The 50 Greatest TV Shows Of All Time!

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We asked and you voted by the busload to determine the undisputed stars of the small screen. Was it Star Trek, The Sopranos or Rentaghost? Click below and find out in our definitive list of the best TV ever.

50. Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap


Like The Littlest Hobo for geeks, Quantum Leap was the kind of reassuring TV that made staying in a truly exciting prospect. Aside from a few two-parters and the late addition of an 'evil leaper', you could pick up this sci-fi classic at any point, watch it for an hour and be wholly entertained. Thanks to the exposition-heavy opening title sequence, the show's wholesome morals and the admittedly repetitive nature of Sam Beckett's weekly time-travelling adventures, it's a genuine contender for the most inclusive TV show of all time.

Best Episode The Boogyman (Season 3, Episode 5), aka the one where Sam met Stephen King and Satan. Leaping into the body of a Gothic horror novelist on Halloween, Sam has to solve two unexplained murders before anybody else gets hurt but it soon becomes apparent that the killer is not of this earth - spooky stuff indeed.

Did You Know? An idea for an episode that was unfortunately never made had Sam leaping into the body of Thomas Magnum - better known as Magnum P.I.

49. Prison Break



Okay, so we all know this show has not so much jumped the shark as leapt on its back and ridden it rodeo-style across the ocean, but there was a time when this was guilty pleasure in its purest form. The first season (the one which was actually set in a prison) found the saintly Michael Schofield covering himself in handy tattoos and incarcerated in the same chokey as his death row-sentenced brother. Amazingly, it lived up to the completely ridiculous premise, so it's a shame that the second and third seasons took the institutionalized concept out of its comfort zone.

Best Episode Riot Drills And The Devil Parts 1 and 2 (Season 1, Episodes 6-7), the episodes that really saw the show step up a gear as the evil T-Bag kick starts a full-scale cellblock riot. It's a breathless two-parter that sees Dr Sara Tancredi's infirmary under siege from jonesing inmates, Michael's best-laid plans under threat and T-Bag killing off an unfortunate prison guard.

Did You Know? If you were to have a tattoo like Michael Schofield's, it would take around 200 hours to finish and it would cost around $10,000.

48. Veronica Mars



Described by Kevin Smith as 'hands-down the bet show on television', Veronica Mars' teen noir formula quickly established the show as a cut above the rest. That it began with the heroine recounting her drug-rape at a party and the grisly murder of her best friend immediately marked it as something other than your average high school drama. Smart storylines and witty riffs on pop culture pepper the scripts, while Kristen Bell lent ballsy charm to the title role and ensured that every episode of the show's three seasons was television gold. Its untimely cancellation was a slap in the face that still smarts to this day.

Best Episode Not Pictured (Season 2, Episode 22), where Veronica pieces together the secret of the bus crash and the perpetrator of her own rape years before.

Did You Know? In an attempt to save the show from impending cancellation, fans banded together and sent a truck containing more than 10,000 Mars bars to The CW. Sadly the network was not swayed by the offering and axed it anyway.

47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



Bringing aliens to us rather than boldly going anywhere, DS9's space station-set antics were a surprisingly dark slice of the Star Trek universe. Holocaust allegories and genocide themes were regular occurrences in early seasons, eventually giving way to a larger story arc about a war with the pernicious Dominion, which ran right up until the show's seventh year finale. DS9 boasted the most no-nonsense Commander (Q: "You hit me! Picard never hit me."), a decidedly cool shape-shifting security chief and the USS Defiant: the most kick-ass ship in the galaxy.

Best Episode The Search (Season 3, Episodes 1&2), where Sisko leads a team into the gamma quadrant to track down the leaders of The Dominion, equipped with a brand new battleship...

Did You Know? Avery Brooks was contractually required to grow hair for the role of Ben Sisko to distance himself from his character in eighties mystery series Spenser: For Hire. In Season Four producers finally allowed him to re-shave his head and grow back his beard.

46. Sex and the City



It's developed a reputation as a silly show about shoes and cocktails, but the fashion obsession hides a series that was often extremely smartly written and incredibly brave. It's easy to forget now how groundbreaking the adventures of four Manhattan 30-somethings were not just for women on TV, but for the treatment of sex on the box. The entire vibrator industry owes Carrie and Co an enormous debt.

Best Episode The Agony and the Ex-tacy (Season 4, Episode 1). As Carrie turns 35, the girls reflect on being 30-something and single. It faces up to the potential sadness of the show's premise and turns it into a positive.

Did You Know? In the script for one episode, the nameless Mr Big was jokingly listed as Boris. His name is actually John.

45. Farscape



An Australian sci-fi series featuring muppet aliens from The Jim Henson Company - it's not exactly a pitch that says 'edgy' or even very good. Against the odds, though, Farscape emerged as an innovative, amusing and endlessly watchable romp as Astronaut John Crichton fumbled his way through life on the other side of the galaxy while dropping endless pop culture references that were clearly lost on his alien companions. In Claudia Black's Aeryn Sun was found one of sci-fi's favourite pin-up girls and the chemistry between Black and co-star Ben Browder was so apparent they were reunited after Farscape's cancellation for the final series of Stargate SG-1.

Best Episode Icarus Abides (Season 3, Episode 15), the death of Crichton (well, one of them - don't ask) and its effect on Aeryn is as heart-rending a moment as any we've seen.

Did You Know? The show was cancelled after season 4, but the fan-led 'Save Farscape' campaign was so vociferous that it was picked up by the media and Sci-Fi finally bowed to pressure and greenlit a miniseries to wrap up the plot in 2004.

44. Cracker


1993-1996, 2006

In Edward 'Fitz' Fitzgerald, Robbie Coltrane concocted one of television's most memorable anti-heroes. The gambling, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking, overweight psychologist may have incorporated almost every vice known to man but viewers delighted in the ease with which he mercilessly beat lesser men to an intellectual pulp. Unlike its contemporaries, Cracker was never concerned with the whodunit aspect (the perpetrator was generally revealed in the first scenes) but rather built up to the moment Fitz got the suspect in an interview room. Assaulting them with cutting insight and outright provocation, the portly profiler bent them to his will and put the squeeze on until they finally cracked. Arguably the finest drama Britain has produced - just don't mention the lamentable US remake.

Best Episode To Be A Somebody (Season 2, Episode 1), Robert Carlyle as psychotic footie fan Albie Kinsella. "L-I-V, E-R-P, Double-O-L, Liverpool FC!"

Did You Know? The controversial rape of DS Penhaligon in Men Shot Weep was originally conceived by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern as a storyline for Detective Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.

43. Star Trek

Star Trek Kirk


What can we say about Star Trek? It was the birth of a phenomenon, the dawn of the golden era of sci-fi and the inspiration for millions to don pointy ears and gather to recite Klingon poetry at each other. The Original Series (or TOS as it's referred) lacked the polish of subsequent spin-offs but for tales of intergalactic derring-do and sheer fun factor it can't be bettered. TOS has the most iconic cast of characters and Kirk remains the most fearsome Trek Captain to date, kicking arses, taking names and bedding any half-willing extra-terrestrial female that crossed his path. Plus. His unique. Speech. Patterns. Were endlessly. Entertaining.

Best Episode The Trouble With Tribbles (Season 2, Episode 15), the most amusing episode in the series and a break from the usual formula - plus it was s all about chirping balls of fur.

Did You Know? At no point during any episode does Captain Kirk ever utter the words "Beam me up, Scotty."

42. Only Fools And Horses



The later Christmas specials may have been about as funny as an Oxfam ad but for most of its run, Only Fools And Horses was a sitcom that made you proud to be British. Del Boy and Rodney Trotter's doomed attempts to become millionaires kept the nation smiling for over 20 years and, even with constant repeats, they still manage to raise a giggle today. No matter how many times you watch the best bits (the chandelier scene, the yuppie bar fall, the Batman and Robin run), they never fail to make us laugh.

Best Episode Yuppy Love (Series 6, Episode 1). The appeal of Only Fools can be boiled down to one single gag - Del Boy falling through an open bar flap. The episode that saw Del embracing the Filofax and quoting Wall Street, it marked a high point in a richly rewarding series.

Did You Know? Trigger's real name in the series is Colin Ball.

41. Band Of Brothers



Seen as something of a Saving Private Ryan spin-off, this mini-series from producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg was so much more. Based on renowned Second World War historian Stephen Ambrose's non-fiction book, it told the tale - from boot camp to Allied victory - of the US Army 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company. As visceral and visually stunning as its big budget brother, Band Of Brothers benefited from being given the chance to breathe. Over the course of its ten-hour runtime, we grew to genuinely care about the ever-diminishing group and the horrific challenges they faced.

Best Episode Day Of Days (Episode 2). As Saving Private Ryan depicted the horrors of the Normandy landings, Day Of Days exposed the absolute FUBAR that the paratroop regiments experienced. Dropped behind enemy lines and scattered to the four winds, the soldiers were left alone, scared and deeply in the shit - and the tone was set for a brilliant mini-series.

Did You Know? The actors endured a gruelling ten-day boot camp where they learned parachute jump training. The average day was 16 hours long, beginning at 5am, rain or shine.

40. Life On Mars



DCI Sam Tyler gets run over in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. Confused and disorientated, he must figure out a way to get back to his own time while dealing with the detective dinosaur that is DCI Gene Hunt. Attempting to combine clever sci-fi with Sweeney-style cop show nostalgia, Life On Mars succeeded on both levels - largely thanks to John Simm and Philip Glenister's fun turns as the bickering cops from different times. Much more than just big flares and sexist rants, it was the best buddy show in years.

Best Episode Season 1, episode 6. The one where a hostage situation becomes increasingly nerve-wracking for Sam when he discovers the ransom deadline coincides with the time that his life support machine is due to be turned off in 2006. Tense, taut and nicely handled, it managed to combine the crime and sci-fi elements with confidence.

Did You Know? Following the conclusion of filming the final series, Gene Hunt's Ford Cortina was auctioned on eBay to raise money for Comic Relief.

39. Monty Python's Flying Circus



Years before they incurred the wrath of right-wing Christians with Life Of Brian and messed about the Arthurian legend with The Holy Grail, the Monty Python team re-imagined TV comedy with the silliest and strangest sketch show ever devised. Thanks to the imagination of John Cleese, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman et al (and the bravery of the BBC), the show has somehow stood the test of time - who would have thought that a song about Spam would still be funny over 30 years later?

Best Episode The Spanish Inquisition (Series 2, episode 2). The Parrot Sketch, The Ministry Of Silly Walks, The Lumberjack Song. None of these classic sketches feature in this episode, but what you do get is - and nobody will expect them -The Spanish Inquisition. Repeatedly crashing in on other sketches and constantly screwing up their lines, they represent the anarchic silliness that became the Pythons' stock in trade.

Did You Know? Other possible names for the series were Gwen Dibley's Flying Circus; Owl-Stretching Time; Bun, Whackett, Buzzard; Stubble And Boot; and A Toad Elevating Moment.

38. Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David


Part of the genius of Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it's impossible to tell where the real Larry David ends and the fictional David begins. After all, this is a man who used to go out on stage for stand-up shows, peer at the audience and then walk off if he didn't like the look of the crowd. Every episode sees him getting into ass-puckeringly awkward scrapes with waiters, doctors, salesmen and other celebrities, from Ben Stiller to Martin Scorsese. The combination of David's lack of social skills with the right-on political correctness of LA's denizens makes for edgy, hilarious viewing.

Best Episode Opening Night (Season 4, Episode 10). The climax to a story arc in which Larry takes a lead role in Mel Brooks' stage musical, The Producers, is a cringey masterpiece, with our hero forgetting his lines and telling David Schwimmer, "You got the good shave" in front of a packed auditorium.

Did You Know? Ted Danson and David are friends in real life as well as the show. The two once spent New Year's Eve in Mexico, where Larry embarrassed their whole group by standing next to a mariachi band playing Frank Sinatra's My Way and loudly translating the lyrics into English.

37. Star Trek: The Next Generation



Like every instalment in the Star Trek canon, TNG's hit-to-miss ration was roughly even. When it was good though, The Next Generation was the closest thing imaginable to sci-fi heaven. The Borg, The recurrence of John de Lancie's hilarious Q and any episode involving Worf and his fractious Klingon family was enough to keep you glued to the set. There was too much 'Prime Directive' moralising, one too many pointless holodeck episodes and Wesley Crusher was the most irritating character ever created, but these were a small price to pay for such a sublime interstellar experience.

Best Episode The Best of Both Worlds Part II (Season 4, Episode 1), the second half of The Federation's cataclysmic confrontation with The Borg led by a Borgified Captain Picard!

Did You Know? The Enterprise's oft-seen access tunnels or 'Jeffires Tubes' are named after original series prop master Walter M Jeffries.

36. Father Ted



Who would have thought that the adventures of three priests and their housekeeper living on a remote Irish island would have amounted to one of TV land's funniest sit-coms? On paper, it sounds like Heartbeat-meets-Ballykissangel with a laughter track, but, in actuality, Father Ted was anarchic, inspired and hilarious as hell. Sadly, Dermot "Father Ted Crilly" Morgan's premature death stopped the show in its prime but, as testaments to comedic genius go, he couldn't have wished for more.

Best Episode Entertaining Father Stone (Series 1, Episode 2). It's a tough choice to pick out any one particular episode but the appearance of the fun-sucking Father Stone marks this entry as a frontrunner for funniest episode - if only for the brilliant gag about Stone's painting of Ted with a halo.

Did You Know? Father Ted Introduced the word "feck" to the common English lexicon. Already common in Ireland, it has since become the socially acceptable expletive for those too coy to say "fuck".

35. Alias



Alias was the show that made Jennifer Garner a star and acted as JJ Abrams' proving ground before he moved on to Lost. Working for a secret organisation pretending to be part of the CIA, Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow was a double (and sometimes triple) agent undertaking an entire Bond film each and every week. The sub-Da Vinci code mysticism was a low point (and don't even mention the whole Russian zombies incident) but as a whole Alias was an action-packed weekly adventure that outclassed just about every other show in the genre. Plus it starred Ron Rifkin, who is awesome.

Best Episode Phase One (Season 2, Episode 13), Not because it starts with Garner in lingerie (twice) but rather because the whole show's format is turned upside down.

Did You Know? Alias was inspired by a joke storyline for Abrams' first show, Felicity, where the title character spent a summer as a government agent.

34. Frasier



Frasier was one of those rare things, a comedy series that relied on smarts (and the odd pratfall) to get its laughs. Cleverly transposing the beloved Cheers stalwart to his home town of Seattle and shifting the broader format of the original show to suit the unique quirks of its new characters, the most successful spin-off of all time was wordy and wise and not averse to indulging in the odd moment of high farce. Like the quality comedy theatre it aspired to emulate, Frasier's appeal will continue to endure.

Best Episode The Show Must Go Off (Season 8, episode 12). In a episode that really showcases the pompous appeal of the Crane brothers, Frasier and Niles, attempt resurrect the career of a Shakespearean actor (Derek Jacobi) who they idolized as a child only to find that he's a talentless ham.

Did You Know? Although he played his father, John Mahoney is only 15 years older than Kelsey Grammer.

33. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation



The spin-offs have massive followings in their own right but the original Vegas-set series still rules the CSI roost. The show that made being nerdy cool, CSI shows how geeks save the day every time by combing through your rubbish, dusting surfaces for prints and picking pubes out of the carpet. That most actual crime labs consist of a portly man prodding at dead bodies with the eraser end of an HB pencil is neither here nor there - this is science porn and we love it!

Best Episode Grave Danger (Series 5, Episodes 24-25), Quentin Tarantino guest directs and it's just as tense and disturbing as you'd expect.

Did You Know? In an ironic twist of fate the CSI set was once broken into. Despite having some of the most sophisticated forensic equipment in the world to hand, they never caught the thieves.

32. Babylon 5

Babylon 5 Crew


In Babylon 5, series creator J Michael Straczynski had a defined story he wished to tell. It was to span five seasons of 22 episodes each and was set in stone to cover a very specific story arc. Because of this long-term approach, B5 emerged as one of the most structured and rich sci-fi shows that had ever aired, one that never rambled and always had a clear destination in mind. The plan did come undone, though, when the threat of cancellation forced Straczynski to move events up in season four, which subsequently left him with less to do in the final year when the show was ultimately renewed. Best laid plans and all that.

Best Episode Into The Fire (Season 4, Episode 6), where Sheridan tells the Shadows to "get the hell out of our galaxy!"

Did You Know? The StarFurie fighters were the first cinematic spacecraft to fly according to Newtonian physics. Their design was so impressive that NASA asked permission to use them as the basis prototype hauling vessels for the international space station.

31. Deadwood



The rootinest, tootinest, sweariest show that ever dared raise its head on television? That'll be Deadwood then. Set in the lawless South Dakotan town when the disenfranchised of the world descended on the Black Hills to find their fortune, David Milch's masterpiece presented the frontier townspeople as disparate souls with morals more muddy than the main thoroughfare. Happily throwing traditional notions of good and evil out of the saloon window, the HBO show constantly shifted the audience's loyalty and presented a world where every act, noble or not, had repercussions. And in Ian McShane's back-stabbing bar owner Al Swearengen and Timothy Olyphant's law-abiding but deeply flawed sheriff Seth Bullock, we were presented with two of television's most complex and interesting characters.

Best Episode Requiem For A Gleet (Season 2, Episode 4). Following a knock-about street fight with Bullock, Swearengen is laid up in bed and is later diagnosed by Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif) as having septic shock and kidney stones. One leg-crossing moment later and our sympathies are forever shifted towards Al.

Did You Know? The word fuck and its derivatives are used 2,980 times throughout the show's three seasons.

30. Dexter



The last thing the world needed was another series about a forensic scientist but it certainly adds something to the mix when said CSI is also a recreational serial killer. Mischievously sadistic, Dexter is a darkly amusing tale of a psychopathic monster living in the heart of sunny Miami and trying to reconcile his stabbier urges with being an otherwise decent guy. Michael C Hall is flawless as the carver in question and the show sports one of the cleverest title sequences around.

Best Episode Born Free (Season 1, Episode 12), where Dexter finally learns the truth about the Ice Truck Killer, who brings him a very special gift.

Did You Know? Dexter's aliases are often taken from the novels of Brett Easton Ellis, including The Rules of Attraction's Sean Ellis and American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.

29. ER

George Clooney ER


It's been running for nearly fifteen years and there's not a single member of the original cast left but ER amazingly shows no sign of slowing down. Based on a film script by Michael Crichton, the series evolved into a weekly slice of emergency medicine at Chicago's county hospital, one that was separated from inferior imitators by smart scripts, great characters and a willingness to shock - Dr Greene's bathroom attack, Lucy and Carter vs schizophrenic knife-wielder. The list of cameos, both in front and behind the camera, is as long as your arm and boasts such names as Quentin Tarantino, Kirsten Dunst and Ewan McGregor.

Best Episode Hell And High Water (Season 2, Episode 7), where Doug Ross (George Clooney) saves a young boy from drowning during a flood live on TV and is subsequently reinstated at County hospital.

Did You Know? The original ER movie was to be directed by Steven Spielberg until he became more interested in another of Crichton's projects: Jurassic Park.

28. Fawlty Towers

Fawlty Towers


Regarded by many as the pinnacle of British humour, John Cleese' much-loved sitcom about the worst hotelier in South East England is as eye-wateringly funny now as it was thirty years ago. Basil Fawlty himself is a genius comic creation, harnessing Cleese's gift for physical comedy and ably backed up by Prunella Scales' shrewish Sybil and Andrew Sach's bumbling Spanish waiter, Manuel. It's quite shockingly un-PC to the modern viewer, but the occasional risque remark should be seen as a nostalgic reminder of a time before every broadcast was weighed against whom it might offend and is just one of Fawlty Towers' many charms.

Best Episode The Germans (Series 1, Episode 6), Basil at his xenophobic best - don't mention the war!

Did You Know? Basil Fawlty was based on one Mr Sinclair, a real Torquay hotelier with whom the Monty python gang once stayed. During their stay he allegedly attacked Terry Gilliam and threw Eric Idle's briefcase over a wall.

27. Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under


Dark, comical and really rather wonderful, it's little wonder that Six Feet Under flowed from the same pen that gave us the equally incredible American Beauty. Alan Ball's HBO series about a dysfunctional Pasadena family who run an independent funeral home was a wonderful meditation on life, love and grief. Headed up by Peter Krause as the prodigal elder son Nate Fisher and featuring Michael C Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose and Rachel Griffiths, the cast, like every facet of this compelling production, oozed class.

Best Episode It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Season 2, episode 8). The closest Six Feet Under ever got to a Christmas special, this funny and emotional episode finds the family getting together to celebrate the holiday season and commemorate the one year anniversary of Nathaniel Sr's death.

Did You Know? Within a week of the first episode being aired, HBO renewed the show for a second season.

26. Red Dwarf

Red Dwarf Crew


Science fiction comedy on the lowest of low budgets, Red Dwarf began life as the demented ramblings of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor and ended its nine series run as a cult phenomenon with a huge fan following. Red Dwarf was the story of Lister (Craig Charles), the last human being alive, Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a hologram of his dead bunk mate and a creature who evolved from the ship's cat (Danny John Jules), all of whom are stuck on a large mining vessel three million years in the future. It was an entirely off-the-wall comedy but with jokes that ranged from the inspired (Lister appearing behind Hitler at Nuremburg and mocking his genital shortcomings) to the utterly bizarre (the crew being stalked by a curry monster) Red Dwarf was an unapologetically demented comedy. It hasn't aged all that well given that early episodes were made for roughly the same price as a bag of crisps, but the series remains one of the BBC's all-time comedy greats.

Best Episode Quarantine (Series 5, Episode 4). Rimmer is infected by a holo-virus and imprisons the crew. "Mr Flibble is very cross."

Did You Know? The word show's expletive, 'smeg' is used 194 times across the show's eight seasons.

25. Futurama



It's unfair to compare Matt Groening's other show to The Simpsons. Because what is as good as The Simpsons? Judged on its own merits, this futuristic comedy about the bumbling employees of an intergalactic delivery company is witty, silly and completely non-sensical in just the right measure. It's got some characters who don't work (Hermes Conrad, we're looking at you), but Bender the antagonistic robot makes up for any faults. It was revived for a reason, you know?

Best Episode Godfellas (Season 3, Episode 20). An entirely Bender-centric episode. When he's accidentally shot into space, Bender becomes the home for a community of tiny alien beings.

Did You Know? Bender is named after the character John Bender in The Breakfast Club

24. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks


Who killed Laura Palmer? That was the question on everyone's lips during 1990 as David Lynch's bizarre small town mystery unfolded on our screens. A demon called Bob, a little man who talked backward and minor pie fetish were just some of the features on display here. But despite a healthy dose of surrealism everything fell into place. Until the rather less appealing second season, that is, where the question on people's minds was more akin to 'who is Windom Earle and what in God's name is going on?' but that's beside the point.

Best Episode Episode Twenty-Nine (Season 2, Episode 22). Lynch returned having finished Wild At Heart with a big screw you to the network that had messed him around form the start. "Where's Annie?"

Did You Know? Frank Silva, who played Bob, was actually the set decorator and got roped into the part when Lynch decided to shoot him at the bottom of Laura's bed on a whim.

23. The Office

The Office


Possibly the greatest British TV export since Tracey Ullman (and we didn't really want her anyway), The Office has become a huge success on the other side of the pond. It spawned four seasons of the US version and became the first British sitcom to win a Golden Globe, so it's easy to see how Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant's benchmark show grew into such a monster. Touching on the universal ridiculousness of the workplace, The Office offered us some of the most bum-puckering comedy moments of the past decade and, thanks to the rotund comic foil that was Gervais' David Brent, the English language now has a permanent euphemism for dickhead bosses.

Best Episode Christmas Special Part One. Despite being well used to Brent's talent for self-delusion, the sight of him dressed in white linen pyjamas singing a cover of If You Don't Know Me By Now will keep us in stitches for the next 100 years.

Did You Know? The Cat Stevens song Sitting was originally considered for the theme music.

22. The Shield

The Shield


When the lead character shoots another cop in the face during the pilot episode to cover up his own corruption, you know you're not watching a run-of-the-mill police procedural. A brutal look at life behind the badge, Shawn Ryan's down and dirty drama basks in its protagonist's cavalier approach to right and wrong and a reliance on street justice over the letter of the law. It's to Michael Chiklis' eternal credit that, despite acts of murder, torture, theft, drug distribution and other transgressions too numerous to list, Detective Vic Mackay remains a sympathetic and highly charismatic character - you just wouldn't want to get on his bad side.

Best Episode Post Partum (Season 5, Episode 11), a shocking finale as Shane takes definitive action to prevent Lem from cutting a deal with Kavanaugh.

Did You Know? Vic Mackey's daughter Cassidy is actually played by Autumn Chiklis, Michael Chiklis' real-life daughter.




Sold as Buffy's darker side, this spin-off took brooding vampire Angel to the mean streets of LA for some rather more metropolitan demon-slaying shenanigans. Darker it was, at least for the first few episodes, but Angel soon found a quirky sense of humour that made the entire affair far more enjoyable. The supporting cast (made largely out of Buffy cast-offs) were never as appealing as their Scooby gang counterparts but the show was a worthy addition to the Buffyverse nonetheless and had only just reached its stride when the cancellation stake put Angel down for good.

Best Episode Smile Time (Season 5, episode 14) in which Angel is turned into a puppet. Utter, utter genius.

Did You Know? Joss Whedon himself appears in season two episode Through The Looking Glass, cameoing as the Pylean demon Numfar and performing the Dance Of Joy.

20. Blackadder



The times, they say, are a-changing but sarcasm and a killer wit are eternal. From a simpering prince to a First World War captain by way of an Elizabethan courtier and butler to the Prince Regent, Edmund Blackadder was a comedy icon for the ages. Remoulded as a devious misanthrope after the misfiring first series saw him portrayed as a privileged simpleton, Rowan Atkinson's finest role was well named - a dark heart and a sharp tongue combined to give us one of TV's best and funniest anti-heroes.

Best Episode Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth, episode 6). Over the course of the final series, Captain Edmund Blackadder tried and failed to escape the madness of the Trenches and he was forced to lead his men in the charge over the top. Expertly combining classic comedy with a tear-jerking coda, this was a fitting last hurrah for a TV icon.

Did You Know? The show's format was mercifully changed after the first series at the behest of the BBC who wanted it to become a more standard (and less expensive) studio sitcom.

19. Scrubs



A medical show without blood, weeping families and lots of shouting about gurnies and hypertoxicity? Scrubs is far more concerned with being surreal and allowing its absurdly talented cast, most of whom improve throughout the run, to go off on bizarre tangents. Love the hetero-romance between best buds Turk and JD. Love the endless fantasy sequences. Love Elliott's German outbursts. Just plain love Dr Cox.

Best Episode Hard to choose. Could be the musical episode, but we'll go with My Screw Up (Season 3, Episode 14), the last episode Brendan Fraser guest-starred in. Very funny and a weeny bit weepy.

Did You Know? The Barbershop quartet that counts lawyer Ted as a member is a real group called The Blanks. Their CD is brilliant for approximately half a listen.

18. Arrested Development

Arrested Development


Buster Bluth, George Michael, Gob - the character names alone are proof that Arrested Development has some of the sharpest comedy writing of all time. Somewhere in there is a touching drama about a family being drawn together through crisis, but this is a show that's never afraid to go off on wildly silly tangents. Like, say, the subplot in which man-child Buster gets his arm chomped off by a seal. Or the contrivance which sees ex-Fonz Henry Winkler relive his Happy Days by jumping over a shark. Or the bit where Tobias Funke joins the Blue Man Group, thinking it's a support group for depressed men, and ends up getting paint everywhere. Or Franklin the racist puppet. Or Hot Cops. Seriously, we could keep reeling off our favourite bits all day.

Best Episode Amigos! (Season 2, Episode 3) sees the Bluths hit Mexico. It's notable for repeat appearances from one of the show's funniest characters, Gene Parmesan, plus some classic Ann ("Who?") moments and a 'chicken dance' showdown between Gob and Lindsay.

Did You Know? Jason Bateman has described the show as "The Royal Tenenbaums shot like Cops".

17. South Park

South Park


The Guinness World Record holder for "Most swearing in an animated series", Trey Parker and Matt Stone's crudely animated monster is going strong more than ten years later after we were first introduced to Cartman and the boys. Still offending just about everybody on the planet, it has avoided jumping the shark by continuously changing its targets and, most importantly, remaining incredibly funny. While it's undeniably puerile, the secret of South Park's success lies in the fact that its intentions are essentially good. Those who challenge common sense and general decency are the ones in the firing line - anybody else who gets hit are, well, collateral damage.

Best Episode Make Love, Not Warcraft (Season 10, Episode 8). Merrily ripping the piss out of the sacrosanct game, this outstanding episode finds the South Park boys working around the clock to improve their character skills so they can beat an asshole online player.

Did You Know? Matt Stone records Kenny's dialogue by talking into his sleeve.

16. Doctor Who



When Russell T. Davies announced his plan to re-launch the BBC's adored sci-fi classic, geeks got nervous and regular folk were apathetic. It's something of a miracle then that not only did the Queer As Folk creator assuage the die-hards, but he also managed to recruit a new generation of Who-ites. Quintessentially British and knowingly silly, this Timelord redux somehow manages to be exciting and fresh while imbuing the whole series with a respectful reverence for its rich history.

Best Episode Blink (Series 3, Episode 10). Possibly the most inventive and certainly the scariest episode of the rejuvenated series hardly features the Doctor at all. Stone angels are feeding on "potential energy" (meaning they chuck people back in time and dine on what would have been their victim's destiny) and the only way the Doctor, who is himself trapped in the past, can restore the natural order is to give out random clues via easter eggs on a series of DVDs.

Did You Know? Planned spin-off Rose Tyler: Earth Defence was cancelled during pre-production as Russell T. Davies realized that it would be one spin-off too many after Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

15. Heroes



We'd heard shows before boast about 'cinematic' production values, but Tim Kring's Heroes actually meant it. Every super-charged hour boasts lavish amounts of special effects - Hiro's time-freezing abilities are particularly cool - and a classy, noirish aesthetic partly inspired by M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable. But eye-candy alone wouldn't have won Heroes its place on this list. Kring's genius was in bolting the flashy action onto a slow-burning storyline full of shadows and mystery. And having a really cute, invincible cheerleader in the cast doesn't hurt none either.

Best Episode Five Years Gone (Season 1, Episode 20), which saw Hiro and Ando travel five years into the future, finding out what will happen if New York actually explodes. It climaxes with a spectacular showdown, as noble Peter and evil Sylar do battle with fire and ice.

Did You Know? James Kyson Lee, who plays Ando, can't speak a single word of Japanese.

14. Firefly



Essentially an old-fashioned Western romp set among the stars, Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi show was as rich an experience for viewers as it was unmarketable for the network that cancelled it. Showcasing the flair for dialogue Whedon had demonstrated in Buffy, Firefly was a mischievous and frequently very funny show that sat apart from more earnest sci-fi fare. Thoroughly likeable characters and a unique patois (use of elaborate Chinese cursing was a minor stroke of genius) gave Firefly an amiable charm, plus it had Nathan Fillion, whose presence officially makes anything 27% better.

Best Episode Out Of Gas (Season 1, Episode 5), where all the characters' backstories are revealed and Alan Tudyk appears wearing that moustache.

Did You Know? The uniforms and armour worn by Alliance soldiers in the show were leftover props from Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers.

13. Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica


Dark, unflinching and often brutal, BSG is a very long way from the camp seventies show of the same name. In fact, given that this is one of the most pioneering sci-fi shows in decades, its name is probably its biggest liability. This is a show more concerned with internal rifts, politics and strife than spatial anomalies or aliens with forehead prosthetics, making it a far more introverted character-driven drama than anything in the Star Trek canon. Edward James Olmos' gravel-tongued Admiral leads a great cast of characters (Gaius Baltar, we salute you) and the epic space conflicts, portrayed with a shaky, hand-held style for realism, are blissfully rendered mayhem.

Best Episode Pegasus (Season 2, Episode 10), which was the darkest episode to date, shocking first with the sudden arrival of the Battlestar Pegasus and then again with introduction of Lieutenant Thorne, Pegasus' 'Cylon interrogator'.

Did You Know? The lyrics at the beginning of the theme song are from Hinduism's Gayatri Mantra. Roughly translated it means "Oh all-protecting lord, please guide our intellects, so that we may proceed in the right direction towards enlightenment".

12. Family Guy

Family Guy


The true barometer of a show's cult popularity is the uproar that's caused when it's taken off the air. Sure there was an almighty brouhaha when Serenity and Futurama left our screens, but such was the ferocious shit storm that kicked off when Family Guy was cancelled that Fox was pretty much forced to reinstate the show - twice! Seth McFarlane's gleefully outrageous animated series tips good taste into a cocked hat and elicits genuine hilarity from the most unlikely material. Sex, race, creed, physical ability nothing is sacred on this show, and that's why we love it.

Best Episode Let's Go To The Hop (Season 2, Episode 14). When a frog-licking craze sweeps Meg's high school, Peter goes undercover as new cool kid Lando Calrissian. The perfect balance of offensive humour and in-jokery.

Did You Know? William H. Macy originally auditioned to provide the voice of Brian.

11. Seinfeld



'No hugging, no learning'. That was rule that Jerry Seinfeld himself when making his eponymous sitcom and he stuck with it. The daily goings on of jobbing stand-up Jerry and his three strange friends were always standalone incidents. There were no cliff-hangers here and no lasting inter-group romance (Jerry and Elaine got most of that out of the way before the show started). Instead they kept the audience's attention by being very, very funny.

Best Episode The Soup Nazi (Season 7, Episode6). George tries to buy soup but fails to obey the owner's rule. So, "No soup for you!"

Did You Know? Jerry Seinfeld turned down a payday of around $110 million for a tenth season.

10. Spaced



For a generation weened on geek culture and bottle fed on cult movies, Spaced was the perfect comedy. With a loose set up bringing together a bunch of disparate drifters (Simon Pegg's lovable comic book artist, Jessica Stevenson's lazy author and Nick Frost's army obsessive amongst others), each episode was little more than a collection of film and TV references strung together on an unlikely plot - luckily it had the good grace to be very funny and very clever.

Best Episode Battles (Series 1, Episode 4). Tim and Mike go paintballing and encounter the odious Duane Benzie (the slimy git who stole Tim's girlfriend). If only for the paintball in the knackers gag, this is Spaced at its very best.

Did You Know? At the end of the last episode of series one during the scene where Tim and Daisy are dancing in the pub and discussing porn, the band playing is actually fronted by Simon Pegg's real dad.

9. The X-Files

The X-Files


Created by surfing enthusiast Chris Carter, The X-Files proved to be the show that could do anything. It could modulate its tone from Twin Peaks creepy to Texas Chain Saw Massacre terrifying to Three Stooges silly. It had a pair of good-looking, charismatic heroes with deliciously simmering sexual chemistry - plus a rogue's gallery of memorable villains, including the putrid Flukeman, stretchy Eugene Tooms and butt-loving Cigarette Smoking Man. Of course, the long-running 'Myth-Arc' conspiracy plotline would have baffled Einstein and was never properly wrapped up in any case, but with at least one more big-screen outing lined up for Mulder and Scully there's still time to redeem the show that launched a thousand Dark Skies.

Best Episode Jose Chung's From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20) showcases The X-Files' at its playful best. The same alien-abduction investigation is shown from an array of perspectives, sending up the show's own staples to very funny effect.

Did You Know? The classic horror episode Home was inspired by a tale in Charlie Chaplin's autobiography, about the time some rednecks took the comedian home to meet to their mother - and pulled her out from under a bed.

8. The Wire

The Wire


David Simon's frighteningly realistic cop drama is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished TV shows ever created and the vast majority of people have never actually seen it. It's a slow-burning, uncompromising and above-all honest look at the mean streets of Baltimore and the drugs trade that stangles it. Each season has a specific focus (be it the working class, education, politics or the media) and proceeds to explore the underlying real-world problems within a dramatic context. It all sounds rather heavy but thanks to a mischievous sense of humour and some outstanding characters (Bubbles, Omar and The Bunk) the show is extremely watchable despite the weighty themes. Effortlessly straddling the divide between drama and documentary, The Wire, at its best, is without peer on big screen or small.

Best Episode Middle Ground (Season 3, Episode 11): when Omar and Brother Mouzone face off against Stringer Bell.

Did You Know? Aside from a single montage sequence at the end of each season, The Wire has no superimposed soundtrack - all music heard in the show originates from sources within the scene.

7. Friends



How is it that Channel 4 can show the quintessential '90s sitcom on a virtual loop and it doesn't get old? It's because Friends, at its best, is as perfect a sitcom as you will find. In its earliest days, the adventures of six beautiful pals who apparently earned money by drinking coffee featured writing much sharper than the cuddly exterior suggested. Even when the quality dipped a little mid-run, the ensemble remained perfectly matched and the best comedy collective on TV.

Best Episode The One With The Prom Video (Season 2, Episode 14). Joey and Chandler fall out and make up; Rachel realises why she loves Ross; and, thanks to a home video, we meet fat Monica. The show's whole ethos in 22 minutes.

Did You Know? Phoebe is the most promiscuous Friend. The only one of the group she hasn't kissed is Monica.

6. 24



Okay, so the last series was bobbins, but 24 has bounced back before and we're hoping the forthcoming Season 7 will see the Jack Bauer Power Hour back on form. At its best, there is just nothing like it - insane levels of adrenaline, finely calibrated political intrigue and twists that hit you in the face like a two-fisted punch from Tony Almeida. 24 is some of the most cinematic TV you'll ever see, with no expense spared to depict CTU's intense battles against cunning terrorists and occasionally the odd rogue President. Even when 24's rubbish, it's still loveable - we still have a soft spot for the cougar who menaced Kim Bauer in possibly the show's worst ever plot twist, back in Season 2.

Best Episode 6:00 AM - 7:00 AM (Season 3, Episode 18). The gut-churning episode where terrorists demand that Jack shoot his supervisor Ryan Chappelle in the head or they'll kill thousands. As Jack puts a bullet into Ryan's head and weeps, the clock at the end of the episode remains silent, capping off the most emotional and darkest hour in 24's history.

Did You Know? James Morrison, who plays Bill Buchanan, runs a yoga class in Los Angeles, which Empire's Nick de Semlyen has attended and does not recommend for beginners.

5. Lost



Only time will tell whether it's as clever as it seems, but few TV shows have gripped viewers' imaginations like this hybrid of Swiss Family Robinson and Twin Peaks. An innovative structure in which each episode hones in on a different character, with flashbacks and flashforwards expanding their backstory, ensures the entire cast is fleshed out beyond the constraints of the primary narrative. But aside from the host of unique and colourful characters - from earnest Jack to cocky Sawyer, noble Jin to bug-eyed Ben - it's the epic mysteries at the core of the story that keeps us coming back. What powers does the island have? What's that polar bear doing in the tropics? And how come Hurley never loses weight despite being marooned on an island?

Best Episode The action-packed Exodus two-parter (Season 1, Episodes 23-24) that features a wrecked ship, a monster, a clash with the Others and the discovery of a deep, dark hatch.

Did You Know? The fictional Oceanic airline also appears in the movie Executive Decision.

4. The West Wing

The West Wing


For a long time a walk-on part in The West Wing was the pinnacle to which all jobbing TV actors aspired. Smart and funny, Aaron Sorkin's political drama showcased the writer's gift for rapid-fire dialogue and layered, politically resonant storylines, proving that television can be funny and insightful all at the same time. The series took a temporary downturn after Sorkin's departure at the end of season four but rallied soon after with a number of surprising changes to both character roles and format. It all came to a natural close at the end of President Bartlet's second term in office but The West Wing remained one of the most intelligent shows on television throughout its run and a comforting image of what a more benevolent White House could look like.

Best Episode Two Cathedrals (Season 2, Episode 22). The episode with Mrs Landingham's funeral and the closing scene on the podium where Bartlet decides to run for re-election.

Did You Know? The president was originally written as a minor character with little actual screen time. Audience reaction to Martin Sheen was so positive, however, that he soon became a leading role.

3. The Sopranos

The Sopranos


Those who tuned into the first episode of The Sopranos in 1999 found not a documentary about opera singers but a dark, offbeat drama about a New Jersey gangster with a fixation on the ducks who visit his swimming pool. As the first season wore on, viewers became hooked on creator David Chase's uncompromising vision of an old-school criminal organisation beset by all the stresses and tensions of the modern day. A fusion of sharp, unpredictable writing and powerhouse acting ensured this show classic status, spawning a videogame, spoofs by The Simpsons and the Clintons (!) and an Artie Bucco recipe book, so you can make like Tony and feast on 'gabagool' yourself.

Best Episode Long Term Parking (Season 5, Episode 12), in which... well, we won't give it away. Let's just say that two of the show's best characters have an eventful car ride and leave it at that.

Did You Know? The Bada Bing strip club is actually a go-go bar in Lodi, NJ, called Satin Dolls.

2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer



Emerging from the ashes of a failed 1992 movie, this improbably titled series was the phenomenon that put Joss Whedon firmly on the map. The very essence of girl power, Buffy was an arse-kicking babe blessed with a smart mouth and a vicious roundhouse right. The winning factor, though, was that the supporting characters were just as appealing as the lead, from Willow the lesbian witch to Anya the former vengeance demon. Above all others, though, It was however James Marsters' turn as Brit bloodsucker, Spike, who most frequently stole the show.

Best Episode A toss-up between the superb musical episode Once More With Feeling (Season 6, Episode 7) and Hush (Season 4, Episode 10), which was performed almost entirely in mime.

Did You Know? Angel was only resurrected after his death in Season 2 because the network decided to greenlight a spin-off show.

1. The Simpsons

The Simpsons


Could it really be anything else? You can put The Simpsons in almost any category you like and it will come out on top. Best animated show. Best sitcom. Best family show. The list goes on. It's ageless, both in the quality of the jokes and the people it appeals to. Bart was originally intended as the focus of the show, but the brilliance of the writing means the rest of the family has come to be equally beloved. People complain about a dip in quality now that it's reaching its third decade, but even sub-par Simpsons is better than 90% of TV comedy. At its greatest, it's untouchable. Best. Show. Ever.

Best Episode King Size Homer (Season 7, Episode 7). The family patriarch tries to eat himself to 300lb and thus qualify as disabled so he can work at home. An unimprovable mix of sharp dialogue, hilarious site gags and heart.

Did You Know? Bart is the only character not to be named after a member of creator Matt Groening's family.