77.3k voters

TV Shows That Only Smart People Appreciate

Updated November 12, 2020 1.2m votes 77.3k voters 849.3k 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.

  • Sherlock1


    Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama, Mystery

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  • House2


    Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps

    Genres (Tv)Medical drama

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  • Breaking Bad3

    Breaking Bad

    Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul

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

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    Game of Thrones

    Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey

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

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  • Westworld5


    Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton

    Genres (Tv)Sci-fi, Drama, Western

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  • The X-Files6

    The X-Files

    David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson

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

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  • Star Trek: The Next Generation7

    Star Trek: The Next Generation

    Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner

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

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  • Star Trek: The Original Series8

    Star Trek: The Original Series

    William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy

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

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  • MythBusters9


    Jon Lung, Brian Louden

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

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  • Dexter10


    Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter

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

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  • Firefly11


    Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres

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

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  • The Twilight Zone (1959)12

    The Twilight Zone (1959)

    Rod Serling, Robert McCord

    Genres (Tv)Anthology, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction

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  • Criminal Minds13

    Criminal Minds

    Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler

    Genres (Tv)Crime Fiction, Police procedural, Crime, Suspense, Drama

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  • Doctor Who14

    Doctor Who

    Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant

    Genres (Tv)Sci-fi, Adventure, Drama

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  • Stranger Things15

    Stranger Things

    Winona Ryder, David Harbour

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

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  • House of Cards16

    House of Cards

    Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright

    Genres (Tv)Political drama, Political thriller

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  • Jeopardy!17


    Alex Trebek, Johnny Gilbert

    Genres (Tv)Game show

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  • Vikings18


    Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick

    Genres (Tv)Historical drama, Action-adventure

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  • M*A*S*H19


    Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers

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

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  • Black Mirror20

    Black Mirror

    Daniel Kaluuya, Toby Kebbell

    Genres (Tv)Drama, Thriller, Science Fiction, Fantasy

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  • The Sopranos21

    The Sopranos

    James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco

    Genres (Tv)Crime drama

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  • Frasier22


    Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves

    Genres (Tv)Sitcom

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  • Supernatural23


    Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles

    Genres (Tv)Supernatural drama, Black comedy, Drama, Horror Film, Mystery

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  • Fringe24


    Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson

    Genres (Tv)Sci-fi, Supernatural drama

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  • Downton Abbey25

    Downton Abbey

    Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan

    Genres (Tv)Period drama

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