The 10 Best Smart TV Shows to Watch Now

Updated June 11, 2024 • Staff

Pejoratively known as "the idiot box" (for good reason at times, to be fair), television is often designed to keep viewers mindlessly and helplessly glued and coming back for more entertainment. But if there's no getting rid of TV as part of your regular routine, make sure to switch things up once in a while and include in your rotation a show that can challenge you and make you think. Here at agoodmovietowatch, we've put together a list of smart series to get you started. These are shows that have still flown under the radar for most viewers, but they engage with their respective subjects in thoughtful, analytical, and still entertaining ways.

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10.

How To with John Wilson

Made up entirely of B-roll and random, unglamorous footage of New York City, as well as the intentionally awkward, stuttering narration of its creator, How To with John Wilson might be the most unlikely series to offer touching, life-affirming insights about human connections and the simple beauty of the world we live in. As Wilson sets off at the start of each episode trying to provide advice on a mundane topic, his curiosity and self-effacing nature land him in increasingly odd places with different strangers around the city. The show may seem like nothing more than a bunch of vignettes loosely strung together at first, but upon closer look there's truly clever wit and intelligence that goes into every single transition. How To's power sneaks up on you—quietly teaching us the value of community and how we're always a part of something much more interesting.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Documentary
9.

The Playlist

In the early 2000s, amid the rapid rise of online piracy and the consequent fall of paid music, tech genius Daniel Ek would find Spotify, a revolutionary streaming platform that served as a middle ground between user accessibility and artist rights. But even now, at its peak, Spotify’s success seems mystifying. How did they get away with providing free music to all? 

Enter The Playlist—an impressive attempt at answering that very question. In this fictionalized account, key players in Spotify’s success are given their own episode-long arc, starting with the visionary himself, Ek (played by Edvin Endre), followed by the artist, the coder, and the industry insider, to name a few. By employing multiple perspectives, each with its own cinematic style (a particular favorite is that of the lawyer's, the most experimental out of all the episodes), The Playlist manages to spin the technical and complicated story of Spotify’s origins into something fresh, dynamic, and addictive. Despite utilizing the Rashomon effect—risky but rewarding in this case—The Playlist rarely strays from its main point and, the result is a lean, well-rounded story that’s just as credible as it is heightened. 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Agnes Kittelsen, Christian Hillborg, Edvin Endre, Ella Rappich, Gizem Erdogan, Hanna Ardéhn, Joel Lützow, Severija Janušauskaitė, Sofia Karemyr, Ulf Stenberg, Valter Skarsgård
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Playlist on Hulu for free
8.

Fleishman Is in Trouble

Plenty of things go on between love and separation, marriage and divorce. There is the pleasant high of intimacy, the devastating low of heartbreak, the frustration of misunderstanding, and the bliss of friendship. Fleishman is in Trouble explores all this from the point of view of recent divorcees Toby and Rachel Fleishman, but interestingly, this POV is narrated by their friend, Libby. The result is a multifaceted take on love, entertaining and enlightening in its nuance. Based on the bestselling book by essayist Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the series is also strikingly written. Whether it's Libby's storytelling you're hearing, Toby's witticisms, or Rachel's dagger-sharp remarks, prepare to cry and laugh in equal measure.  

In a case of perfect casting, Jesse Eisenberg plays the neurotic Toby, Claire Danes his unhappy wife, and Lizzy Caplan their quick-witted friend. Other sitcom greats make appearances too, like Adam Brody and Josh Radnor, making Fleishman Is in Trouble highly watchable on all fronts. 

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Brody, Claire Danes, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, Maxim Swinton, Meara Mahoney Gross
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Fleishman Is in Trouble on Hulu for free
7.

X-Men ’97

As a continuation of the original animated series done in a similar visual style, X-Men '97 could have very easily settled for cheap nostalgia pandering to fans old and new. But what we get instead is a show that hardly seems pressured by expectations and focuses all its energy on simply telling a good story with powerful themes. The best X-Men stories have always touched on prejudice, systemic inequality, and the struggle to come to terms with one's own differences from society. And this new series follows right along, already communicating so much character within its first two 30-minute episodes while maintaining dire stakes for its entire ensemble. And even with the occasional awkward line reading, the quality of the writing always shines through—whether in an emotionally charged conversation between Cyclops and Jean Grey about what a parent's responsibility should be; in the empathetic words of Storm to the rest of her team; or in one of several show-stopping speeches given by Magneto, who finds himself reluctantly aiming for balance between humans and mutants more than ever before. And in every exchange or monologue, there's always an unease about the situation the X-Men find themselves in, caught between protecting those who wish them dead and leaving this responsibility behind to begin their own lives.

Our staff rating: 8.7/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Actor: Alison Sealy-Smith, Cal Dodd, Jennifer Hale, JP Karliak, Ray Chase
Rating: TV-PG
6.

Sherwood

Beginning as a small-town murder mystery but eventually taking the shape of a police procedural, a spy drama, and a sociopolitical thriller, Sherwood fully reinvigorates the crime genre for British TV. With every twist comes a reminder of how deeply alienated the people of this former mining village have become from themselves, each other, and the outside world. Because underneath all the investigation lies a boiling tension: the scars of a past conflict among trade unionists on strike, the "scabs" who crossed the picket line to continue working, and police forces further provoking all this friction. These internal divisions haunt everything in Sherwood, brought to life by a superb ensemble—David Morrissey, Robert Glenister, Lesley Manville, Adeel Akhtar, and more—who all carry the weight and shame of being left behind by the world around them.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Adam Hugill, Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, David Morrissey, Kevin Doyle, Lesley Manville, Lorraine Ashbourne, Nadine Marshall, Perry Fitzpatrick, Philip Jackson, Robert Glenister
5.

The Americans

It may have never reached the heights of popularity that other prestige antihero dramas of its time did, but The Americans stayed true to itself for six incredibly consistent seasons. In the vein of "real" spy shows and films, it's much more deliberately paced, with the bulk of the drama taking place not through shootouts or technical wizardry but through the gradually fraying relationships between characters and their respective beliefs. As the Cold War stretches on for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (played by real-life couple Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), the former begins to feel increasingly drained by all the violence he's committed, wishing for a mundane American life; while the latter maintains a steely dedication to her mission, which also puts her loved ones in harm's way.

Throughout The Americans' run, it creates a stunningly detailed tapestry of both Soviets and Americans agents giving themselves over to causes that they still don't fully understand. But perhaps even more so than a story of loyalty to one's nation, it becomes a story about the constant demands of marriage and of making connections in a dangerous world despite the risk of betrayal. It never announces its themes loudly, but by the end the weight of these characters' isolation and disillusionment is unlike anything else you could experience on TV.

Our staff rating: 8.9/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Costa Ronin, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Americans on Hulu for free
4.

RIPLEY

Ripley delivers an atmosphere-driven, intimately engaging suspense story fueled by money and deceit. The exposition moves slowly, albeit with gorgeous transitions and deliberate, cinematic shots to gush over. But the rich narrative possibilities open up by the second episode, where captivating acting and tense storylines anchor the show simultaneously. Tom Ripley (Andrew Scott), Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), and Marge Sherwood (Dakota Fanning) each contribute to an uncomfortable three-way dynamic that you can't look away from, each a piece of an equation you inexplicably want to root for. This mini-series is a thoroughly compelling, quietly funny work of art already dressed for the awards shows.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Actor: Andrew Scott, Dakota Fanning, Johnny Flynn
Rating: TV-MA
3.

Pretend it’s a City

This new seven-part docuseries is directed by Martin Scorsese and features conversations between himself and New York author Fran Lebowitz.

Fran talks about her experience in New York, and she’s hilarious, but no one finds her more so than Scorsese. He spends the show recovering from one laugh only to go into the next long one.

Fran has lived in New York a long time, and people know that so they come up to her to ask her about the city. “If I were a civil war buff, and I saw Abraham Lincoln, I’d think ‘Oh! he was there. Let me ask him.’”. That’s who she is.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Comedy, Documentary
Actor: Alec Baldwin, Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese, Michael Alexis Palmer, Spike Lee
Rating: TV-14
2.

Shōgun

With plenty of classics being remade, many have cried about Hollywood playing it safe, not matching up to the source material, and at worst, being unoriginal. After 40 years, the groundbreaking 1980 Shogun miniseries now has a new adaptation, but unlike its fellow remakes, this new series goes beyond expectations to deliver a mesmerizing, epic political drama that we’ve been hoping for. The 2024 remake still maintains plenty of the jawdropping firsts that shocked America then, but it also decentralized its perspective, expanding past the English outsider Blackthorne, and prioritizing the perspective of its Japanese characters, particularly Lord Yoshii Toranaga and Lady Toda Mariko. Hulu’s Shogun may be another remake, but their takes provides something new, with its spectacular production and its epic storytelling.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Anna Sawai, Cosmo Jarvis, Hiroyuki Sanada
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Shōgun on Hulu for free
1.

Monster

At first glance, Monster doesn’t seem like the typical anime of the 2000s. With its muted colors, realistic action, and Eastern European setting, it seemed like a more subdued series compared to other thrillers. But because it feels so realistic, Monster is one of the most thrilling psychological series that happens to tackle the value of a human life, as the compassionate doctor Kenzo Tenma grapples with the weight of having saved a boy who grows up into a manipulative psychopath. Mangaka Naoki Urasawa and showrunner Masayuki Kojima directly challenges their respective philosophies through excellently paced investigations, well-developed characters, and the thorough examination of the different ways humanity has failed each other, and it’s downright beautiful to see how this anime adapts Urasawa’s complex, sophisticated story so faithfully.

Our staff rating: 9.2/10
Genre: Animation, Crime, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hisayoshi Suganuma, Ichirō Nagai, Junko Takeuchi, Kazuo Kumakura, Kyoko Hikami, Mami Koyama, Mamiko Noto, Nobuo Tanaka, Nozomu Sasaki, Ryusuke Obayashi, Shuichi Ikeda, Takayuki Sugo, Tomokazu Seki, Tsutomu Isobe
Rating: R, TV-14

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