Entertainment
77.6k voters

TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate

Updated November 12, 2020 1.2m votes 77.6k voters 857.2k views389 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.

Photo:
  • 1
    20,553
    7,755

    Sherlock

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Tanya Moodie

    More Sherlock 

    Ranking the Best Seasons of 'Sherlock'#14 of 77 The Best British Detective Series, Ranked

  • 2
    16,216
    6,093

    House

    Jesse Spencer, Kal Penn

    More House 

    The Best Seasons of 'House'#1 of 109 The Best Dramedy TV Series

  • 3
    16,936
    7,146

    Breaking Bad

    Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt

    More Breaking Bad 

    The Most Low-Key Evil Things Walter White Ever DidThe Most Plausible Fan Theories About Breaking Bad

  • 4
    8,506
    3,146

    Westworld

    Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton

    More Westworld 

    The Best Characters on Westworld, RankedWhat Would You Do in Westworld?

  • 5
    24,149
    12,471

    Game of Thrones

    Tom Wlaschiha, John Bradley

    More Game of Thrones 

    The Most Epic Insults From Game of ThronesReal Historical Figures Who Inspired Game Of Thrones Characters

  • 6
    12,450
    6,494

    The X-Files

    Chris Owens, Jerry Hardin

    More The X-Files 

    'The X-Files' Episodes That Made Us Say "Ewwww"Fan Theories About 'The X-Files'

  • 7
    7,523
    3,664

    Star Trek: The Next Generation

    LeVar Burton, Diana Muldaur

    More Star Trek: The Next Generation 

    Famous People You Didn't Know Were On 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'#3 of 12 The Most Emotional Final Scenes In TV Dramas

  • 8
    3,740
    1,843

    Star Trek: The Original Series

    George Takei, Nichelle Nichols

    More Star Trek: The Original Series 

    #11 of 14 The Most Destructive Sci-Fi Superweapons Of All Time#79 of 254 The Best TV Shows Streaming On Hulu

  • 9
    6,755
    3,390

    MythBusters

    Jon Lung, Brian Louden

    More MythBusters 

    20 Mythbusters Myths You Were Saddest to See Busted#273 of 277 The Most Overrated TV Shows Of All Time

  • 10
    10,124
    5,173

    Firefly

    Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin

    More Firefly 

    13 Crazy Yet Plausible Fan Theories About Firefly#1 of 310 The Best Shows Canceled After a Single Season

  • 11
    13,409
    7,550

    Dexter

    Scott William Winters, Valerie Cruz

    More Dexter 

    Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Michael C. Hall And Jennifer Carpenter On 'Dexter'#1 of 50 The Best Showtime Shows of All Time, Ranked

  • 12
    4,893
    1,455

    The Twilight Zone (1959)

    Rod Serling, Robert McCord

    More The Twilight Zone 

    The Best Seasons of The Twilight Zone#17 of 79 The Best CBS Shows of All Time

  • 13
    7,780
    4,284

    Criminal Minds

    A.J. Cook, Rachel Nichols

    More Criminal Minds 

    How Accurate Is The Depiction of Behavioral Analysts In 'Criminal Minds?'#28 of 43 Non-Reality TV Shows That Should Be Canceled

  • 14
    12,216
    7,012

    Doctor Who

    Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant

    More Doctor Who 

    The Most Messed Up Things the Doctor Has Done on Doctor WhoThe Greatest Doctor Who Companions of All Time

  • 15
    11,062
    3,400

    Stranger Things

    Winona Ryder, David Harbour

    More Stranger Things 

    The Best Characters on 'Stranger Things,' RankedWho Would Be In 'Stranger Things' If It Were Cast In The '80s?

  • 16
    9,759
    5,558

    Jeopardy!

    Alex Trebek, Johnny Gilbert

    More Jeopardy! 

    Behind-The-Scenes Facts And Stories About 'Jeopardy!'#17 of 74 The Best Shows You Watched After School in the 2000s

  • 17
    7,814
    4,302

    Vikings

    Travis Fimmel, Peter Franzén

    More Vikings 

    Turns Out The Real Inspiration For 'Vikings' Lagertha Is Even Tougher Than The TV Version#177 of 397 The Best TV Shows to Rewatch

  • 18
    13,390
    8,288

    House of Cards

    Boris McGiver, Mahershala Ali

    More House of Cards 

    House of Cards Plot Points That Happened IRL#13 of 13 TV Shows With Supporting Casts So Good, They Overshadow The Main Character

  • 19
    4,487
    1,656

    M*A*S*H

    Gary Burghoff, Alan Alda

    More M*A*S*H 

    #1 of 89 The Best 1980s Primetime TV Shows#12 of 508 The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time

  • 20
    4,369
    2,045

    Black Mirror

    Daniel Kaluuya, Toby Kebbell

    More Black Mirror 

    Wildly Convincing Black Mirror Fan Theories That Somehow Make The Show Even Crazier#14 of 29 20+ Recent British TV Shows You've Been Missing This Whole Time

  • 21
    3,273
    1,749

    Frasier

    David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney

    More Frasier 

    Dark Behind-The-Scenes Stories About 'Frasier'#10 of 292 The Greatest Sitcoms in Television History

  • 22
    5,352
    3,213

    The Sopranos

    Drea de Matteo, Federico Castelluccio

    More The Sopranos 

    The Best Characters on The Sopranos#10 of 43 The Best '90s TV Dramas

  • 23
    6,816
    4,177

    Downton Abbey

    Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan

    More Downton Abbey 

    The Best Downton Abbey Actors#38 of 112 The Greatest TV Title Sequences Ever

  • 24
    6,113
    3,726

    Fringe

    Kirk Acevedo, Lance Reddick

    More Fringe 

    The Best Seasons of Fringe#91 of 320 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

  • 25
    5,879
    3,883

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg

    More Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

    All Of The Behind-The-Scenes Drama From 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' And 'Angel'#3 of 32 The Best UPN Shows