Shows That Took TV to New Heights Over the Past 20 Years

Many experts have declared that we are living in the Golden Age of Television. If that's the case, these 20 series helped pave the way to greatness.
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1.
The Wire (2002 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
Baltimore drug scene, seen through the eyes of drug dealers and law enforcement. (59 mins.)
“ Deep character development, uncompromising realism and an insistence in fleshing out the story like a great novel makes "The Wire" one of the greatest television series that ever graced the medium. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
2.
Deadwood (2004 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
A show set in the late 1800s, revolving around the characters of Deadwood, South Dakota; a town of deep corruption and crime. (55 mins.)
“ Stories of the untamed West are numerous on television, but never has a series exposed the Gold Rush in all of its grimy, violent glory - not to mention putting a Shakespearean patina on dialogue embroidered with a level of profanity that could make delicate ears bleed. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
3.
The Sopranos (1999 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  
New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, deals with personal and professional issues in his home and business life, which affects his mental state and ends up seeking professional psychiatric counseling. (55 mins.)
“ More than another mobster piece, "The Sopranos" became many things over its nine seasons. It forced its audience to examine its fascination with organized crime and truly odious characters. It spoke to us through its judicious usage of music, imagery and humor. And in the end, it became a study on the decline of criminal underground with the expansion of corporate America. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
4.
Mad Men (2007 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
A drama about one of New York's most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm's most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper. (47 mins.)
“ Beyond its impact on modern fashion and the way its freewheeling depiction of yesteryear fascinates its audience, "Mad Men" may be the most intricate exercise in subtext that we've seen on TV in the past two decades. A brilliant study of the way in which polished facades, and the intensity of the sale, drives American tastes, culture and history in ways we would have never imagined. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
5.
The Shield (2002 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
The lives and cases of a dirty LAPD cop and the police unit under his command. (47 mins.)
“ What could have been just another cop show became a study of power and corruption beyond just about anything viewers had seen before, as well as the first scripted series to challenge the idea that quality programming can only exist on premium cable networks. From the first episode Vic Mackey gamed the system, tricking an assortment of politicians, bosses and thugs to profit his career and stay ahead of his dark comeuppance. His time ended in a way nobody could have ever imagined, ensuring viewers would not soon forget this FX series. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
6.
Arrested Development (2003 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
Level-headed son Michael Bluth takes over family affairs after his father is imprisoned. But the rest of his spoiled, dysfunctional family are making his job unbearable. (489 mins.)
“ Beyond being a breath of fresh air in a season of comedies ranging from banal to simply awful, here was a comedy that never second-guessed its audience's intelligence. "Arrested's" hook was in its subtle, clever humor that, in so many ways, wore innocence on its face but became more rude and off-kilter the more you thought about it. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
7.
Lost (2004 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
The survivors of a plane crash are forced to work together in order to survive on a seemingly deserted tropical island. (44 mins.)
“ Juggling scientific theory, spiritual belief and religious symbolism while hooking its audience with intense action and evolving relationships between the survivors of a plane crash, "Lost" was equally satisfying and frustrating. It also set a new standard for genre television that'll be difficult to top. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
8.
The West Wing (1999 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
Inside the lives of staffers in the West Wing of the White House. (44 mins.)
“ The wit, intelligence and emotional depth of this series made fans of viewers from both sides of our political spectrum, as Aaron Sorkin gave viewers a White House guided by a humanistic perspective, where empathy and optimism often won out over political cynicism. The world needs a president like Jed Bartlet, and that idea made this drama appointment television for anyone seeking respite from a news cycle fueled by the neverending rancor on Capitol Hill. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
9.
The Office (2001 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
The story of an office that faces closure when the company decides to downsize its branches. A documentary film crew follow staff and the manager David Brent as they continue their daily lives. (30 mins.)
“ Taking the workplace comedy to new, uncomfortable zones, Ricky Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant introduced the world to David Brent, a nightmare of a mid-level manager running a branch of a paper manufacturing company out of a drab London suburb. Clueless, insensitive, and convinced that everyone finds him massively entertaining, Brent's main goal was to be everyone's friend. His workers may not have been able to stand Brent, but viewers worldwide adore him...even if they would not work for him for all the money in the world. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
10.
ER (1994 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
The lives, loves and losses of the doctors and nurses of Chicago's County General Hospital. (44 mins.)
“ While acclaimed medical dramas have been a part of television since its beginning, "ER's" rotating ensemble deftly captured the fragility of life and the heroism among emergency doctors and nurses in Chicago while exploring current social issues and health crises. Often tender in one moment and explosive in the next, one never knew what to expect from week to week. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
11.
Seinfeld (1989 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
The continuing misadventures of neurotic New York stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York friends. (22 mins.)
“ Some say "Seinfeld" changed the sitcom genre for the better, others that it ruined it. But the show about nothing inspired sitcom producers to think beyond the linear, story-of-the-week format, dispensing with sentimentality and teachable moments in order to explore the core of what's funny about common human quirks. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
12.
NYPD Blue (1993 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Detectives from NYPD's 15th squad investigate homicides within their precinct. An Emmy award winning series. (45 mins.)
“ At the time, it was one of the rawest depictions of police work on television, giving us one of the more interesting characters of our time in Andy Sipowicz, a gruff detective who gave us frequent glimpses of his vulnerable emotional interior. But in its quest for realism, it also pushed to the edge of what was considered acceptable for broadcast airwaves, scandalizing some viewers with - gasp! - shots of naked backsides and mildly profane dialogue after 10 o'clock. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
13.
Project Runway (2004 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Heidi Klum hosts a reality series where aspiring fashion designers compete for a chance to break into the industry. Each week, a designer is eliminated from the competition after exhibiting their work in front of a judges' panel. (60 mins.)
“ Until this series, the idea of exploring the artistic process on TV was left to the likes of public television. But the producers of "Project Runway" found a way to illuminate the creative thinking and execution that goes into executing a fashion piece from concept to fitting. It also made Heidi Klum into more of a fashion icon than most of her supermodel contemporaries will ever be. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
14.
30 Rock (2006 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Liz Lemon, head writer of the sketch comedy show "TGS with Tracy Jordan", must deal with an arrogant new boss and a crazy new star, all while trying to run a successful television show without losing her mind. (22 mins.)
“ Beyond establishing Tina Fey as a major talent in front of the camera and in the writing room, "30 Rock" effectively lampoons the inner workings of the television industry and, specifically, the lunacy behind the curtain at NBC, without ever seeming self-indulgent or insiderish. Additionally, it put to rest any doubts of Alec Baldwin's tremendous talents as a comic actor. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
15.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A young woman is forced to fulfill her destiny of fighting vampires and demons with the help of her friends all the while struggling to live a normal teenage life of heart break and drama. (44 mins.)
“ Most teen-targeted series barely scratch the surface of how tough of a time adolescence can be. But series creator Joss Whedon took the idea of high school being Hell literally, making a cute, blonde cheerleader type into the most powerful girl on Earth...and the loneliest. By wrapping its tales in wry humor and harsh truths, and always going for the pain in order to sweeten The Slayer's triumphs, Whedon ensured that "Buffy" will be a classic to be savored for many generations to come. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
16.
Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
When an old enemy, the Cylons, resurface and obliterate the 12 colonies, the crew of the aged Galactica protect a small civilian fleet - the last of humanity - as they journey toward the fabled 13th colony, Earth. (44 mins.)
“ Beyond its thoughtful examination of what it truly means to be human, "Battlestar" stands as proof that a remake can improve upon and even exceed the quality of the original concept. It also pulled sci-fi drama out of the realm of geekery and into the mainstream. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
17.
Dexter (2006 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
By day, mild-mannered Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police. But at night, he is a serial killer who only targets other murderers. (53 mins.)
“ Turning popular culture's celebration of vigilantism upside down, "Dexter" achieved the impossible: making viewers empathize with a sociopath. Credit Michael C. Hall's quiet portrayal of Dexter Morgan as a controlled predator who laments his inability to connect with humanity and wrestles with his thirst for killing, even as he pursues a normal life with a family and a career. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
18.
Glee (2009 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
A group of ambitious misfits try to escape the harsh realities of high school by joining a glee club, where they find strength, acceptance and, ultimately, their voice, while working to pursue dreams of their own. (44 mins.)
“ Prior to "Glee," musicals and TV series did not play well together. But the show's optimistic outlook, pointed humor and usage of music with cross-generational appeal combined to create a uniquely wonderful series whose popularity has the side-effect of bringing much-needed attention to ailing arts programs in schools. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
19.
Frasier (1993 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Dr. Frasier Crane moves back to his hometown of Seattle, where he lives with his father, and works as a radio psychiatrist. (22 mins.)
“ When the majority of the sitcom genre aimed for the lowest common denominator to win laughs, this "Cheers" spinoff took its inspiration from French farce, simultaneously celebrating and poking fun at high culture and intellectual pursuits. Even so, it balanced its light-hearted snobbery with down-to-Earth warmth in tethering Niles and Frasier to their working-class father Martin, his assistant Daphne and Frasier's hard-shelled radio producer Roz. ” - IMDb-Editors
 
20.
Friday Night Lights (2006 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
The trials and tribulations of small town Texas football players, their friends, family, and coaching staff. (44 mins.)
“ An intricate study of grit and perseverance in Dillon, Texas, a place where options are limited, economic and social disparities are barely hidden beneath the surface of civility, and relationships between family, friends and teammates are everything. At the center is Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton's painstakingly realistic portrayal of a marriage that manages to endure setbacks and the aches and pains that come with choosing a life of coaching football in a town where the game is everything. ” - IMDb-Editors