10. Twin Peaks
The hottest show of 1990 is still the hippest show on this list. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s mystery series is the story of a murder in a non-more-quirky North American town. But while Peaks is often daft, it has a true heart of darkness, with sexual abuse, drugs and apparent demonic possession all lurking beneath the show’s cutesey, ’50s-styled facade.
9. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon’s tale of teen trauma anthropomorphised into demons has a special place in many people's hearts. It changed TV for the better, leading the way in the feminising of the genre, while being action-packed, laugh-out-loud funny and shot through with tragedy. The effects and slang have dated, but the show’s writing remains as sharp as Mr Pointy.
The first Netflix original TV show (with Marvel) is an adaptation of blind superhero Daredevil, which mercifully betters the movie in every respect. Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock - lawyer by day, superhero by night - and it’s a combination of a tight script, skilful performances, and frankly kick-ass fight scenes, that make this one of the best shows on TV.
7. The Sopranos
With writing to die for and an intimidating lead performance from the late James Gandolfini, The Sopranos put HBO back on the map. A mob drama about family (in both senses) it's frequently shocking, but always focused on its troubled and troubling characters.
6. The Simpsons
Although its heyday is now long-gone (it’s difficult to beat that early ’90s period for sheer consistency of laughs and global adoration), the fact that The Simpsons is still going after 26 years suggests there remains a hearty appetite for the yellow-skinned townsfolk of Springfield. Despite its advanced TV age, it’s still gleefully subversive, and still manages to attract the A-list crowd for guest voice duties.
5. Mad Men
The ’60s-set saga of ad men who are sometimes bad men and indeed sad men, is low on action, but unparalleled in the depth of its characterisation. Don Draper is brilliant at his job, but useless in his personal life. Initially characterised by boozy office meetings, decadent fashions and depictions of casual sexism, the show charts the decline of the old ways and the dawn of a new, more egalitarian culture. Haunting and often very funny.
Watch Mad Men now on Amazon Prime Video
4. Star Trek
The original and best incarnation of the Trek mega-franchise inspired generations of writers, scientists and astronauts. It broke new ground by featuring TV’s first interracial kiss and while other science fiction shows lean towards darkness, Trek is all the more radical for its inspiring vision of an optimistic future that we might actually want to live in.
3. The Wire
A drugs surveillance op becomes the focus of five turbulent years in the life of Baltimore. The Wire is the greatest police show of the last 40 years, thanks to a parade of incredible performances and a refusal to sacrifice reality for sensationalism. Relentless drama of a sort you get once a generation that launched countless careers including those of Idris Elba and Dominic West.
2. Breaking Bad
It’s funny thinking of Breaking Bad as an all-conquering franchise. For most of its run, it was barely watched at all. And then, somewhere around season four, the mainstream started to take notice. The story of Walter White – a genial high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking crystal meth following a terminal cancer diagnosis – is a bleak but hilarious crime epic. Walt epitomises Bad’s genius. As each season progresses you find yourself thinking, “Right, I’m done with this guy...” but Bryan Cranston’s remarkable performance means that even at his most despicable – and he gets pretty low – you can always see his lethally pragmatic point of view.
1. Game of Thrones
Game Of Thrones is the grandest epic TV has ever seen. Hell, it gives Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies a run for their money. But it’s the politicking and human drama that really impresses. As the great families of Westeros squabble over the Iron Throne, the cast of believable characters are caught in the crossfire. Bloody, brutal and jaw-droppingly well-realised, it’s HBO’s masterpiece.