The 20 Smartest TV Shows Since ’93

Movies & TV

For VIBE’s Big List Issue, we round up the 20 programs that served the most quality brain cuisine since 1993.

Reality foolery may give TV a bad rep. But it’s not all a dumbed-down dump yard. For every serving of junk food, there’s a bowl of Caesar salad in the form of programming like The Wire, Chappelle’s Show and Breaking Bad—shows that have turned average fans into drooling addicts. What exactly makes for smart TV?

Literary references, stellar penmanship and movielike character development are staples, for sure. But the formula for brainy television can be distilled into one simple element: presuming viewers’ intelligence. Mad Men rarely spells out the timeframe of events raging in the background (it’s the ’60s, Einstein), but that subtext is always as vital to the show as Don Draper’s afterhours highball. And if The Colbert Report’s writers didn’t presume a certain amount of sophistication beaming from sofas, loads of irony would glide like drones over people’s heads.

Ultimately, it’s what viewers bring to the table—a craving for meatier content—that makes clever shows work. Remember that next time a TV-less hipster tries to judge your couch potato tendencies. Click through for VIBE’s ranking of the top 20 smartest TV shows since 1993.

(ED NOTE: The TV shows chosen are those whose popularity peaked during the VIBE era, between 1993-2013, not the year the show premiered.)