10 TV Shows That All The Smart People Watch

Kristen Bell Reefer Madness you're so smart


The Emmy nominations will be announced this Thursday, so it’s the perfect time to talk about quality television. Sometimes it’s good to take a break from watching strangers look for love or half-laughing through derivative comedies to experience the type of show smart people watch. And I don’t mean smart people as in people who can recite the first thousand digits of Pi or list all the U.S. presidents in order. I mean smart as in they watch these TV shows I’m about to list. That might sound really confusing to you. Oh, bless your heart. You probably don’t watch these shows then, huh?

The shows I’m talking about get glowing reviews from critics and probably get quite a few Emmy nominations. They’re also the types of shows that inspire conversation the next day that goes beyond “Do you think Janet should have been eliminated last night?” and “That poop joke was really hilarious.” Instead you talk about performance and subtext and tone and symbolism. Just saying you watch one of these shows gives you instant cool points, even if you can’t form a single comprehensible sentence about it.

1. Mad Men

Mad Men Peggy dancing


The classic. You’ve got a period setting, lots of angst, fast-paced dialogue interspersed with uncomfortable silences, and the kind of plots where if you zone out for five seconds and miss one line, you’ll be utterly confused for the rest of the episode. But the next day you’ll be talking about T-shirt symbolism and what Don really meant when he said that thing.

2. Louie

Louie gif


If ever a smart comedy existed, it would be Louie. Mostly because a lot of the time when you watch it you’re going, “Wait a second, is this even supposed to be funny?” or simply “Wait, what was that episode about?” Long takes and absurd situations abound. This is definitely not The Big Bang Theory.

3. True Detective


Oh, what’s that? You haven’t watched this brilliant addition to television history? I bet you participated in that #TrueDetectiveSeason2 hashtag though, didn’t you? What a poser. (I’m a poser too, it’s okay.)

4. House of Cards

House of Cards gif


This one’s on Netflix, which automatically adds a cool factor to a show, because if you subscribe to Netflix you’re probably more than just a casual, whatever’s-on-right-now kind of viewer in the first place. Second of all, politics. Politics are smart. As is breaking the fourth wall.

5. Hannibal

hannibal totally functional


Dark shows are always smart. And I’m talking dark in terms of subject matter and dark in terms of how well you can see what’s going on. If you have to adjust the brightness on your TV while you watch something, odds are it’ll increase your intelligence by at least 10%.

6. Community

Annie Edison Community gif crossed fingers


This one hasn’t gotten a whole lot of Emmy love, but the critics love it. Even when it fails, it still succeeds, because it does things differently from most other series, especially comedies. So much meta, so little time. And now it has that whole “We were canceled but brought back to life” thing going for it, so you can say, “I watched it before it was on Yahoo.”

7. Orphan Black

Orphan Black Cosima are you being beth


It’s time to jump on the “Tatiana Maslany is a goddess and we should all bow down to her and shower her with Emmys” bandwagon. It’s just the smart thing to do.

8. Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones King Joffrey Annoyed


Game of Thrones is not only critically acclaimed and nominated for awards, but it offers plenty of opportunities to show off your smarts if you’ve read the books. You can be all, “Yeah I knew so-and-so was gonna die” or “In the book this-and-this actually doesn’t happen for another 700 pages.”

9. Girls

Girls gif


Smart people watch Girls so that they can then go analyze whether they hate it or love it. And then they can debate with people about exactly how gratuitous Lena Dunham’s nakedness was in that particular episode.

10. The Good Wife

The Good Wife how do you know that


I don’t know when it happened, but suddenly The Good Wife is, like, a really important show and stuff? And everyone needs to watch it because it’ll blow your mind with how good it is? If I sound immature, it’s because I don’t watch it and therefore am not so good at that whole words thing.

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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    • M_G

      I…..don’t watch any of these shows. Jill, will you be mailing me my dunce cap, or do I need to buy my own? Please advise.

      • Jill O’Rourke

        How does a printable one that you then fold into a cap sound?

    • Alexis Rhiannon

      What if you start watching but then bail because you can’t get into it? Do you win or lose?

    • Valerie

      I watch about half of these. So I guess I’m half-smart, half-dumbass.

    • fsfsf

      I guess I’m a dumbass then. Couldn’t get into any of these shows, no matter how many times I tried.

    • http://twitter.com/MARvelous_inc L.M.S.

      I don’t get the appeal of Game of Thrones & The Good Wife. Am I missing something? Should I binge-watch?

      • TJ

        The Good Wife is sooooooooo….Good! :D I started watching it consistently around the third season- before then I had caught a few here and there with my parents so I knew enough of what was going on. The 4th and 5th season are so wonderful! Usually, with shows that churn out 24 episodes a year there are quite a few “filler” episodes that don’t matter much. (I’m looking at you HIMYM.) But even these episodes on TGW are usually pretty great. There are some amazing guest stars as well as the ambiguity of who to root for. I don’t think it is the best show to binge on because it is a law-procedural drama so it might get old after a while but once a week with Alicia and Co. is perfect for me.

      • Jenni

        I binged both of these shows this year to finally see what the hype is about and it’s so worth it! The Good Wife is the only network drama that somehow managed to remain a quality show for multiple seasons.

    • simoneutecht

      Girls is just annoying

    • AnnH

      I only watch The Good Wife, but I make up for the 9 others by not watching dumb shows either. I’m looking at you, Chuck Lorre.

    • MCR

      I like The Good Wife, haven’t seen a single episode of any of the others. I guess that means I’m only one tenth as smart as I ought to be. Or that I subscribe to the wrong cable package.

    • Robert Emery

      Some dumb people also watch these shows, Who’s to say who’s smart and who’s dumb.

      • Jill O’Rourke

        I am.

      • Alexis Rhiannon

        Yes girl.

    • sad

      How is House M.D. not on this list?

      • Jill O’Rourke

        It’s just shows that are currently on the air.

    • That guy

      So you can become smart by watching those shows which are quite inaccurate and portray the limitations of the writing staff.