Watchworthy

TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate 

Ranker TV
Originally by
Updated May 5, 2020 1.3M votes 76.1k voters 821.6k views 389 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
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman & Una Stubbs (British Broadcasting Corporation)

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Mystery

Sherlock (BBC One, 2010) is a British crime television series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The brilliant yet insensitive detective ...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 Starring Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps & Robert Sean Leonard (Fox Broadcasting Company)

Genres (Tv): Medical drama

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 ...more

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The Best Seasons of 'House' #12 of 645 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #3 of 333 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

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

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Thriller, Neo-western, Tragedy

Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008) is an American neo-Western crime drama television series created by Vince Gilligan. After being diagnosed with cancer, a depressed high school chemistry teacher (Bryan ...more

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4
Game of Thrones is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Starring Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey & Emilia Clarke (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 Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson & Mitch Pileggi (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
Westworld is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Brody Hillstock added Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton & Jeffrey Wright (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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7
Dexter is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Angie Meche added Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter & David Zayas (Showtime)

Genres (Tv): Crime drama, Psychological thriller, Mystery, Dark comedy, Police procedural

Dexter (Showtime, 2006) is an American crime drama mystery series developed by James Manos Jr., based on the 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. When he's not doing forensic work ...more

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8
Firefly is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
MidnaTP added Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres & Alan Tudyk (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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9
Star Trek: The Next Gene... is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
William Patrick Consoliver added Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner & Jonathan Frakes (CBS)

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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10
Doctor Who is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant & Matt Smith (British Broadcasting Corporation)

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

Genres (Tv): Political drama, Political thriller

House of Cards (Netflix, 2013) is an American political drama television series developed by Beau Willimon, and an adaptation of the BBC mini-series based on the novel by Michael Dobbs. ...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 Starring Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick & Clive Standen (History)

Genres (Tv): Historical drama, Action-adventure

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
Starring Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler & Thomas Gibson (A&E)

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
Jeopardy! is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Starring Alex Trebek, Johnny Gilbert & Jimmy McGuire (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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15
Stranger Things is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Andrew Parmi added Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour & Finn Wolfhard (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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16
MythBusters is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Starring Jon Lung and Brian Louden (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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17
Star Trek: The Original ... is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin R. McMonagle added Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy & DeForest Kelley (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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18
Penny Dreadful is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
bubbletrouble added Starring Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton & Eva Green (Showtime)

Genres (Tv): Horror, Supernatural, Mystery

Penny Dreadful (Showtime, 2014) is a British-American horror drama television series created by John Logan. Explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh ...more

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19
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
CorbyDaniel added Starring Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen & Caroline Dhavernas (NBC)

Genres (Tv): Psychological horror, Psychological thriller, Crime drama, Crime thriller

Hannibal (NBC, 2013) is an American psychological thriller–horror television series developed by Bryan Fuller, based on the characters created by novelist Thomas Harris. A gifted FBI profiler ...more

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20
The Twilight Zone is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Vamp Doll added Starring Rod Serling, Robert McCord & Jay Overholts (UPN)

Genres (Tv): Anthology, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, + more

The Twilight Zone is a 1959 American television anthology series created by Rod Serling. It is a series of unrelated stories containing drama, psychological thriller, fantasy, science fiction, ...more

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21
Buffy the Vampire Slayer... is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Gael added Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan & James Marsters (UPN)

Genres (Tv): Supernatural, Horror, Comedy-drama, Teen drama, Action, + more

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, 1997) is an American supernatural drama television series created by Joss Whedon, based on the 1992 film. Destined to slay vampires, a young woman (Sarah ...more

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22
M*A*S*H is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Kevin R. McMonagle added Starring Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers & Loretta Swi (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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23
American Horror Story is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Isabela Quintão added Starring Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott & Evan Peters (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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24
Mr. Robot is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate

Genres (Tv): Drama, Techno thriller, Psychological 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
Last Week Tonight with J... is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate
Starring John Oliver, David Kaye & Noel MacNeal (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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