The 25 Greatest TV Shows of the Last 25 Years – Our Thoughts

IMDB is 25 years old… TODAY! And to celebrate they have been releasing Top 25 Lists all week covering film, actors, and actresses. They also released the 25 Top Rated TV Shows of the Last 25 years, picking the top show from each year. Here are our thoughts on the list which includes of some of our favourite TV Shows of all time

25. Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)

David Lynch’s masterpiece series, which ran for 2 seasons followed by a film, is due for a return next year but can it stand up to the original series which brought the surreal to the living rooms of America nearly 25 years ago? HeadStuff historian and TV analyst Ciaran Conliffe gives his thoughts on the return of Twin Peaks.

24. The Adventures of Tintin (1991–1992)

tintin - headstuff.orgBased on the hugely popular series of stories by Belgian cartoonist Georges Prosper Remi, better known by the pen name Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin from the early 90s celebrated the style and fun of the source material and ran for 39 episodes. It was a classic cartoon before the advent of computer generated animation and a staple of Saturday mornings. Spielberg’s 2011 film tried and somewhat failed to capture the feel and look of this classic series.

23. Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995)

Another staple of those Saturday mornings in the living room before the rest of the family were up, Batman: The Animated Series ran for 5 seasons and 55 episodes and like Tintin above, it stayed true to many of the brilliant Batman comics and featured some iconic renditions of the famous villains of Gotham CIty.


22. The X-Files (1993–2002)

While many of the overriding conspiracy/government plot lines became a bit mundane over the 9 series, the dotting of Monster of the Week episodes really made great television. It’s an all-time top 10 series for me and is quintessential 90s nostalgia TV. After 9/11, things changed and The X-Files just didn’t seem that relevant. Interestingly it’s coming back to Fox next year. Ciaran Conliffe has more thoughts here.

21. Friends (1994–2004)

10 years, 236 episodes, numerous hairstyles and a cast of 6 characters that provided a glorious number of brilliant one liners, gags and quotable moments. “WE WERE ON A BREAK!”. Without doubt the most popular sitcom of all time and thanks to endless repeats, its popularity is still as strong as it was during the 90s. It did “jump the shark” somewhere around the time Ross married Emily but the majority is classic American sitcom. Also, Ross is the best.

20. Fr. Ted (1995–1998)

fr ted - headstuff.orgIt’s great to see Ireland’s brilliant comedy appearing on such a prestigious list. Is it prestigious? I dunno really but feck it. Fr. Ted is a perfect blend of clever gags, slapstick comedy, and simple, perfect writing from Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews. The greatest legacy of this comedy in Ireland is how it is engrained in our psyche and everyone from young to old quotes lines on a regular basis, probably without even knowing it. My favourite gag in the whole series is the scene with Ted informing Dougal that he missed some shaving foam on his face. Genius.

19. Dragonball Z (1996–2003)

I am not the man to talk about Animé…but Brendan Gordon is. Here are his thoughts: “The source of thousands of Internet memes (OVER 9000!), a hilarious abridged parody series and seemingly endless shouting, Dragonball Z broke through to mainstream status in the west and for millions was the first taste of Japanese Animé. Although toned down for western audiences, the show had serious grit for its time, while also having a strong moral heart. For a show based on super-powered beings fighting, often to the death, the violence is never gratuitous or overly graphic but still has impact. Perhaps its most distinctive feature, the almost never-ending powering up scenes were a result of the show outpacing the manga subject material, which inadvertently created a brilliant build up of tension and added to the drama. Maintaining a consistently high standard throughout its four major arcs and numerous sagas, Dragonball Z thoroughly deserves its place on this list, along with a place in the hearts of almost every Animé fan.

18. Oz (1997–2003)

HBO were producing so much quality shows during the late 90s that many originally missed this unique prison drama that ran for 6 seasons. In hindsight it has become one of the best loved and potentially least watched of HBO’s back catalogue. The brilliant cast includes J.K Simmons, Kirk Acevedo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Lee Tergesen.

17. Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)

Brendan Gordon, our resident Animé expert, again: “Compelling, funny and with an amazing Jazz intro that lets you know you’re in for something special, Cowboy Bebop is a stylistic character driven space drama with old western influences (years before Firefly!) based around a ragtag crew of bounty hunters. The 26 episodes are self contained but throughout we are spoonfed tantalising glances into the histories of the characters, never getting any concrete answers, while exploring moral and existentialist themes in a way that leaves you always wanting more. Quite simply a masterpiece and possibly the very finest example of animé yet made.”

16. The Sopranos (1999–2007)

Tony Soprano, The Sopranos overrated, good not great, james gandolfini, problematic, the wire is better, the shield, mafia, TV, television - HeadStuff.orgMany felt let down by the final scene but what preceded those final few moments is generally regarded as one of the greatest TV dramas and usually features in the top 3 TV shows of all time. Our music editor Dave Hanratty had some thoughts on the iconic show and suggested maybe it shouldn’t be as high up these lists as it is. Have a read here.

15. Coupling (2000–2004)

This British sitcom ran for four seasons and 28 episodes which works out at 7 episodes of roughly 30 minutes per episode per season. Wow… that’s 14 hours of Coupling. As you may be able to tell, I have never seen a single episode of this show so I’m waffling somewhat. A brief interweb search though has revealed it’s written by the brilliant Stephen Moffat, writer of Sherlock, Doctor Who and the recent Tintin movie.

14. Six Feet Under (2001–2005)

The dark tone and even darker humour of this American series jarred many who couldn’t quite get past the purposefully odd undercurrent of death and mortality. It featured a great cast of characters, suitably morose writing from series creator Alan Ball and a peculiar and unsettling score. It is another of HBO’s greats.

13. The Wire (2002–2008)

The Wire - HeadStuff.orgRegarded as one of the best TV dramas of all time, David Simon’s masterful look at the lives of a collection of law enforcers and law breakers in the ghettos of Baltimore, Maryland is a great example of social realism on screen, and rather than shying away from the realities of the problems engrained in American society, Simon laid them all out for the viewing public. I feel this may be the most important TV Show of all time.

12. Arrested Development (2002 – present)

Due to its recent revival on Netflix, Arrest Development’s popularity has been steady, with many catching up with the show through box sets over the years. This may have been the reason this wonderfully clever comedy was initially dropped from our TVs back in 2006. Featuring some perfect characters and running gags designed for true fans of the show, Arrested Development may not be at the level now that it was a decade ago, but it is still great to have such hilarious characters on our screens.

11. House MD (2004–2012)

Hugh Laurie has went from proper English gentleman to American superstar thanks to his quirky and poignant portrayal of the antisocial Dr. Gregory House MD. HeadStuff contributor Nick Hilbourn wrote a fantastic article about this characterisation. Check it out here.

10. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008)

This animated series developed a huge fan base and even won an Emmy in its short three year existence. It was so popular they decided it would be a great idea to turn it into a Hollywood film. They also decided it would be a great idea to let M. Night Shyamalan direct it, The film turned out to be one of the worst films ever made but don’t let that put you off this wonderful series.

9. Death Note (2006–2007)

Death Note - HeadStuff.orgAnimé-man Brendan Gordon again: “Death note is a tense, fast paced thriller surrounding a young genius who is given the power of a Shinigami, a god of death. The series evolves into an intense duel of wits, as his actions draw attention and the world looks for answers. While the quality wanes slightly towards the end of the series, it is an excellent exploration of the toll and corruption of limitless power on a young mind and a brilliant example of beautifully complex and devious writing as the psychological chess game unfolds.

8. Flight of the Conchords (2007–2009)

This wonderfully odd and simple comedy from New Zealand originally started as a BBC radio series before being developed for TV by writers and stars Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. The show only lasted 2 seasons but those 22 episodes are a bizarre and wonderfully hilarious collection of songs, situations and gloriously witty comedy moments poking fun at both New Zealand and the ideas of pursuing fame and fortune in New York.

7. Breaking Bad (2008–2013)

Breaking Bad has an iconic status thanks in part to the stellar performance by Byran Cranston as science teacher turned drug lord Walter White. What Breaking Bad also achieved was a wonderful sense of intrigue and suspense inherent in the finite nature of the leading character, and in the disturbance of family life in suburban America. Nick Hilbourn wrote a piece for HeadStuff arguing that Walter White should have been killed off much earlier in the series… have a read.

6. Full Metal Alchemist: The Brotherhood (2009–2010)

Animé expert Brendan Gordon: “Both touching and action packed, Full Metal Alchemist-Brotherhood follows two brothers on a journey of redemption as they deal with the consequences of a failed attempt to revive their dead mother. Beautifully emotive, sensitively written and equipped with a very strong cast of endearing characters, Brotherhood is a testament to the quality of the subject material, being a faithful reproduction of the source manga following the original series which had overtaken its source material. Both are exceptionally strong series, each with their own merits and either is an ideal entry to the world of Animé for any newcomer to the genre.

5. Sherlock (2010– present)

Sherlock - HeadStuff.orgThe painfully long gaps between series has given Sherlock a unique advantage; everyone has time to catch up on everything they’ve missed, and then they have time to tell all their friends. This word of mouth has built a wide fan base on both sides of the Atlantic. What they see is wonderfully crafted and intelligently written stories, bringing Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation seamlessly into the 21st century. The performances of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the leads are well measured and their rise to fame in Hollywood is not surprising. We are due a Christmas special this year and then nothing ’til 2017. Oh, Sherlock…

4. Game of Thrones (2011– present)

Currently the biggest show on TV, its blend of action, fantasy, sex, violence and thoroughly well established character development has made Game of Thrones a worldwide phenomenon. Its brutality, both in terms of its graphic content and in how the characters can be killed off with little or no sentimentality, has been a feature of Game of Thrones that keeps viewers guessing as to what will happen next. The most recent series was a tad dull but I wouldn’t expect that to last too long.

3. Gravity Falls (2012 – present)

Another animated series on the list and coming in for 2012  is Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel production featuring the voice of Flight of the Conchords regular Kristen Schaal along with Jason Ritter who play twins Dipper and Mable on summer vacation in the mysterious Gravity Falls, where supernatural events and paranormal activities are common place. To be honest, I’ve never seen a single episode and its high rating on IMDB is likely to its large young American fan base.

2. Rick and Morty (2013 – present)

rick and morty - headstuff.orgAdult Swim have made some of the best animated comedy of the past 10 years with the likes of The Venture Bros. and Metalocalpyse worthy of this list, however it is Rick and Morty on the list and deservedly so. The story follows an alcoholic genius scientist (Rick) and his grandson (Morty) who travel through dimensions and battle aliens. The real genius of the show is its perfect blend of sci-fi trope parody and absolutely cracking one-liners; “I can’t even tell the two of you apart half the time because I don’t go by height or age. I go by amount of pain in my ass.” You can watch it all online too!

1. True Detective (2014 – present)

true detective - headstuff.orgHmmmm… have IMDB seen season 2 of True Detective yet? It’s poor. It’s really poor. But the first season was just about perfect with a well structured story which jumped between the present and the past, a great cast including Matthew McConaughey at the peak of his McConaissance, a great director in Cary Joji Fukunaga, and a stunning backdrop in the Louisiana bayou. While season 2 had a tough job to do, it did pick up towards the end so hopefully the third season will reach the levels True Detective once reached.


So do you agree with the list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.


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