In most cases, even the best TV shows can have down seasons. For example, after bursting onto the scene to much critical acclaim, many fans thought Dexter jumped the shark after Season Four, despite sticking around for eight full seasons. Likewise, The Walking Dead was a huge success when it first hit AMC as a miniseries (which was renamed to Season One after the show was renewed for more episodes), but lately it’s been harder and harder to watch. And then there are shows like The Simpsons, who will likely never recapture their glory days of the mid-to-late 90s, yet continue to crank out new episodes every year
But then there are the exceptions. The shows that are so well-written and carefully planned, that not a single season can be considered a drop off. It’s not easy to do, but the shows that manage to maintain their quality throughout their entire run often go down in television history as the best ever. Here are our picks for 10 series that never gave us a dud season.
10. The Shield
The Shield is seven full seasons of hard-to-watch drama. We don’t say that because the show was bad — just the opposite. But with Michael Chiklis playing main character Vic Mackay, a deplorable LAPD detective who actually shoots another cop in the face in the very first episode, viewers are left to watch a series full of gritty, violent, and disturbing storylines. Detective Mackey investigates gangs, rapists, child sex trafficking, and all sorts of other horrible crimes. Along the way, he uses plenty of questionable tactics in order to achieve justice.
Much like the next show on this list, The Shield forced audiences to cheer for a character that was obviously very bad. Mackey was a violence sociopath, sure, but he also routinely did whatever it took to put the bad guys behind bars (or worse). He’s the kind of cop you hope doesn’t exist in real life, unless someone really evil pops up in your neighbourhood — then he’s the only man you want on the job.
9. The Sopranos
Perhaps the most telling sign of how good The Sopranos was is that fans can’t seem to decide on which seasons are the best and which are the worst. It seems like every Sopranos fan has a different opinion, which leads us to conclude that every single season of the modern day mafia was worth watching. Starring the late James Gandolfini as intimidating New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, this HBO series wasn’t just another crime drama.
Tony constantly had to figure out a balance between his real family and his chosen criminal family, acting as the patriarch for both. His struggles at either job were often put on display during his therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), giving the traditional mob story a personal new twist. The series won 21 Emmys during its six seasons on the air, and continues to receive praise for its brilliant writing, direction, and acting performances. The Sopranos is one of the series that pioneered the trend of having a morally ambiguous main character play the anti-hero — fans cheered for Tony, despite his criminal activities, womanizing, and violent ways.
8. Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty is the first of two shows on this list that aren’t actually finished yet, meaning that one bad season can knock it out of these rankings completely. However, the first two seasons of Rick and Morty have been an animated wonder unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The show is a strange combination of Futurama, The Simpsons, South Park, and Back to the Future. If that sounds like it shouldn’t work, it’s because it shouldn’t. But creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon somehow nailed it with their story of Rick Sanchez, the genius mad scientist, and his feeble nephew Morty Smith.
The show tackles scientific morality and family dynamics, all taking place in a fictional world where Rick and Morty can travel to infinite dimensions. The show somehow takes outlandish science fiction theories and makes them seem plausible. The writing is exceptionally brilliant, as the show doesn’t have to rely on slapstick comedy or foul language for laughs (even though it was a bit of both). Season Three is coming in the Summer of 2017, so hopefully Rick and Morty doesn’t jump the shark anytime soon.
Is this cheating? Maybe it is, just a little. Because fans will tell you that it was impossible for Firefly to have a bad season because it was tragically and unfairly cancelled after its premiere (and only) season. Stupid Fox. The show, created and directed by nerd hero Joss Whedon, was described as a “space western” where the crew of the spaceship Serenity (a firefly-class ship — get it?) explores the universe and the differences between diverse societies.
After it was cancelled, fans gobbled up DVDs in massive numbers. It was too late to un-cancel the series, although Whedon and Universal Pictures continued the story in the 2005 film Serenity. To this day, it’s the one show that fans are begging Netflix to reboot.
M*A*S*H is an extra special entry on this list, because out of all the shows on this list, it ran for the most seasons (11) and contains the most episodes (251). Yet somehow, it never dropped off in terms of quality. Originally created as a movie spin-off, the show focuses on the team of doctors, soldiers, and staff who worked at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea, during the Korean War.
The show used comedy to help deal with the very serious and dramatic aspects of being in a warzone. In many ways, M*A*S*H is the reason the term “dramedy” exists — used to describe a show that specializes in dark humor among serious situations. Despite changes in the cast over the years, the writers managed to keep the series on point up until the very end — with a final episode that was watched by 125 million people.
Despite low ratings forcing NBC to cancel Hannibal after just three seasons, those few seasons were excellent. Seriously, why didn’t anyone watch this show? Starring Mads Mikkelsen as the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter (originally made famous by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs), this show was the perfect prequel to the movies. It received critical acclaim, winning numerous awards, even if the general public never got on board.
Much like the original movie, the series focuses on an FBI criminal investigator, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), seeking the help of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lecter, who himself is secretly a cannibalistic serial killer. The excellent performances by the cast (which also included Laurence Fishburne) should be enough to get you hooked. But if you need more, the direction, writing, and use of dark themes are all top-notch as well.
4. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad took everything from The Sopranos about having a morally grey anti-hero as a main character, and refined it into one of the greatest stories ever told on television. Even more impressive, the show managed to transition from a quirky drama/comedy, about a high school chemistry teacher turning to the drug game to make extra money for his cancer treatment, to a high-stakes crime drama, when Walter White fully embraces (and violently defends) his criminal empire.
Show creator Vince Gilligan maintained from the start that Breaking Bad had a distinct beginning, middle, and end. And even though AMC would have gladly paid for more seasons, Gilligan stuck to his guns and finished Heisenberg’s tragic tale after just five (and a half) seasons. Like other shows on this list, Breaking Bad picked up a litany of awards, including 16 Emmys. In the minds of most critics, Breaking Bad is as close to a perfect show as any in existence. If you’re a huge fan, you should also be watching Better Call Saul, a prequel series (also by Gilligan) about Walter’s shady lawyer Saul Goodman.
3. Game of Thrones
There’s still time for HBO to screw this up by putting out a lackluster Season Seven or Eight. However, given the momentum and past track record of Game of Thrones, it’s unlikely that one of the show’s final two seasons will wreck its reputation. The grim fantasy/drama series, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice novels, has basically been the most popular show on TV since it debuted in 2011 (and the most pirated, for those who refuse to pay for HBO).
Although some fans weren’t fond of the Essos sub-plot in recent seasons, the show continuously wows everyone with epic storytelling, deeply-written characters, and stunning visuals. So far, the show was received a ridiculous 110 different Emmy nominations, including 38 wins — the highlight being six consecutive Outstanding Drama Series wins. And that’s not even including an impressive collection of Golden Globes and other awards. The series will finally come to an end in 2018, with a shortened Season Eight. No matter who sits on the Iron Throne by the end of it all, we’re confident that Game of Thrones won’t drop off this list.
2. Mad Men
Who would have thought that a 1960s drama series about an advertising agency in New York City would be such a smashing success? Yet year after year, the Matthew Weiner created show would rack up nominations and wins at various awards shows, including scoring eight different Primetime Emmy awards and five Golden Globes over its seven season lifespan.
A large part of the show’s success was lead actor Jon Hamm, who played the mysterious and brilliant Don Draper. Somehow, fans cheered for him despite his hard-drinking, chain-smoking, and womanizing ways. And despite the 60s being a time where women in the workplace were traditionally reduced to nothing more than secretary roles, the characters of Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) added a strong diversity to the offices of Sterling Cooper.
1. The Wire
The Wire went underappreciated in its time, only being nominated for two Emmy awards (both for the writing of a single episode) and not winning either one. In retrospect, though, the HBO series is often considered to be one of the best shows ever created. Although there are a number of excellent performances, the true star of The Wire is the city of Baltimore and all the seediness and corruption that exists under its surface.
Ultimately, the show is about Baltimore Police fighting against bureaucracy in an effort to make even the smallest dent in the burgeoning Baltimore drug business. The writing was amazing, yet realistic. The show was also one of the first to cast “regular people” actors, forgoing the usual decision to cast uber-attractive actors and actresses who were already celebrities. Although all five seasons of The Wire are very different, they are all finally receiving their deserved praise, years after going off the air.