The 100 greatest TV series of the 21st Century

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(Credit: Efe Suárez)
BBC Culture polled 206 TV experts from 43 countries in order to find the greatest TV of the 21st Century – here’s the top 100

In recent years, BBC Culture has conducted an annual poll of film critics, experts and industry figures from around the world to decide on the greatest films in a particular category: you may have come across our 100 greatest films directed by women list in 2019 and our 100 greatest non-English language films in 2018, among others. However, this year, it felt about time that we turned our attention to another art form: television. That's in part because TV has played such a crucial role in many of our lives over the past 18 months, when we have relied on it for information, entertainment, solace and inspiration in equal measure.

Read more about BBC Culture's 100 greatest TV series of the 21st Century:

How the way we watch TV has changed
What makes The Wire such a great number one 
Twenty-five series that define the 21st Century  
Why I May Destroy You is the future of TV

But also it felt like the right time to survey the television landscape because arguably it has been the defining art form of the past 21 years: where once, rightly or wrongly, it was largely patronised as cinema's younger, more rough-and-ready sibling, today its artistic credibility is unassailable, while the advent of streaming platforms has also given shows the ability to reach unprecedented global audiences all at once. And so, in order to mark TV's ascendancy, we have decided to ask the question: what are the greatest TV series of the 21st Century?

While in no way definitive, the answers we have collated are fascinating – and, we hope, will inspire TV lovers everywhere to both seek out titles they haven't seen before, and further reflect on and discuss ones they have. In total, 460 different series were voted for by 206 TV experts – critics, journalists, academics and industry figures – who came from 43 countries, from Albania to Uruguay. Of these voters, 100 were women, 104 were men, and two were non-binary. Each voter listed their 10 favourite TV series of the 21st Century, which we scored and ranked to produce the top 100 listed below.

The result is a list that stands as a true testament to the power, versatility and innovation of the medium over the last two decades, from smalltown saga Gilmore Girls and caustic meta-comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, which both kicked off in the immediate shadow of the new millennium in October 2000, to the most recent entry, Barry Jenkins' transcendent adaptation of alt-history epic The Underground Railroad, which premiered in May 2021. At the same time, while the list is wide-ranging by some metrics, there are also ways in which it reflects significant biases. Ninety-two series feature English as their primary language, with Danish, Swedish, French, Spanish and German among the other languages featured. Meanwhile 79 shows in the top 100 were created by men, and just 11 by women, with 10 by a combination of men and women. Both these statistics speak to systemic industry inequities: however with non-English language series increasingly amassing huge international audiences, and a more diverse range of voices, in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation being given creative control, the TV landscape could shift once again in crucial and inspiring ways in the future – and it will certainly be interesting to see what the results of a similar poll might be in five, 10 or 20 years' time.

To accompany the results of the poll below, you can also read a series of features reflecting on the century of TV so far. These include an essay exploring how our relationship with TV has fundamentally changed; a piece on why the poll winner, contemporary American epic The Wire, is such an enduringly powerful and insightful work; an article looking at why the most recent entry in the top 10, I May Destroy You, represents the future of TV; and an article picking out 25 other shows from the top 100 that we feel really define the 21st Century. And that’s not all: in coming weeks, we will publish further pieces reflecting on particular aspects of the post-millennial TV landscape, from the revolutionising of the period drama, to the future of the cop show, to modern comedy’s exploration of pain and trauma.

As ever, this list is designed not as an end in itself but merely as a starting point for discovery, discussion and debate. Tell us what you think – and what you think is missing – using the hashtag #TVOfTheCentury on BBC Culture's social channels. We hope you are as inspired and exhilarated by reading the results as we are – as collectively, they not only offer a celebration of TV itself, but a view of the modern era like few others: 

1          The Wire (2002-2008)
2          Mad Men (2007-2015)
3          Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
4          Fleabag (2016-2019)
5          Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
6          I May Destroy You (2020)
7          The Leftovers (2014-2017)
8          The Americans (2013-2018)
9          The Office (UK) (2001-2003)
10        Succession (2018-)
11        BoJack Horseman (2014-2020)
12        Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
13        Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
14        Atlanta (2016-)
15        Chernobyl (2019)
16        The Crown (2016-)
17        30 Rock (2006-2013)
18        Deadwood (2004-2006)
19        Lost (2004-2010)
20        The Thick of It (2005-2012)
21        Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-)
22        Black Mirror (2011-)
23        Better Call Saul (2015-2022)
24        Veep (2012-2019)
25        Sherlock (2010-2017)
26        Watchmen (2019)
27        Line of Duty (2012-2021)
28        Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
29        Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
30        Girls (2012-2017)
31        True Detective (2014-2019)
32        Arrested Development (2003-2019)
33        The Good Wife (2009-2016)
34        The Bridge (2011-2018)
35        Fargo (2014-)
36=      Downton Abbey (2010-2015)
36=      Band of Brothers (2001)
38        The Handmaid's Tale (2017-)
39        The Office (US) (2005-2013)
40        Borgen (2010-2022)
41        Schitt's Creek (2015-2020)
42        Peep Show (2003-2015)
43        Money Heist (2017-2021)
44        Community (2009-2015)
45        The Good Fight (2017-)
46        Homeland (2011-2020)
47        Grey's Anatomy (2005-)
48        Inside No 9 (2014-)
49        The Bureau (2015-)
50        Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017)
51        Small Axe (2020)
52        This is England 86, 88 and 90 (2010-2015)
53        Call My Agent! (2015-2020)
54        Happy Valley (2014-)
55        The Shield (2002-2008)
56        The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019)
57        The Young Pope (2016)
58        Dark (2017-2020)
59        The Underground Railroad (2021)
60        House of Cards (2013-2018)
61        Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)
62=      The Good Place (2016-2020)
62=      Pose (2018-2021)
64        Detectorists (2014-2017)
65        Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)
66        Mare of Easttown (2021)
67        RuPaul's Drag Race (2009-)
68        Stranger Things (2016-)
69        24 (2001-2010)
70        Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
71        Enlightened (2011-2013) 
72        Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
73        Planet Earth (2006)
74        Utopia (2013-2014)
75        Babylon Berlin (2017-)
76        Rick and Morty (2013-)
77        American Crime Story (2016-)
78        The Killing (Denmark) (2007-2012)
79        Mindhunter (2017-2019)
80        House (2004-2012)
81        OJ: Made in America (2016)
82        Big Little Lies (2017-2019)
83        Insecure (2016-2021)
84=      Normal People (2020)
84=      Narcos (2015-2017)
86        How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
87        The Comeback (2005-2014)
88        The OA (2016-2019)
89        Dexter (2006-2013)
90        It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-)
91        Westworld (2016-)
92        Show Me a Hero (2015)
93        Treme (2010-2013)
94        Louie (2010-2015)
95        Luther (2010-2019)
96        Catastrophe (2015-2019)
97        Hannibal (2013-2015)
98        Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019)
99        Steven Universe (2013-2020)
100      The Queen's Gambit (2020)

Read more about BBC Culture's 100 greatest TV series of the 21st Century:

Who voted?
How the way we watch TV has changed
What makes The Wire such a great number one 
Twenty-five series that define the 21st Century  
Why I May Destroy You is the future of TV

How many of these series have you seen? Let us know using the hashtag #TVOfTheCentury on our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.

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