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The Greatest TV Shows About Illness

Updated December 9, 2020 180 votes 43 voters 2.4k views24 items

List RulesVote up the shows that center their storyline around ongoing illness such as cancer.

Illness in all its various forms can often be an all-consuming feeling that is scarier and more alienating than anything else in the world. But the fact is, nearly everyone has experienced illness at one time or another in their lives, whether themselves or through a family member. Sometimes the best way to understand illness is to watch how others deal with it, because there's no right way to handle something so life-changing. In our current age of television, there's no shortage of shows that deal with illness in utterly compelling, human ways that can go from heartbreaking to empathetic to hilariously satisfying all in one episode. 

A TV series about illness can be therapeutic for those staring sickness in the face, but they can also be cathartic and just plain entertaining for everyone else. Sometimes there's nothing better than a good cry, and the best shows about illness understand that. Much like being sick itself, these TV shows about characters dealing with their own chronic illness or that of family members can whisk you from hopeless lows to dazzling highs in no time at all. From prestige dramas to network sitcoms to big-budget genre epics, the television series on this list all manage to say something unique about illness (rather than simply featuring an ill character) and show the variety of ways that things such as cancer, grief, depression, OCD, and other mental and physical difficulties. can affect us. Whether these shows are full on cry-fests or manage to wrap up their various storylines of illness in a happy ending, they all understand the complexity of illness and are able to turn that complexity into endlessly riveting television.

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  • House
    Photo: House / Fox
    House, M.D. (Fox, 2004) is an American television medical drama created by David Shore. An antisocial maverick doctor (Hugh Laurie) who specializes in diagnostic medicine does whatever it takes to solve puzzling cases that come his way using his crack team of doctors and his wits.... more on Wikipedia
    • Actors: Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard
    • Premiered: 2004
    26
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  • 2

    The Good Doctor

    The Good Doctor (ABC, 2017) is an American medical-drama television series based on the 2013 South Korean series of the same name. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) is a young pediatric surgeon with autism and savant syndrome at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.... more on Wikipedia
    • Actors: Freddie Highmore, Antonia Thomas, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chuku Modu, Beau Garrett
    • Premiered: 2017
    16
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  • This Is Us
    Photo: NBC
    This Is Us (NBC, 2016) is an American television series created by Dan Fogelman. Follows a unique ensemble, as their paths cross and their life stories intertwine, from sharing the same birthday, to so much more than anyone would expect.... more on Wikipedia
    • Actors: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley
    • Premiered: 2016
    10
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  • 4

    Atypical

    Atypical
    Photo: Atypical / Netflix
    Atypical (Netflix, 2017) is a coming-of-age dark comedy television series created and written by Robia Rashid. Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, looks for a girlfriend, while his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) goes on her own life-changing path.... more on Wikipedia
    • Actors: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Keir Gilchrist, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda, Michael Rapaport
    • Premiered: 2017
    9
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