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The 50 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now

Photo: Vulture and Amazon

This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest shows to leave and enter Amazon Prime. *New additions are indicated by an asterisk.

So you probably paid for Amazon Prime for the free shipping and exclusive sales, and now you’re wondering what you could get out of its streaming service, too. We’ve already highlighted the 100 best movies that can be streamed free with your Prime subscription, but maybe you’re in the mood for a TV show? Amazon Prime has a growing catalogue of original series, including shows that have already won Emmys, and it has the most robust catalogue of HBO hits of any streaming service. You’ll find a healthy sampling of both in this regularly updated feature, along with some network-TV classics you may have forgotten or missed the first time around. Happy streaming.

The Americans
There’s a nice array of FX programming on Amazon Prime, and this is arguably the network’s best program in its esteemed history. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Russian spies living like normal ’80s suburbanites, but what first seemed like a straightforward espionage thriller became a rich, nuanced commentary on family and trust. When lists are released of the best programs of the 2010s on any network or streaming service, this will be on most of them.

*American Horror Story
The multiple seasons of FX’s hit show have been a rollercoaster in terms of quality but just strap in and enjoy the ride. The latest outing (Apocalypse) isn’t quite on here yet but should be before the newest iteration (1984) premieres in September. The other seven are all here. Start with Murder House, of course, which is still the best of the seven seasons, but almost all of them have interesting beats, especially the underrated 2017 outing Cult.

Angels in America
There is a remarkable amount of prime-era HBO on Amazon Prime, so this is just the first of many dramas, comedies, and limited series aired by the pioneers of Prestige TV that you’ll find on this list. Mike Nichols directed this 2003 miniseries adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece by Tony Kushner, who adapted his own play. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson star in a project that really helped transform the limited series from what it used to be in the ’80s and ’90s to the creative force that it is now.

Band of Brothers
One of the best limited TV series of all time, 2001’s Band of Brothers was the kind of television event that feels rare even today. This landmark in the medium was created by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, adapted from the WWII history book of the same name by Stephen E. Ambrose, and it’s quite simply one of the best things that ever aired on TV. Pay tribute to the brave men who fought in WWII in this deeply personal, moving blend of history and filmmaking.

Battlestar Galactica
No, not the 1978 B-classic, the incredibly smart 2004 reboot (that actually started with a 2003 miniseries that is also available to Prime users). Ronald D. Moore’s complete reimagining of the world of Cylons and the Colonies really helped transcend expectations when it came to dramatic television. It fizzled too quickly, but the first couple years of this sci-fi series were brilliant. The New York Times went as far as to recently call it one of the 20 best TV shows since The Sopranos. See why.

Big Love
HBO’s family drama never got the attention it deserved, often falling in the shadow of other giants on the service like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. It feels like viewers couldn’t quite get past the icky factor within the concept of spending time with a man who has multiple wives, but this look at modern Mormon culture has one of the best ensembles of the Peak TV era, including great work from Bill Paxton, Chloë Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Boardwalk Empire
Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese teamed up for this mesmerizing adaptation of Nelson Johnson’s nonfiction book that never quite got the critical or commercial attention it deserved. Steve Buscemi stars as Nucky Thompson in one of the most lavishly detailed period dramas ever to air on television. Buscemi is great, but this one hums because of its supporting cast, including great turns from Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Kenneth Williams, and, most of all, Jack Huston.

There aren’t nearly as many great original Amazon Prime shows on this list as there are great original Netflix shows on the list we’ve dedicated to that streaming giant. Still, we had to make room for the always-reliable Bosch, an old-fashioned detective drama with a charismatic lead performance from Titus Welliver, who transcends the stale anti-hero setup to do something that feels grounded and subtle.

*The Boys
One of Amazon’s most interesting original programs for 2019 is this satire of superhero culture based on the graphic novel by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The series stars Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, someone intent on bringing down the collection of the most famous superheroes in the world known as The Seven. The dark comedy asks the question: What if superheroes were sociopaths? The first season is a bit rocky, but ultimately satisfying, and it’s already been renewed for year two.

One of the shows that we fervently believe needs a closure movie like the one granted Deadwood fans, Daniel Knauf’s period drama–fantasy feels like it has more devoted fans now than it did when HBO axed it after only two seasons. Cut in a wave of cancellations of programming deemed too expensive, Carnivale was never really given a chance to find an audience when it aired in the aughts, but those who loved it then really loved it and services like Amazon Prime continue to grow the fan base. Maybe that movie really will happen someday.

J.K. Simmons stars in this sci-fi drama about a man who discovers that there’s an alternate universe, just under our own, and people in power have been accessing it for years. He discovers this when he meets his counterpart, an alternate version of himself who just happens to be a trained operative. Imagine realizing how different you could have been. It’s smart TV that was sadly canceled after only two seasons.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
At its best, TV doesn’t get much funnier than Larry David’s Emmy-winning creation, a largely improvised comedy course in cringe humor that redefined cable TV. David stars as a fictionalized version of himself, an L.A. writer who doesn’t really like, well, anything. For each episode, David would roughly outline a plot and then his cast would improvise, leading to brilliant performances from people like Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, and a revolving door of funny people like Richard Lewis and Ted Danson playing themselves.

All of the people raving about Glenn Close’s near Oscar win for The Wife should look at some of the work she’s done on television over the last couple decades, including a searing guest turn on The Shield and her award-winning work on this FX hit. The first season, in which Close’s high-powered attorney faces off with Rose Byrne’s recent graduate, is as good as this kind of television gets. And the show kept refreshing itself with new guest stars each season, including William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant, Martin Short, Campbell Scott, John Goodman, and Ryan Phillippe.

One of the best television shows of all time just returned to HBO over a decade after its cancellation in the form of Deadwood: The Movie. If you’re wondering why fans were so excited to revisit David Milch’s Western, the three seasons of the program are sitting there on Amazon Prime to educate you. This is one of the smartest, deepest shows in the history of television, a program that takes what we think we know about history and the Old West and uses it to tell human stories that resonate today. It’s also got arguably the best overall ensemble in TV history.

Doctor Who
Both the classic episodes and the current ones are on Amazon Prime, but this listing is more for the modern fans of the show. The legacy of the doctor really changed when Russell T. Davies was given the reins to update the program for a new generation and introduced fans to his vision of the show, which has led to several of the most beloved doctors in the program’s history, including Christopher Eccleston, Matt Smith, and David Tennant. On and off since the show’s return to prominence in 2005, Doctor Who has delivered some of the smartest science fiction on television.

Do you love Laura Dern on Big Little Lies? Sure, she’s great there, but this is not the first time that she’s been award-worthy on HBO. Do yourself a favor and check out her brilliant character work as Amy Jellicoe on Mike White’s two-season dramedy. Dern and White completely reinvented the cliché of the character who hits rock bottom with this razor-sharp program, which co-stars Luke Wilson, Diane Ladd, Jason Mantzoukas, Robin Wright, Molly Shannon, and Dermot Mulroney. It’s a shame we only got two seasons, but they’re both perfect.

*Escape at Dannemora
Ben Stiller produced this highly-acclaimed mini-series about the 2015 escape of two prisoners from a New York correctional facility. Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano are excellent as the convicts, but the series really belongs to Patricia Arquette as the woman they manipulate into helping facilitate their escape.

The best original series yet produced by Amazon Prime, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy went from good to great in its masterful second season, one of the best things you can watch on any service or any network. PWB plays the title character, a modern woman looking for stability in a tumultuous life, but that makes Fleabag sound like just another generic comedy when it’s anything but. Just see for yourself.

Is this the best spinoff ever? Why don’t you watch the massive NBC hit that won so many Emmys that they practically had to disqualify it to let other people get a chance and get back to us? In all seriousness, the saga of Frasier Crane and his put-upon brother, Niles, has held up marvelously. Frasier’s regularly defeated pomposity will never not be funny.

Friday Night Lights
“Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.” TV hasn’t really been the same without Coach Taylor, the leading man of this NBC hit that aired from 2006 to 2011. There’s a remarkable array of quality highs and lows in that five-year run, but when this story of smalltown life and sports-centric communities was at its best, it was very, very good. Progressive in the way it handled the lives of young people without talking down to them, the series is ripe for a reappreciation as one of network TV’s best modern shows.

HBO gets a lot of attention for changing the face of TV drama, but they have had just as big an influence on comedy with shows like Sex and the City, Veep, and this Lena Dunham creation. Sure, she’s divisive and the show is inconsistent, but it has moments of undeniable brilliance over its entire run, and Amazon Prime is a great way to find those series highlights and remember when this show was one of the most-buzzed in the world.

The Good Wife
Was CBS’s award winner the last great network-TV drama? This political-legal drama aired on CBS from 2009 to 2016 and barely registered in terms of ratings, which means you probably haven’t seen most of it. You should correct that oversight, then go and check out the spinoff The Good Fight on CBS All Access, which is arguably even better. Even CBS has moved its best programming to subscription services. It’s the future.

It will never be easy to explain how something as daring, violent, and downright strange as Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of the world of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter made it to network television. For three seasons, NBC aired one of the most ambitious dramas in the history of TV. Mads Mikkelsen slid suavely into the giant shoes of Anthony Hopkins and made this character completely his own, but this was Fuller’s show most of all. One only hopes he someday gets the chance to revisit this world and make the fourth season, in which they had planned to introduce their take on Clarice Starling.

Julia Roberts and Stephan James headline one of the most daring original shows on Amazon Prime, this thriller-drama about memory, conspiracy, and connection. Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) directs this adaptation of the hit podcast about a social worker played brilliantly by Roberts. She’s the head of a project designed to help soldiers reacclimate to civilian life, but there’s something suspicious going on. Bobby Cannavale and Shea Whigham give wonderful supporting performances.

No offense to the ensemble of this Fox hit, which was pretty solid, but this is one of those network shows that lived and died on the strength of its charismatic leading man. In this case, it was Hugh Laurie, as Dr. House, the smartest man in any room and someone not afraid to wield his intelligence like a weapon. At a time when it felt like there were no new stories to tell in the medical-drama subgenre, House proved that theory wrong.

In Treatment
Streaming services would come along and redefine how people watched TV, but companies were experimenting with the structure of the form before that. Take HBO’s In Treatment, which actually aired on the cable network five nights a week during its first season, visiting a different patient of its protagonist therapist (Gabriel Byrne) every day. The structure allowed for different supporting players every year, highlighting amazing performances from Alison Pill, Hope Davis, Mia Wasikowska, John Mahoney, Debra Winger, Dane DeHaan, and more.

If you only know Timothy Olyphant from Deadwood or Santa Clarita Diet, you’re missing out on what is really his most fully realized, multi-dimensional character: U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. The lawman who relocates to Lexington, Kentucky, finds himself caught up in all kinds of drama over the show’s six seasons, much of it spurred on by a shoulda-won-an-Emmy performance from Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, one of the most interesting TV characters of the modern era.

The Killing
AMC’s hit mystery series became a controversial chapter in TV history when its first season didn’t end with a resolution to its central murder mystery. Fans were furious, and the outrage likely inspired the limited-series approach we now see way more often. A network or streaming company wouldn’t dare leave a murder unsolved from season to season now. The controversy overshadowed a show that had decent episodes after that first season, too, although it would never quite live up to year one’s captivating examination of the ripple effect of an unspeakable crime.

Amazon Prime is a bit behind Netflix when it comes to the true-crime docu-series, as its main competition seems to spew out another one every other week. But Amazon Prime has arguably the best one in this searing, fascinating look at the story of Lorena Bobbit, the woman who became internationally recognized after severing her husband’s penis. You may think you know this story. You really don’t.

If you only know Idris Elba from The Wire, you only know part of his greatness. He’s even better here as DCI John Luther, a violent, obsessed cop who has looked into the dark side so many times that it has forever changed him. It’s simultaneously a great cop-mystery show and a fantastic character piece, anchored by a fearless performance from Elba.

The Man in the High Castle
Now that this loose adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story has completed its four-season run, you can sort of watch it like a 40-hour movie. So many shows hook you without any promise of a resolution, but Man in the High Castle does legitimately wrap up a lot of its loose ends while ending ambiguously enough to make Dick fans happy. And Rufus Sewell gives arguably the most underrated performance on TV of the 2010s.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Amazon Prime’s Emmy winner for Best Original Comedy Series has become a beloved property in an incredibly short amount of time. It’s easy to see why. Rachel Brosnahan gives a delightful, charming performance as the title character, an unexpectedly great stand-up comedian, but it’s the ensemble that really elevates this show, including Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub, and Marin Hinkle — all Emmy worthy in their own right.

*Mr. Robot
It lost some of its spark over the years, but there was something worth watching in all four seasons of USA’s hit show, and the first three are now available on Prime (you can buy the fourth, as of this writing). Rami Malek plays a hacker named Elliot, who is recruited to join an elite group of tech revolutionaries, and, well…things get weird. You should definitely check out at least the first season, an award winner that really stands on its own.

*The Night Manager
AMC presented this adaptation of the hit novel by John le Carré, which was nominated for and won awards around the world, including two Emmys and three Golden Globes. It’s a story of international intrigue and betrayal, starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Holllander, and Elizabeth Debicki. And it’s a self-contained story, the perfect thing to binge on a weekend on Amazon Prime.

Does anyone else miss the days when network TV produced dramas as reliably well-written and performed as this Stephen Bochco hit? Sure, the 12 seasons of this ABC cop drama fluctuated wildly in terms of quality, but when NYPD Blue was good, it was among the best shows on television. And it rarely gets the credit it deserves for reshaping the form in terms of what was allowed for adult audiences. TV wouldn’t be the same today without it.

Orphan Black
There are two kinds of people: Those who think Tatiana Maslany is an incredible actress and those who have never seen Orphan Black. It’s impossible not to be wowed by what Maslany accomplished over the five seasons of this show, really giving multiple performances instead of just one. It’s a modern sci-fi classic that feels like it will only grow in popularity as new viewers find it on services like Amazon Prime.

HBO’s reshaping of the TV landscape didn’t start with The Sopranos. While David Chase’s wildly successful show often gets credit as an influencer, it feels like not enough people recognize that Tom Fontana’s Oz came before it and was really one of the key programs to make it clear that “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” was more than just a slogan. Still a program that would be powerful and searing if it aired two decades later, Oz is one of the cable network’s most essential building blocks.

Parks and Recreation
If The Office has a challenger in the department of best modern network workplace comedies, it’s this brilliant program, a show that took a few seasons to really find its groove but then never looked back. By season three, when Rob Lowe and Adam Scott are on the show and the writers have learned how to write for their amazing ensemble, this was one of the funniest shows on TV. We still miss it.

Sex and the City
Are you old enough to remember when Carrie Bradshaw ruled comedy television? There was a window when a new Sex and the City was the biggest cultural event around. This show was at the peak of its popularity pre-DVR, and people canceled plans to see what the ladies of Sex and the City were up to now. It paved the way for shows like Girls and even Big Little Lies on the network. See why.

Six Feet Under
Peter Krause headlined this HBO drama from Alan Ball that incorporated issues of family and grief in ways that television hadn’t really done before. Sure, there had been family dramas on network TV for generations but none that explored the issues of how much family ties can bind with the adult flavor of what was often one of the best shows on TV. Ball & Co. couldn’t quite keep the quality level up for the entire run, but they did stick the landing with one of the best series finales of all time.

The Sopranos
Maybe you’ve heard of it? Often cited as the best TV show of all time, David Chase’s award-winning masterpiece can truly be credited with altering the landscape forever. Who knew when Tony Soprano sat down to talk to his therapist about panic attacks that a cultural phenomenon would come from it? The first season of The Sopranos is a perfect season of television. Just watch it and try not to be hooked enough to watch it all. Maybe even twice.

Star Trek
Don’t start yelling at us — we’re not dumb enough to pick a favorite and so we’re just bundling all the current Star Trek offerings on Amazon into this one entry. The truth is you could spend DAYS watching just Star Trek episodes on Amazon. It has the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Why not watch ’em all and pick your favorite? We’re too scared.

True Blood
For a time, this “Twilight but for adults” was one of the most wonderful guilty pleasures on television. Grounded by an underrated performance from Anna Paquin, True Blood was unabashedly for adults, full of sex, violence, and things that go bump in the night. It was the kind of show for which it was best to leave things like logic and reason at the door and just go with its heady mix of fantasy and lust. To be honest, it would be nice if there were more shows this purely fun now.

Often forgotten when people discuss the most influential and important shows of the Peak TV era, this massive Fox hit is still wildly entertaining, even if some of its politics now look even more problematic than they did in the aughts. If you can ignore some of the show’s stereotypes, you’ll see that Kiefer Sutherland has never been better than he is as the iconic Jack Bauer, one of the most beloved TV characters of the modern era. The best seasons of 24 are more entertaining than any action movie released this year in theaters.

The Twilight Zone
One of the best shows of all time was just recently (and divisively) rebooted, this time by the one and only Jordan Peele. Why not catch up with Rod Serling’s wildly influential creation, a show that still works brilliantly more than a half-century after it first aired, before you return to The Twilight Zone? This is the kind of TV that will never truly grow old, with visions that tap into our greatest fears, anxieties, and needs. It was a masterpiece then, and it’s a masterpiece now.

Twin Peaks
Those of us old enough to remember when the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer dominated the cultural conversation will never forget it. There had never been anything like Twin Peaks on television, and there wouldn’t really be anything like it again until David Lynch returned to this world 25 years later. Sadly, the Showtime reboot isn’t on here yet, but catch up with the original and mark the days until it is.

There’s not enough formal experimentalism on streaming services, which really should be free to take more risks than they do. That’s one of the reasons this animated drama is never leaving this list – because there’s nothing else like it. The story of a woman investigating her own past and mental illness is rotoscoped animation (like Waking Life) and the form allows visual ingenuity that feeds the emotion of the plot. Be patient with it. It starts slowly, but really comes together.

When people write the history books about television comedy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s performance as Selina Meyer will need its own chapter. When someone dominates a genre so much that they win multiple Emmys, it can often feel like overkill, but it’s impossible to deny that JLD has deserved every single one. Her comic timing here is literally perfect, and she’s supported by one of modern TV’s best ensembles too.

A Very English Scandal
Amazon Prime doesn’t have as many standout miniseries as some of the other streaming giants, but it has one of the best in this dark comedy about one of London’s most notorious political scandals. The BBC One co-production details the saga of Jeremy Thorpe, unforgettably played by Hugh Grant, and how he tried to have his lover murdered. Ben Whishaw matches Grant in the acting department, and the direction by Stephen Frears and writing by Russell T. Davies are both award worthy.

The Wire
Television doesn’t get more ambitious than David Simon’s five-season examination of life in a modern city. Using Baltimore as his template, Simon looks at every aspect of urban life, starting with what first seems like a simple-but-smart look at cops and criminals and expanding the canvas to include dock workers, educators, journalists, and politicians over the course of the series run. There’s a reason some people consider this the best show in the history of television.

*The Expanse
You know how when a show is canceled, and its fans rally with online petitions and angry tweets to save it? Every once in a long while, it actually works! When SyFy canceled this adaptation of James S. A. Corey’s books after three seasons, Amazon picked it up, and a fourth season will premiere in December 2019. Before then, catch up with a smart sci-fi show that owes a great deal to Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and some of the best of the Star Trek universe.

The 50 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now