The writers and directors really added a tremendous amount of depth to both characters. Much like Netflix’s “When Will They See Us”, you are so emotionally invested in “The Night Of” that it sticks with you long after watching. It is truly gripping television and the overall feel of prejudice in the court seemed very realistic. The scenes of a possibly innocent man in prison just trying to survive are beautifully captured and horrifying. It’s only eight episodes that you can binge quickly. It’s one of the greatest miniseries of all time that will scare you straight, leaving you never want to do anything bad enough to get yourself thrown in prison.
IMDB 8.5/10 – RT 94% – Metacritic 90%
14. Barry (HBO – 2018 to Present): Ponch: 10/10
“Barry” is a dark comedy/dramedy crime series created by Alex Berg and Bill Hader staring Hader as Barry Berkman in the title role. Barry is a hitman from Ohio who travels to Los Angeles to kill a mark. He finds himself wanting more in his life and wants to head down a new path where he doesn’t want to kill anymore. His mark ends up being an actor, and Barry finds himself joining an acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and meets inspiring actress Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg). He stays in Los Angeles and embarks on a new life as an actor but can’t leave his past life behind as he deals with criminal associates from his past life Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan). “Barry” has been nominated for 30 Emmy nominations in two seasons winning six Emmy’s including Bill Hader winning Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series two years in a row in 2018 and 2019 and Henry Winkler winning Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series in 2018.
“Barry” is an indefinable series. There has never been a show as well molded from so many different genres as “Barry”. It is as funny as any show on TV, yet has the heart of a drama with perfect sound mixing and action. It’s a crime series about an assassin and has very high levels of suspense and mood yet soft moments filled with heart, all wrapped up in a humorous bow. It consistently gets the most out of every half hour, cramming in layers of story around the humor and drama. The usually comedic Hader is amazing, showing a huge range and really proving how great of a dramatic actor he can be. Winkler brings so much cheesy hilarity to the Acting Coach Gene, you can’t help but to love him. Even the criminals you are supposed to hate are likable and hilarious in “Barry”. “Barry” is part “Sopranos” and part “Veep” with a pinch of “Friends”. Yes, I know that’s high praise and I was that surprised too, but it is that good and well crafted. You will yearn for Barry to be able to move on from his life as an assassin while cringing at every bad decision he makes, not being able to leave his past behind. At a half-hour per episode “Barry” is a great show to binge-watch as well, it moves fast and you can get through both seasons pretty quickly. Only two seasons in, Barry is already one of the top 15 shows of the last decade, by the end of its run I predict it will be considered a top-five comedy of all time.
IMDB 8.3/10 – RT 99% – Metacritic 85%
13. When They See Us (Netflix – 2019): Ponch: 10/10
“When They See Us” is a drama miniseries created by Ava Duvernay (Selma). It is based on real events that happened in New York City Central Park in 1989. A jogger was assaulted and raped and five young people were charged with the crime. The five boys were labeled the “Central Park Five”. “When They See Us” explores the lives and families of the five suspects who were falsely accused then prosecuted on charges related to the assault and rape. The series features an assembly cast of mostly unknown actors winning the Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series or Movie including Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise: Asante Black and Justin Cunningham as Kevin Richardson, Caleel Harris, and Jovan Adepo as Antron McCray, Ethan Herisse and Chris Chalk as Yusef Salaam, Maquis Rodriquez, and Freddy Miyares as Raymond Santana, Vera Farmiga as Elizabeth Lederer, Marsha Stephanie Blake as Linda McCray, Niecy Nash as Delores Wise, Aunjanue Ellis as Sharon Salaam, Michael K Williams as Bobby McCray, and John Leguizamo as Raymond Santana. “When They See Us” was critically acclaimed receiving 16 Nominations mostly acting and winning 2 Emmy Awards including Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie for Jharrel Jerome.
“When They See Us” is one of the most moving pieces of entertainment that you will ever see. It stays with you far after you watch it, making you think about how something this awful could possibly happen in this country. What makes the situation even worse is when you realize that it wasn’t that long ago. This is a very gripping drama about real events that at times is very hard to watch. You really feel for these boys who unfortunately grow up to be men in juvenile hall and prison. It’s broken down into four episodes. The fourth episode of the series is the saddest and most shocking, as it details 16-year-old Korey Wise’s life in prison, as he was the only one of Central Park Five who was tried as an adult. Korey chose the difficulty of isolation cells over repeated assaults by other prisoners. Jerome depicted the young, dyslexic, confused and abused Wise to perfection, winning the Emmy in the process. “When They See Us” is a series filled with high emotions regarding age, race, politics, and legal failures. This is an extremely difficult subject matter that is expertly crafted to send a message. There is nothing light or fun here, you don’t walk away feeling happy, you walk away hoping something like this never happens again. This is a master class drama by Duvernay that got people talking in 2019 and will be remembered as one of the best Mini-Series of all time.
IMDB 9/10 – RT 96% – Metacritic 86%
Streaming On: Netflix Subscription
12. Atlanta (FX – 2016 to Present): Ponch: 10/10
“Atlanta” is an American dramedy created by and starring Donald Glover as Earnest “Earn” Marks, who also serves as a writer and director of the show. The series revolves around Earn and his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) and Vanessa “Van” Keefer (Zazie Beetz), Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Lotti. Earn drops out of Princeton University and moves back to Atlanta where he has no money and nowhere to stay. He is forced to live with his daughter’s mother half the time and with his parents the other half. He sees an opportunity in managing his cousin Paper Boi’s rap career. The series follows Earn during his daily life in Atlanta, GA as he tries to reconnect with Van, and Lottie; regaining Alfred’s trust by turning him into a big-time rap superstar. “Atlanta” was nominated for 6 Primetime Emmy Awards in its first season. Donald Glover won twice for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
Donald Glover is also the Grammy-winning Rapper/singer Childish Gambino and a stand-up comedian. He also won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for Atlanta in 2018. In other words, he is a very talented man, and all that talent and experience in music is on display in “Atlanta”. The first season of Atlanta is one of the best first seasons in modern television, yet somehow the second season topped it. I can barely describe it properly because it is like nothing else I have ever seen. It’s one of the most authentic shows ever made. The humor is dry and sometimes melancholy but extremely smart and deadpan. Although Glover’s charm and talent are on full display, Brian Tyree Henry stands out. Glover won all the awards, but Henry is the true breakout. Episode Seven of the first season “B.A.N” is one of the funniest and smartest single episodes I have ever seen. Even the made-up commercials were funny. Just when I thought the creators couldn’t top it; Lakeith Stanfield’s character Darius in Episode Six of Season Two does with a “Twilight Zone”-Esque comedic horror episode titled “Teddy Perkins”. As I mention, “Atlanta” does what I thought was impossible in this decade, it creates new genres and breaks boundaries. “Atlanta” is an essential piece of American television and urban culture. Everything about it was well thought out, it’s precise and brilliant in its execution. I highly recommend watching the first episode to get a feel of its balance between urban drama and witty comedy, it will hook you in and you will end up watching the whole series.
IMDB 8.6/10 – RT 97% – Metacritic 93%
Streaming On: FX On-Demand, Hulu Subscription
11. Killing Eve (AMC/BBC – 2018 to Present): Ponch 10/10
“Killing Eve” is a humorous spy thriller dramedy produced in the United Kingdom for BBC America and run concurrently on AMC. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) was head writer of the first season, while Emerald Fennell took over for the second season. Eve Polastri played by Sandra Oh is a British intelligence investigator who was living a pretty mundane normal life with her husband. She is then tasked with capturing assassin Villanelle played by Jodie Comer, who is an eccentric psychopath. Eve starts to become obsessed with capturing Villanelle. Villanelle becomes almost romantically interested in Eve because Eve has come closer to capturing her than anyone else, which is good because Villanelle could kill the novice Eve at any time. “Killing Eve” has received several accolades, including 11 Emmy nominations, a Peabody Award, and the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series. Both Oh and Comer have won multiple Best Actress awards for their roles, including both being nominated for Emmy’s for Lead actress, with Comer winning in 2019.
“Killing Eve” is a series I could see easily moving up this list if it had a few more seasons. It hits on every level. This show gives you the humor, the mystery, the dialogue, the sexiness, the suspense without hitting you over the head with action, but it does have just enough action to keep the story moving at a nice pace. “Killing Eve” may be the best Spy vs. Spy show of all time because it’s indefinable. It’s a female-driven drama that has more hilarious dry wit humor than most comedies. The humor helps cut the high-tension situations but what sets it apart is the intimate look into the psychopathy of both lead characters. Oh is the perfect actress to play Eve and the character seems to be written around her quirky almost neurotic strengths. It helps that Oh is so likable because a lot of time you will be disappointed in her poor choices, finding yourself screaming at the TV for her to “run”! It’s also wonderful that Oh is the first actress of Asian descent to be nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globes. As good as what Oh is as Eve, it’s Comer who takes the star turn and steals every scene she is in. She is incredible, to the point where you wonder where she finds her motivation for the role. Comer is sexy and mysterious, witty, and scary. The minute you start liking her, think that this is someone you would want to hang out with, the showrunners remind you how much of a cold-blooded murdering psychopath she is. If the quality of “Killing Eve” proceeds at this level until it finally wraps up, it will be on every critic’s top ten shows of all time lists, having a lasting impact on its diversity and quality.