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45 Best British TV Shows Of All Time Ranked

The very best British TV shows span many different genres, eras, and creators. Some are laugh-out-loud comedies that have earned fans across the globe. Some are tense dramas that capture just how hard it is to be human. Some are fascinating thrillers that keep viewers perched on the edge of their seats. All of them make one thing abundantly clear: The United Kingdom has produced some of the best TV shows ever made.

Watching these classics outside their native land was considerably more difficult in the past. But nowadays, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu make it possible for shows like "Doctor Who" and "Mr. Bean" to find new fans all around the world. With both obscure titles and beloved classics available to a wider variety of people than ever before, a question soon emerges: Which U.K. TV shows are the absolute greatest? We've got the answer to this complex question. These are the 45 best British TV shows of all time, ranked from the solidly entertaining to the absolutely legendary.

45. Love Island

Reality shows are usually not seen as examples of great television, but it's hard to argue with the success of "Love Island." The show has entered the public consciousness in a way few others have — even those who don't watch it are often aware of its format and intricacies. Said format is simple: Young, attractive, and unattached contestants enter a villa in Mallorca and compete in a series of challenges as they attempt to couple up and avoid being voted out by viewers. With each series lasting a few weeks, contestants are forced to pair up several times as more men and women enter the villa to shake things up. They often become public figures and influencers once they leave the show. 

Although "Love Island" has been a big hit since it was first broadcast in 2015, it has recently faced criticism, as reported by The Independent, following several deaths linked with the show. But that hasn't stopped fans from flocking to the series. The drama that erupts between the contestants as they enter and leave relationships at the drop of a hat is simply too juicy to miss. Anyone who likes dating shows will enjoy this program, which takes the classic format to the extreme.

44. The Grand Tour

After Jeremy Clarkson was fired by the BBC for assaulting a member of the "Top Gear" production staff in 2015, he, Richard Hammond, and James May started "The Grand Tour" with their long-time producer Andy Wilman. For the first few seasons, "The Grand Tour" follows a similar format to "Top Gear": The group reviews new cars, competes in outlandish challenges, and interviews celebrities in a studio tent that is transported to different cities around the world. However, the show later changes focus to feature-length specials.

As reported by Reuters, Amazon Prime Video data suggests that "The Grand Tour" has been a good investment, credited with 1.5 million first streams on the service. This isn't a tremendous surprise to anyone who's been paying attention: Season 1 earned widespread critical acclaim and fan adoration. Although it might fail to hit the heights of its spiritual predecessor, "The Grand Tour" successfully carries on the laddish humor and silly antics of the three presenters.

43. Gavin & Stacey

Hit sitcom "Gavin & Stacey" stars Mathew Horne and Joanna Page in the two titular roles, with James Corden and Ruth Jones — who also wrote the series — as secondary characters Smithy and Nessa. The series chronicles the lead couple's relationship from the night they meet through their wedding day and beyond, with plenty of rocky moments along the way. Smithy and Nessa have their own travails, which take them to a very different place than Gavin and Stacey.

Demand for further "Gavin & Stacey" content eventually led the BBC to commission a Christmas special in 2019. Taking place 10 years after the events of the series, it revisits the characters, who have moved on with their lives in a variety of ways. More than 17 million people tuned in, according to the BBC, making it one of the UK's most-watched shows of the decade. It's no wonder why: Over the course of its three-season run, "Gavin & Stacey" was met with widespread praise and nominated for many awards. The show is especially beloved for its memorable characters and quick-witted humor, which helped launch the career of many relatively unknown actors.

42. Britain's Got Talent

"Britain's Got Talent" is a long-running reality show that sees competitors show off their greatest skills. Said skills can be just about anything: Singing, magic tricks, comedy, and gymnastics have all proved to be popular over the years. Acts are voted out by the public until a winner is crowned, who is then given the honor of appearing in the Royal Variety Performance.

Devised by Simon Cowell, the "Got Talent" franchise is enormous, encompassing everything from "America's Got Talent" to "Got Talent Uruguay." It's even considered to be the most successful reality TV format by Guinness World Records. Impressively, the original U.K. version still manages to stand out among its army of imitators. Its many colorful personalities are a big part of why: The series is delightfully hosted by television stalwarts Ant and Dec and features judges like Amanda Holden, Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff, David Walliams, and Alesha Dixon, along with Cowell himself. At the end of the day, however, the success of the show is largely down to the acts themselves — good and bad. Many of the best performers go on to become household names across the U.K. and even further afield.

41. The IT Crowd

Following his success with "Father Ted," Graham Linehan worked on a number of other comedy series, including "Black Books" and "Count Arthur Strong." However, his most prominent creation is undoubtedly "The IT Crowd," a sitcom focusing on three employees working in a fictional London company's information technology department. Most of the action comes down to the titular gang dealing with their bosses and avoiding altercations with other staff. Their job is lowly, misunderstood, and confined to a miserable basement — but it makes for hilarious conflict. Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and Matt Berry all shine in the main cast.

"The IT Crowd" had something of a slow start: Its debut episode attracted less than 2 million viewers, according to BBC News. But happily, things picked up after that. Viewers fell in love with the show's dark and absurdist humor, which is delivered as a near-constant stream of clever jokes. The series was ultimately nominated for many major awards throughout its run.

40. Prime Suspect

"Prime Suspect" stars the incomparable Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, a fierce officer trying to do some good in the world, despite the crushing institutional sexism she faces. Though most of her male colleagues disrespect her (and occasionally plot her downfall), she manages to successfully investigate a series of serious crimes and even become detective superintendent. This role earned Mirren many accolades, including a number of Emmy and BAFTA awards. These helped make her the only person in history to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The success of the show led NBC to commission its own version. But the American "Prime Suspect" just can't compare to the superior British original. Mirren's performance makes the series stand out in the crowded police procedural genre, as does its slow, methodical approach. This keeps things uniquely focused, powerful, and engaging.

39. Shameless

Although many outside of the U.K. might be more familiar with the U.S. version of the show, the British "Shameless" predates its American cousin by seven years. It tells the story of the Gallagher family, headed by troubled patriarch Frank Gallagher. Life is tough for this bunch: Addiction, debt, and abuse all form the basis of various storylines. But there's a lot of laughter to be found in "Shameless" as well. This winning combination kept the series on British TV screens for most of a decade and made the characters a big part of many viewers' lives.

Though "Shameless" rarely attracted more than 3 million viewers, according to The Guardian, it earned a number of awards, including the prestigious BAFTA Award for best drama series in 2005. It also helped bolster the careers of many actors. David Threlfall and James McAvoy were already familiar faces, but "Shameless" heaped them with even more fame — Threlfall in particular is probably best known as Frank Gallagher nowadays. Rookie actors like Anne-Marie Duff got their big breaks by appearing on the series, as she explained to WhatsOnStage

38. Father Ted

Created by Irish writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, "Father Ted" follows a group of Catholic priests who live on the remote and fictional Craggy Island. They each have their own problems, which have led to their current exile. With three seasons and 25 episodes to its name, the series became famous for exploring mature themes and ideas, in addition to being incredibly funny.

"Father Ted" is brought to life by a spectacular cast including Dermot Morgan, Ardal O'Hanlon, Frank Kelly, and Pauline McLynn. As The Independent reported, it's been voted one of the best sitcoms in the U.K. over the years, and won a number of impressive awards. "Father Ted" has also left a lasting legacy on British culture: As The Guardian has noted, certain catchphrases and jokes from the beloved series are still in regular rotation. The fact that this is still the case more than 20 years after the series debuted likely indicates "Father Ted" will prove influential for years to come.

37. Peppa Pig

"Peppa Pig" has become one of Britain's biggest entertainment exports. Broadcast for the first time in 2004, it has amassed over 350 episodes and is set to continue until at least 2027, as reported by Deadline. What makes this cute cartoon such a phenomenon? Its simplicity might have something to do with it. Set in an animated world filled with anthropomorphic animals, "Peppa Pig" follows the titular 4-year-old as she plays with her friends, explores the outdoors, and spends time with her family. Like so many shows aimed at very young children, it teaches many lessons about the virtues of being a kind and caring person.

Harley Bird is perhaps best known for portraying the irrepressible Peppa, though Lily Snowden-Fine, Cecily Bloom, and Amelie Bea Smith have brought her to life as well. Exported to 180 countries around the world, "Peppa Pig" is sure to be around for many years to come. The simple character designs, bright colors, and clever writing make the show easy to understand for toddlers, while the focus on family and friends keeps it interesting to slightly older youngsters.

36. Good Omens

Based on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel of the same name, "Good Omens" is a comedy about the end of the world. It stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant as Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and demon who have lived on Earth since its creation. The pair works tirelessly to prevent the Antichrist from setting the apocalypse in motion, as they've grown fond of their adopted home and its quirky people. This proves to be difficult — and hilarious.

"Good Omens" received praise from many critics, who hailed the two main actors' chemistry, as well as the series' stylish imagery. It also earned a number of award nominations. This success was enough to net the series a Season 2, as reported by the BBC, which expands upon the original source material and tells a brand new story. As it turns out, the end of the world is really just the beginning.

35. Skins

"Skins" made a big splash when it hit the airwaves in 2007. Created by Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, it revolves around a group of Bristol teens as they confront adolescence's darkest, thorniest, and most controversial issues. Substance abuse, mental illness, gender, and familial trauma are all explored with remarkable honesty on "Skins," which kept the series running for seven seasons and 61 episodes. The show is also marked by the way it shuffles the cast to keep stories fresh and allow for new problems to arise — a decision that was met with some confusion when it was first proposed, according to The Guardian.

"Skins" earned solid praise, though some were dismayed by the show's up-front approach to weighty topics. It developed a significant cult following, which led to an American remake that hit the small screen in 2011. Nothing compares to the original, though: This "Skins" was canceled after one so-so season. This British teen drama's exciting and brave exploration of life at the edge of adulthood simply can't be duplicated, watered down, or remade.

34. Misfits

Unlike many other teen dramas, "Misfits" comes with a sci-fi twist. The series follows a group of five young people who are jointly struck by lightning while engaging in required community service. Soon afterwards, they begin to develop mysterious superpowers, including telepathy, time manipulation, and invisibility. Things quickly spin out of control, especially after they're forced to kill their probation officer. Though they'll do anything to keep this a secret, death and superpowers aren't easily hushed up — especially since they're not the only kids who gained mysterious abilities during that fateful storm.

"Misfits" gained significant acclaim for its dark humor, mature storylines, and refreshingly authentic approach to teenage life. Its talented cast is a big part of its success as well: Lauren Socha, Robert Sheehan, Iwan Rheon, Antonia Thomas, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett shine so bright as troubled young people, it's no wonder they've gone onto major productions like "Game of Thrones" and "The Umbrella Academy." After five seasons, "Misfits" ends with an almost completely new cast, as most of the main characters leave following Season 3. The fact that it pulls off such a dramatic shake-up is a testimony to its quality.

33. Merlin

There have been dozens of adaptations of Arthurian legend. Yet few have been as popular or successful as the British television series "Merlin." Broadcast on the BBC starting in 2008, it was created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, and Julian Murphy. Rather than follow the usual tales of King Arthur and his titular wizard companion, "Merlin" sees the young warlock sent to live in Camelot. There, he manages to save the life of the young Prince Arthur, but is still forced to conceal his powers. Magic isn't just banned in Camelot — it's punishable by death.

Over the course of five seasons, Merlin hones his skills, meets many other legendary figures, and helps Arthur become the great king he is destined to be. After finding success in the U.K., The Guardian reported "Merlin" was exported to 180 countries, and began airing on NBC in the U.S. in 2009. It also won numerous awards, including a BAFTA Award for best visual effects in 2011. With strong writing, gorgeous visuals, and a charming cast, "Merlin" impresses from the very first scene. Camelot is a familiar place for many, but here, it manages to feel brand new.

32. The Thick of It

Created by Armando Iannucci and written by a team of writers including comedy giants Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell, "The Thick of It" is an incredibly sharp political satire that follows a wide array of politicians, advisors, pundits, and journalists. Known for its realism and strong profanity, "The Thick of It" pulls no punches in its behind-the-scenes look at governance. This honesty is the key to its wild success.

Starting life on BBC Four, a total of 23 episodes over four seasons, including several feature-length specials, were produced. "The Thick of It" won critical acclaim and several BAFTA Awards, among other accolades. A spin-off movie, "In the Loop," was released in 2009 to even more widespread praise. Iannucci subsequently went on to create "Veep," a biting political satire, for HBO. A number of "The Thick of It" writers joined him on that production, including Blackwell and Armstrong. They proved to be just as deft at skewering American politics.

31. Catastrophe

Created, starring, and written by "Deadpool 2" star Rob Delaney and Irish luminary Sharon Horgan, "Catastrophe" made its debut in 2015. The story revolves around Sharon, a London teacher, and Rob, a Boston ad man, who enjoy a casual fling while Rob is in town on business. But what should be a spontaneous bit of fun becomes entirely serious when Sharon finds out she's pregnant. To the dismay of their friends and family, Rob and Sharon decide to make this relationship work. Can true love blossom from such unexpected circumstances? Maybe — but it's going to be a lot of work.

Broadcast on Channel 4 in the U.K. and Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., "Catastrophe" was nominated for numerous awards over the course of its four seasons. Viewers and critics alike fell in love with its unflinching look at how relationships truly work between flawed — that is, real — characters. While it does have its sillier moments, "Catastrophe" gained particular acclaim for dealing with the sort of destabilizing issues everyone encounters at some point in their own lives, such as death and illness. 

30. Killing Eve

Twisty thriller "Killing Eve" is one of the more recent entries on this list, first airing in 2018 on BBC America. Based on Luke Jennings' "Villanelle" novels, the show follows the titular Eve, a former intelligence officer for MI5 who becomes obsessed with an international assassin named Villanelle, who works for a clandestine organization known as The Twelve. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer star as Eve and Villanelle, respectively. Their chemistry practically leaps off the screen, and made the show an immediate hit: Executives renewed it for Season 2 before the first episode was even broadcast, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Critics heaped praise on "Killing Eve," often singling out its two lead actors for their spectacular work. Seasons 1 and 2 in particular were nominated for a wide array of awards, including BAFTAs, Emmys, and Golden Globes. Its dry wit, fast-paced action and dialogue, and constant tension make it utterly must-watch television. 

29. Poldark

Created by Debbie Horsfield, "Poldark" debuted in 2015. It adapts the first seven novels of Winston Graham's "Poldark" series, telling the story of Captain Ross Vennor Poldark, who returns to Cornwall after the American Revolutionary War to find his life in ruins. His family has been torn apart by death and disorder, his estate is drowning in debt, and his home is literally crumbling. He must find a way to set things straight and restore his name — but such an undertaking can't be carried out alone. A winning cast of characters, including charismatic servant and eventual love interest Demelza, proves to be invaluable to Poldark — though loss, death, and disaster are never far behind.

Critics hailed "Poldark" as a lavish historical epic buoyed by a strong cast, impressive musical score, gorgeous scenery, and emotional plot points, which give the series' romances particularly impressive feeling.  The series' ensemble cast, which includes Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ruby Bentall, and Jack Farthing, shine in their various roles, and bring authentic emotion to the show's far-off time period. Unsurprisingly, "Poldark" also won several high profile awards over the course of its run.

28. Luther

Created and written by Neil Cross, "Luther" follows Detective Chief Inspector John Luther as he tries to make the world a less crime-ridden place. A dedicated and obsessive officer, Luther often finds himself being consumed by the very darkness he aims to stop. The show never shies away from violence, which can make it a difficult watch for some. But if you're okay with these gorier aspects, "Luther" offers captivating drama that constantly keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

Idris Elba stars as Luther, while Ruth Wilson portrays his murderous arch-nemesis Alice Morgan. Their stellar performances earned the show enormous praise and a passionate fanbase. "Luther" has been so successful, in fact, that adaptations of the series have been made in IndiaRussia, South Korea, and France. A "Luther" movie is also in the works, and will see Elba joined by Cynthia Erivo and Andy Serkis, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

27. QI

First broadcast in 2003, "QI" (short for "Quite Interesting") is a quiz show where contestants attempt to answer fiendishly difficult questions that have obscure or unexpected answers. Correct answers gain points, but so do answers deemed interesting. Misconceptions and obvious answers take points away, which means it's not unusual to see participants end the show with a negative score. 

The quirkiness of this approach, along with the knowledge it furnishes among contestants and viewers, make "QI" a game show unlike any other. What's more, each season covers a different letter of the alphabet. There is some stability within this bizarre set-up, though: Actor Alan Davies is a permanent panelist, while Stephen Fry hosted the show from its inception until 2016. Comedian Sandi Toksvig took over his role, and has been there ever since. As it heads into the future, "QI" shows no signs of slowing down — and fans couldn't be happier.

26. The Great British Bake Off

"The Great British Bake Off" is exactly what it sounds like: A reality show in which contestants take part in a baking competition. They tackle three challenges per episode, with the least impressive participant voted out by the judges. The series is hosted and judged by a variety of colorful personalities, including Sue Perkins, Noel Fielding, Mary Berry, and Paul Hollywood. What makes "The Great British Bake Off" so special is its laid-back vibe: There's definitely competition in the air, but the cattiness and cruelty that defines similar shows isn't present. These people simply love to bake, and want to share their passion with the world.

The show has proved to be an enormous hit, even beyond the U.K., according to The Guardian. This has led to a number of similarly themed programs, including "The Great British Sewing Bee" and "The Great Pottery Throw Down." Perhaps most impressively, The Telegraph reported that the show boosted sales of baking equipment. Not every reality show can get people off the couch, but then, "The Great British Bake Off" isn't just any old reality show.

25. Taskmaster

"Taskmaster" is a celebrity game show that forces contestants (often comedians) to take part in a series of bizarre tasks. Uniquely, the same five contestants persist over the course of an entire season, rather than a single episode. Alex Horne, the show's creator, serves as assistant to the show's Taskmaster, comedian Greg Davies. Every episode treats viewers to a number of laugh-out-loud moments as contestants approach their tasks in a wide variety of strange ways. They might have to open a mysterious box, jump around in a goofy costume, or conceal an item in a hard-to-find place. But no matter the nature of the task, things always get hilarious.

"Taskmaster" has proved to be such a major hit with audiences, Channel 4 snapped it up in 2019. It has continued to grow in the ensuing years, expanding into board games, books, and a podcast hosted by Ed Gamble. "Taskmaster" has also been nominated for several awards, including an International Emmy, and won a BAFTA Award for best comedy program.

24. Life on Mars

"Life on Mars" is a 2006 police drama with a major twist. After police officer Sam Tyler is seriously injured in a modern-day car accident, he finds himself in 1973. What has happened to him? It's deliberately unclear: He often wonders whether he's in a coma, losing his sanity, or truly displaced in time. Sam must try to figure out the truth of his strange circumstances as he navigates the vastly different cultural mores of the '70s and his new job under the belligerent DCI Gene Hunt.

"Life on Mars" is a dynamic and exciting series. The strong cast is a big part of why, with John Simm, who stars as Sam Tyler, delivering an especially impressive performance. Audiences and critics adored the series for its sharp writing and thoughtful meditations on a bygone era, as well as its impeccable acting. Acclaim was intense enough to merit a sequel series, "Ashes to Ashes," which hit the airwaves in 2008. A third show set in the same world is also in the works, as reported by NME.

23. Downton Abbey

"Downton Abbey" revolves around the Crawley family, an aristocratic clan who live in the titular estate, and the fleet of maids, butlers, valets, and cooks who serve them. The series begins in 1912, right after the sinking of the Titanic, and stretches into the late 1920s. As history buffs know, this was a period of major change for the British elite. The Crawleys, their servants, and their neighbors weather it in a fascinating variety of ways.

The series earned enormous praise, especially for its impressive cast, lavish sets, and excellent costumes. Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, and Hugh Bonneville won particular acclaim for their performances. "Downton Abbey" has been such a success, two feature films have been developed since the series came to an end: 2019's "Downton Abbey" and 2022's "Downton Abbey: A New Era." Both continue the story from the television show and see most of the original cast return. As the creative team made clear to Variety in 2022, "Downton Abbey" could continue in some form if fans are still hungry for more. The Crawleys' era might be over, but their entertainment reign remains strong.

22. Broadchurch

Starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman, "Broadchurch" is a British crime drama that knows how to keep viewers guessing. Season 1 focuses on the mysterious death of a young boy, which rocks the titular seaside town. Everyone's a suspect, and no one is sure who to trust. It's up to cranky Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and warm-hearted Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller to discover what really happened — but even they might not be able to handle the truth. The subsequent two seasons deal with the fallout of the first case, along with other violent crimes that take place in the area.

"Broadchurch" was a major critical success and a huge hit with viewers. According to Digital Spy, more than 6 million people tuned in to watch the series premiere. The sheer drama of the story, which gets ratcheted up every single episode, never fails to be gripping, while the actors' emotional performances bring the crimes home. What results is a show that simply can't be missed.

21. Poirot

"Poirot" is a television crime drama based on Agatha Christie's beloved Hercule Poirot stories. The series ran from 1989 until 2013, making it one of this list's most long-lived series. It stars David Suchet as Poirot, a Belgian detective living in England during the 1930s, who investigates notable crimes. Incredibly, the series manages to adapt every one of Christie's Poirot-centric novels and short stories, as reported by the BBC.

The sheer length of time "Poirot" spent on the air is a testament to its huge success. Impressively, the series managed to stay fresh over time: Its last few episodes are just as entertaining as its inaugural installments. "Poirot" was nominated for dozens of awards, including several BAFTAs and a Primetime Emmy in 2015. Perhaps most meaningfully, Suchet's performance has been praised by Agatha Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, who has stated he wishes Christie had gotten to see Suchet bring the fastidious sleuth to life.

20. Sex Education

Created by Laurie Nunn, "Sex Education" is a Netflix dramedy that made its debut in 2019. It takes place in Moordale Secondary School, where the students are learning what it means to be adults — and making a whole lot of mistakes along the way. Otis Milburn, whose mother is a sex therapist, is in a uniquely privileged position: His borrowed expertise attracts students in need of delicate advice. But things get complicated quickly, as they tend to do when clueless teens are involved.

Critics showered "Sex Education" with praise for its relatable stories and air of authenticity. The impressive ensemble cast — which boasts the likes of Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson — stylish art direction, and heartfelt dialogue make it even more appealing. According to The Hollywood Reporter, these qualities paid off in a big way: The series earned millions of viewers in its first month. "Sex Education" has also been nominated for many awards, with Aimee Lou Wood winning a BAFTA for best female performance in a comedy program in 2021.

19. Spaced

Created by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, who also took up writing duties, "Spaced" is a sitcom set in contemporary London. Desperate for a new apartment, strangers Daisy Steiner and Tim Bisley meet by chance and promptly decide to pose as a couple in order to secure a lease. This unlikely pair proceeds to go on many misadventures with their various friends, as well as form a deepening romantic connection they're not quite sure how to handle. Notably, Hollywood filmmaker Edgar Wright directed the series.

"Spaced" was a cult hit in the U.K., earning immense acclaim and a couple of British Comedy Awards for its keen wit and genuine emotion. The series' relatable characters, unique premise, and quirky humor helped it stand out in a crowded sitcom market, and keep it surprisingly relevant. Despite fan demand for further seasons, Pegg and Wright have been vocal about not wanting to go back to "Spaced." As they told The Guardian in 2013, they're simply not the same people anymore, and can't tell the same kind of stories with any real honesty. "Spaced" fans might lament this, but at least they can comfort themselves with two spectacular seasons.

18. The Crown

"The Crown" focuses on the life of Queen Elizabeth II. She weathers family scandals, political upheaval, and the crumbling edifice that is the British monarchy with poise — but history's currents never stop trying to pull her feet out from under her. Seasons 1 and 2 depict events from 1947 until 1955, while Seasons 3 and 4 continue through 1990. The final two seasons are expected to reach into the early 2000s. Due to this enormous timespan, a variety of actors portray the central characters. Claire Foy plays the Queen in Seasons 1 and 2, Olivia Colman plays her in Seasons 3 and 4, and Imelda Staunton takes on the role in Seasons 5 and 6.

"The Crown" has been praised by a wide variety of viewers and critics. It's also earned huge ratings: According to the BBC, 73 million households have watched the show. "The Crown" has managed to become more and more popular as it's gone on, thanks to its vivid glimpse into the inner workings of the British monarchy and its thoughtful depiction of the 20th century. The cast's stellar performances certainly also help, along with the production's brilliant costume design, which transports viewers to bygone eras.

17. Peep Show

"Peep Show" follows Mark and Jeremy, two young men who share a flat together. Although they have little in common, they're good friends and end up needing each other quite deeply as they go about their dysfunctional lives. David Mitchell and Robert Webb star as Mark and Jeremy, and are joined by talents like Olivia Colman, Matt King, Neil Fitzmaurice, and Rachel Blanchard. 

The series' comedy usually comes from the failings of the two main characters, who cannot seem to catch a break or realize their dreams. This makes it a frequently uncomfortable watch, but one well worth cringing through for the sake of its incredibly high quality writing. Uniquely, the series often uses point of view shots, which make it visually distinctive and provide greater insight into the characters. "Peep Show" won enormous praise and has been lauded by The Guardian as the greatest comedy series of its decade. Nominated for several awards, it won two BAFTAs and has been the subject of several attempts to create an American adaptation.

16. Only Fools and Horses

"Only Fools and Horses" first aired in 1981. Over the course of the next 10 years, it enjoyed seven seasons broadcast on BBC One. However, that wasn't the end of the comedy series: Creator John Sullivan continued to make feature-length specials until 2003, when the show finally ended. This long-running series follows market trader Del Boy in his quest to make money using a variety of schemes. He acts as the head of the Trotter family, bringing up younger brother Rodney following the death of their mother. The pair sells goods, often of questionable legality, from the back of their yellow three-wheeled Reliant Regal. The original cast consisted of David Jason in the role of Del Boy, Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney, and Lennard Pearce as Grandad. After Pearce's death, Buster Merryfield replaced him as Uncle Albert.

At its height, "Only Fools and Horses" was one of the most popular shows in Britain. It was capable of attracting 24.3 million viewers, according to Radio Times, which is around a third of the entire population. The characters' exploits provide a never-ending source of laughs, and their working class background makes them relatable to the average audience member. Its success led to spin-off shows "The Green Green Grass" and "Rock & Chips."

15. Rome

A international co-production between HBO, the BBC, and Italy's Rai Fiction, "Rome" is set in the eponymous ancient city as it transitions into existence as an empire. Though it features many historical figures and real-world events, it focuses on Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), two Roman soldiers. The pair plays an influential role in the power struggles and political changes that sweep through Rome, including the assassination of Julius Caesar and the rise of young Octavian. 

"Rome" drew audiences into its world with ambitious sets, a big cast of impressive actors, and deep looks into various characters' lives. Sadly, the show was brought to an abrupt close when HBO canceled it after just two seasons. This was an attempt to save money, according to Reuters, as "Rome" was a uniquely expensive show to produce. But this decision cut short what was a very well-regarded series, and forced the writers to cram stories meant for Seasons 3 and 4 into the end of Season 2. Fans can at least comfort themselves with the enormous critical praise "Rome" earned, as well as its many notable awards.

14. Blackadder

The brainchild of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" writer Richard Curtis and comedy actor Rowan Atkinson, "Blackadder" is a period sitcom. Each season takes place at a different point in history and features a different set of characters. However, there is a constant: Edmund Blackadder, a man descended from incarnations seen in earlier episodes. Appearing throughout periods of British history with his companion Baldrick, he's a lord in Elizabethan times, a butler in the late 18th century, and an officer during World War I. 

This vast scope makes a wide variety of jokes and humorous storylines possible, which have become classics of the genre. Although it's known for its surreal humor, "Blackadder" also contains its fair share of poignant moments, and is able to get viewers emotionally invested in these characters and their lives. The cast is a big part of this success: Along with Rowan Atkinson, the show features such talents as Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Stephen Fry, and Hugh Laurie. Although only four full seasons were made, there have been a number of specials, including the 1999 short film "Blackadder: Back and Forth." It all adds up to a series that will continue to have a major impact on British comedy for years to come.

13. Top Gear

"Top Gear" has been a worldwide phenomenon since it was first broadcast in 2002. Typical episodes of this car-centric show, presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, feature reviews of new vehicles, interviews with celebrities who drive a lap on the test track, news segments, and challenges or otherwise distinctive races. "Top Gear" also boasts excellent special episodes, which often stand out as some of the best installments of the series.

Broadcast in a vast array of countries outside the U.K., the series was crowned the world's most popular factual TV show by Guinness World Records in 2013. People simply can't get enough of the interactions between the three main presenters and the wacky situations they often find themselves in. New hosts have taken the helm in recent years, including Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc, Eddie Jordan, and Paddy McGuinness. According to Radio Times, the series' current presenters are popular with fans, which means there's plenty more "Top Gear" to come.

12. Monty Python's Flying Circus

Before "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Monty Python's Life of Brian," the titular British comedy group had a regular television spot on BBC One entitled "Monty Python's Flying Circus." This absurdist sketch show was written primarily by the Monty Python group, which included Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam, as well as Neil Innes and Douglas Adams. 

"Monty Python's Flying Circus" proved to be a radical new direction for British comedy, which paved the way for the surreal shows that would follow. Bizarre imagery, ridiculous situations, and outlandish jokes abound here, from characters like the Knight with a Raw Chicken to the Nude Organist. But it's also a deeply intelligent series, which pokes erudite fun at the British upper classes. "Monty Python's Flying Circus" never speaks down to its viewers, and trusts them to understand the complex jokes and sophisticated ideas it presents.

Running for four seasons between 1969 and 1974, the series took a while to catch on, but eventually became beloved in the U.K. and the U.S., according to The New Yorker. It also racked up a number of BAFTA Awards. Perhaps the greatest symbol of the series' success, however, is the fact that "Pythonesque" is now a word.

11. Line of Duty

"Line of Duty" is a unique crime drama that follows a team of anti-corruption police officers. Specifically, this team, made up of Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), and Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), is responsible for investigating cops who may be involved with organized crime. Each season focuses on a different officer, wrapped up in their particular sort of malfeasance. There's also an overarching story about the identity of H, a person who holds a senior rank in the police force and is responsible for passing information to criminals.

First broadcast in 2012, "Line of Duty" is one of the most-watched British dramas of the 21st century, according to The Independent. It's also earned plenty of critical acclaim and a plethora of major awards. "Line of Duty" earned these accolades the old-fashioned way: Excellent writing, honest storylines, and spot-on acting. This gripping drama never fails to show the grisly and horrifying violence inflicted on the public, yet it manages to shine even more when it's turned away from frantic action scenes. Intense interrogations are a particularly vivid highlight, and make for some of the most compelling work on TV.

10. Black Mirror

Although it's become a worldwide phenomenon, "Black Mirror" started out as a relatively small show on Channel 4. This innovative anthology series touches on the role technology plays in our lives. Each installment features a different setting and a new cast of characters: Spaceships, virtual afterlives, and bizarre prisons are all explored. "Black Mirror" employs a unique blend of science fiction, horror, fantasy, comedy, satire, and absurdism, which invites viewers to consider the positive and negative effects high-tech gizmos and surveillance systems have on the modern world.

As Variety reported, "Black Mirror" moved to Netflix in 2014. Here, the series found more viewers than ever before, and enough room to branch out and experiment. This led to the innovative interactive movie "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch." It also earned the series impressive reviews and no small amount of awards. "Black Mirror" is bleak, but it earns its dire tone through thoughtful analysis, excellent acting, and off-the-wall imagination.

9. The Blue Planet

David Attenborough is known around the world for his narration of nature documentaries. He's been at this work for quite a while — ever since he hosted "Zoo Quest" in 1954, in fact. This long and impressive career has seen him narrate dozens of documentary series for the BBC. But 2001's "The Blue Planet" still manages to stand out as one of his best-known works.

"The Blue Planet" explores the oceans, which cover most of the Earth's surface, yet remain mysterious to laymen and scientists alike. Viewers are invited to marvel at undersea volcanoes, vast ice floes, teeming coral reefs, and terrifyingly deep trenches. Tiny phytoplankton, gargantuan whales, clever sea lions, and a myriad of other creatures are captured in footage so extraordinary, it netted the series major awards for cinematography. The BBC sold "The Blue Planet" to more than 50 countries and produced a sequel, "Blue Planet II," in 2017. The public simply couldn't get enough of this tribute to the fascinating, complex, and utterly gorgeous underwater world.

8. Mr. Bean

"Mr. Bean," which stars Rowan Atkinson as the titular character, consists of 15 individual episodes broadcast between 1990 and 1995. It follows the hapless Mr. Bean, who is oblivious to common activities and customs, as he makes his way through life. His naïve childishness typically leads him to find outlandish solutions to what would be simple issues for most people. This basic premise sets the series up for outrageous hilarity, which soon amassed a huge worldwide audience, according to Television Business International. This popularity endures to this day: Mr. Bean enjoys more than 30 million YouTube subscribers and stands out as one of the most-followed TV brands on Facebook. 

What makes "Mr. Bean" such a hit? For one thing, there's very little dialogue in the show: The vast majority of the action and jokes are entirely visual, and Mr. Bean tends to make simple, non-linguistic noises. This means that none of it has to be dubbed or subtitled, allowing viewers from other countries to easily enjoy the proceedings. It also gives the series a timeless quality, which people of all ages can enjoy. But beyond all of that, there's the plain fact that Mr. Bean is a charming, hilarious figure played by a uniquely talented performer. Sometimes, that's all that's needed to produce a comedy icon.

7. Sherlock

There have been many screen adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories, but "Sherlock" still manages to stand out from the crowd. Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, this series offers a modern take on the fictional detective, taking place in contemporary London. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock Holmes, while Martin Freeman takes on the role of Dr. John Watson. Together, they investigate murders, become entangled with sinister masterminds, and grow as friends — often in spite of themselves.

"Sherlock" has enjoyed critical acclaim, though Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are widely considered to be superior to Season 4. It also racked up plenty of awards, including several BAFTAs, Emmys, and Golden Globes. Though the series' final installments hit the airwaves in 2017, it hasn't actually been canceled. As Gatiss and Moffat told the Radio Times in 2022, further seasons are a possibility, depending principally on Cumberbatch and Freeman's schedules.

6. Fleabag

Searing dramedy "Fleabag" is so good, it instantly launched creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also stars as the eponymous woman, to international fame. Fleabag is a young Londoner struggling with a self-destructive streak, dysfunctional family relationships, and a major recent tragedy. Viewers fell in love with its whip-smart social commentary, electric writing, and unique structure: Fleabag frequently breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. This isn't just a cheeky bit of metatextual humor, either — it's an incredibly emotional narrative device. 

Both seasons of "Fleabag" were met with nigh-universal critical adulation, with much praise focused on its originality, cutting dialogue, deft combination of comedy and tragedy, and incredible acting. Waller-Bridge is joined by a cast that is absolutely stacked with talent, including such luminaries as Andrew Scott, Olivia Colman, and Bill Paterson. Fleabag is a liar, a screw-up, a bad feminist, and a troubled soul — and that's why we love her.

5. Peaky Blinders

"Peaky Blinders" is a crime drama set in Birmingham, England, in the complex years following World War I. The titular gang starts out small, expands quickly, and is eventually able to set up operations around the country, and even abroad. But more power means more complications, which makes for a thrilling, multifaceted saga. The show features a large ensemble cast led by Cillian Murphy, who plays gang leader Tommy Shelby. He's joined by the likes of Paul Anderson, Helen McCrory, Joe Cole, and Sophie Rundle, among many others. 

"Peaky Blinders" quickly became a major critical success and earned a slew of awards. Energetic performances from the cast and cinematic visuals are a big part of why, but the series' keen writing might just be the biggest secret to its massive success. Though the series ended in 2022, creator Steven Knight revealed to Variety that the "Peaky Blinders" story will continue in a feature film.

4. Doctor Who

"Doctor Who" first appeared on television screens in 1963. In the years since, it's featured a huge variety of storylines, themes, sci-fi conceits, and actors, and become a genuine phenomenon. The imaginative series, which follows the immortal Doctor as he travels through time with his companions, has legions of fans which span generations, nationalities, and pretty much every other sort of demographic descriptor. A wide variety of talents have stepped into the Doctor's shoes, including William Hartnell, Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Sylvester McCoy, and Peter Davison. Following an extended break, the show returned in 2005 with Russell T Davies at the helm. This relaunch put Christopher Eccleston in the lead role, followed by David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker. 

Though many years have passed since the show's debut, fans still love watching the Doctor face off against interdimensional baddies. The franchise spans multiple forms of media, including books, radio plays, and even other television shows like "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures." Many elements of the series, such as the iconic TARDIS, the villainous Daleks, and the Doctor's various outfits have transcended fandom altogether and become symbols of British culture. "Doctor Who" isn't just one of the best British TV shows of all time — it's also one of the most influential.

3. The Office

"The Office" is the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Gervais stars as David Brent, the incompetent manager of a fictional paper company. He's joined by several actors who would go on to have successful Hollywood careers, including Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook, who capture the mundanity of office life with poignant aplomb. "The Office" was not a hit when it first launched, but things soon changed as word of its low-key brilliance spread. When Season 2 debuted, it attracted a far bigger audience, according to the BBC. Awards soon followed, and, of course, the American adaptation, which remains a cultural juggernaut. 

What drives the success of this oddball show? It's all down to its sheer realism. The characters and events portrayed truly are those of a typical British office. This gives the show far more weight and impact than most sitcoms. It's no wonder that "The Office" casts an enormous cultural shadow, even though it only spans 14 episodes: Everyone can see themselves within it.

2. Fawlty Towers

After John Cleese left "Monty Python's Flying Circus," his next project was "Fawlty Towers." Created and written by Cleese and Connie Booth, the show, which was first broadcast in 1975, is set in a fictional Torquay hotel run by Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil. This set-up was inspired by a real hotel Cleese visited with the other members of Monty Python, according to The Guardian. The owner of this establishment seemed to hate the fact that he had to have guests in his hotel. Basil was largely based on this individual: He struggles to manage his business and conceal his disdain for those who stay there.

Though many years have passed since "Fawlty Towers" debuted, it's only grown in stature. Today, it's regarded as one of the country's most important television properties, to the point that it was named the top TV show of all time by the British Film Institute in a 2000 poll. The show also has a cult following in the United States, and counts Americans like Martin Scorsese as fans, according to The Independent. The show's critique of the powerless but rage-filled middle class Englishman, paired with empathetic characters like Manuel, has proved to be timeless.

1. Planet Earth

According to NME, "Planet Earth" is one of the most expensive nature documentaries ever commissioned by the BBC. This lavish budget is apparent in every frame: "Planet Earth" is absolutely gorgeous. Each episode focuses on a different biome, giving the audience a glimpse of creatures and habitats rarely captured on camera. The final five minutes peek behind the scenes, offering viewers insight into the difficulties of filming such a documentary in the wild. David Attenborough's narration takes the already lofty production into the stratosphere, where it remains unchallenged. 

"Planet Earth" was almost universally acclaimed by critics and won a host of awards. A sequel series, "Planet Earth II," arrived in 2016, and, according to the Radio Times, a third installment will air in 2022. No matter where it goes, one truth remains clear: "Planet Earth" is one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and one of the most important British TV shows of all time.