1. The Wire (2002-2008)
You've heard this one before: The Wire is the best show HBO's ever made. During its five-season run, David Simon and George Pelecanos' Baltimore-based drama earned heaps of critical praise, but suffered from poor ratings and a lack of mainstream awards (it won zero Primetime Emmys), all of which combined to make Wire fandom a cultural signifier. It went so far as to become parody; oh, you like The Wire? You must be so cool and smart! Stepping back from the show's reputation, however, you can find what made it such an innovative, intricate, and exciting show in the first place. After the first season introduced viewers to the Avon Barksdale crew, a twist on the anthology format took us inside the corrupt dealings of dockworkers, revealing the depths Simon's writing would plumb and the controversial ideas the show would tackle (Season 3's drug legalization plotline is one of many examples). Everything in The Wire is connected, and everyone is a little bit tainted, with politics, police, drugs, race, and crime intersecting through the troubled personal lives of iconic characters like Avon, Stringer Bell, McNulty, Greggs, Bunny, Bunk, and, of course, Omar. The show's fourth season, set largely in Baltimore's education system, masterfully demonstrates the futility of human intervention in the face of systemic failures, which makes the comically hacky fifth season all the more baffling. Every show has its ups and downs, but The Wire always managed to challenge the viewer in a medium that rewards superficial entertainment. In the end, we have to say it (sorry): The king stay the king.