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TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate 

Ranker TV
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Updated November 12, 2019 1.3M votes 74.5k voters 785.8k views 396 items

Since about the early 2000s, TV audiences have been blessed with what many experts call The Golden Age of Television. In other words, TV has never been so darn good or so darn smart. This list features smart TV shows that are currently running new episodes, even if we’re just anxiously awaiting for a fresh season. Here are the best shows with the best writing, characters, and storylines that smart people watch.

There are several reasons why TV has never been better. First, there are more channels that cater to different tastes. Not only are cable networks like AMC and FX churning out Emmy Award winning dramas, but streaming channels like Amazon and Netflix, are also producing high-caliber programming that are not constricted to the tight guidelines typically associated with network television.

It’s not just about cursing and showing a little nudity, it’s about telling complicated stories that don’t just wind up neat and tidy at the end of a half hour episode. It’s safe to say that television is not just for the masses anymore to simply idle away wasted evenings, a smart TV show is a welcomed form of entertainment in even the most highbrow of houses.

You will see the total gamut of programming on this list. There’s the animated comedies. It’s true that a middling 8-year-old can watch The Simpsons or Family Guy and be extremely entertained. But, for the shows to truly be appreciated, an intellectual mind is needed to pick up on all of the nearly laugh-a-second nuances and understand the less obvious references.

Additionally, programs like True Detective, Sherlock, and Fargo, offer a lot of hidden meaning. The better read the viewer is, the more the material will come to life. It’s not to say that a regular Joe Schmo can’t enjoy a show like The Americans, of course they can. However, these types of shows aren't dumbed down. They require a person to actually pay attention, to be active spectators aware of narrative shifts, and to be able to put the pieces of a complicated puzzle together without a lot of hand holding.

Which intelligent TV shows are your favorite? Be sure to vote up the TV series you think are the smartest shows on television.

Data-driven recommendations based on voting from over 40 million monthly visits to Ranker. Try the free app
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1
Sherlock is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 8

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Crime, Drama, + more

Sherlock is a British television crime drama that presents a contemporary adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it ...more

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2
House is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Lilian Stock Bonzi added Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard

Premiered: 2004

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 177

Network: Fox Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Medical drama, Procedural drama, Drama, Mystery, + more

House is an American television medical drama that originally ran on the Fox network for eight seasons, from November 16, 2004 to May 21, 2012. The show's main character is Dr. Gregory House, a ...more

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3
Breaking Bad is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
-1456031746037 added Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

Premiered: 2008

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 54

Network: AMC

Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Crime Fiction, Crime, Suspense, Drama, + more

Breaking Bad is an American drama television series created and produced by Vince Gilligan. The show originally aired on the AMC network for five seasons, from January 20, 2008, to September 29, ...more

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4
Game of Thrones is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke

Premiered: 2011

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 73

Network: HBO

Genres (Tv): Medieval fantasy, Drama, Adventure film, Epic, Action, + more

Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011) is an American fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, based on the series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. Nine noble ...more

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5
The X-Files is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Lilian Stock Bonzi added David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi

Premiered: 1993

Number of Seasons: 9

Number of Episodes: 202

Network: Fox Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Cryptozoology, Supernatural, Crime Fiction, Drama, Live action, + more

The X-Files is an American science fiction horror drama television series created by Chris Carter. The program originally aired from September 10, 1993 to May 19, 2002 on Fox, spanning nine ...more

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6
Firefly is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
MidnaTP added Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

Premiered: 2002

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 14

Network: Fox Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Space Western, Space opera, Drama, Comedy-drama, Science Fiction

Firefly is an American space western science fiction drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive ...more

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7
Dexter is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Angie Meche added Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas

Premiered: 2006

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 80

Network: Showtime

Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Crime Fiction, Action/Adventure, Police procedural, Suspense, + more

Dexter is an American television drama series. Set in Miami, the series centers on Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter pattern analyst for Miami Metro Police Department who also leads a secret life ...more

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8
Star Trek: The Next Gene... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
William Patrick Consoliver added Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes

Premiered: 1987

Number of Seasons: 7

Number of Episodes: 178

Genres (Tv): Action/Adventure, Drama, Adventure film, Action, Science Fiction

Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry twenty-one years after the original Star Trek series debuted in 1966. Roddenberry, ...more

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9
Doctor Who is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
NessySheep added Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith

Premiered: 1963

Number of Seasons: 26

Number of Episodes: 798

Network: British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC America, BBC One, S4C, BBC HD

Genres (Tv): Sci-fi, Adventure, Drama

Doctor Who (BBC, 2005) is a British science-fiction television show created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, and Donald Wilson. The further adventures in time and space of the alien adventurer ...more

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10
Westworld is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Brody Hillstock added Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright

Premiered: 2016

Network: HBO

Genres (Tv): Sci-fi, Drama, Western

Westworld (HBO, 2016) is an American science fiction western thriller television series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and based on the 1973 film. In a technologically advanced Wild ...more

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11
House of Cards is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin Spacey, Michel Gill, Robin Wright

Premiered: 2013

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 13

Network: Netflix

Genres (Tv): Drama

House of Cards is a 2013 American political drama television series developed and produced by Beau Willimon. It is an adaptation of the BBC's mini-series of the same name and is based on the ...more

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12
Vikings is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Mike Dishmon added Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen

Premiered: 2013

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 9

Network: History

Genres (Tv): War film, Drama, Historical fiction, Action

Vikings (History, 2013) is a historical drama television series created by Michael Hirst. A farmer (Travis Fimmel) rises to fame by successful raids into England, and eventually becomes a ...more

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13
Criminal Minds is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, Thomas Gibson

Premiered: 2005

Number of Seasons: 8

Number of Episodes: 186

Network: A&E, CBS

Genres (Tv): Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Suspense, Drama, + more

Criminal Minds (CBS, 2005) is an American police-procedural television program. The series follows a team of profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia. The ...more

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14
MythBusters is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Jon Lung, Brian Louden

Premiered: 2003

Number of Seasons: 13

Number of Episodes: 142

Network: Discovery Channel

Genres (Tv): Non-fiction, Special Interest, Educational television, Science, Documentary, + more

MythBusters is a science entertainment television program created by Peter Rees and produced by Australia's Beyond Television Productions for the Discovery Channel. The series is transmitted by ...more

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15
Jeopardy! is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Alex Trebek, Johnny Gilbert, Jimmy McGuire

Premiered: 1964

Number of Seasons: 28

Number of Episodes: 9200

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Game show

Jeopardy! is an American television game show created by Merv Griffin. The show features a quiz competition in which contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of ...more

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16
Penny Dreadful is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
bubbletrouble added Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green

Genres (Tv): Horror, Supernatural, Mystery

Penny Dreadful (Showtime, 2014) is a British-American horror TV series created for Showtime and Sky by John Logan, who also acts as executive producer alongside Sam Mendes. The title refers to ...more

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17
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
CorbyDaniel added Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas

Premiered: 2013

Number of Seasons: 1

Number of Episodes: 13

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Police procedural, Crime, Drama, Psychological thriller, Thriller

Hannibal is an American psychological thriller–horror television series developed by Bryan Fuller for NBC. The series is based on characters and elements appearing in the novel Red Dragon by ...more

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18
M*A*S*H is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin R. McMonagle added Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Loretta Swi

Premiered: 1972

Number of Seasons: 11

Number of Episodes: 251

Network: CBS

Genres (Tv): Black comedy, Medical drama, Sitcom, Satire, Military, + more

M*A*S*H is an American television series developed by Larry Gelbart, adapted from the 1970 feature film MASH. The series, which was produced in association with 20th Century Fox Television for ...more

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19
American Horror Story is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Isabela Quintão added Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters

Premiered: 2011

Number of Seasons: 9

Number of Episodes: 103

Network: FX

Genres (Tv): Anthology, Horror, Supernatural

American Horror Story (FX, 2011) is an American anthology horror television series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. An anthology series centering on different characters and locations, ...more

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20
Downton Abbey is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern

Premiered: 2010

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 25

Network: ITV

Genres (Tv): Drama

Downton Abbey is a British period drama television series created by Julian Fellowes and co-produced by Carnival Films and Masterpiece. It first aired on ITV in the United Kingdom and Ireland on ...more

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21
Last Week Tonight with J... is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
John Oliver, David Kaye, Noel MacNeal

Premiered: 2014

Network: HBO

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO, 2014) is an American late-night talk and news satire television program hosted by comedian John Oliver. The half-hour-long show takes a satirical look at ...more

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22
Stranger Things is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Andrew Parmi added Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard

Premiered: 2016

Number of Seasons: 3

Network: Netflix

Genres (Tv): Sci-fi, Horror, Supernatural, Period drama

Stranger Things (Netflix, 2016) is an American science fiction-horror web television series created by The Duffer Brothers. When a young boy (Noah Schnapp) disappears, his mother (Winona Ryder), ...more

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23
Fringe is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Jasika Nicole

Premiered: 2008

Number of Seasons: 5

Number of Episodes: 100

Network: Fox Broadcasting Company

Genres (Tv): Drama, Horror Film, Mystery, Thriller, Science Fiction

Fringe is an American science fiction television series created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. It premiered on the Fox Broadcasting network on September 9, 2008, and concluded ...more

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24
Mr. Robot is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday

Premiered: 2015

Genres (Tv): Drama, Thriller

Mr. Robot (USA Network, 2015) is an American drama–thriller television series created by Sam Esmail. Elliot (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who suffers from social anxiety ...more

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25
Star Trek: The Original ... is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin R. McMonagle added William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley

Premiered: 1966

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 79

Network: NBC

Genres (Tv): Action/Adventure, Drama, Adventure film, Action, Science Fiction

Star Trek is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry that follows the adventures of the starship USS Enterprise and its crew. It later acquired the retronym of ...more

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