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Every Season Of 9-1-1 Ranked From Worst To Best

For decades, television has been rife with all manner of procedural series, from the most sober and grounded to the most dramatic and unrestrained — but you could make an honest argument that there has never been another procedural like "9-1-1."

Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Tim Minear, this one-hour Fox drama about the lives and missions of Los Angeles first responders managed to revitalize network television's most indomitable genre by foregrounding one simple thing: intensity. From the very onset of Season 1, "9-1-1" has drawn fan and critical attention with its lightspeed pacing, high-octane action, unapologetic melodrama, and dependably outrageous cases-of-the-week. There is nary an episode of the show that doesn't dial it up all the way to 11, and the end product is all the more addictive for it — to say nothing of the occasional dash of campy humor, or the rewarding character drama brought to bear by the amazingly talented cast.

To date, there have been four full seasons of "9-1-1," with a fifth one currently airing on Fox Mondays. While the show has remained rather consistent on the whole, some seasons are still bound to be better than others. Here, we have made an effort to order all seasons from worst to best, including the ongoing Season 5. Read on to find out where your favorite season has landed on our ranking.

Season 5

Every long-running show struggles to stay at the top of its game to some extent, and "9-1-1" has been no exception so far. After the mostly successful damage control done by the writers on the COVID-limited fourth season, Season 5 came out of the gate without a strong narrative basis to build off of, and that has made it hard for "9-1-1" to get back into its trademark groove of big episodic thrills interwoven with compelling serialized arcs.

To be sure, there have been some great multi-episode arcs this season, such as Harry (Marcanthonee Jon Reis)'s kidnapping and subsequent coping with trauma, Eddie (Ryan Guzman)'s struggles with panic attacks, and the conflict between May (Corinne Massiah) and Claudette (Vanessa Estelle Williams). But it still doesn't feel like the show has cohered into as strong an overall storyline as it did on previous seasons, and that overall inconsistency has led to duds like an unusually weak Halloween episode.

To make matters worse, Season 5 has swung a little too far in the direction of grimness and self-seriousness for some viewers' tastes, leaving many wishing for more of the lighthearted, blissfully funny, ensemble-driven installments that the show has proven to be so good at in the past. In fairness, the most recent episode, "Past Is Prologue," was incredibly fun and would seem to have brought back some of that old spark, so let's hope that "9-1-1" keeps building on it.

Season 4

Considering how chaotic the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be for the entertainment industry at large, it's genuinely a wonder that the cast and crew of "9-1-1" managed to make a Season 4 that hung together at all. The show deserves props for handling an awful situation mostly with grace, by settling into a more pared-down version of itself, emphasizing the characters over the emergencies, and allotting a strong narrative focus to cast members who didn't usually get to shine in past seasons. For one thing, Season 4 was the season on which Buck (Oliver Stark) finally got to have a proper moment in the sun.

Season 4 will definitely have a higher place in the hearts of many viewers, especially those partial to Buck or Hen (Aisha Hinds) — who also got a lot to work with this season, in no small part due to the appearance of her mother (played by the great, series-enlivening Marsha Warfield). But, all in all, it was still a very limited batch of episodes for a show that has usually trafficked in utter, glorious disregard for limitations. The weekly cases could not possibly have the same oomph to them, and a lot of the season's dramatic through lines were clearly hindered by the pandemic. All in all, Season 4 proved to be a noble effort, but necessarily a little below the standard of previous seasons.

Season 1

This is likely to be the most controversial placement on our ranking. After all, "9-1-1" fans seem to have a love-it-or-hate-it relationship with Season 1 — depending on who you ask, it's either the show's gilded, untouched prime, or it's the awkward freshman year before everything clicked into place.

We're putting it smack at the center of our ranking because we see it as the period in which "9-1-1" came into its own. With just 10 episodes to prove their brainchild's mettle, Murphy, Falchuk, and Minear laid on the campiness and absurdity, giving us infamous emergencies like the baby flushed down the toilet, the roller coaster malfunction, and the bouncy house incident. In parallel, the characters' personal crises started out at their hokiest and most predictable, with lots of airtime devoted to not-always-compelling relationship drama.

That noticeable gulf between the scale of the set pieces and the simplicity of the character drama was a big growing pain for the show. The emergencies on "9-1-1" were incomparable and gripping from day one, but it took the writers a while to figure out how to make the first responders' home lives interesting enough to not feel like padding on the way to the real attractions — and it was only once they cracked this elusive code that the show became truly great across the board.

Season 2

After Season 1 laid the necessary groundwork to get us to invest in the "9-1-1" character ensemble, Season 2 gave them the room to properly soar. The 18-episode batch was on a whole other level when it came to character development and cast chemistry — not least due to the addition of Eddie and Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who have since become indispensable parts of the show.

With a balance between engaging action and engaging character drama finally struck, the writers were able to build a consistent, highly satisfying season, and some of the show's most unforgettable episodes came as a result. "7.1," also known as the earthquake episode, established "9-1-1" as a go-to source for small-screen blockbuster thrills on par with anything that is put out by major movie studios, and the plots about Maddie's kidnapping and the serial mail bomber weren't too far behind it in their command of tension, excitement, and genuine pathos. Lighter episodes like "Dosed," meanwhile, also demonstrated how hilarious the show could be when it wanted to.

This was also the season that introduced the series' character-focused "X Begins" episode format, with installments that dove deep into the backstories of Hen, Bobby (Peter Krause), and Chimney (Kenneth Choi) — an expedient that would go a long way towards making the "9-1-1" ensemble feel so vividly, wonderfully multidimensional, as it does today.

Season 3

There's really no competing with Season 3. Ask any "9-1-1" fan to list their top 10 episodes, and there's a good chance that more than half of them will come from the show's 2019-2020 stretch. We could really just sit here and list episode titles and be done with it — "Athena Begins," "The Taking of Dispatch 9-1-1," "Malfunction," the double-whammy of "Sink or Swim" and "The Searchers" ... phew, you get the idea.

Yet what really made this season, aside from fantastic individual episodes and the most incredible tsunami VFX in network television history, was the fact that its cast never felt so much like a tight-knit family, nor did their seasonal arcs ever feel so urgent and so flawlessly woven together. Hours like "Athena Begins" did an amazing job of telling self-contained stories that even casual viewers could enjoy and be moved by, but they both elevated and were elevated by the surrounding context: Athena's past trauma and pent-up grief would not have been as heartbreaking were the show not doing such a great week-to-week job of illustrating her dogged heroism — and at the same time, knowing just how hard she had to fight to keep it together only made it more touching when she repeatedly did.

The emergencies, too, were never handled with as much sensitivity as on this season — even at their most over-the-top, they were laced with real feeling and invariably tugged at the heartstrings. "9-1-1" could still score a laugh when it wanted to, but Season 3 just felt real, in all the right ways.