16 Smartest TV Shows of All Time

The television is called the ‘idiot box’ and a lot of film watchers have a tendency to look down on television show watchers because they feel that television show content is sometimes inferior and not up to the mark. It truly was hard to counter this claim earlier because the kind of television shows available were generic entertainment programs. However, for quite sometime television shows have been kicking it up a notch and there are plenty of shows that can boast of intellectual stimulation and top-notch direction. So without much ado, we bring to you our list of TV shows for smart people to enjoy. You can watch many of these intelligence shows on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

16. The Simpsons

The longest-running American television show and it hardly gets better than this. An animated show, the plot follows the life of the Simpsons – a working-class American family. The writers have depicted the working class condition, satirized religions, politicians and authority figures. The show has also had valuable commentary on education systems, environmental concerns, and they do all this while packing a laugh. It has gained notoriety too for uncannily predicting several events like Donald Trump’s presidency, Disney’s purchase of Fox and even smartwatches. A show that includes various celebrity figures and points out the societal flaws, this show is a truly great work of art and it would take a really smart mind to appreciate the brilliance of The Simpsons.

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15. Rick And Morty

An animated adult science fiction show, the tale revolves around a mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his grandson Morty Smith. They go on various interdimensional adventures with Morty’s grounded nature serving as a foil to Rick’s Machiavellian ego. The show is tailored for smart people because of the philosophy it portrays so brilliantly – a nihilistic outlook towards the entirety of human existence and the insignificance of it all in the scheme of the vastness of the universe. The show expertly combines both Lovecraftian and Nietzsche’s philosophies and delivers a humorous content with some serious philosophical material serving as the base.

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14. Mr. Robot

Rami Malek plays Elliot, a cyber-security engineer.

Created by Sam Esmail, this thriller drama stars Rami Malek in the lead role as Elliot Anderson. A show about cyberhacking primarily, it focuses on various societal and psychological issues. Some of the notable societal issues it deals with are a postmodern simulacrum, exploitative capitalism and authoritative surveillance. Elliot deals with his personal problems like clinical depression and social anxiety. He also has dissociative tendencies and obviously influenced by Fight Club, he has a destructive alter ego modeled after his deceased father. The references to Fight Club alone should be enough to get a smart person started on this show and the issues it deals with are just cherries on an already delicious cake.

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13. BoJack Horseman

An animated black comedy-drama this show is one of the finer animated shows on television right now. The show is set in an alternate world where humans and part human-part animals live side by side. Set in Los Angeles, the show deals with several issues such as celebrity culture and satirizes Hollywood. Apart from taking a jab at current politics, and the show business, what BoJack does even more brilliantly takes on realistically very serious mental health problems such as addiction, depression, and trauma. The ability of the show to portray such serious issues while maintaining an air of humor around its narrative makes it one of the smartest television shows to have been made, a show that would require a smart audience to truly appreciate it.

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12. Breaking Bad

There can absolutely be no comprehensive television list of any worth without mentioning this giant. Undoubtedly the best television show ever made, Breaking Bad is an intellectual delight for a plotline that is airtight and a character development arc that is painstakingly built and nearly perfect. While the subject matter might appeal to a vast viewer demography as I am sure it was intended, it takes a smart mind to appreciate the smaller details like the filler episodes, for example, the fly episode. I don’t really need to urge the viewers to watch this show, but just know this, if you haven’t watched it yet, you’re missing out on a great experience in your lifetime.

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11. Fargo

Fargo

Produced by the Coen brothers, this series shares the same name as the famous film by the brothers. It could be categorized as miniseries to some extent as it runs for three seasons with each season bringing a different cast and character. A black comedy crime drama, this series will keep your mind on its toes at all times. Characters make sudden changes especially the interesting ones like Lorne Malvo and the most unexpected things happen in a mundane manner. The Coen brothers have always shown an intrigue about the unpredictability of life and how little we are in control, and the television show shares the same ideology and aesthetic. If you’re trying to make sense of why things are happening it’ll leave you frustrated, so I’d suggest that viewers relax and enjoy the story unfurl.

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10. The Sopranos 

Why is a television show about a New Jersey mafia boss ranked higher than much smarter shows? I’m sure you’re thinking that – I mean yes, sure, the show took a different approach in including a psychoanalytic perspective by introducing a shrink and making Tony Soprano visit the shrink to try and balance his family life and his job. But that’s hardly new, no this show deserves its place here for a very special reason. This show opened the gate for all this other great content that I have spoken about or will speak about. This was one of the first shows that revolutionized television shows and showed the world that great television shows could be made. Added to that, it extensively developed its characters, almost as well, if not as well as Breaking Bad. Lastly, just to satiate your intellectual hunger, the ending of the show is a puzzle that’ll leave you guessing.

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9. Sense8 

A show made for Netflix where the Wachowski sisters (of Matrix fame) on board. The sci-fi show already sounds like it’ll be a success, and this show is. A story about eight people who are connected mentally and emotionally, the show includes an ensemble cast. The best bit about the show is the various hot topics and issues it deals with, issues that plague our society but are often ignored by television shows because the content becomes too heavy. However, the good shows can capture such content effortlessly and Sense8 does just that. If you’re looking for a science fiction show that makes you think, this is one of the best out there.

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8. Utopia

A British television series, this thriller drama is known for its stunning visual beauty and its violent action. A story that follows a group of people who discover a manuscript which is a sequel to a graphic novel and the manuscript holds keys to disasters which have not yet occurred. The show makes a smart turn in referencing to some of the real-life disasters like the fall of the Labour government and it takes a smart mind to catch the references to the real-life incidents. I’ve given one hint away, and I know that a smart mind will catch the other references, so definitely do watch the show carefully.

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7. Twin Peaks

David Lynch is a cerebral director. This goes without saying. Lynch also likes to take time to set up his stories, he gets the audience to expect one thing and then pulls a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat. He has some difficulty in doing this to his satisfaction in films due to a time constraint, but give Lynch his own television show and he will blow your mind. Twin Peaks is a horror, mystery drama show about the death of Laura Palmer, a popular high school girl. The case gets FBI agent Dale Cooper to come to this small enchanting town and he eventually uncovers a plot that includes serious supernatural ramifications. The show is characterized by Lynch’s trademark surrealistic scenes and really offbeat humor. Twin Peaks is a thinking person’s show – not just in terms of the act of detection itself, which seems to lead to multiple blind alleys, but the mystery the town hides, and its shifty characters, the supernatural truth that lies deep within the town, all of it culminates to make this show a tumultuous thinking exercise, a show that is truly Lynchian.

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6. Westworld 

Created by Jonathan Nolan, this show was always destined for success. A western science fiction thriller, the narrative follows the exploits of people in a fictional Westworld – a wild west themed amusement park with androids and visitors can do whatever they wish without fear of retaliation from the hosts. The show’s narrative, visuals, and directorial approach is beyond extraordinary and deserves high praise. However, the expert handling of issues such as human agency, capturing the human condition and the depravity some people will go to when the fear of consequences is taken away, are all issues to ponder upon and the show ensures that viewers really are forced to face these questions.

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5. Sherlock

This one is rather obvious. A television show about arguably the world’s greatest detective. The show has some excellent moments especially in the seasons that deal with Sherlock and Moriarty locking horns. The modern-day adaptation makes it a refreshing twist on the traditional Victorian detective. The process of ratiocination is shown in a very smart manner with text pop-ups on screen. Undoubtedly one of the better shows on television some of Sherlock’s stunts will leave you guessing. Major spoiler – the fans have not yet figured out what really transpired on the roof between Sherlock and Moriarty. Think you’re up to the task of solving Sherlock’s puzzle? Watch the show.

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4. True Detective (Season 1)

True Detective would have ranked way higher on this list but they really botched up the second season. By botched up, I don’t really mean that they did a terrible job, but it was nowhere close to the brilliance of season 1. The first season stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. What makes the first season brilliant is the painstakingly shown police gruntwork and investigative process. It’s not just the show but the character of Rust Cohle – the nihilist philosophy that Cohle embraces in his outlook towards crime and society makes the character an absolute intellectual delight. While season 2 boasts of far more characters and brings in a few more dimensions, the characters aren’t as intellectually deep or stimulating as Cohle, so we recommend season 1 definitely, but don’t be surprised if you end up enjoying season 2 as well.

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3. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

What do you get when you have Oxford and Cambridge graduates coming together to make a comic show? You get the Pythonesque humor. This show’s humor is impossible to categorize but includes elements of political satire, gags, surrealist humor and innuendo-laden humor. The subject of the jokes is usually the idiosyncratic British lifestyle and the comic group makes numerous erudite references to famous philosophers and literary figures. It is a truly intellectual comedy, perhaps the most intellectual comedy out there and it requires an equally smart audience to grasp the jokes made on the show completely – definitely a herculean task for anyone but the smartest of audiences.

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2. Black Mirror

Created by Charlie Brooker, this is currently the smartest television show still in running. A British science fiction show, the seasons consist of standalone episodes. An underlying theme of these episodes would be the human condition and the dependency on technology. The settings are usually alternative presents or near future scenarios. The issues it deals with like social media validation, addiction to the spectacle of gruesomeness and desensitization and various other controversial issues of the present day world, make it a show that only thinking individuals will appreciate in its entirety. The show has recently inspired a seminar session by the Irish circle of Lacanian psychoanalysts which goes to show the kind of thinking material that is put out by this series.

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1. Mindhunter

There are shows that are psychological dramas. Then, there are shows that are about criminal investigations. And then, beyond everything that you might have seen, comes along a show that transcends the trappings of crime or psychological thrillers. We are talking about possibly the best show of 2017: Mindhunter. It is show so well crafted that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. But the real pleasure will be felt by those who like to watch shows that challenge them intellectually. And if you are open to intellectual stimulation, trust me, at the end of the show you will feel you know human mind more than what you did before the show.

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1 comment

  • While I tend to agree with your selection, there are a few glaring omissions:

    Billions (probably one of the smartest shows on tv right now)
    Better Call Saul (absofuckingbrilliant in storytelling and character development)
    Shameless (again, storytelling and character development)

    minor omissions:
    Hannibal (visually the most stunning of them all)
    Stranger Things (brilliant setting)
    West Wing (can be a bit dry but smart as hell!)