If you have been paying attention, you will know that there is a lot of good TV on the air right now. In fact, some might say that there is too much good TV right now – between the basic channels, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and paid cable like HBO – and, if you wanted to keep up with every show that has been deemed “good,” you’d need to make it your full-time job. Still, even if TV-watching isn’t your career, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that some shows are decidedly cool, and other shows are, well, not that cool. The only problem? It can be hard to tell which is which sometimes. Since pretty much every network seems to have at least one attempt at a prestigious show in the ring, it’s not as easy to determine as you might think. See, shows that are technically good are not always cool (Shameless, Last Week Tonight), while shows that are generally acknowledged as being cool are not always good (Gilmore Girls, Orange Is The New Black).
It should be noted that watching a TV show simply because it’s technically prestigious is no way to go about life. Doing so will impress, like, your substitute English teacher and maybe a boy who goes to art school and has a meme account on Instagram and will string you along for a few weeks before telling you that he’s moving to the desert to finally write that poetry book he’s been threatening to write for a while, but that’s it. There is simply too much good TV in the world to spend time on ones that you don’t actively love, so don’t force yourself to watch The Wire just because you think it’ll give you pedigree.
Besides, you can apply intelligence to pretty much anything you watch – many of the smartest people I know are also the ones who are most invested in shows that are commonly thought of as being trashy. There is absolutely a deeper meaning to be extracted from your Vanderpump Rules and your Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Still, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a proficient knowledge of a few key TV shows, if only because talking about Mad Men with someone will almost certainly make your extensive knowledge of the Bachelor franchise that much more impressive. So, check out these TV shows that will make you seem much cooler than you actually are:
Mad MenIf you're looking for the most masturbatory, self-indulgent type of prestige TV with the most masturbatory, self-indulgent fans, you won't find a much better example than Mad Men. (For the record: I love Mad Men. This is a self-drag.) The show, which is consistently lauded as one of the best shows of all time, centers around an ad agency in the 1960s and, most importantly, the deeply troubled creative director of the agency, Don Draper. This show was one of the earliest users of the "troubled, handsome white man whose life is a wreck but he's good at his job" trope that permeates too many TV shows today, but the Don Draper character is so well done (and has a bunch of awesome female characters to counteract his BS) that it's worth it. Image source: AMC
The WireAh, The Wire. Where does one begin with The Wire? I took a course on The Wire while I was in liberal arts school, and wrote multiple papers on The Wire, and I still don't think I could tell you everything you need to know about The Wire. The show is about the drug trade in Baltimore, with each of its five seasons focusing on a different theme. It's about cops, drug dealers, and the kids that often get caught between both of these opposing forces, so be warned: It's sad and gruesome, often at a level that feels like it would be gratuitous if things like it weren't happening every day, so it's probably not the best TV show to watch right before bed. The Wire was mostly looked over, awards-wise, when it was on the air, but has managed to maintain a legacy over time as being one of the most insightful shows of its era. As with every show on this list, you should watch it just because it's good, but you'll also get some points of self-pride for watching a show that has inspired multiple $100-plus academic textbooks. Image source: HBO
30 Rock30 Rock went off the air in 2013, and I have been missing it with my whole heart ever since. This show, which was created by Tina Fey and portrays her in a (probably) semi-autobiographical role as the head writer of a sketch comedy show, who is forced by her new boss (Alec Baldwin) to hire a high-maintenance, mentally unstable comedian for the series. And, uh, that's it--it's basically a perfect workplace comedy and has the most jokes per minute out of any other show, so if you're into manic, fast-paced comedy, this show is for you. Image source: NBC
Arrested DevelopmentArrested Development is one of those shows that, like 30 Rock, has currency in its quotes. Even if you've never seen the show before, you're probably familiar with some of its classic lines, like, "I've made a huge mistake" and "There's always money in the banana stand. If you've seen a few episodes, you can definitely win over the heart of someone you meet at your first college party (I mean, you don't have to, but you can) Anyway, it's just really funny. If you watch it, know it well, and somehow manage to maintain an ability not to be super smug about it, you'll be the coolest person in any room you're ever in. (Also: Why does no one talk about the fact that Arrested Development and The O.C., two important and iconic shows that began in 2003, both have major plot points that center around a model home? I won't say anything more about it. But I do want you to think about it.) Image source: Fox
Friday Night LightsFriday Night Lights--which is about a high school football team in Texas--is probably the most earnest offering on this list. Still, this show is one of those cult hits that, thanks to its stellar writing, true-to-life characters, and longstanding residency on Netflix, has managed to maintain enough relevancy to still be cool. To reap its benefits, all you have to do is say, "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" to the right person, and you'll be golden. Image source: NBC
Broad CityWant to make sense out of all the gifs you've seen on Tumblr? Watch Broad City. The idea behind this show--which is about two twenty-something BFFs who live in New York City and spend most of their time trying to scheme ways to make rent and get into cool, exclusive parties--has been done before, obviously, but Broad City is so funny that the narrative seems fresh. If you want extra cool points, you can watch the OG Broad City webseries that eventually became the Comedy Central show most people know of today. Image source: Comedy Central
The SopranosFull disclosure: I have never seen The Sopranos. (I am not that cool!) But I do know that the show, which is about a mob boss who starts to see a therapist to deal with his professional and personal problems, is generally thought of as being one of the best--if not the best--shows of all time. So, watch The Sopranos. Or, just tell everyone you've watched The Sopranos. It doesn't matter much to me! Either way, you win. Image source: HBO
Do you watch any of these TV shows? Do you have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments!