We live in the era of “peak TV” with hundreds of series premiering year after year and many, in fact, of more than remarkable quality. But immediacy often makes us forget that television fiction has more than half a century of history, with series to remember.
At Espinof we have selected the best series in history . 49 outstanding quality fictions that are essential when it comes to understanding the medium.
The best of the best of television serial fiction
From great classics like ‘ I, Claudio ‘ or ‘ Alfred Hitchcock Presents ‘ to the series that changed the way of understanding the medium on television and started the narrative of the 21st century like ‘ The Wire ‘ or ‘ The Sopranos ‘. All of this going through animated series like ‘ Batman ‘ or ‘ Futurama ‘ and the great British comedies like ‘ The Black Viper ‘ or ‘ Monty Puthon’s Flying Circus ‘.
If you don’t want to go back that far in time, you can find the best series of the past decade (and those of 2022). And if yours is Spanish television, here you have the best fictions that you can find in streaming and the best of homeland terror. In addition, you can consult the best animated series in history, the best comedies, period series, lawyers, science fiction and thrillers.
Are you ready? we start.
’24’ (2001-2010; 2014)
Released shortly after 9/11, ’24’ became the catharsis the world needed in this new episode of history. In a risky format (24 episodes “in real time”), it gave what is the definitive action hero of television in the 21st century , played by Kiefer Sutherland. A series that fell somewhat victim to its own exhausting format but which completely transformed current television.
‘Rockefeller Plaza’ (30 Rock, 2006-2013)
Tina Fey got into a whole meta-television exercise with ’30 Rock’ (also known as ‘Rockefeller Plaza’ in Spain) in which she recounted what was happening behind the scenes of a weekly NBC sketch show from the point of view of her head writer Liz Lemon (Fey) and executive newcomer Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). A surreal comedy that has an excellent script.
‘Two meters underground’ (‘Six Feet Under’, 2001-2005)
When Alan Ball presented ‘Six Feet Under’ to HBO executives, they asked him if he could make it more twisted. And he did. The drama, which followed the Fisher family and their funeral home, navigated with a certain touch of dark humor in the complex human dimension. It also has the merit of having one of the most remembered and acclaimed endings on television.
‘The West Wing of the White House’ (The West Wing, 1999-2006)
In 1999, Aaron Sorkin created what even twenty years later is what political dramas aspire to become . With the verbiage (and idealism) characteristic of his main screenwriter, ‘The West Wing of the White House’ goes through the ins and outs of President Bartlett’s (Martin Sheen) cabinet. Without a doubt, one of the best written series in history and, in fact, with the most unforgettable characters.
‘Alfred Hitchcock presenta’ (1955-1965)
Although we are currently experiencing an anthology boom, it was in the mid-20th century when this format amazed an entire generation with series like ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, in which the master of suspense immersed us in hundreds of mystery stories. and crime . Chapters that played with the “limits of television” and that had exceptional scriptwriters and directors (Roald Dahl, Robert Altman, Hitchcock himself…).
‘Batman. The animated series’ (1992-1995)
To this day, there are few adaptations of superhero comics that come close in quality to what Warner Bros. did with Batman back in the 90s. Without ceasing to be cartoons aimed at children, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Mitch Brian They took a very serious approach to the character and his adventures, giving us hours and hours of delights in full color.
‘Battlestar Galactica’ (2003-2009)
Ronald D. Moore says that what suited him worst about the original Galactica is how they had taken such a dark and stormy premise and turned it into a simple and even silly space opera. He fixed that in a new version that evoked, in a distant system, the setting of the world after 9/11: the paranoia, the escapism, the fight against an enemy who might be next door. A great example of political drama in the form of military science fiction.
‘Bojack Horseman’ (2014-2020)
The genre of “former Hollywood star” in very low hours has given us many joys, but few like the creation of Raphael Bob-Waksberg, which offers us a whole journey, no longer from the classic spiral of self-destruction, but directly to depression. of its protagonist. And to the traumas and problems of the secondary ones.
‘Breaking Bad’ (2008-2013)
From the shocking beginning in a ramshackle trailer to his last shot, Vince Gilligan went on a journey as the anti-hero (or villain, depending on how you look at it) played by the supreme Bryan Cranston. Of a character with whom we can all identify (except, of course, for the fact that in other countries the premise wouldn’t even be smelled) and the small (and big) changes that transform us .
‘Bron/Broen (The Bridge)’ (2011-2018)
Probably the greatest exponent of recent Nordic fiction and the series that opened up a whole new world of Scandinavian thrillers . A brilliant production in which a crime committed on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden forces the border police of both states to work and collaborate.
‘Buffy, cazavampiros’ (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1997-2003)
Moderately ahead of her time (decades later we are still reluctant to the idea of an action heroine), Joss Whedon envisioned her character in a film closer to Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ than to what we saw later . Not exempt from his ups and downs, especially at the beginning, as soon as the script could breathe, he offered us a great epic that has become a recent television classic.
‘Hill Street Sad Song’ (Hill Street Blues, 1981-1987)
Created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoli Cast : Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Michael Conrad, Bruce Weitz, etc.
In 2018 we lost Steven Bochco, who created what is probably one of the most influential crime shows of all time. A true classic that showed that one could skip the structure of the procedural genre to offer the complex story that surrounds a neighborhood police station. In a time of high crime and police disenchantment , that “be careful out there” stuck in the minds of millions of viewers.
It is true that in the first version of the list, he had ignored the patrons of this Boston bar. And it is that its 28 Emmy awards throughout a little more than a decade of broadcast guarantee a place on this list for the bar comedy starring Ted Danson as the ex-sportsman who is seen running a local.
I admit that I have had my qualms when it comes to listing Craig Mazin’s excellent miniseries, especially since the final judgment remains in the hands of time and only a few months have passed since the conclusion of this masterpiece. An outstanding exploration of the nuclear catastrophe that not only explores the catastrophe itself but also the racket of lies and half-truths that were spread (and still are spread) around it.
‘The golden girls’ (The Golden Girls, 1985-1992)
Imitated but never equaled, ‘The Golden Girls’ is probably one of the most mythical comedies (and with the most tender and beloved characters) on television. Susan Harris created in 1985 a magnificent ode to the friendship between four elderly women . An excellent script and some protagonists whose charisma crossed the screen.
‘Cowboy Bebop’ (1997-1998)
As the perfect anime that it is, it could not be left out . Under the idea of following a group of space bounty hunters, we find a whole philosophical treatise on existentialism and loneliness.
They say that when David Milch told HBO his idea for this series, the chain replied that they were already producing ‘Roma’. Swift and swift, he made one slight change: Instead of being set two millennia ago, his new drama would deal with the same thing, but just a century and a bit back in what is now Dakota. Dialogues as intelligent as they are foul-mouthed make up a story of ambition and power in a flourishing settlement.
‘The Twilight Zone’ (The Twilight Zone, 1959-1964)
Created by Rod Serling
Rod Serling cooks (creates, scripts, hosts… a little bit of everything) the quintessential genre anthology series. Production that, in fact, has served as a template for a multitude of subsequent series… not to mention the revivals that it has had in the sixty years that have passed since its creation, including the lukewarm version of Jordan Peele.
‘Doctor in Alaska’
The creative duo formed by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, responsible for the remarkable ‘Hospital’ (‘St. Elsewhere’), created one of the best series of the 90s : ‘Doctor in Alaska’ (‘Northern Exposure’), the story of an urban doctor displaced to a small northern town. This fish-out-of-water premise managed to start a dramedy for six seasons (although the last one had the occasional downturn), winning several awards.
‘Expediente X’ (The X-Files, 1992-2002; 2016-2018)
Despite the fact that its latest installments have not finished as expected, ‘The X-Files’ has been an influential series since its creation by Chris Carter and has marked an entire generation . The investigations of Agents Mulder and Scully and the “monster of the week” gave way to an absorbing and fascinating mythology.
There are very few examples of spin-offs that far exceed the original series. In this case, from a television classic like ‘Cheers’, a new comedy starring one of the bar’s regulars, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who was starting a new life in Seattle, came out. Between his father, his brother and him there was a chemistry that can rarely be seen on television, providing memorable scenes and dialogues
‘Freaks and Geeks’ (1999-2000)
Created by Paul Feig and sadly cancelled, we find ourselves with one of the first works of Judd Apatow’s youth universe. Set in a Michigan high school in 1980, we follow the story of a group of young students who find their place in a tremendously human and believable vision of adolescence.
It is curious that over the years ‘Friends’ has become one of the main weapons in the streaming war. Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe have become what they are thanks to dynamic, funny , somewhat absurd scripts in what is the friendship sitcom par excellence.
‘Futurama’ (1999-2003; 2008-2013)
Year 3000, a pizza delivery man awakens after a millennium in hibernation . Everyone has changed… but he hasn’t changed that much. Matt Groening and David X. Cohen elaborate a whole exercise in retrofuturism, on the one hand, and a tribute to all the science fiction that we have sucked all our lives. Casual, funny and perfect episodes.
‘Blood Brothers’ (Band of Brothers, 2001)
Without being Tom Hanks’ first collaboration with HBO, a few years before he had made ‘From the Earth to the Moon’, this time he made a perfect combo with Steven Spielberg to make ‘Blood Brothers’ (‘Band of Brothers’), an excellent war miniseries that reflected the experience of the Easy Company during the last year of World War II. An excellent drama that had a spiritual successor called ‘The Pacific’.
‘Hotel Fawlty’ (Fawlty Towes, 1975-1979)
Created by the magnificent John Cleese and with just twelve episodes in total, ‘Fawlty Towers’ followed the peculiar staff of a hotel in a hilarious comedy. One of the best British sitcoms did not have an easy run in Spain because of Manuel , the goofy Barcelona waiter played by Andrew Sachs. Both TVE and TV3 decided that it was unacceptable and decided to change their origin with mixed results.
‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-2019)
Although the “world phenomenon” factor can be quite misleading, the adaptation of George RR Martin’s novels are a sample of television in its purest state , that blockbuster and “small screen” are not at odds. While it is true that the script has suffered in recent seasons, the general level has been more than outstanding.
‘Larry David’ (Curb Your Enthusiasm 2000-2011; 2017-…)
It must be recognized that the original title, ‘Curb your enthusiasm’, fits like a glove to this “semi-autobiography” starring a post-Seinfeld Larry David claiming a position as king of comedy. Shot in a “cinema-verite” style, we meet Larry’s day-to-day life in long improvised (or “rewritten”) scenes where he twists comedy conventions.
‘Light of the Moon’ (Moonlighting, 1985-1989)
Of all the series from the eighties, this is perhaps one of the ones that surprises me the most that no one has wanted to do a remake (beyond the person in charge commenting that “the same thing”) of this drama with comic touches about private detectives starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd . A series that knew how to play very well with the couple and, furthermore, dared to innovate with episodes like ‘The dream sequence always calls twice’, with which he had problems with the chain.
‘Mad Men’ (2007-2015)
We can say a thousand things about Matthew Weiner and his character, but there is no doubt that in ‘Mad Men’ we find ourselves with a clear and rare example of a meticulously planned series from start to finish : script, direction and setting of unusual delicacy. Don Draper played by Jon Hamm has become, in a short time, an icon of the peak tv era.
‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ (1969-1974)
Four seasons and a total of 45 episodes make up what is one of the most hilarious, riveting and influential sketch comedies around. A series in which the genius no longer surprises but the ability of the comic group to continuously create new characters and new iconic situations with hardly any repetition.
‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (1995-1996)
Subverting numerous anime tropes, this revolutionary series plunges us into a complete psychological and philosophical exploration of the hero (if we can call it that) in the “between” apocalyptic world that the characters live.
‘The Office’ (2005-2013)
Maybe what I’m going to say is an exaggeration, but the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais’s creation is a masterpiece , at least in its first five or six seasons. Master in the sense that it perfects the sitcom genre becoming a whole new classic of modern television.
‘Lost’ (Lost, 2004-2010)
‘Lost’ should not have existed. It is a rare example of a series conceived by a top executive of a network and which, it is not clear how, became a phenomenon thanks to knowing how to sign the right writers with great ideas . The mystery of the island took us through six seasons with which they managed to keep us in suspense and despair discussing theories about what was really happening.
‘The prisoner’ (The Prisoner, 1967-1968)
We could count this series as one of the greatest influences on television in the last half century. A man, about whom we know little (Patrick McGoohan), is transferred to the mysterious Villa in a series that, under the excuse of espionage and mystery, navigates surrealism and ideas about individualism and free will versus mass control. .
Fruit of the crossroads of ideas between Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David , when they presented it to NBC executives, perplexity reigned in the offices. Sitcom without “sits”, during its great 180 episodes we witnessed the disagreements in life and the observations of Jerry, Costanza, Elaine and Kramer.
‘The Shield’ (2002-2008)
The FX cable chain (FOX affiliate) that has given us such good series (from ‘Louie’ to ‘Legion’ and ‘Fargo’) would not be on the map today if it weren’t because they dared to broadcast ‘The Shield’ . Impressive from his first scene From him, Shawn Ryan put Michael Chiklis in the role of Vic, leader of a police operation for which the end justifies all kinds of means. An impressive and brutal drama.
‘The Simpsons’ (1989-…)
It may be naive that, at this point and with the tremendous drop in quality suffered for more than a decade, we continue to consider the creation of Matt Groening as one of the best series in history. But it is, at least in terms of everything it has meant and influenced in the History (in capital letters) of television. Without it, the panorama of “adult” animation would be unrecognizable today.
‘The Sopranos’ (1999-2007)
If ‘Oz’, which has been left out of this list, was the great experiment for HBO, ‘The Sopranos’, the story of a mafia family in New Jersey, was the first holy cow of the cable chain and led the way to a whole new way of doing television. And that left us completely out of the game with its ending, one so unusual that people thought their television had broken. David Chase, its creator and obsessed with details, never felt the need to please the public, and that gave him great freedom when it came to writing one of the best dramas ever.
‘South Park’ (1997-…)
The animated comedy by Matt Stone and Trey Parker is another example of a series that should no longer exist due to the psychological wear and tear involved in its production (a process that means that each episode is made during the seven days prior to its broadcast). And yet, with some ups and downs, she manages to remain fresh, fun, provocative and, best of all, very accurate in her vision of the world.
Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson (Hynes) and Edgar Wright . These three names together (and who should be joined by Nick Frost) should be enough reasons to put this surreal comedy on this list. Fun, eccentric and full of details, winks and tributes to our most geeky selves.
Get Smart, 1965-1970
Already saying that the series was created by Mel Brooks (although the half left after the first season) and Buck Henry should be enough to have a place reserved for him on the list . A great parody of spy movies and shows starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon as a couple under CONTROL.
‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991; 2017)
It’s listening to those first chords of the ‘Twin Peaks’ tune and being magically transported to the rural world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost . With a third part released recently with eighteen episodes that contain some of the best that television has given in the last decade.
‘Emergencies’ (ER, 1994-2009)
Talking about ‘Emergency’ is talking about a series of action turned into one of doctors : we navigate from doctor to doctor, patient to patient with hardly any time to breathe. Almost as soon as the series begins, we go through the entire ER wing at the hands of Doctor Greene (Anthony Edwards) and the newcomer Doctor Carter (Noah Wyle) in a long sequence in which they showed that we were going to have a lot of rhythm, a lot of fast dialogue. and, above all, a magnificent medical drama.
Although the initial miniseries duo is certainly much better than the 1985 weekly series, Kenneth Johnson created something very special with ‘V’ , a tale that begins with the arrival of an alien race and all that that entails for humanity. A science fiction series with political touches that is well worth discovering.
I admit to having spent a long time thinking about whether to include ‘Veep’ or ‘The Thick of It’, the previous series by Armando Iannucci. Both political satires and, in fact, the one on HBO emerges as an adaptation of the British one. In the end I decided on the story of Selina Meyer, which we have seen finish this year because, as a series, it seems much more rounded to me. Hilarious, unstoppable and with characters who, we don’t know how, always find new ways to dialectically humiliate each other.
Although the first role that comes to mind when talking about Rowan Atkinson is that of Mr. Bean, his best work is undoubtedly the one he did as Blackadder in the great “pseudohistorical” BBC series with each “season” taking place in a different time. Co-written by Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, we find ourselves with one of those unrepeatable comedies in the history of television.
‘The Wire’ (2002-2008)
David Simon, who had just done wonders in ‘Homicide’ and ‘The Corner’ , wrote his “great American novel” with Ed Burns. An excellent criminal and social puzzle that runs from the sewers to the highest levels of the city of Baltimore. This detailed overview makes one dizzy from watching his pilot due to the feeling of having stepped into a larger than life thicket with dozens of characters involved.
1, Claudius, 1976
Although its “theatrical” aspect has been largely surpassed, the adaptation of Robert Graves’ books is, even today, a milestone on television. An excellent script with performances that 99% of the series (even some of the ones on this list) would like to aspire to with this drama set within one of the most important families in Rome.