30 TV Shows with Great Performances to Watch Now

Updated June 18, 2024 • Staff

Although television tends to get stereotyped as having "lower-tier" actors phoning in increasingly tired performances, prestige TV, unique new series, and revisiting old classics remind us that TV takes a different kind of commitment—and can lead to some of the finest and most nuanced screen acting you can hope to see. On TV, actors have the space they need to really flesh out a character, inhabiting them across multiple episodes and seasons and allowing us to see them in their most vulnerable in-between moments. Here, we've compiled a list of 30 shows that display the unique opportunities that TV can give to actors—who can then teach us to see the human experience with so much more intimacy.

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30.

Industry

Industry has all the markings of an HBO show: an abundance of sex, drugs, alcohol, and sure enough, an inextinguishable affinity for the F word. Like Succession, The Sopranos, and even Euphoria before it, it revels in its freedom to explore the nitty-grittiest parts of its subject matter and put its gruesome findings on full display. But instead of capitalism, organized crime, or teenhood, Industry incisively takes on hustle culture. 

Through the eyes of four new hires at a premier investment bank in London, we see the dangerous means people put themselves through in order to achieve some semblance of respect, recognition, or at the very least stability. Bullying is rampant, hazing is normalized, competition is encouraged, and blind loyalty is rewarded. The characters are so flawed and damaged, you’ll often find yourself rooting for their demise. But you’ll also be glued to their arcs and storylines. Will they break the cycle of abuse or continue it? Can they actually change the system from within or does that remain a utopian dream? These questions are hardly charming, but Industry has a way of making them engaging, exciting even. It fully inhabits the meanness you can and should only enjoy behind the safety of a TV screen. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Adam Levy, Alex Alomar Akpobome, Conor MacNeill, Harry Lawtey, Jay Duplass, Katrine De Candole, Ken Leung, Marisa Abela, Myha'la Herrold
Rating: TV-MA
29.

The Diplomat

It’s amazing how shows fueled only by fast talk can feel as gripping as any thriller out there. The Diplomat is cerebral and heavy on geopolitical jargon, but somehow, it manages to feel genuinely exciting, each new episode impossible to not play next. Thanks is due in large part to Keri Russell who, fresh out of her incredible stint in The Americans, returns here as messy and intense and endearing as ever. 

On the one hand, The Diplomat is about the delicacy of diplomacy, about how every decision made at this level has ripples of consequences throughout the globe. But it’s also, amusingly, a marriage story. Russell plays a woman who has long been defined by her more renowned if a bit egotistical husband, played perfectly by Rufus Sewell. They have a complex relationship that is as much of a career partnership as it is a romantic one, and part of the show’s charm is blending this story arc with the main one. 

Fans of West Wing, Veep, and Homeland will find much to like in this series, not least of all are the informative takes and worthwhile performances. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Ali Ahn, Ato Essandoh, David Gyasi, Keri Russell, Rory Kinnear, Rufus Sewell
Rating: TV-MA
28.

Veep

There is a very good case to be made for Veep being, pound-for-pound, the best American comedy to air on TV. Because while many other workplace sitcoms comment also comment on current events and satirize bureaucratic processes, no other show has committed this deeply to the inherent corruption and stupidity of every single one of its major characters. Selina Meyer and her staff are either so evil or so incompetent that they circle around to being irresistibly fun to watch and hilarious in all their own unique ways—which the series' writers expertly wrangle together in each script. And with much of the show's humor being built on creative, devastating insults, Veep also possesses a truly vicious edge that make it more challenging than its contemporaries.

But one shouldn't forget that the series also tells a compelling story of how soulless a nation's leaders can be, putting a magnifying class to every little political decision made in the name of saving face or pushing forward some other unrelated agenda. It's surprisingly insightful for something that seems so crass. And as Selina Meyer herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (surrounded by a brilliant, dynamic cast) turns in one of the greatest comedic performances on TV as a pathetic vice president who can't help but let the monstrous side of herself win every time.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Comedy
Actor: Anna Chlumsky, Clea DuVall, Gary Cole, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Dunn, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Sam Richardson, Sarah Sutherland, Timothy Simons, Tony Hale
27.

Youth of May

Youth of May is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a straightforward spring-set coming-of-age drama where young adults chase after their dreams, if they have any, and try to figure out what they want otherwise. Like plenty of other K-dramas, this usually involves a romance. But in between the ordinary romance, life strikes. Students fight for democracy, and at the time, the government cracked down on them brutally, but because the show spent time getting to know Myung-hee and Hui-tae, the consequences of these events make it all the more poignant. Youth of May reminds us of the humanity behind the brave students that fought for South Korea’s democracy, and the lives that have been tragically cut short for it.

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Geum Sae-rok, Go Min-si, Lee Do-hyun, Lee Sang-yi, Oh Man-seok
26.

Chernobyl

It’s a near-impossible feat to turn something as tragic and devastating as the Chernobyl disaster into a gripping and enlightening tale, but the HBO miniseries does just that. Through insightful storytelling, affecting performances, and sharp dialogue, Chernobyl the show stuns viewers into awareness and, at its best, galvanizes them into action. 

It’s a well-crafted five-hour series that does just enough in the way of humanizing a distorted reality, bringing to light the all-too-relevant consequences of power plays and placing the interests of the political elite and national image over real, human lives.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Nagaitis, Adrian Rawlins, Alan Williams, Alex Ferns, Barry Keoghan, Con O'Neill, David Dencik, Emily Watson, Fares Fares, Jared Harris, Jessie Buckley, Mark Lewis Jones, Michael McElhatton, Paul Ritter, Ralph Ineson, Robert Emms, Sam Troughton, Stellan Skarsgård
Rating: TV-MA
25.

Borgen: Power & Glory

Netflix's resurrection of the hit Danish drama Borgen comes in the form of Borgen: Power & Glory, a miniseries that sees Birgitte Nyborg (played by powerhouse Sidse Babett Knudsen) step down as prime minister and take over the foreign minister position while wrangling over power, principle, and family. In this particular revival, Birgitte butts head with the new prime minister, who is all for drilling oil in the autonomous region of Greenland despite Birgitte’s firm stance against climate change. The event turns into a geopolitical crisis that tests Birgitte’s values.

The series is as whipsmart, relevant, and funny as ever, although if you haven't seen previous seasons of the show yet, don't fret. Borgen: Power & Glory efficiently catches you up on all you need to know in the first few minutes. It’s a standalone, engaging drama that’s a breeze to go through at just eight episodes.

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, War & Politics
Actor: Benedikte Hansen, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Emil Poulsen, Freja Riemann, Julie Agnete Vang, Lars Knutzon, Lars Mikkelsen, Lisbeth Wulff, Mikael Birkkjær, Ole Thestrup, Peter Mygind, Pilou Asbæk, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Søren Malling, Søren Spanning, Thomas Levin
Rating: TV-14
24.

Please Like Me

In Please Like Me, twenty-year-old Josh (Josh Thomas) navigates love and adulthood alongside his friends and immediate family. He's far from perfect, and his loved ones are far from always right, but the ups and downs they go through—as small-stakes as they may seem—are always familiar and relatable. 

Please Like Me touches on modern issues and treats them both wryly and realistically so that the series never verges on either extreme. It's charming and sensitive and bold, and the whiny arrogance that often curses millennial shows is balanced here thanks to smart self-deprecating jokes and tender characterizations. Despite its pleading title, Please Like Me is very easy to watch and, as such, very easy to love. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Caitlin Stasey, David Roberts, Debra Lawrance, Emily Barclay, Greg Kinnear, Hannah Gadsby, John, Josh Thomas, Judi Farr, Julianne Moore, Keegan Joyce, Lily Collins, Michael Angarano, Renee Lim, Thomas Ward
Director: Craig Zisk
Rating: TV-MA
23.

The Good Lord Bird

It’s often said that history is told by the victors. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in The Good Lord Bird, which tracks the tumultuous events preceding the Civil War, as led by real-life abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke). 

Some viewers might already be familiar with the story of how Brown "saved" slaves, but with Black teenager Henry (Joshua Caleb Johnson) as the narrator, history is repositioned and recounted through a fresh new lens. Nuanced questions about slavery, abolition, and even the revered Brown himself are brought up by Henry and his kin, such as: how much of the movement is driven by justice and how much of it by guilt? Should the white savior be absolved or are his intentions inevitably marred by ego?

Accompanying this thought-provoking tale are richly detailed costumes and backdrops, impressive cameos by historical and celebrity figures, and of course, career-defining performances by Hawke and newcomer Johnson. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, Western
Actor: Beau Knapp, Daveed Diggs, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Jack Alcott, Mo Brings Plenty, Nick Eversman
Rating: TV-MA
22.

Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at Memorial recalls the real and horrifying events that went on at a New Orleans hospital during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Over the course of five days, the caregivers in charge try their best to evacuate thousands of people from the building, but heavy floods, power outages, intense heat, and a sorry lack of planning result in some heartbreaking decisions about the fate of their patients.

The ongoing series is a gut-wrenching and at times excruciating watch, adeptly directed by John Ridley (American Crime) and absorbingly moored by a cast that includes Vera Farmiga (Conjuring)—by now an expert at exhibiting pure horror—and Cherry Jones (Succession).

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Adepero Oduye, Cherry Jones, Cornelius Smith, Cornelius Smith, Jr., JR, Julie Ann Emery, Michael Gaston, Robert Pine, Vera Farmiga
Rating: TV-MA
21.

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth is set in a post-apocalyptic America, where the population has been ravaged by a mysterious virus and the new generation of humans has evolved into animal hybrids. The circumstances are bleak and the things people do to survive even more so. Driven by fear and grief, they both isolate and attack in moves that are eerily reminiscent of the early days of our own pandemic. Sweet Tooth is a robust adventure story then, gritty and reflective and tragic, but it’s also incredibly sweet.

We’re introduced to a myriad of characters, each of them with their own arc, but we mostly follow Gus (Christian Convery), a nine-year-old human-deer hybrid who has yet to be disillusioned by the human race. Gus grounds the story’s many flights of fancy, and along with the other main characters, he gives us timely reminders of the importance of kindness and humaneness without ever being too corny. And to the show’s serious credit, no one plot line overpowers the other; instead, all feel just as vital to the larger story of survival that’s being told. 

The blend of these tales is lovely, the world-building is imaginative, and the technical aspects of it—the color, the costuming, and the cinematography—are all beautiful. Ultimately, Sweet Tooth is a packed a show wrapped in gorgeous layers, sure to delight even the most casual of viewers. 

Our staff rating: 8.5/10
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Actor: Adeel Akhtar, Aliza Vellani, Christian Convery, Dania Ramirez, James Brolin, Nonso Anozie, Stefania LaVie Owen
Rating: TV-14

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