Entertainment

TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate  

Ranker TV
Originally by
1.3M votes 74.2k voters 780.4k views 395 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.

list ordered by
1
Sherlock is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs
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

More Sherlock

#4 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #8 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing Ranking the Best Seasons of 'Sherlock'

2
House of Cards is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin Spacey, Michel Gill, Robin Wright
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

More House of Cards

#8 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #28 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing House of Cards Plot Points That Happened IRL

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
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

More Breaking Bad

#1 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #1 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing All of the Breaking Bad Easter Eggs in Better Call Saul

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
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

More Game of Thrones

#2 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #7 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing The Most Epic Insults From Game of Thrones

5
Dexter is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Angie Meche added Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
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

More Dexter

#5 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watchfeaturing Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Michael C. Hall And Jennifer Carpenter On 'Dexter'listed on Showtime TV Shows/Programs

6
The X-Files is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Lilian Stock Bonzi added David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi
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

More The X-Files

#16 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watchfeaturing 23 X-Files Storylines That Were Based on Real Life Storieslisted on Longest Running Sci-Fi TV Shows

7
House is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Lilian Stock Bonzi added Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Robert Sean Leonard
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

More House

#9 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #18 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writing #17 of 2,286 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time

8
Mr. Robot is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday
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

More Mr. Robot

#90 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #57 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing 12 Reasons Why Mr. Robot Is Fight Club for Millennials

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
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

More Doctor Who

#30 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #16 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020listed on BBC One TV Shows/Programs

10
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
CorbyDaniel added Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas
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

More Hannibal

#147 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #105 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing Every Food-Related Pun From ‘Hannibal’

11
True Detective is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan
True Detective (HBO, 2014) is an American anthology drama television series created by Nic Pizzolatto. Each season focuses on detectives investigating violent offences.

More True Detective

#32 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #16 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing 5 Writers to Read to Better Understand 'True Detective'

12
American Horror Story is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Isabela Quintão added Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters
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

More American Horror Story

#22 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #9 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring 28 Facts You Didn't Know About American Horror Story

13
Last Week Tonight with J... is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
John Oliver, David Kaye, Noel MacNeal
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

More Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

#356 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #442 of 2,286 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time #39 of 134 The Best of Premium Cable TV Series

14
Stranger Things is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Andrew Parmi added Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard
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

More Stranger Things

#10 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #2 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring Easter Eggs And References That Totally Went Over Your Head In Stranger Things 2

15
Westworld is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Brody Hillstock added Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright
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

More Westworld

#65 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #7 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring The Best Characters on Westworld, Ranked

16
Lost is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Rosemarie Krajewski added Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia
Lost is an American television drama series that originally aired on the American Broadcasting Company from September 22, 2004, to May 23, 2010, over six seasons, comprising a total of 121 ...more

More Lost

#7 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #22 of 321 The Best Sci Fi Television Series of All Timefeaturing The Best LOST Characters

17
Jeopardy! is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Alex Trebek, Johnny Gilbert, Jimmy McGuire
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

More Jeopardy!

#62 of 2,286 The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time #61 of 385 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Yearsfeaturing 16 Fascinating Facts About What It’s Like To Be A Contestant On Jeopardy

18
Firefly is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
MidnaTP added Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk
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

More Firefly

#33 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #2 of 321 The Best Sci Fi Television Series of All Timefeaturing 13 Crazy Yet Plausible Fan Theories About Firefly

19
The Big Bang Theory is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan
The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, both of whom serve as executive producers on the show along with Steven Molaro. All three also serve as head ...more

More The Big Bang Theory

#20 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watchfeaturing Behind-The-Scenes Secrets From The Set Of 'The Big Bang Theory'listed on The Longest Running US Sitcoms

20
Fargo is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks
Fargo (FX, 2014) is an American black comedy drama anthology television series created by Noah Hawley, and inspired by the 1996 film. Various chronicles of deception, intrigue and wrong doings ...more

More Fargo

#40 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #60 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring All of the Clever Easter Eggs Hiding in Fargo the TV Series

21
The Daily Show is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Hasan Minhaj
The Daily Show (Comedy Central, 1999) is an American late-night talk and news satire television program. Described as a fake news program, the show draws its comedy and satire from recent news ...more

More The Daily Show

#692 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watchfeaturing Jon Stewart's Most Entertaining Feuds Everlisted on Longest Running TV Talk Shows

22
Downton Abbey is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern
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

More Downton Abbey

#25 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #17 of 219 The TV Shows with the Best Writingfeaturing The Best Downton Abbey Actors

23
Criminal Minds is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, Thomas Gibson
Criminal Minds is an American police-procedural television program that premiered September 22, 2005, on CBS. The series follows a team of profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit based ...more

More Criminal Minds

#67 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #8 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring How Accurate Is The Depiction of Behavioral Analysts In 'Criminal Minds?'

24
Penny Dreadful is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
bubbletrouble added Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green
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

More Penny Dreadful

#137 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #97 of 321 The Best Sci Fi Television Series of All Timefeaturing 12 Easter Eggs In 'Penny Dreadful' Designed For Brainy Viewers

25
The Walking Dead is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
leslie-parrish added Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies
The Walking Dead (A&E, 2010) is an American post-apocalyptic horror television series developed by Frank Darabont, based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie ...more

More The Walking Dead

#3 of 780 The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch #21 of 119 The Best TV Shows Returning In 2020featuring 20 Things You Didn't Know About The Walking Dead